Frank Zappa Tells The Tale Of The Night He Dueted With Sting

Listen to the story along with an unedited performance of FZ and Sting on a Police classic.

By Nate Todd Dec 9, 2022 1:28 pm PST

December 4 marked 29 years since Frank Zappa died from prostate cancer just two weeks shy of his 53rd birthday. A little over five years before his death, a landmark collaboration took place between The Maestro and Sting, which saw the latter fronting an impromptu performance of The Police song “Murder By Numbers” with FZ and his band at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre on March 3, 1988.

The team-up between the iconic artists later appeared on Zappa’s 1988 live compilation Broadway The Hard Way. But there is an interesting story behind how the collab came about, told by Frank himself.

While part of the story is heard on Broadway The Hard Way, a video created by YouTuber TheAaronChannel compiles clips of the complete story and includes the unedited performance of “Murder By Numbers” not on the live record. One of the interesting aspects of the story not on the live compilation is Frank relating that Sting had some trepidation about playing considering it was so off the cuff.

“There’s no way you can lose because this band will always make you look good,” Frank said in an audio clip in the video. That band included guitarists Ike Willis and Mike Keneally, keyboardist Bobby Martin, bassist Scott Thunes, drummer Chad Wackerman, percussionist Ed Mann, trumpeter Walt Fowler, trombonist Bruce Fowler, alto saxophonist Paul Carman, tenor saxophonist Albert Wing and baritone saxophonist Kurt McGettrick.

Perhaps prompted by Frank’s reassurance of his always stellar band and after hearing a number of songs about “the near collapse of 1980’s television evangelical broadcasters (think Jim and Tammy Bakker, Pat Robertson and, Jimmy Swaggart),” as per TheAaronChannel, Sting does indeed take the stage.

In the style of a TV evangelist with the band expertly following his punctuations, Sting proceeds to tell about his own experience with Jimmy Swaggart. As he relates, Swaggart said that “Murder By Numbers” was “written by Satan” and performed by “the sons of Satan.” “I wrote that song,” Sting said, before the band launched into an outstanding jazzy rendition of the Synchronicity closer with Sting delivering a powerhouse vocal performance complete with an FZ guitar solo.

Frank was undoubtedly impressed by Sting’s chops as well as the Swaggart story. Sting also had a great time and wrote Frank to thank him and ask for the sheet music to “The Idiot Bastard Son,” which he would later perform on his 1988 tour.

But it all started with “Murder By Numbers.” Hear FZ tell the tale along with the unedited performance below:

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