Frank Zappa
Musician, songwriter, composer, conductor, record producer
Frank Zappa
Frank Vincent Zappa was an American composer, singer-songwriter, electric guitarist, recording engineer, record producer and film director. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa wrote rock, jazz, orchestral and musique concrète works. He also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. Zappa produced almost all of the more than 60 albums he released with the band The Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist.
Biography
Frank Zappa's personal information overview.
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News
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Concert Review: Return To Forever IV with Zappa Plays Zappa - The Trades
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Frank Zappa was an experimental musician, unafraid to blend rock, jazz, classical into compositions laced with irreverent, often comedic lyrics. St. Louis' longtime classic rock station still play's Joe's Garage from time to time, but beyond that one
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Technology is infringing on classical music - Los Angeles Times
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Rock musician Frank Zappa in December 1989. (Los Angeles Times) By Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times Music Critic Popular music and classical music may be distinct genres with their own traditions and social mores, but cross-pollination has long been the
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Returning to Forever - Boulder Weekly
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... with longtime Corea collaborator Frank Gambale on guitar and fusion violin legend Jean Luc Ponty, who first came to stateside prominence in Frank Zappa's bands of the early 1970s before embarking on a successful solo career of his own. ... -
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Doctor Demento pays tribute to Frank Zappa - io9
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It's the sort of pairing that makes no sense, until you think about it: Novelty-record god Doctor Demento and avant-rock pioneer Frank Zappa. Doctor Demento was a guest at the World Science Fiction Covention this past weekend, and he paid tribute to
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Frank Zappa Disbanded The Mothers Of Invention - WFMY News 2
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In 1969, Frank Zappa disbanded the Mothers of Invention. He said he was tired of performing for people who clapped for the "wrong reasons." In 1989, actor Kenneth Branagh married actress Emma Thompson. In 1992, Sting and his longtime girlfriend Trudie
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Return to Forever continues to reinvent its music - Indianapolis Star
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7, joined by Zappa Plays Zappa, a band headed by Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil. A native of France who settled in the US in 1973, Ponty answered The Star's questions via email from Europe, where the band was performing. Question: How's the European tour
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Frank Zappa's songs to be played by son Dweezil on UK tour - NME.com
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Dweezil Zappa, son of the late Frank Zappa, is set to play his father's songs on a 13 date tour of the UK. Starting this November, the tour is being put together by The Zappa Family Trust and follows last year's similar Dweezil Zappa fronted gig at the
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Live review: Phish at Hollywood Bowl - Los Angeles Times
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The reunited quartet thrills followers with favorite originals and covers including songs by Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Talking Heads and Frank Zappa. Paul Simon once counseled on the 50 ways to leave your lover, but his advice was irrelevant to the
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Zappa, jazz greats deliver the greatest summer concert - Buffalo News
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But the highlight of the summer concert season from the perspective of musicianship took place on Monday inside UB's Center for the Arts, as jazz-prog legends Return to Forever joined with Frank Zappa repertory ensemble Zappa Plays Zappa
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Are you a Frank Zappa fan? - Poughkeepsie Journal
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The late Frank Zappa's son, Dweezil, will perform his father's music at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock on July 28. Are you going to see this show? Are you a Frank Zappa fan? Do you enjoy his son's music? Do you like the music of Flo and Eddie from
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The Most Idiotic Celebrity Baby Names - UGO
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Frank Zappa is known for being a wildly creative musician, but unfortunately, he allowed that creativity full reign when it came to naming his four children. The first kid to suffer Frank's whimsy was daughter Moon Unit Zappa, which is too absurd to
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Historic Zappa Related Release From Napoleon Murphy Brock (A Top Story) - antiMUSIC.com
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Here is the recap: (Glass Onyon) Napoleon Murphy Brock has released a rare live recording from the actual night that the singer and Frank Zappa first met. It's been released on a new CD titled 'This Is What Frank Zappa Heard - Communication Plus Live
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Celebrating Frank Zappa's legacy - Baltic Times
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The riverside tavern of Vilnius' eccentric artistic neighborhood, Uzupis, seemed the perfect location to meet prominent photographer and founder of the (now legendary) Frank Zappa Fan Club of the early 1990s, Saulius Paukstys. Back in the day,
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Cheap Trick and Frank Zappa Among Top 50 American Rock Bands of All Time - antiMUSIC.com
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On Monday Cheap Trick and Frank Zappa Among Top 50 American Rock Bands of All Time was a top story. Here is the recap: (Gibson) We've nearly arrived again at that most American of holidays: the Fourth of July. In celebration of the country's
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Wild Man Fischer, Outsider Musician, Dies at 66 - New York Times
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Wild Man Fischer, right, with Frank Zappa around 1968. The latest on the arts, coverage of live events, critical reviews, multimedia extravaganzas and much more. Join the discussion. The cause was heart failure, said Josh Rubin, a filmmaker whose
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Frank Zappa
    FIFTIES
  • 1993
    Age 52
    Zappa died on December 4, 1993, in his home with his wife and children by his side.
