I learned today that my good and long-time friend Jimmy Carl Black passed away peacefully at his home in Siegsdorf, Bavaria. Sonny, as his friends called him, is a true legend in the annals of rock and roll, and is best known as the drummer for the Mothers of Invention with front man Frank Zappa.
I first crossed his path when the late John Safar and I interviewed him in the KNMS Radio studios at New Mexico State University around 1975. Of course we were surprised to find that the drummer for one of the most inventive and original rock bands of all time was living in Anthony. At the time Sonny had just formed the Mesilla Valley LoBoys and they were starting to rehearse and tour the area. The scene was so interesting I began helping Sonny with all aspects of the band including advance work, management and publicity. Mr. Black knew how to put together a band and the original guys included Tom Levy on bass, Sonny on drums and vocals, Jeff Littlejohn on lead guitar, Bob “Hopper” Shannon on primary drums Mike Collins on rhythm guitar and Chava Villegas on congas. This band quickly built a large following because it had a musical power and creative energy that matched any national touring band at the time.
Sonny was born in El Paso with Cherokee blood and his classic line from the Zappa days, “Hi boys and girls I’m Jimmy Carl Black the Indian of the group” stuck all through his magnificent half century in the music business. During the 1970’s Sonny was cast by Frank Zappa for his breakthrough film “200 Motels” which also featured Ringo Starr a drummer from Liverpool. We premiered the film at the Plaza Theater in downtown El Paso to a sold out crowd and the LoBoys played live on stage before they rolled the film. It was a historic night for music in the area as were all live appearances by the Mesilla Valley LoBoys.
Sonny and the boys loved to play the El Patio in Mesilla because it perfectly fit their working class rock and roll, blues and soul sounds, not to mention and the eclectic crowds that would come from all over the borderland to see their favorite band. During and after his tenure with Zappa’s band Sonny played with some of the greatest musicians of the era including: Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Doors, The Turtles, Chuck Berry and The Moody Blues. Of course as fledgling musicians and college students we loved hearing Sonny’s stories from touring with Zappa in Europe and later painting houses in Austin with the infamous Weird Arthur Brown the author of one of the greatest rock songs ever, “Fire.”
At some point in his career in New Mexico I introduced Sonny to Santa Fe singer/songwriter Steve Terrell who is currently a reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. Jimmy Carl played drums on one of Steve’s tracks on his classic cult album, Picnic Time for Potatoheads and they became great friends in music and life. It was Steve who called me with the sad news. For those of you who were blessed to have known Jimmy Carl Black and enjoyed his music, his sense of humor and life please join me for a tip of the hat to one of rock and roll’s most prolific drummers and also a great friend, husband and father.
I was born in 1938,Jimmy Carl Black from his bio-song “The Indian of the Group.”
An American Indian in the Lone Star State….
Then to California to the Pacific shore
Joined a band called the Mothers in ‘64….
There was hardly a rock star I didn’t know
Back in the days when music had soul.
Vaya con Dios, Sonny.
Erik L. Ness
Las Cruces, N.M.