Christmas day 2011 brought about the death of one of the original Mothers of Invention, Euclid James “Motorhead” Sherwood (or Jim, for short). The nickname Motorhead reflected his immense passion for cars and automechanics (I’ve also seen his nickname as Motorishi, as in rishi, the Sanskrit word for “seer” or “sage”). He was 69 years old when he died.
Sherwood was a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, though he made his mark most noticeably on the baritone and tenor saxophones in the Mothers. In 1968, Frank Zappa said the following to Rolling Stone about Sherwood, his longtime friend and musical collaborator:
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.
For this Zappa fan, The Mothers of Invention represent the height of Zappa’s musical creativity (don’t get me wrong, this not to say that many great things didn’t come later, like humor, guitar noodling par excellence, and so forth). The blending of social criticism, jazz, classical and rock music, and performance art was nothing short of astonishing in the Mother’s short lifespan and musical output. Give me Freak Out, Uncle Meat, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, and Weasels Ripped My Flesh on a desert island, and all auditory needs will be sated. Jim Sherwood was there rocking centerstage with the Mothers, and for my money he typified the creative and unfettered mélange of sound and stage that was the Mothers’ M.O. Check him out here on the BBC recording of “King Kong” in 1968. RIP Motorhead.