    More Details Hide Details At a private ceremony the following day, Zappa was interred in an unmarked grave at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles. On December 6, his family publicly announced that "Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6:00 pm on Saturday". Zappa was often characterized as an atheist. On Dweezil's birth certificate, for father's religion Zappa put "musician". Describing his political views, Frank Zappa jokingly categorized himself as a "practical conservative", or "independent". He favored limited government and low taxes; he also stated that he approved of national defense, social security, and other federal programs, but only if recipients of such programs are willing and able to pay for them. He favored capitalism, entrepreneurship, and independent business, stating that musicians could make more from owning their own businesses than from collecting royalties. He opposed communism, stating, "A system that doesn't allow ownership... has—to put it mildly—a fatal design flaw." Some of his songs, concert performances, interviews and public debates in the 1980s criticized and derided Republicans and their policies, President Ronald Reagan, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), televangelism, and the Christian Right, and warned that the United States government was in danger of becoming a "fascist theocracy". Zappa expressed opinions on censorship when he appeared on CNN's Crossfire TV series and debated issues with Washington Times commentator John Lofton in 1986.
  • 1992
    Age 51
    Guitar Player devoted a special issue to Zappa in 1992, and asked on the cover "Is FZ America's Best Kept Musical Secret?" Editor Don Menn remarked that the issue was about "The most important composer to come out of modern popular music".
    More Details Hide Details Among those contributing to the issue was composer and musicologist Nicolas Slonimsky, who conducted premiere performances of works of Ives and Varèse in the 1930s. He became friends with Zappa in the 1980s, and said, "I admire everything Frank does, because he practically created the new musical millennium. He does beautiful, beautiful work... It has been my luck to have lived to see the emergence of this totally new type of music." Conductor Kent Nagano remarked in the same issue that "Frank is a genius. That's a word I don't use often... In Frank's case it is not too strong... He is extremely literate musically. I'm not sure if the general public knows that." Pierre Boulez told Musician magazine's posthumous Zappa tribute article that Zappa "was an exceptional figure because he was part of the worlds of rock and classical music and that both types of his work would survive."
    At the first concert, he conducted the opening "Overture", and the final "G-Spot Tornado" as well as the theatrical "Food Gathering in Post-Industrial America, 1992" and "Welcome to the United States" (the remainder of the program was conducted by the ensemble's regular conductor Peter Rundel).
    More Details Hide Details Zappa received a 20-minute ovation. It would become his last professional public appearance, as the cancer was spreading to such an extent that he was in too much pain to enjoy an event that he otherwise found "exhilarating" (though he did do an audio interview in the final months of his life). Recordings from the concerts appeared on The Yellow Shark (1993), Zappa's last release during his lifetime, and some material from studio rehearsals appeared on the posthumous Everything Is Healing Nicely (1999).
    In September 1992, the concerts went ahead as scheduled, but Zappa could only appear at two in Frankfurt due to illness.
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  • 1991
    Age 50
    In 1991, Zappa was chosen to be one of four featured composers at the Frankfurt Festival in 1992 (the others were John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Alexander Knaifel).
    More Details Hide Details Zappa was approached by the German chamber ensemble, Ensemble Modern, which was interested in playing his music for the event. Although ill, he invited them to Los Angeles for rehearsals of new compositions and new arrangements of older material. Zappa also got along with the musicians, and the concerts in Germany and Austria were set up for the fall.
  • FORTIES
  • 1990
    Age 49
    In early 1990, Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel.
    More Details Hide Details Havel designated him as Czechoslovakia's "Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism". Havel was a lifelong fan of Zappa, who had great influence in the avant-garde and underground scene in Central Europe in the 1970s and 1980s (a Czech rock group that was imprisoned in 1976 took its name from Zappa's 1968 song "Plastic People"). Under pressure from US Secretary of State James Baker, Zappa's posting was withdrawn. Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attaché instead. Zappa also planned to develop an international consulting enterprise to facilitate trade between the former Eastern Bloc and Western businesses.
    In 1990, Zappa was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer.
    More Details Hide Details The disease had been developing unnoticed for ten years and was considered inoperable. After his diagnosis, Zappa devoted most of his energy to modern orchestral and Synclavier works.
  • 1988
    Age 47
    Zappa's last tour in a rock and jazz band format took place in 1988 with a 12-piece group which had a repertoire of over 100 (mostly Zappa) compositions, but which split under acrimonious circumstances before the tour was completed.
    More Details Hide Details The tour was documented on the albums Broadway the Hard Way (new material featuring songs with strong political emphasis); The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life (Zappa "standards" and an eclectic collection of cover tunes, ranging from Maurice Ravel's Boléro to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven); and Make a Jazz Noise Here. Parts are also found on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, volumes 4 and 6. Recordings from this tour also appear on the 2006 album Trance-Fusion.
  • 1986
    Age 45
    The album Jazz from Hell, released in 1986, earned Zappa his first Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
    More Details Hide Details Except for one live guitar solo ("St. Etienne"), the album exclusively featured compositions brought to life by the Synclavier. Although an instrumental album, containing no lyrics, Meyer Music Markets sold Jazz from Hell featuring an "explicit lyrics" sticker—a warning label introduced by the Recording Industry Association of America in an agreement with the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC).
    Around 1986, Zappa undertook a comprehensive re-release program of his earlier vinyl recordings.
    More Details Hide Details He personally oversaw the remastering of all his 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s albums for the new digital compact disc medium. Certain aspects of these re-issues were criticized by some fans as being unfaithful to the original recordings. Nearly twenty years before the advent of online music stores, Zappa had proposed to replace "phonographic record merchandising" of music by "direct digital-to-digital transfer" through phone or cable TV (with royalty payments and consumer billing automatically built into the accompanying software). In 1989, Zappa considered his idea a "miserable flop".
