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INKANISH, JAMES, JR. [JIMMY CARL BLACK]

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INKANISH, JAMES, JR. [JIMMY CARL BLACK] (1938–2008). Jimmy Carl Black, musician, drummer, and vocalist, was born James Inkanish, Jr., in El Paso, Texas, on February 1, 1938. An accomplished drummer, Jimmy Carl Black worked with many notable musicians, including Roy Estrada, Ray Collins, Captain Beefheart, Bunk Gardner, Eugene Chadbourne, Don Preston, and Richard Farrell. However, Black is perhaps best-known for his work with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. He endured many highs and lows throughout his life but always managed to return to the spotlight and share his music with the world.

Black’s biological mother and father were both of Cheyenne ancestry. When Jimmy was one year old, his father (James Inkanish) died. His mother married Carl Black, whose last name Jimmy legally assumed in 1958. Carl Black moved the family to Anthony, Texas, a small community near El Paso and located on the Texas-New Mexico border, where he served as mayor.

Jimmy Carl Black learned to play piano at the age of six. He played the trumpet in junior high and high school. In 1958 he joined the United States Air Force for a four-year stint and switched to drums. He was stationed in Wichita, Kansas, where he played at night and worked during the day to support his wife, Loretta, and children. The couple later divorced. He recorded his first single with The Keys in 1962. Later, Black played drums for the Squires until he was fired for his unkempt appearance.

In 1964 Jimmy Carl Black moved his family to Los Angeles, California, where he met Roy Estrada and Ray Collins and joined the band the Soul Giants, which played throughout Southern California. A personnel change resulted in the hiring of guitarist and vocalist Frank Zappa. Within a month, Zappa had become leader of the band, which changed its name to the Mothers of Invention.

The Mothers of Invention signed a deal with MGM Records, and their album releases included Freak Out! (1966), Absolutely Free (1967), We’re Only in It for the Money (1968), and Uncle Meat (1969). On the album We’re Only in It for the Money, Jimmy Carl Black demonstrated his blunt and sometimes dry sense of humor with his greeting, “Hi boys and girls. I’m Jimmy Carl Black, and I’m the Indian of the group.” His tenure with the Mothers of Invention brought Black national prominence, but the often excessive rock-and-roll lifestyle resulted in growing problems among the band members.

Frank Zappa dissolved the group after Uncle Meat was released in 1969. Jimmy Carl Black joined with another Mothers of Invention band member, Bunk Gardner, to form a new group called Geronimo Black. Together Black and Gardner played “a raunchy rock style infused with a sense of humor.” They signed with MCA and released Geronimo Black in 1972. However, the band split up in 1973, and Black’s musical career languished over the following decade. He did rejoin Frank Zappa in the 1971 film 200 Motels, playing the wayward Lonesome Cowboy Burt. However, in 1973 Black moved back to Anthony, Texas. There he worked odd jobs for several years, including in a donut shop in El Paso.

In 1980 Black moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. He also reunited with two former members of the Mothers of Invention, Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, and formed The Grandmothers. The band performed “vintage Zappa songs and other original compositions laced with similarly irreverent humor and political commentary.” The group released two albums on Rhino Records, A Mother of an Anthology (1980) and Looking Up Granny’s Dress (1982), but it struggled to maintain momentum, splitting up and reforming several times over the following two decades. In the early 1980s Black moved to Austin. He established a painting company with fellow musician Arthur Brown. Eventually they recorded and released Brown, Black and Blue (1989). By the late 1980s he had also formed a blues band called Jimmy Carl Black and the Mannish Boys.

Black went on to form other bands, often with former members from the Mothers of Invention. In 1991 he teamed up with Eugene Chadbourne and toured throughout Europe. He moved to Italy the following year and married his second wife, Monika, on December 22, 1997. He also worked in a variety of groups throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including The Grandmothers, his own blues band called the Farrell and Black Band, and an English group called the Muffin Men. By the early 2000s he had formed his own label, Inkanish Records, but in 2004 the label went out of business due to the bankruptcy of its distribution company.

Jimmy Carl Black died of cancer at the age of seventy in Siegsdorf, Germany, on November 1, 2008. Black is survived by his second wife Monika, six children (three sons [all musicians] and three daughters), and several grandchildren. Black’s website announced, “Jimmy passed away peacefully.…Jimmy says hi to everybody and he doesn’t want anyone to be sad.” 

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Jimmy Carl Black (http://www.jimmycarlblack.com/biography.htm), accessed September 8, 2015. Jimmy Carl Black, For Mother’s Sake: The Memoirs & Recollections of Jimmy Carl Black 1938–2008, transcribed and edited by Roddie Gilliard (Inkanish Publications, 2013). The Jimmy Carl Black Story (Zonic Entertainment/Hot Club Records, 2008). Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed. (10 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). Los Angeles Times, November 6, 2008. New York Times, November 7, 2008. 

William H. Wright

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, William H. Wright, "Inkanish, James, Jr. [Jimmy Carl Black]," accessed October 18, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fin13.

Uploaded on April 3, 2015. Modified on November 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.