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Ruth Underwood

Ruth Underwood playing at a Frank Zappa concert In NYC
Background information
Birth name Ruth Komanoff
Genres Jazz-Rock/Rock
Years active 1969—1982
Labels Various
Associated acts Frank Zappa, Mothers of Invention

Ruth Underwood (born Ruth Komanoff on May 23, 1946) is a retired professional musician, best known for playing xylophone, marimba, vibraphone and other percussion instruments in Frank Zappa's Mothers of Invention from 1967 to 1977.

Underwood began her music training in the classical tradition, studying both at Ithaca College under Warren Benson and under Saul Goodman at Juilliard. Throughout 1967, she kept a regular attendance at the Garrick Theater in New York City when Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention was the resident band, resulting in her association with Zappa beginning in December 1967.

Oh, I was probably one of those rather stiff people from the suburbs - I think some of us did understand, and we kept coming back for more, and more, and more. I remember being very upset when they finally finished their stint at the Garrick Theatre and went back to LA. I felt as if the real heart had gone out of New York City, and I had to get back on with my Conservatory music training life, which seemed very dull after this.

As Ruth Komanoff and Ruth Underwood she also appeared on drums with a rock group named The Hamilton Face Band during 1969, appearing on some of their recordings released by Philips Records and Bell Records. She married fellow Zappa musician Ian Underwood in May 1969.

Underwood went on to perform in over twenty Zappa/Mothers recordings. Examples of her virtuosity can be heard on such tracks as the Rollo Interior interlude from St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast, from the Apostrophe (') album (1973). Equally impressive work is documented on Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and on Inca Roads, the opening track on One Size Fits All (1975). Some glimpses of Underwood in action can be seen in the Zappa movie 200 Motels (1969), and the Dub Room Special DVD, which includes performances from the KCET Special 'A Token Of His Extreme'. She also features in the (as yet unreleased) film of the Roxy performances.

Sessions for a small number of other performers were undertaken by Underwood during the 1970s, most notably the band Ambrosia and jazz-keyboardist George Duke, and others. By some accounts (which are vague), she retired from music by the beginning of 1980, concentrating instead on her family and raising two children, both accomplished classical musicians. However, in a 1993 interview she revealed that one final session for Zappa was undertaken shortly before his death from cancer in December of that year.

A couple of years ago, when I heard that Frank was ill, I called him up. For 14 years we had no contact at all. He invited me to the house and we enjoyed some really nice visits with each other. Last June ('93) he called and asked if he could sample some of my stuff. I was shocked because I hadn't touched a pair of mallets since March of '77. I ended up practicing for 14 hours, which was all the time I could get together in the context of my life now. I spent four days at Frank's house sampling. This was really a miracle for me - that I could be reunited with him and still have something to offer.


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