  • 1985
    Age 44
    On September 19, 1985, Zappa testified before the United States Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee, attacking the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC, a music organization co-founded by Tipper Gore, wife of then-senator Al Gore.
    More Details Hide Details The PMRC consisted of many wives of politicians, including the wives of five members of the committee, and was founded to address the issue of song lyrics with sexual or satanic content. Zappa saw their activities as on a path towards censorship, and called their proposal for voluntary labelling of records with explicit content "extortion" of the music industry. In his prepared statement, he said: The PMRC proposal is an ill-conceived piece of nonsense which fails to deliver any real benefits to children, infringes the civil liberties of people who are not children, and promises to keep the courts busy for years dealing with the interpretational and enforcemental problems inherent in the proposal's design. It is my understanding that, in law, First Amendment issues are decided with a preference for the least restrictive alternative. In this context, the PMRC's demands are the equivalent of treating dandruff by decapitation.... The establishment of a rating system, voluntary or otherwise, opens the door to an endless parade of moral quality control programs based on things certain Christians do not like. What if the next bunch of Washington wives demands a large yellow "J" on all material written or performed by Jews, in order to save helpless children from exposure to concealed Zionist doctrine?
  • 1984
    Age 43
    Francesco Zappa, a Synclavier rendition of works by 18th-century composer Francesco Zappa (no known relation), and Them or Us, a two-record set of heavily edited live and session pieces, were also released in 1984.
    More Details Hide Details
    In 1984, he released four albums.
    More Details Hide Details Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger contains orchestral works commissioned and conducted by celebrated conductor, composer and pianist Pierre Boulez (who was listed as an influence on Freak Out!), and performed by his Ensemble InterContemporain. These were juxtaposed with premiere Synclavier pieces. Again, Zappa was not satisfied with the performances of his orchestral works, regarding them as under-rehearsed, but in the album liner notes he respectfully thanks Boulez's demands for precision. The Synclavier pieces stood in contrast to the orchestral works, as the sounds were electronically generated and not, as became possible shortly thereafter, sampled. The album Thing-Fish was an ambitious three-record set in the style of a Broadway play dealing with a dystopian "what-if" scenario involving feminism, homosexuality, manufacturing and distribution of the AIDS virus, and a eugenics program conducted by the United States government. New vocals were combined with previously released tracks and new Synclavier music; "the work is an extraordinary example of bricolage".
    In 1984 Zappa teamed again with Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra for a live performance of A Zappa Affair with augmented orchestra, life-size puppets, and moving stage sets.
    More Details Hide Details Although critically acclaimed the work was a financial failure, and only performed twice. Zappa was invited by conference organizer Thomas Wells to be the keynote speaker at the American Society of University Composers at the Ohio State University. It was there Zappa delivered his famous "Bingo! There Goes Your Tenure" address, and had two of his orchestra pieces, "Dupree's Paradise" and "Naval Aviation in Art?" performed by the Columbus Symphony and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra of Columbus. For the remainder of his career, much of Zappa's work was influenced by his use of the Synclavier as a compositional and performance tool. Even considering the complexity of the music he wrote, the Synclavier could realize anything he could dream up. The Synclavier could be programmed to play almost anything conceivable, to perfection: "With the Synclavier, any group of imaginary instruments can be invited to play the most difficult passages... with one-millisecond accuracy—every time". Even though it essentially did away with the need for musicians, Zappa viewed the Synclavier and real-life musicians as separate.
  • 1982
    Age 41
    In May 1982, Zappa released Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, which featured his biggest selling single ever, the Grammy Award-nominated song "Valley Girl" (topping out at No. 32 on the Billboard charts).
    More Details Hide Details In her improvised lyrics to the song, Zappa's daughter Moon Unit satirized the vapid speech of teenage girls from the San Fernando Valley, which popularized many "Valspeak" expressions such as "gag me with a spoon", "fer sure, fer sure", "grody" (gross), and "barf out". In 1983, two different projects were released, beginning with The Man from Utopia, a rock-oriented work. The album is eclectic, featuring the vocal-led "Dangerous Kitchen" and "The Jazz Discharge Party Hats", both continuations of the sprechstimme excursions on Tinseltown Rebellion. The second album, London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I, contained orchestral Zappa compositions conducted by Kent Nagano and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO). A second record of these sessions, London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. II was released in 1987. The material was recorded under a tight schedule with Zappa providing all funding, helped by the commercial success of "Valley Girl". Zappa was not satisfied with the LSO recordings. One reason is "Strictly Genteel", which was recorded after the trumpet section had been out for drinks on a break: the track took 40 edits to hide out-of-tune notes. Conductor Nagano, who was pleased with the experience, noted that "in fairness to the orchestra, the music is humanly very, very difficult". Some reviews noted that the recordings were the best representation of Zappa's orchestral work so far.
  • 1981
    Age 40
    In 1981, Zappa also released three instrumental albums, Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar Some More, and The Return of the Son of Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar, which were initially sold via mail order, but later released through the CBS label due to popular demand.
    More Details Hide Details The albums focus exclusively on Frank Zappa as a guitar soloist, and the tracks are predominantly live recordings from 1979 to 1980; they highlight Zappa's improvisational skills with "beautiful performances from the backing group as well". Another guitar-only album, Guitar, was released in 1988, and a third, Trance-Fusion, which Zappa completed shortly before his death, was released in 2006.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1980
    Age 39
    The album is also notable for the presence of guitarist Steve Vai, who joined Zappa's touring band in the fall of 1980.
