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Jim Sherwood, Original Mother of Invention, Dies at 69

Experimental saxophonist and Zappa collaborator passed away on Christmas

December 28, 2011 12:05 PM ET
Jim Sherwood
Jim Sherwood performing in 1967
Petra Niemeier - K & K/Redferns

The original madcap woodwind player of Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention, Jim Sherwood, passed away on December 25th at age 69. Cause of death is not yet determined.

Sherwood, an adept and classically trained multi-instrumentalist, played baritone and tenor saxophone, percussion and vocals to the Mothers of Inventions' landmark first psychedelic records, including 1966's debut Freak Out! and 1968's Cruising with Ruben & the Jets.

A childhood friend of Zappa's, Sherwood also performed on Zappa's first solo album, 1967's Lumpy Gravy, and in the 1971 avant-garde film 200 Motels. Sherwood later described his 200 Motels character as "in love with a vacuum cleaner."

After the Mothers of Invention disbanded in 1969, Sherwood still collaborated with Zappa and his bandmates; the group's epic swan song, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, hinged largely on his aggressive instrumental theatrics.

Sherwood was called "Motorhead" by his bandmates because of his obsessive love of automechanics. As the late Zappa told Rolling Stone in 1968:

Euclid James 'Motorhead' Sherwood I've known for 12 years. We were in high school in Lancaster together. He used to play baritone sax in the Omens. He has the ability to perform a dance known as the bug, which resembles an epileptic fit. He's one of those guys you say, "I know this guy who's really weird and I want to show him to you." He was our equipment handler for a while and when we started the atrocities we started handing him our instruments to see what would happen. He played things more imaginative than the proficient musicians could lay down. It was just him against the machine in his mouth, a saxophone. He is also very proficient at dolls and visual aids.

Sherwood carried the fond nickname  – and the dolls – up through one of his final musical projects, the Grandmothers, a troupe of musicians who had collaborated with Zappa throughout his career.

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