I heard the Army tried to draft Frank Zappa because he was a pornographer–is that right?

Well, Zappa did serve time on a pornography charge when he was 23, but he was never a budding Hefner. In 1964, Zappa was playing with a blues trio in a Latino club in Ontario, California–although the crowd was more interested in the four go-go girls onstage wearing fishnet stockings. A used-car salesman offered Zappa $100 for a sex audiotape. Zappa enlisted the assistance of one go-go girl, Lorraine Belcher, and “I stayed up most of the night manufacturing this bogus sex tape, fake bedsprings, squeaks and grunts. I overdubbed a musical background and spent hours cutting the laughs out of this thing.” The next day, the salesman proved to be Sergeant Jim Willis of the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Office, running a sting operation.

Zappa was charged with conspiracy to manufacture pornographic materials–a felony. He bailed out Belcher with his royalties from “Memories of El Monte,” a song he had cowritten for the doo-wop group the Penguins. Too broke to mount an effective defense, Zappa pled nolo contendre and served ten days of a six-month sentence (the rest was suspended). “You can’t appreciate what a jail is and what goes on there unless someone sticks you in one,” Zappa said. “In a way, I guess I have to thank Detective Willis and the evil machinery of the San Bernadino legal system for giving me a chance to see, from that perspective, what the penal system is like in this country, and… how ineffectual and how stupid it is.” Zappa was also given three years probation, during which he was not permitted to be in the company of any woman under 21 without the presence of a “competent adult.” But the charge actually kept him out of Vietnam–as a convicted felon, he was exempt from the draft.

(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)