    More Details Hide Details The same year the double album You Are What You Is was released. Most of it was recorded in Zappa's brand new Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (UMRK) studios, which were located at his house, thereby giving him complete freedom in his work. The album included one complex instrumental, "Theme from the 3rd Movement of Sinister Footwear", but focused mainly on rock songs with Zappa's sardonic social commentary—satirical lyrics targeted at teenagers, the media, and religious and political hypocrisy. "Dumb All Over" is a tirade on religion, as is "Heavenly Bank Account", wherein Zappa rails against TV evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson for their purported influence on the U.S. administration as well as their use of religion as a means of raising money. Songs like "Society Pages" and "I'm a Beautiful Guy" show Zappa's dismay with the Reagan era and its "obscene pursuit of wealth and happiness".
    After spending much of 1980 on the road, Zappa released Tinsel Town Rebellion in 1981.
    More Details Hide Details It was the first release on his own Barking Pumpkin Records, and it contains songs taken from a 1979 tour, one studio track and material from the 1980 tours. The album is a mixture of complicated instrumentals and Zappa's use of sprechstimme (speaking song or voice)—a compositional technique utilized by such composers as Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg—showcasing some of the most accomplished bands Zappa ever had (mostly featuring drummer Vinnie Colaiuta). While some lyrics still raised controversy among critics, in the sense that some found them sexist, the political and sociological satire in songs like the title track and "The Blue Light" have been described as a "hilarious critique of the willingness of the American people to believe anything".
    In 1980, Zappa cut his ties with Mercury Records after the label refused to release his song "I Don't Wanna Get Drafted".
    More Details Hide Details It was picked up by CBS Records and released on the Zappa label in North America and the CBS label internationally.
  • 1979
    Age 38
    On December 21, 1979, Zappa's movie Baby Snakes premiered in New York.
    More Details Hide Details The movie's tagline was "A movie about people who do stuff that is not normal". The 2 hour and 40 minutes movie was based on footage from concerts in New York around Halloween 1977, with a band featuring keyboardist Tommy Mars and percussionist Ed Mann (who would both return on later tours) as well as guitarist Adrian Belew. It also contained several extraordinary sequences of clay animation by Bruce Bickford who had earlier provided animation sequences to Zappa for a 1974 TV special (which became available on the 1982 video The Dub Room Special). The movie did not do well in theatrical distribution, but won the Premier Grand Prix at the First International Music Festival in Paris in 1981. Zappa later expanded on his television appearances in a non-musical role. He was an actor or voice artist in episodes of Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre, Miami Vice and The Ren & Stimpy Show. A voice part in The Simpsons never materialized, to creator Matt Groening's disappointment (Groening was a neighbor of Zappa and a lifelong fan).
    Resolving the lawsuits successfully, Zappa ended the 1970s "stronger than ever", by releasing two of his most successful albums in 1979: the best selling album of his career, Sheik Yerbouti, and in Kelley Lowe's opinion the "bona fide masterpiece", Joe's Garage.
    More Details Hide Details The double album Sheik Yerbouti was the first release on Zappa Records, and contained the Grammy-nominated single "Dancin' Fool", which reached No. 45 on the Billboard charts, and "Jewish Princess", which received attention when a Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), attempted to prevent the song from receiving radio airplay due to its alleged anti-Semitic lyrics. Zappa vehemently denied any anti-Semitic sentiments, and dismissed the ADL as a "noisemaking organization that tries to apply pressure on people in order to manufacture a stereotype image of Jews that suits their idea of a good time." The album's commercial success was attributable in part to "Bobby Brown". Due to its explicit lyrics about a young man's encounter with a "dyke by the name of Freddie", the song did not get airplay in the U.S., but it topped the charts in several European countries where English is not the primary language. The triple LP Joe's Garage featured lead singer Ike Willis as the voice of the character "Joe" in a rock opera about the danger of political systems, the suppression of freedom of speech and music—inspired in part by the Islamic revolution that had made music illegal within its jurisdiction at the time—and about the "strange relationship Americans have with sex and sexual frankness". The album contains rock songs like "Catholic Girls" (a riposte to the controversies of "Jewish Princess"), "Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up", and the title track, as well as extended live-recorded guitar improvisations combined with a studio backup band dominated by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (with whom Zappa had a particularly good musical rapport) adopting the xenochrony process.
  • 1978
    Age 37
    Records without Zappa's consent were Studio Tan in 1978 and Sleep Dirt in 1979, which contained complex suites of instrumentally-based tunes recorded between 1973 and 1976, and whose release was overlooked in the midst of the legal problems.
    More Details Hide Details Also released by the label without the artist's consent was Orchestral Favorites in 1979, which featured recordings of a concert with orchestral music from 1975.
    In 1978, Zappa served both as host and musical act on the show, and as an actor in various sketches.
    More Details Hide Details The performances included an impromptu musical collaboration with cast member John Belushi during the instrumental piece "The Purple Lagoon". Belushi appeared as his Samurai Futaba character playing the tenor sax with Zappa conducting. Zappa's band at the time, with the additions of Ruth Underwood and a horn section (featuring Michael and Randy Brecker), performed during Christmas in New York, recordings of which appear on one of the albums Warner Bros. culled from the Läther project, Zappa in New York (1978). It mixes intense instrumentals such as "The Black Page" and humorous songs like "Titties and Beer". The former composition, written originally for drum kit but later developed for larger bands, is notorious for its complexity in rhythmic structure and short, densely arranged passages. Zappa in New York featured a song about sex criminal Michael H. Kenyon, "The Illinois Enema Bandit", which featured Don Pardo providing the opening narrative in the song. Like many songs on the album, it contained numerous sexual references, leading to many critics objecting and being offended by the content. Zappa dismissed the criticism by noting that he was a journalist reporting on life as he saw it. Predating his later fight against censorship, he remarked: "What do you make of a society that is so primitive that it clings to the belief that certain words in its language are so powerful that they could corrupt you the moment you hear them?" The remaining albums released by Warner Bros.
