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There's no sadder day of the year to die on than Christmas Day, and I'm sorry to have learnt that one of Frank Zappa's crucial early colleagues and Mothers of Invention, James Euclid Motorhead Sherwood, died this Christmas Day just gone, aged 69.
A book of mine is a Zappa biography (lumberingly titled Mother! The Frank Zappa Story), and though I'm not very proud of it - I couldn't afford much first-hand research and it was taken up by two terrible publishers, one after the other - it meant that for a while back a long time ago I was reading avidly about Zappa's earliest career moves . . . and as that much-missed giant of the music told me in an interview in London in 1975, Motorhead was there right from the start. They may have met at high school as early as 1956, though Zappa claimed later than it was only when he had a regular gig at a club called the Village Inn in Sun Village in 1964 that Motorhead came to his attention, playing saxophone while a club regular called Cora sang the old blues song ‘Steal Away'.
Soon afterwards Zappa held a party at the little studio in Cucamonga CA he'd just bought from Paul Buff (for $1000, in August 1964), and “At the party was Beefheart, a guy named Bob Narcisso, Ray Collins, Motorhead..."
Jim Sherwood became a Mother of Invention while he was dating Joni Mitchell. Zappa told me, possibly inaccurately: “Yeah, he picked her up in New York some place and brought her to the house. And I remember her sitting in the corner, playing guitar, singing to herself. She had a beret on the first time I saw her and she was leaning over the guitar and she was drooling. That was before she had a record contract."
Jim was in the line-up from the time of the group's second album, Absolutely Free, recorded in 1966 and released 1967, through to the Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh albums issued at the end of the decade. He left in late May or early June 1970 (but took part in the movie 200 Motels - Zappa said he'd “got into scientology for a while, but then he recovered") and came back as tenor sax player and ‘guest vocalist' a decade later on Zappa's own album You Are What You Is, released in September 1981.
In later years Motorhead played in and recorded with post-Mothers spin-off bands The Grandmothers and the Ant-Bees and on the 1995 Sandro Oliva album Who the Fuck Is Sandro Oliva?!? on Muffin Records. (To answer the question, Oliva is an Italian guitarist and wannabe Zappa lookalike who plays at Zappa tribute festivals.)
Jim Sherwood, born Arkansas City, Kansas, May 1942; died December 25, 2011, believed to be in Los Angeles.