Robert "Frog" Camarena on Playing with Frank Zappa and His New Band, Forty-Seven 51
Not just anyone can say they used to jam with a highly acclaimed musician like Frank Zappa -- but Valley based Latin/funk rocker Robert "Frog" Camarena can -- he played in Ruben and the Jets, a group produced by Zappa, and backed the songwriter up.
Ruben and the Jets, 1973, Mercury Records
Camarena is 64-years-old now and has traded in his East Los barrio for an Arizona zip code, but he's far from calling it a career. He's got a new band together, Forty-Seven 51, that continues the sideways, raunchy funk of Zappa and the legendary Ruben and the Jets, and is scheduled to perform Friday, September 28, at Goat Head Saloon in Mesa.
Up on the Sun: Tell me a little bit about Forty-Seven 51. How long have you guys been playing together?
Robert Camarena: Well, we've been together for quite a while now, but it's been different members coming in and out of the group. Out here, it seems like there's a tendency where the players don't really stick around very long. This is an original project that's been a long time in the making. The songs themselves have been around for a while but its come together really well. I've come together with some really good players and they've put their hearts into it and here we are.
I've heard about that revolving door for musicians. Why do you think that's the case here?
Maybe because there are a lot of transplants here. But it seems like they're the ones that have the drive, that want to be something ... that reach for the stars. And some people out here have a tendency to not care. I come from a long background of music. I played with some heavy cats before. I've played with Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck -- a lot of people.
I was hoping you could talk a little more about that. How did your time with Zappa influence you, and how have you come into your own as a musician?
I'm not really different from him, brother, but I miss him. Frank had a major influence in my life when it came to writing music. I took my Latin background and a lot of the movements he taught me, and I ran with that. I recorded with him on Apostrophe, Live At The Roxy and Elsewhere, Overnight Sensation, and One Size Fits All. There were a lot of heavy people in those, so I learned a lot. It's a different kind of existence. There was more meaning to it. How'd you guys hook up?
I hooked up with Zappa after he put up an audition for his project, Ruben and the Jets. I was asked if I knew a guitarist and a keyboard player. I said, "Sure I do -- I know some great people." Then I asked if he needed any singers. I'm the kind of person that, when I see a door open I run for it. So I grabbed my guitar and I jumped in my car and went to the audition. I was leaning by my friend Johnny Martinez's keyboard when Frank comes up to me and asks, "What do you do?"
Like a fool I told him, "I'm probably the best damn singer you ever heard." He laughed, I laughed, then he said, let's hear it. After that he told me, "You're a damn good singer; you're in the group." After Ruben and the Jets disbanded I joined him with Mothers of Invention.