  • 1976
    Age 35
    In December 1976, Zappa appeared as a featured musical guest on the NBC television show Saturday Night Live.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa's song "I'm the Slime" was performed with a voice-over by SNL booth announcer Don Pardo, who also introduced "Peaches En Regalia" on the same airing.
    Zappa's relationship with long-time manager Herb Cohen ended in 1976.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa sued Cohen for skimming more than he was allocated from DiscReet Records, as well as for signing acts of which Zappa did not approve. Cohen filed a lawsuit against Zappa in return, which froze the money Zappa and Cohen had gained from an out-of-court settlement with MGM over the rights of the early Mothers of Invention recordings. It also prevented Zappa having access to any of his previously recorded material during the trials. Zappa therefore took his personal master copies of the rock-oriented Zoot Allures (1976) directly to Warner Bros., thereby bypassing DiscReet. In the mid-1970s Zappa prepared material for Läther ("leather"), a four-LP project. Läther encapsulated all the aspects of Zappa's musical styles—rock tunes, orchestral works, complex instrumentals, and Zappa's own trademark distortion-drenched guitar solos. Wary of a quadruple-LP, Warner Bros. Records refused to release it. Zappa managed to get an agreement with Phonogram Inc., and test pressings were made targeted at a Halloween 1977 release, but Warner Bros. prevented the release by claiming rights over the material. Zappa responded by appearing on the Pasadena, California radio station KROQ, allowing them to broadcast Läther and encouraging listeners to make their own tape recordings. A lawsuit between Zappa and Warner Bros. followed, during which no Zappa material was released for more than a year. Eventually, Warner Bros. issued different versions of much of the Läther material in 1978 and 1979 as four individual albums (five full-length LPs) with limited promotion.
  • 1975
    Age 34
    Although Zappa eventually gained the rights to all his material created under the MGM and Warner Bros. contracts, the various lawsuits meant that for a period Zappa's only income came from touring, which he therefore did extensively in 1975–77 with relatively small, mainly rock-oriented, bands.
    More Details Hide Details Drummer Terry Bozzio became a regular band member, Napoleon Murphy Brock stayed on for a while, and original Mothers of Invention bassist Roy Estrada joined. Among other musicians were bassist Patrick O'Hearn, singer-guitarist Ray White and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson.
  • 1972
    Age 31
    His first effort was a series of concerts in September 1972 with a 20-piece big band referred to as the Grand Wazoo.
    More Details Hide Details This was followed by a scaled-down version known as the Petit Wazoo that toured the U.S. for five weeks from October to December 1972. Zappa then formed and toured with smaller groups that variously included Ian Underwood (reeds, keyboards), Ruth Underwood (vibes, marimba), Sal Marquez (trumpet, vocals), Napoleon Murphy Brock (sax, flute and vocals), Bruce Fowler (trombone), Tom Fowler (bass), Chester Thompson (drums), Ralph Humphrey (drums), George Duke (keyboards, vocals), and Jean-Luc Ponty (violin). By 1973 the Bizarre and Straight labels were discontinued. In their place, Zappa and Cohen created DiscReet Records, also distributed by Warner Bros. Zappa continued a high rate of production through the first half of the 1970s, including the solo album Apostrophe (') (1974), which reached a career-high No. 10 on the Billboard pop album charts helped by the chart single "Don't Eat The Yellow Snow". Other albums from the period are Over-Nite Sensation (1973), which contained several future concert favorites, such as "Dinah-Moe Humm" and "Montana", and the albums Roxy & Elsewhere (1974) and One Size Fits All (1975) which feature ever-changing versions of a band still called the Mothers, and are notable for the tight renditions of highly difficult jazz fusion songs in such pieces as "Inca Roads", "Echidna's Arf (Of You)" and "Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen's Church)".
    Zappa began touring again in late 1972.
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  • 1971
    Age 30
    During 1971–72 Zappa released two strongly jazz-oriented solo LPs, Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo, which were recorded during the forced layoff from concert touring, using floating line-ups of session players and Mothers alumni.
    More Details Hide Details Musically, the albums were akin to Hot Rats.
    On December 4, 1971, Zappa suffered his first of two serious setbacks.
    More Details Hide Details While performing at Casino de Montreux in Switzerland, the Mothers' equipment was destroyed when a flare set off by an audience member started a fire that burned down the casino. Immortalized in Deep Purple's song "Smoke on the Water", the event and immediate aftermath can be heard on the bootleg album Swiss Cheese/Fire, released legally as part of Zappa's Beat the Boots II compilation. After losing $50,000 worth of equipment and a week's break, the Mothers played at the Rainbow Theatre, London, with rented gear. During the encore, audience member Trevor Howell pushed Zappa off the stage and into the concrete-floored orchestra pit. The band thought Zappa had been killed—he had suffered serious fractures, head trauma and injuries to his back, leg, and neck, as well as a crushed larynx, which ultimately caused his voice to drop a third after healing.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1970
    Age 29
    Later in 1970, Zappa formed a new version of the Mothers (from then on, he mostly dropped the "of Invention").
