Back in the 80’s, my brother John gave me a Yashica camera which was the first 35mm camera I ever used. I don’t remember the model or the specs, but it was pretty basic as I recall.

Zappa was coming through Houston in 1984 on his Them Or Us Tour and I wanted to get some pics. I knew I would have to smuggle the camera in and that meant flash photography was not an option. John told me about a technique called Push & Pull Processing where you increase the ISO setting on the camera to underexpose the film and then compensated for this in the darkroom. This would allow me to shoot without a flash and hopefully get something usable from the experience.

I had 7th row tickets to this show so a flash might have been helpful, but would certainly draw attention to what I was doing so I decided to shoot using this method.

Now back in the day security at concerts wasn’t all that secure. Still, if you had a camera bag you could get turned away at the door. And even if you did get the camera in the door, if security caught you shooting pics at a major show they wouldn’t take your camera, they would just take your film, usually pulling it from the camera or canister. I’d seen photographers lose a night’s work this way on several occasions.

With this in mind I felt confident my camera was not at risk, but I wanted to make sure I could pull off my plan and walk away at the end of the show with some photos.

I’d seen Zappa before. It was 1981 at The Fox Theater in San Diego. I noted that many of the fans came to the show dressed up in various costumes. I decided I would attend this concert dressed as a Sheik (a la Sheik Yerbouti). I could hide the camera gear in the folds of my robes and hopefully skirt security.

The plan worked better than I could have hoped. Concert security stood practically next to me during most of the show. They either thought I was supposed to be there, or decided that a guy who was dressed in such an attention grabbing manner could be ignored while they scanned the audience for real trouble. I was able to pull out the camera and shoot uninterrupted for the duration of the show.

The results were “so so” but I was happy enough with the results considering this was my first effort.

1984 Them Or Us Tour
Sam Houston Coliseum

Frank Zappa: guitar, vocals
Ray White: guitar, vocals
Ike Willis: guitar, vocals
Robert Martin: keyboards, tenor saxophone, French horn, vocals
Scott Thunes: bass
Alan Zavod: keyboards
Chad Wackerman: drums

Zappa – Them Or Us Tour 1984
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7 thoughts on “Zappa – Them Or Us Tour 1984

  • January 19, 2009 at 10:32 am

    I’ve only heard this awesome story, now there is PROOF!! Great blog post Jay! I would love to see a photo of you dressed as a sheik!

  • January 19, 2009 at 11:13 am

    One of my favorite artists! I saw him in 1973 when I was in high school. Did you see the Zappa plays Zappa tour? Frank has always been under-appreciated as an artist.

  • January 19, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Every time I think of Frank I hear “don’t eat the yellow snow” in my head. lol
    Great pics.

  • January 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    Gah! How did I miss seeing Zappa in 1984 at the Sam Houston Coliseum? I saw a lot of shows at the SHC in the early 80’s. Supertramp, The Kinks, Cheap Trick, Judas Priest w/Def Leppard, but I somehow missed seeing Zappa. Glad you had a good time, I’m sure this was an awesome show.

  • January 19, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    It’s hard to believe that I was only barely cognizant of Zappa at that time, as over the years I have become a raving devotee, but every journey must have a beginning. A few weeks ago I was loading the latest Zappa acquisition, “The Lost Episodes” into iTunes, whilst reading the liner notes, when much to my surprise, there was a quote from Frank stating how much he LOVED sea chanteys, and used to teach them to the band! Sho’ ’nuff, the cd contained an instrumental medley of “The Wedding Dress Song-Handsome Cabin Boy”

    The YouTube link below is a related story:

    I have spent much of my professional musical career performing sea chanteys and traditional Irish music, and have found much amusement in observing Zappa’s interest in both subjects! Late in his career, Frank was closely befriended by The Chieftains, who at his insistence, recorded much of one of their albums in Frank’s basement.

  • February 3, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    I saw Frank on the Them or Us tour in New York City Frank was famous for playing New York on Halloween it was probably one of the last great Frank Zappa show, also was the time when you could bring alcohol into a show. I remember me and my friend mike went to the show I was dress as a flasher and he was dress as a priest. The good old days when you actually had fun at a concert I also got to see the Zappa Universe show at the Ritz in New York which was when it all came out that he had cancer. I never saw and audience so well behaved people where really there to pay tribute to Frank.

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