Ruth Underwood

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Ruth Underwood
Underwood playing at a Frank Zappa concert, c. 1975
Underwood playing at a Frank Zappa concert, c. 1975
Background information
Birth nameRuth Komanoff
Born (1946-05-23) 23 May 1946 (age 77)
Occupation(s)Musician, composer
Instrument(s)Xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, piano, synthesizer
Years active1967–1982
LabelsPhilips Records, Bell Records, DiscReet Records

Ruth Underwood (born Ruth Komanoff; May 23, 1946) is an American musician best known for playing xylophone, marimba, vibraphone, and other percussion instruments in Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. She collaborated with the Mothers of Invention from 1968 to 1977.

Life and career[edit]

Underwood began her music training in the classical tradition, studying both at Ithaca College under Warren Benson[1] and at Juilliard under Saul Goodman (timpani) and Morris Goldenberg (percussion).[2] Throughout 1967, she kept a regular attendance at the Garrick Theater in New York City when Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention were the resident band. This resulted in her association with Zappa, beginning in December 1967.[citation needed]

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 L.A. 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.[3]

In May 1969 she married keyboardist/saxophonist Ian Underwood, a fellow Zappa musician. They divorced in 1986. Professionally she used both her birth name, Ruth Komanoff, and her married name.

Underwood performed in more than 30 recordings with Zappa or Mothers. Examples of her virtuosity can be heard on tracks including the "Rollo Interior interlude" from "St. Alfonzo's Pancake Breakfast" on the Apostrophe (') album (1974). Other work is documented on Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and on "Inca Roads", the opening track on One Size Fits All (1975). Underwood can be heard (though not seen) in the soundtrack of the Zappa movie 200 Motels (1971),[4] and the Dub Room Special DVD (1982),[5] which includes performances from the KCET Special A Token Of His Extreme. She also features in the film of the Roxy performances (2015).[6]

During the 1970s, Underwood collaborated in recording sessions for a small number of other performers, most notably with the band Ambrosia, composer Jasun Martz, and jazz keyboardist George Duke, the last also a veteran of Zappa's bands.[7] Underwood was the drummer with a rock group named the Hamilton Face Band during 1969,[8] appearing on their recordings released by Philips Records[9] and Bell Records. [citation needed]

By some accounts, she retired from performing by 1982, concentrating instead on her family.[citation needed]

In a 1993 interview she revealed that she played on one final session for Zappa 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.

In 2008, she commissioned Gordon Stout to write a work for the percussion ensemble Nexus.[10]

She also features in the DVD - DC Collection: Vol. 1 - The Drummers Of Frank Zappa (2009) with Terry Bozzio, Ralph Humphrey, Chester Thompson and Chad Wackerman.

She is the mother of two children, both musicians.[11] She resides in Los Angeles.

Selected discography[edit]

Frank Zappa[edit]

The Hamilton Face Band[edit]

Jasun Murtz and the Neoteric Orchestra[edit]

George Duke[edit]

Billy Cobham[edit]


Alphonso Johnson[edit]

Eye to Eye[edit]

  • Eye to Eye (1982)

Jasun Martz/The Neoteric Orchestra[edit]

  • The Pillory (1981)

Malcolm McNab[edit]

  • Exquisite (2006)

Movie appearances[edit]


  1. ^ Wagner, Alan D. (2005). A bio-bibliography of composer Warren Benson. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. pp. 38, 41. ISBN 0-7734-6241-4. OCLC 56905356.
  2. ^ Wagner, Alan D. (2005). A bio-bibliography of composer Warren Benson. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. p. 358. ISBN 0-7734-6241-4. OCLC 56905356.
  3. ^ Frank Zappa. The Late Show. London: BBC. July 23, 1993. Event occurs at 19:08. OCLC 263565757.
  4. ^ "200 Motels".
  5. ^ "The Dubroom Special".
  6. ^ "Roxy - The Movie".
  7. ^ "Ruth Underwood Songs, Albums, Reviews, Bio & More".
  8. ^ "Hamilton 'Face' Is A Band". The Atlanta Constitution. June 14, 1969. pp. 68. Retrieved October 14, 2021 – via
  9. ^ "Philips New Releases". Cash Box. April 12, 1969. pp. 28. Retrieved October 14, 2021 – via
  10. ^ "Gordon Stout: New work for NEXUS (2009)". 11 January 2009. Retrieved 2016-11-19.
  11. ^ Wagner, Alan D. (2005). A bio-bibliography of composer Warren Benson. Lewiston, New York: Edwin Mellen Press. pp. 358–59. ISBN 0-7734-6241-4. OCLC 56905356.