    More Details Hide Details It included British drummer Aynsley Dunbar, jazz keyboardist George Duke, Ian Underwood, Jeff Simmons (bass, rhythm guitar), and three members of the Turtles: bass player Jim Pons, and singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, who, due to persistent legal and contractual problems, adopted the stage name "The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie", or "Flo & Eddie". This version of the Mothers debuted on Zappa's next solo album Chunga's Revenge (1970), which was followed by the double-album soundtrack to the movie 200 Motels (1971), featuring the Mothers, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Ringo Starr, Theodore Bikel, and Keith Moon. Co-directed by Zappa and Tony Palmer, it was filmed in a week at Pinewood Studios outside London. Tensions between Zappa and several cast and crew members arose before and during shooting. The film deals loosely with life on the road as a rock musician. It was the first feature film photographed on videotape and transferred to 35 mm film, a process that allowed for novel visual effects. It was released to mixed reviews. The score relied extensively on orchestral music, and Zappa's dissatisfaction with the classical music world intensified when a concert, scheduled at the Royal Albert Hall after filming, was canceled because a representative of the venue found some of the lyrics obscene. In 1975, he lost a lawsuit against the Royal Albert Hall for breach of contract.
    In 1970 Zappa met conductor Zubin Mehta.
    More Details Hide Details They arranged a May 1970 concert where Mehta conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic augmented by a rock band. According to Zappa, the music was mostly written in motel rooms while on tour with the Mothers of Invention. Some of it was later featured in the movie 200 Motels. Although the concert was a success, Zappa's experience working with a symphony orchestra was not a happy one. His dissatisfaction became a recurring theme throughout his career; he often felt that the quality of performance of his material delivered by orchestras was not commensurate with the money he spent on orchestral concerts and recordings.
  • 1969
    Age 28
    In late 1969, Zappa broke up the band.
    More Details Hide Details He often cited the financial strain as the main reason, but also commented on the band members' lack of sufficient effort. Many band members were bitter about Zappa's decision, and some took it as a sign of Zappa's concern for perfection at the expense of human feeling. Others were irritated by 'his autocratic ways', exemplified by Zappa's never staying at the same hotel as the band members. Several members played for Zappa in years to come. Remaining recordings with the band from this period were collected on Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Burnt Weeny Sandwich (both released in 1970). After he disbanded the Mothers of Invention, Zappa released the acclaimed solo album Hot Rats (1969). It features, for the first time on record, Zappa playing extended guitar solos and contains one of his most enduring compositions, "Peaches en Regalia", which reappeared several times on future recordings. He was backed by jazz, blues and R&B session players including violinist Don "Sugarcane" Harris, drummers John Guerin and Paul Humphrey, multi-instrumentalist and previous member of the Mothers of Invention Ian Underwood, and multi-instrumentalist Shuggie Otis on bass, along with a guest appearance by Captain Beefheart (providing vocals to the only non-instrumental track, "Willie the Pimp"). It became a popular album in England, and had a major influence on the development of the jazz-rock fusion genre.
    In 1969 there were nine band members and Zappa was supporting the group himself from his publishing royalties whether they played or not. 1969 was also the year Zappa, fed up with MGM Records' interference, left them for Warner Bros.
    More Details Hide Details Records' Reprise subsidiary where Zappa/Mothers recordings would bear the Bizarre Records imprint.
  • 1968
    Age 27
    Zappa and the Mothers of Invention returned to Los Angeles in the summer of 1968, and the Zappas moved into a house on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, only to move again to one on Woodrow Wilson Drive in the autumn.
    More Details Hide Details This was Zappa's home for the rest of his life. Despite being a success with fans in Europe, the Mothers of Invention were not faring well financially. Their first records were vocally oriented, but Zappa wrote more instrumental jazz and classical oriented music for the band's concerts, which confused audiences. Zappa felt that audiences failed to appreciate his "electrical chamber music".
  • 1967
    Age 26
    In 1967, he married Adelaide Gail Sloatman, with whom he remained until his death from prostate cancer in 1993.
    More Details Hide Details They had four children: Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva.
    In 1967 and 1968, Zappa made two appearances with the Monkees.
    More Details Hide Details The first appearance was on an episode of their TV series, "The Monkees Blow Their Minds", where Zappa, dressed up as Mike Nesmith, interviews Nesmith who is dressed up as Zappa. After the interview, Zappa destroys a car with a sledgehammer as the song "Mother People" plays. He later provided a cameo in the Monkees' movie Head where, leading a cow, he tells Davy Jones "the youth of America depends on you to show them the way." Zappa had respect for what the Monkees were doing, and offered Micky Dolenz a position in the Mothers. RCA/Columbia/Colgems would not allow Dolenz out of his contract.
    At the same time, Zappa had recorded material for an album of orchestral works to be released under his own name, Lumpy Gravy, released by Capitol Records in 1967.
