The Letterman Debate

A Letterman sweater fetched $2560 at a 2016 Auction in L.A.. Can you believe it? 

Does the new owner know the full provenance of the Letterman sweater?

To whom should the money have gone? What do you think? Read on ...

"Talking of which, Muffin Man Roddie Gilliard has pointed out to me that Lot 378 (‘Frank Zappa Portrait Letterman’s Sweater’) in fact belonged to Jimmy Carl Black: in his memoirs, Jim tells us that Tom Wilson can be seen on the cover of We’re Only In It For The Money wearing his “high school Letterman’s sweater”. The ‘G’ stands for Gadsden, in Anthony, New Mexico. [ 25 October 2016]



Jimmy Carl Black's Letterman Jacket 

"I also played baseball during high school and I managed to make the team as a pitcher. In fact, when I was a senior in high school, our team won the New Mexico State Championships and I was the winning pitcher.[JCB, For Mother's Sake, p. 19]

The Letterman




A maroon letterman’s sweater worn by Frank Zappa in a 1967 series of photographs with his wife, Gail, and in 1968 photographs with The Mothers of Invention. The sweater has a patch to the left arm that reads “State Champs 1956” and has “G” and “56” applied letters as well as suede patches to the elbow. A label reads “A registered Letterman’s sweater H.L. Whiting Company.”

[ Photo & Text: © 2010-2014 Julien's Auctions. All Rights Reserved. DianeV Web Design Studio]


"Jimi Hendrix was in the Village that week we did the album cover. He was back in America for the first time since he’d made it big in England. He’d come back to headline at The Monterey Pop Festival. He’s not a cardboard prop on the album cover because he was actually with us at the shoot. For the record, the other black guy on there is Tom Wilson, the guy with my high school letterman’s sweater on." [JCB, For Mother's Sake, p. 84]

Lots of questions, huh? Why did Frank Zappa wear Jimmy's Letterman for a series of photographs with his wife in 1967? What was the occasion for this series of photos? Why was no exampler photo included in the Sale catalogue? Where were the other members of the band? Wasn't at the photo shoot for the cover of 'We're Only In It for The Money', was it? - when Tom Wilson also wore it? Surely, it's association with the making of this seminal album would only have enhanced the value of the Letterman? So, why is Frank only shown wearing the Letterman in a 1968 photo of the band? Did Frank hope to improve his image by wearing the Letterman, or was it his intention to mock a stereotypical image of success at school in the USA at that time? Or was he just cold and borrowed it off Jimmy as, mayhap, a cold Tom Wilson did?

So did Frank borrow or acquire the Letterman from Jimmy? Maybe bighearted Jimmy let Frank keep it - it certainly wasn't Frank's originally as he was still only fifteen in 1956! It's unlikely that he got it from another student at Jimmy's high school - isn't it?

Did Jimmy sell or gift it to Frank? Then why does Jimmy word his comment as "For the record..."? Also, what does Jimmy mean by "my high school letterman’s sweater". His originally, yes, but - did he give or sell it to Frank? - was a 'borrow' never returned? It is surprising that Jimmy did not say more than just "my". Was he holding something back? Did he just forget to ask for it back, or did he believe it lost somewhere? Or did he know that Frank had it last?

Surely Frank knew it was Jimmy's? Why did he never return it? Of course the mostly likely answer is that it went into a wardrobe sometime, somewhere, and got forgotten until Frank was dead. Would Ahmet Zappa be willing to gift the money made in the sale to Jimmy Carl Black's oldest son? Would he be willing to inform the buyer of the provenance of the Letterman sweater? Given the history between Frank & Jimmy, it would be a nice gesture and we're sure the buyer would appreciate knowing the full associations that the Letterman has.