In the summer of 1967, nineteen year old Robert Davidson was at The Royal Garden Hotel with Tony Secunda doing a press call for Zappa’s upcoming concert at the Royal Albert Hall and while scouting for a suitable location heard Zappa’s voice on the telephone. Robert seized the opportunity and immediately asked through the ajar bathroom door if he could take his picture. Zappa explained to his wife on the other end of the line that, “Some limey wants to take my picture on the John. Sure, whatever turns him on.”
This set of images, commonly known as the ‘Zappa Krappa’ pictures almost immediately gained cult status, a sentiment echoed by Zappa himself in 1983, when stating, “I’m probably more famous for sitting on the toilet than for anything else.”
Earlier this year the image appeared in the V & A’s definitive exhibition on the 1960’s ‘You Say You Want a Revolution.’ The proliferation of this unconventional image, with poster reproductions reaching into the millions, has propelled this intimate portrait of Zappa into the fabric of pop culture.
Three months after the shoot, Zappa’s management, incorrectly thinking Davidson to be benefiting exclusively from the increasingly popular images, sent representatives to his studio where he was forced to part with his original negatives. However, these measures proved futile due to the vast amount of pirate reproductions that had already taken place, and ultimately neither Davidson nor Zappa received any royalties from the image.
Moving forward to 2010, Davidson learnt that his negatives were about to be sold online by a Los Angeles memorabilia company, Rockaway Records, who had purchased them from the estate of Herb Cohen, Zappa’s manager. Davidson contacted Rockaway Records to relate his story, and in turn they kindly agreed to repatriate the 10 surviving negatives for a token sum. Rockaway’s Mark Steckler stated, “We are just glad that Robert Davidson could get them back.”