    More Details Hide Details Due to contractual problems, the album was pulled. Zappa took the opportunity to radically restructure the contents, adding newly recorded, improvised dialogue. After the contractual problems were resolved, the album was reissued by Verve in 1968. It is an "incredible ambitious musical project", a "monument to John Cage", which intertwines orchestral themes, spoken words and electronic noises through radical audio editing techniques. The Mothers of Invention played in New York in late 1966 and were offered a contract at the Garrick Theater during Easter 1967. This proved successful and Herb Cohen extended the booking, which eventually lasted half a year. As a result, Zappa and his wife, along with the Mothers of Invention, moved to New York. Their shows became a combination of improvised acts showcasing individual talents of the band as well as tight performances of Zappa's music. Everything was directed by Zappa using hand signals. Guest performers and audience participation became a regular part of the Garrick Theater shows. One evening, Zappa managed to entice some U.S. Marines from the audience onto the stage, where they proceeded to dismember a big baby doll, having been told by Zappa to pretend that it was a "gook baby".
    They married in 1967, had four children and remained together until Zappa's death.
    More Details Hide Details Wilson nominally produced the Mothers' second album Absolutely Free (1967), which was recorded in November 1966, and later mixed in New York, although by this time Zappa was in de facto control of most facets of the production. It featured extended playing by the Mothers of Invention and focused on songs that defined Zappa's compositional style of introducing abrupt, rhythmical changes into songs that were built from diverse elements. Examples are "Plastic People" and "Brown Shoes Don't Make It", which contained lyrics critical of the hypocrisy and conformity of American society, but also of the counterculture of the 1960s. As Zappa put it, "We're satirists, and we are out to satirize everything."
    In a surviving 1967 radio interview, Zappa explained that the album's outlandish 11-minute closing track, "Return of the Son of Monster Magnet" was in fact an unfinished piece.
    More Details Hide Details The track (as it appears on the album) was created to act as the backing track for a much more complex work, but MGM refused to approve the additional recording time Zappa needed to complete it, so (much to his chagrin) it was issued in this unfinished form. During the recording of Freak Out!, Zappa moved into a house in Laurel Canyon with friend Pamela Zarubica, who appeared on the album. The house became a meeting (and living) place for many LA musicians and groupies of the time, despite Zappa's disapproval of their illicit drug use. After a short promotional tour following the release of Freak Out!, Zappa met Adelaide Gail Sloatman. He fell in love within "a couple of minutes", and she moved into the house over the summer.
  • 1966
    Age 25
    His 1966 debut album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated sound collages.
    More Details Hide Details He continued this eclectic and experimental approach, irrespective of whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz or classical. Zappa's lyrics reflected his iconoclastic views of established social and political processes, structures and movements, often humorously so. He was a strident critic of mainstream education and organized religion, and a forthright and passionate advocate for freedom of speech, self-education, political participation and the abolition of censorship. Unlike many other rock musicians of his era, he personally disapproved of and seldom used drugs, but supported their decriminalization and regulation. During Zappa's lifetime, he was a highly productive and prolific artist, earning widespread acclaim from critics and fellow musicians. He had some commercial success, particularly in Europe, and worked as an independent artist for most of his career. He remains a major influence on musicians and composers. Sterling Whitaker described Zappa as "one of the most innovative and versatile rock musicians of his generation." His honors include an induction into the 1995 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 1997 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number 71 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and in 2011 at number 22 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
  • 1965
    Age 24
    In 1965, Ray Collins asked Zappa to take over as guitarist in local R&B band the Soul Giants, following a fight between Collins and the group's original guitarist.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa accepted, and soon assumed leadership and the role as co-lead singer (even though he never considered himself a singer). He convinced the other members that they should play his music to increase the chances of getting a record contract. The band was renamed the Mothers, coincidentally on Mother's Day. They increased their bookings after beginning an association with manager Herb Cohen, while they gradually gained attention on the burgeoning Los Angeles underground music scene. In early 1966, they were spotted by leading record producer Tom Wilson when playing "Trouble Every Day", a song about the Watts riots. Wilson had earned acclaim as the producer for Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel, and was notable as one of the few African-Americans working as a major label pop music producer at this time. Wilson signed the Mothers to the Verve division of MGM, which had built up a strong reputation for its releases of modern jazz recordings in the 1940s and 1950s, but was attempting to diversify into pop and rock audiences. Verve insisted that the band officially rename themselves the Mothers of Invention as Mother was short for motherfucker—a term that, apart from its profane meanings, can denote a skilled musician.
    An article in the local press describing Zappa as "the Movie King of Cucamonga" prompted the local police to suspect that he was making pornographic films. In March 1965, Zappa was approached by a vice squad undercover officer, and accepted an offer of $100 to produce a suggestive audio tape for an alleged stag party.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa and a female friend recorded a faked erotic episode. When Zappa was about to hand over the tape, he was arrested, and the police stripped the studio of all recorded material. The press was tipped off beforehand, and next day's The Daily Report wrote that "Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday and arrested a self-styled movie producer". Zappa was charged with "conspiracy to commit pornography". This felony charge was reduced and he was sentenced to six months in jail on a misdemeanor, with all but ten days suspended. His brief imprisonment left a permanent mark, and was central to the formation of his anti-authoritarian stance. Zappa lost several recordings made at Studio Z in the process, as the police only returned 30 out of 80 hours of tape seized. Eventually, he could no longer afford to pay the rent on the studio and was evicted. Zappa managed to recover some of his possessions before the studio was torn down in 1966.
  • 1964
    Age 23
    In 1964, after his marriage started to break up, he moved into the Pal studio and began routinely working 12 hours or more per day recording and experimenting with overdubbing and audio tape manipulation.
