Lawyer of Invention

Loving Frank Zappa ... and the law

Published in 2004 Indiana Super Lawyers magazine

By Julie Slaymaker on December 1, 2004


“Information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, wisdom is not truth, truth is not beauty, beauty is not love, love is not music. Music is the best.”

—Frank Zappa, “Joe’s Garage,” 1979

It pays to be a devoted fan. At least it did for Bose McKinney & Evans entertainment law attorney Craig Pinkus, who was first a hard-core fan of rock artist Frank Zappa, and then his lawyer.

In the 1950s, Pinkus discovered for himself that “music is the best” when he was a 13-year-old, School #84 student taking drum lessons. Drum teacher Sonny Johnson lived in one-half of a double at 34th and Capitol Avenue. Johnson made trombonist Slide Hampton pay rent for the other half, but he refused to charge the cash-strapped Pinkus family for Craig’s lessons.

“My buddy Rick Congress and I would take a bus to Sonny’s house, where future world-famous musicians would come to play,” recalls Pinkus. “Rick and I would sit in the corner of the room, thinking we were in the presence of gods when musicians like Wes Montgomery and his brothers Monk and Buddy, jazz trombonist J.J. Johnson, bass player Leroy Vinegar and alto sax titan ‘Pookie’ Johnson dropped in to play. I was just gaga!” exclaims Pinkus.

Hanging around such company convinced him that he wasn’t good enough to pursue a music career. But while an outstanding drummer at North Central High School, he discovered that he also excelled at public speaking. “Talking got me to college,” says the glib lawyer, who went to Butler University on a debate  scholarship.

Before graduating magna cum laude in 1965, Pinkus was captain of the school’s G.E. College Bowl team. The hotshot debater and his partner, Michael McGee, gained notoriety for losing a televised debate with Alabama Governor George Wallace, who ran for president in several state Democratic primaries in 1964, including Indiana’s.

During his first year at Harvard Law School in 1965, Pinkus discovered the music of Frank Zappa. “He was incredibly funny with his iconoclastic sense of humor. He ridiculed the shallowness of rock bands and their lifestyle, and I fell in love with all that stuff,” enthuses Pinkus.

“Zappa was a free-speech advocate, because the first thing that happened in his career was government censorship. His lyrics were intentionally very offensive. They were meant to be provocative and cause people to think. He was saying, ‘In your face’ before the expression was popular.”

After graduating from Harvard in 1968, he collected articles about the founder of the Mothers of Invention, attended his concerts and even met him a few times. Then he heard that author David Walley, who was writing a biography of Zappa called No Commercial Potential, needed someone to write the bibliography. Pinkus volunteered.

As a result, Pinkus started to talk to his idol, who suggested he start up a fanzine. “Frank named it ‘Mother’s Home Journal.’ I wrote and published it from 1972 to 1973 and distributed it free to 300 fans throughout the world. At the same time, I was directing the Indiana Civil Liberties Union after spending one year at Barnes and Thornburg.

“In 1975, I argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving the Indianapolis Free Press, which was an underground newspaper that the Indianapolis Public School wouldn’t allow to be distributed,” he says. “Frank knew what I was doing and thought it was the right approach to First Amendment issues.

“Frank asked me to come out to California to see him, which I did. During a previous concert, a fan had knocked Frank into the orchestra pit, breaking his leg. I spent a couple of weeks with him while he recovered. When he got into a fight with his personal manager, I negotiated contracts with the new manager. As a result, Frank asked me to move there and manage him.

“I really wanted to do it because I loved Frank,” an emotional Pinkus says, clearing his throat. “But for personal reasons, I declined.”  Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993.

Twenty years before that untimely death, the Pinkus/Zappa connection was well known in Indianapolis music circles. So when Sunshine Promotion founders Dave Lucas and Joe Halderman needed legal help with an Isaac Hayes concert they were promoting in 1971, they turned to Pinkus. It began a relationship that continues to this day. In 1997, the businesses Sunshine created — Deer Creek Music Center, Polaris Amphitheatre, Murat Center and TourDesign — were eventually acquired by Clear Channel Entertainment, a global leader in the music industry.

Dave Lucas is today the president/co-CEO of Clear Channel Entertainment–Music. He says, “I’ve worked with Craig for nearly 30 years. When I go into litigation, I think of him as my secret weapon.”

Just exactly what Zappa thought.

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