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Montreux Celebration

Montreux musical history in 1971


Frank Zappa's concert during the Montreux casino fire

On December 4th Frank Zappa and his band "The Mothers of Invention" played at the Montreux Casino. In the middle of Don Preston's synthesizer solo on the song "King Kong" the place suddenly caught fire. Someone in the room had fired a rocket or something like that into the rattan ceiling that caught fire (other versions say that the fault came from a faulty electrical installation).

The Deep Purple musicians were in the room during the fire. A story of this event from the group's point of view and the story of the song "Smoke on the Water" composed following this fire can be found HERE.

There were between 2,000 and 2,500 spectators seated and crowded in the room, well beyond its capacity. As there were just as many people outside, trying to get in, the organizers cleverly chained the doors. When the fire developed there were two exits left: through the main door which was quite narrow or through the large window just next to the stage.

Frank Zappa then announced: "Please remain calm. We have to get out of here. There's a fire, so we're all going to leave the area. You'd be surprised how people who only spoke French understand you when it's a matter of life and death.

The audience then began to leave through the main door. As the room began to fill with smoke, one of the roadies grabbed an empty crate in which the group packed their equipment and threw it against the glass, which helped people get out through the window overlooking the garden.

The musicians escaped through a tunnel behind the stage that led them to the parking garage. A few minutes later the building's ventilation system exploded and a few people were blown through a window. Fortunately, no one was killed and only a few were injured.

However, the entire building, worth about $13 million, became a ruin and the band lost all its equipment, $48,000 worth of instruments and amps that Frank Zappa and the Mothers had used for their concert a few hours earlier.

Don Preston, Frank Zappa's keyboardist later remarked: It was a very strange accident for me. First of all the program for our tour was written on a matchbox and secondly, the day before the fire, in the middle of my solo in "King Kong" a guy rushed onto the stage and pulled out a fireproof flag. The next evening, in the middle of my solo in "King Kong" someone launched a rocket into the ceiling that was decorated with dried palm leaves and caught fire. While this was happening, the sewer pipe from Zappa's house in Los Angeles broke and completely flooded the recording studio in its basement.

In the April 1999 issue of Guitar Magazine Ritchie Blackmore, Deep Purple guitarist mentions Zappa when the question: "Can you detail the story told in "Smoke on the Water"? was asked.

Ritchie replied, "We were sitting there listening to Frank Zappa playing and all of a sudden someone had a kind of rocket and decided to make it go up in the air. The ceiling caught fire. Frank turned around and said, "Now everyone calm down. He then threw his guitar away and jumped out the window. It was pretty funny. He wanted to be the first one out. Then about 15 minutes passed before the whole place was burned, which was terrifying.

Ritchie never took drugs but drank, maybe his memories of Zappa jumping out the window are a little fanciful so the question is: What really happened? Did Zappa throw away his guitar? And did he throw himself out the window while Blackmore sat calmly and watched as the place caught fire? Or is it like Kurosawa's film Rashamon where everyone remembers things a little different?

This Zappa concert gave one of the most brilliant pirate recordings in rock history entitled "Swiss Cheese" and "Fire".

Frank Zappa died on December 4, 1993 (at the age of 52) in Los Angeles, California USA from prostate cancer.

Throughout his career, he has recorded more than 60 albums under his own name or with the Mothers of Invention.

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