    More Details Hide Details This established a work pattern that endured for most of his life. Aided by his income from film composing, Zappa took over the studio from Paul Buff, who was now working with Art Laboe at Original Sound. It was renamed Studio Z. Studio Z was rarely booked for recordings by other musicians. Instead, friends moved in, notably James "Motorhead" Sherwood. Zappa started performing in local bars as a guitarist with a power trio, the Muthers, to support himself.
  • 1963
    Age 22
    Although none of the recordings from the period achieved major commercial success, Zappa earned enough money to allow him to stage a concert of his orchestral music in 1963 and to broadcast and record it.
    More Details Hide Details He appeared on Steve Allen's syndicated late night show the same year, in which he played a bicycle as a musical instrument. Using a bow borrowed from the band's bass player, as well as drum sticks, he proceeded to pluck, bang, and bow the spokes of the bike, producing strange, comical sounds from his new found instrument. With Captain Beefheart, Zappa recorded some songs under the name of the Soots. They were rejected by Dot Records for having "no commercial potential", a verdict Zappa subsequently quoted on the sleeve of Freak Out!
    The latter soundtrack was recorded in 1963 after the film was completed, but it was commissioned by one of Zappa's former high school teachers in 1959 and Zappa may have worked on it before the film was shot.
    More Details Hide Details Excerpts from the soundtrack can be heard on the posthumous album The Lost Episodes (1996). During the early 1960s, Zappa wrote and produced songs for other local artists, often working with singer-songwriter Ray Collins and producer Paul Buff. Their "Memories of El Monte" was recorded by the Penguins, although only Cleve Duncan of the original group was featured. Buff owned the small Pal Recording Studio in Cucamonga, which included a unique five-track tape recorder he had built. At that time, only a handful of the most sophisticated commercial studios had multi-track facilities; the industry standard for smaller studios was still mono or two-track.
  • TEENAGE
  • 1960
    Age 19
    Zappa was married to Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman from 1960-64.
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  • 1959
    Age 18
    Zappa left home in 1959, and moved into a small apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles. After meeting Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman during his short period of private composition study with Prof. Karl Kohn of Pomona College, they moved in together in Ontario, and were married December 28, 1960.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa worked for a short period in advertising. His sojourn in the commercial world was brief, but gave him valuable insights into its workings. Throughout his career, he took a keen interest in the visual presentation of his work, designing some of his album covers and directing his own films and videos. Zappa attempted to earn a living as a musician and composer, and played different nightclub gigs, some with a new version of the Blackouts. Financially more rewarding were Zappa's earliest professional recordings, two soundtracks for the low-budget films The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965). The former score was commissioned by actor-producer Timothy Carey and recorded in 1961. It contains many themes that appeared on later Zappa records.
    In 1959, he attended Chaffey College but left after one semester, and maintained thereafter a disdain for formal education, taking his children out of school at age 15 and refusing to pay for their college.
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  • 1958
    Age 17
    Zappa's interest in composing and arranging flourished in his last high-school years. By his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra. He graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1958, and later acknowledged two of his music teachers on the sleeve of the 1966 album Freak Out!
    More Details Hide Details Due to his family's frequent moves, Zappa attended at least six different high schools, and as a student he was often bored and given to distracting the rest of the class with juvenile antics.
  • 1957
    Age 16
    Zappa's interest in the guitar grew, and in 1957 he was given his first instrument.
    More Details Hide Details Among his early influences were Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Howlin' Wolf and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. (In the 1970s/80s, he invited Watson to perform on several albums.) Zappa considered soloing as the equivalent of forming "air sculptures", and developed an eclectic, innovative and highly personal style.
  • 1956
    Age 15
    By 1956, the Zappa family had moved to Lancaster, a small aerospace and farming town in the Antelope Valley of the Mojave Desert close to Edwards Air Force Base, in northern Los Angeles County.
    More Details Hide Details Zappa's mother encouraged him in his musical interests. Although she disliked Varèse's music, she was indulgent enough to give her son a long distance call to the composer as a 15th birthday present. Unfortunately, Varèse was in Europe at the time, so Zappa spoke to the composer's wife and she suggested he call back later. In a letter Varèse thanked him for his interest, and told him about a composition he was working on called "Déserts". Living in the desert town of Lancaster, Zappa found this very exciting. Varèse invited him to visit if he ever came to New York. The meeting never took place (Varèse died in 1965), but Zappa framed the letter and kept it on display for the rest of his life. At Antelope Valley High School, Zappa met Don Vliet (who later expanded his name to Don Van Vliet and adopted the stage name Captain Beefheart). Zappa and Vliet became close friends, sharing an interest in R&B records and influencing each other musically throughout their careers. Around the same time, Zappa started playing drums in a local band, the Blackouts. The band was racially diverse, and included Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood who later became a member of the Mothers of Invention.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1950
    Age 9
    Zappa grew up influenced by avant-garde composers such as Varèse, Igor Stravinsky, and Anton Webern; 1950's blues artists Guitar Slim, Johnny Guitar Watson, and B.B. King; R&B and doo-wop groups (particularly local pachuco groups); and modern jazz.
    More Details Hide Details His own heterogeneous ethnic background, and the diverse social and cultural mix in and around greater Los Angeles, were crucial in the formation of Zappa as a practitioner of underground music and of his later distrustful and openly critical attitude towards "mainstream" social, political and musical movements. He frequently lampooned musical fads like psychedelia, rock opera and disco. Television also exerted a strong influence, as demonstrated by quotations from show themes and advertising jingles found in his later works.
  • 1940
    Born
    Born on December 21, 1940.
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