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Out Of Mind » FEEL GOOD ~ BODY & MIND » AMAZING PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS » ‘King Kong’: Watch a 10-year-old blind pianist play Frank Zappa’s concert showstopper

‘King Kong’: Watch a 10-year-old blind pianist play Frank Zappa’s concert showstopper

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‘King Kong’: Watch a 10-year-old blind pianist play Frank Zappa’s concert showstopper
12:10 pm

In the clip below you can watch a 10-year-old blind Swedish pianist by the name of Mats Öberg play the shit out of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention’s sixties concert centerpiece “King Kong.” Not only is the interview (which is translated) charming, the performance is solid.
Mats, who is blind since birth, is backed by his drum-playing pal, then 13-year-old Morgan Ågren and apparently Morgan’s dad on bass. Morgan and Mats joined forces that year in a project called Zappsteetoot and they are still playing and recording together to this day as the Mats/Morgan Band. Morgan Ågren also plays with the reunited 70s Swedish progressive rock band Kaipa.
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Mats and Morgan were invited by Frank Zappa himself to do a guest performance at his Stockholm performance in 1988. From Morgan’s website:
In 1988 when Frank came to Stockholm with the Broadway the Hard Way- tour, me and Mats got to meet and play with Zappa on his gig in Stockholm, as guests ! Mat’s uncle (jazz pianist Berndt Egerbladh) had contacted Frank’s tour leader and informed him about us, that we were in this band called Zappsteetoot, that Mats had listened to Franks music since he was 8 years old, and that he knew all of his music. So when Frank got to hear about us, he said he wanted to meet us. Me and Mats sneaked in to Frank’s soundcheck and afterward Frank’s tour leader came out and told us Frank was waiting for us backstage.
We walked to Frank’s room, and there he was - our teenage idol and major influence ! We shook hands and sat down on a couch. Frank started to ask us how we were doing, which of his material we knew etc. Me and Mats ended up playing on our knees and singing. Frank said: “do you know this…have you played that…” After a while he said: ” well I’m amazed that two young guys from a little town called Umeå, knows so much about my music.” Then turning to Mats he said: “You have listened to my music so much, - you should know what I look like.” Frank took Mats hand and laid it on his forehead, and Mats began to feel how Frank looked! And Frank said: “Don’t forget the famous nose!” Frank was so incredibly nice to us and we had a wonderful time. We also gave him a tape with our own music, including one Zappa piece, “T’Mershi Duween,” which surprised Frank cause it wasn’t released at the time, but we knew it from a bootleg. Frank didn’t listen to the tape; there wasn’t even a tape recorder there, but he said: “Maybe we should do something…” We didn’t have a clue what he was thinking. He scratched his head and said : “Would you like to come up and play “T’Mershi Duween” as guests? We gonna do “Big Swifty” tonight, and in the middle section of the song there is this open part were everything can happen! So if you walk behind the stage when you hear the “Big Swifty” theme, I’ll introduce you after a while, okay?”
The thing was that it was only 30 min before the show, and the audience was already inside the hall, so no time to try the keyboards or the drums. What sound will be on the keyboard? What kind of sticks does Chad use? Questions natural for us to ask ourselves before going up on stage with Frank Zappa facing a crowd of 10.000 people.
To me, most part of Franks show was hard to enjoy - I had other things on my mind. We were soon suppose to go up and play, and I couldn’t even remember the fucking song that well either, so I had to think about how it really went. We had only played it once before, a year earlier - the version we gave to Frank on tape.
When the “Big Swifty” theme came we left our seats, and walked backstage. After convincing one of the guards that we were about to go up and play with Frank, my next problem was I desperately needed to go to the toilet. I had lost the ability to feel needs like that- I had other things to think about. Another 5 min passed and I really had to go. I started to feel pain, I got totally confused; what would happen if Frank introduces us for 10 000 people, and I’m at the toilet unable to even hear him ? No thanks. I even asked a guy from the crew if I could make it. As if he would know! But now I just had to do it, I was in such pain I probably wouldn’t even play properly. I told Mats: “I gotta go, you wait here.” Mats were sitting on a case just behind the stage. I ran backstage rooms and found a toilet. Finished my business and just as I opened the door from the backstage rooms, I could hear Frank introducing us. I ran like a maniac, grabbed Mats arm and we went up on stage. Lucky us I was fast!
