It all stemmed from a 1976 falling out with manager Herb Cohen, who co-owned, with Zappa, DiscReet Records, a label distributed by Warner Bros. After Zappa’s relationship with Cohen soured and they ended up in court, the record company temporarily sided with Zappa and allowed him to release some projects without Cohen.
In 1977, Zappa gave Warners an ambitious four-album set called ‘Lather,’ which was made up of various material recorded over the past eight years. Naturally, the bottom-line-minded company balked at releasing such an uncommercial project, which was kinda Zappa’s kiss-off farewell to the label anyway, since he was contractually obligated to deliver four more albums before he was free to do what he wanted. Plus, Warners was now siding with Cohen.
So Zappa returned to the editing room and split ‘Lather’ into four separate albums: 1977′s ‘Zappa in New York,’ 1978′s ‘Studio Tan,’ 1979′s ‘Orchestral Favorites’ and ‘Sleep Dirt,’ an entirely instrumental LP combining his usual mix of avant-rock, jazz-fusion and proficiently played prog. After more back and forth with Warners, the label eventually decided to release the records, but without Zappa’s input, which meant that liner notes, cover art and other details were left in the hands of neglectful company suits.