Graham Reid | | 2 min read
Given Frank Zappa's proclivity towards oddball performers and different musicians -- Captain Beefheart, the GTOs, the Shaggs -- it's hardly surprising he should be the one who brought Wild Man Fischer into the vocabulary of outsider musicians.
And Fischer was very outside.
In '68 Zappa recorded a double album of Fischer's singing and rants as An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, the title suggesting a lounge act or comedy performance.
Needless to say, it was neither.
Some of it was recorded on the street where he would bellow out his original songs "for a dime", usually his whooping Merry Go Round, some spoken word rants ("I'm Not Shy Anymore"), recorded conversations, and some studio recordings where he wanders off-mike, guest spots from Kim Fowley and Rodney Bingenheimer as quasi-Beat cheerleaders for Fischer . . .
It's less an album than collision of indulgence, insanity, yuck-yuck humour and mad songs from a man of modest talent (if any) but an unshakeable need to sing and shout.
Curiously enough, Zappa wasn't the first to stumble across the peculiar talents of Fischer who had previously been incarcerated in a mental hospital as a teenager -- twice, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenia. Solomon Burke -- who gave him the name "Wild Man" took him on a tour after seeing him at a talent show, and Fischer had tried to interest Phil Spector in producing him.
In him, Zappa probably heard a kindred spirit -- the freak aspect -- and Fischer toured with Zappa and the Mothers.
You have to admire his willingness to sing whatever came into his head with no discernible thought to melody, although it is clear from hs wordless interpolations he probably heard some kind of arrangement in his head.
He fell out with Zappa over money but, although times got tough, he just kept doing whatever it was he did and as his profile fell his cult status went up.
There were other recordings (The Fischer King) but his mental illness was always going to ensure times would be tough for the Wild Man.
This rare, untutored, odd but hardly unique singer spent the last seven years of his life on daily medication in a state-assisted home. He died in 2011 aged 66.
Wild Man Fischer was certainly an unusual character and his music has a naive, enjoyable and slightly disturbing quality. At times -- Start Life Over Again, The Mope -- you can almost hear a pop song emerging.
For other articles in the series of strange characters in music, WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . go here.