A huge round of applauds welcomed us. We were at home, and a lot of people knew about us. The applauds just got even louder as I walked Mats over to Bobby Martin’s keyboards. Bobby said: “Here’s a Yamaha DX-9, and here is the Yamaha electric grand - good luck! ” The band kept a reggae beat going during our entrance, which was good; if it had just been silence it would have felt strange, but now we could sort of start our jam from the groove already going. I led Mats behind the keyboards and adjusted the mikestand a little, then I walked to the drum set. A guy from the crew came from nowhere and put a new pair of drumsticks in my hands. Luckily they were the same model I used to play at the time. When Chad saw me coming he stood up, but kept the beat on the hi-hat.
I sat down and continued where Chad left off, but me and Mats soon started to loosen in up to something else. We had to do our thing, so we just jammed for a couple minutes, like we always use to. The drums felt okay, the keyboards too, I think. I felt high up there, it was just totally amazing. I don’t like using standard phrases like “a religious feeling” but this was something else, it really was. I was in heaven. Much because of the fact I could see Frank standing in front of the drumset with a BIG smile holding his conductor stick. He really liked what we were doing, and that gave us a big kick. We missed a little during the “T´Mershi Duween” theme, but we had probably never played as good before as we did then. Scott played along a little and so did Ed and Mike. After we finished, I left the drum seat, and ran to get Mats away from the keyboards, cause the “Big Swifty” theme had just started again, and Bobby Martin was about to play again, but Mats were sitting in his way. Mats, who is blind, was waiting for me to pick him up! I got Mats and passed Frank as we were leaving the stage. Frank stopped conducting just for a second to applaud us, and the audience followed with even more volume than before. We walked of the stage and got back to our seats to see the rest of the show.
At the end of the show, Frank introduced the band like he always use to, with a chord in the background, saying: “Ike Willis, Scott Thunes etc. AND…Mats Öberg & Morgan Ågren, thanks for coming to the show, hope you liked it. Good night! ” We were sitting in the audience listening to Frank Zappa - introducing us!! When they came back for an encore, Frank grabbed the microphone and said: “Those guys were great!” So guess if we were excited!
After the encores we met in Frank’s room backstage again. He said we have to do this again sometime and we exchanged addresses. Frank told us that he was looking for a new drummer and keyboard player, and then he just kind of stared at us without really saying anything more. I think he wanted to tease us a little bit too, because he was obviously talking about me and Mats. Frank even wrote down some notes on a piece of paper which showed his way of notating drums, he gave it to me and told me to get used to it. Then it was time to go home; go home and wait for the phone to ring…
Although I wasn’t aware of them at the time, I actually saw Mats and Morgan performing as part of the famous “Zappa’s Universe” concert that was held in New York at the old Studio 54 (then doing business as the Ritz) in 1991. It was just before this concert began that Frank Zappa’s children Dweezil and Moon Unit announced that their father was dying of terminal cancer and would not be performing that evening. (In the cab to that show I can also vividly recall hearing on the radio that Magic Johnson had announced that he’d contracted HIV.)
Morgan, who posted the video to YouTube himself had this to say about the clip:
“I sent a copy of this VHS to Frank Zappa just a few months before he passed away (since we play Franks piece “King Kong” on this video). Called Gail Zappa later on to express my condolences, and just before we hang up Gail says “by the way, Frank watched the video that you sent, and he really loved it”. That was great to hear cause I wasn’t sure the VHS even reached his house. ❤️

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