Jim Sherwood: Core member of Frank Zappa's The Mothers of Invention


Jim Sherwood's ever-shifting role with The Mothers of Invention was emblematic of the unconventional and iconoclastic approach favoured by Frank Zappa, the group's maverick leader, guitarist and composer. Credited with "noises" on Freak Out!, the landmark debut on which Zappa and his cohorts waged a "low-key war against apathy" in 1966, Sherwood was promoted from "equipment handler" to full membership of The Mothers on their first European visit in 1967.

The following year, he contributed baritone and soprano saxophone to We're Only in it for the Money, whose gatefold sleeve pastiched the Beatles' Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band – Sherwood, then the eighth member of The Mothers, is the only one facing the camera (a reverse of Peter Blake's design, which has Paul McCartney with his back turned). The album lampooned the flower power movement yet made the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, as did Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh, the 1970 compilations of live material and studio outtakes issued after Zappa announced the end of the original incarnation of The Mothers. Sherwood also appeared on Lumpy Gravy – nominally a Zappa solo project (1968) – the doo-wop homage Cruising with Ruben & The Jets (also 1968) and Uncle Meat (1969), on which his credit reads: "Pop star, frenetic tenor sax stylings, tambourine, choreography, obstinance & equipment setter-upper when he's not hustling local groupies."

One of four siblings, Euclid James Sherwood was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, in 1942, and grew up in California. When he was 12, the Sherwood family moved from San Bernardino to Lancaster in the Mojave Desert, where he met both Don Van Vliet – who later adopted the stage name Captain Beefheart – and Zappa. "Frank and I just hit it off. We were always swapping blues records," he recalled.

Sherwood occasionally guested with The Blackouts, a band featuring Zappa on drums. When Zappa moved away in 1957, the group evolved into The Omens, with Alex St Clair on guitar and Sherwood on baritone sax. They played rhythm'n'blues covers and Sherwood became infamous for his "ability to perform a dance known as the bug, which resembles an epileptic fit," as Zappa told Rolling Stone magazine in 1968.

The Omens broke up in 1962 and, after a spell working in construction in Lake Tahoe, Sherwood joined Zappa who was honing his composing and production skills at Pal Recording Studio, soon renamed Studio Z, in Cucamonga. "I even lived in the studio with Frank for about six months. We would get a lot of people over there to do things," he said of Van Vliet's visits, the experimental sound collages they devised, and their multi-media on a low budget approach. "It was 16mm movies. Weird stuff that Frank eventually used in Uncle Meat."

In 1964, Zappa hooked up with the vocalist Ray Collins, the drummer Jimmy Carl Black and the bassist Roy Estrada in the Soul Giants, the core line-up of what became The Mothers on Freak Out! and Absolutely Free, the group's 1967 follow-up. Sherwood served as roadie and was soon nicknamed "Motorhead" because he always seemed to be fixing an old car or a motorbike. "That seemed to stick. I've been called that ever since," he reflected.

When The Mothers moved to New York for a six-month residency at the city's Garrick Theatre in 1967, Sherwood became a mainstay. "That was one wild time. Frank figured that most people's attention span was about five minutes at most. So we'd do really bizarre things, little puppet shows. I was doing the lighting and I'd take vegetables and hang them on a wire. Once we had three Marines who were getting shipped out to Vietnam. They got up on stage and took a doll and ripped it to pieces. Incredible stuff."

Having appeared at the Royal Albert Hall in London in September 1967, The Mothers completed We're Only in it for the Money in the US and returned to Europe in the autumn of 1968. By the following year, the line-up had swelled to a nine-piece, with each member on a weekly wage of $200. The expenditure swallowed up Zappa's songwriting royalties and contributed to his decision to break up the band. According to Sherwood, "Frank wanted to go in a different direction. We talked about it. There could have been other ways around it, but I agreed with him."

In 1971, Sherwood appeared in 200 Motels, the baffling feature film made by Zappa and director Tony Palmer. "Frank wanted me to play a newt rancher in love with a vacuum cleaner. I don't know what that had to do with anything. The rest of it was based on abstract ideas of how strange it is to tour, the bizarre people you encounter and all the weird things that go on."

Two years later, Sherwood joined Ruben and the Jets, whose mainman, Ruben Guevara, had brought Zappa's doo-wop conceit to life and recorded For Real!, their debut album sanctioned and produced by Zappa. Over the next two decades, his name cropped up on a variety of Zappa releases, mostly of an archival nature. He occasionally guested with The Grandmothers, a group of Mothers alumni, and worked as a plumber and for the California highways department in San Jose.

"I feel honored to have spent time with Frank and the other guys in the early group. We played off the feelings of each other. It was a family group," he said. "It was the individuality of everyone in the band that created the whole effect Frank wanted. Frank loved it and thrived on it. His music is something I enjoy listening to all the time. It's always new and different and incredible."

Pierre Perrone

Euclid James Sherwood, saxophonist: born Arkansas City, Kansas 8 May 1942; married; died Los Angeles 25 December 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most