Singer, composer, arranger, guitarist, bandleader,and all around musician who was one of the greatest iconoclastic musicians ofthe 20th Century. He also produced over 60 albums in 30 years. Some consideredhim to have demonstrated a mastery of pop idioms ranging from jazz to rock ofevery conceivable variety. As astute an entrepreneur as he was a musician, hewas impatient with any division between popular and high art; he combinedscatological humor with political wit, required of his players an intimidatingskill, and displayed consistent innovation in instrumental and studiotechnology.
“I knew there was a big thing here that was unique, because thebeat matched the great rhythm of the human body.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock;p.1) He was born in 1940 in Baltimore where his Sicilian-born, Greek-Arabmeteorologist father was employed by an arsenal that manufactured poison gasduring World War II. The eldest of four children of a guitar-playing governmentscientist, Frank Zappa moved with his family at age ten to California. At theage of twelve Zappa became interested in drums, learning orchestral percussion.
By 1956 he was playing drums in a local R&B band called the Ramblers. “Iwas extremely suspect of any rock music played by white people. The sincerityand emotional intensity of their performances, when they sang about boyfriendsand girlfriends and breaking up, etc., was nowhere when I compared it to my highschool Negro R&B heroes like Johnny Otis, Howlin Wolf and Willie MaeThornton.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). Early exposure to a record ofIonisation by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varese instilled an interestin advanced rhythmic experimentation, which lead to the fascination of theelectric guitar. “Enlightenment is , to a certain extent, attributable to theevolution of rock and vice versa.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). In 1963Mr. Zappa wrote a score for a Western called Run Home Slow and with the moneybuilt a studio in Cucamonga, California. But along with success come somemisfortune in which Zappa was charged for conspiracy to commit pornography bythe San Bernardino Vice Squad after an undercover policeman requested some sex”party” tapes. Zappa delivered tapes of faked grunting, and served ten daysof a six-month jail sentence. In 1964, Zappa joined a local R&B outfit, theSoul Giants and started writing songs for them. Eager to gain a heavier imageFlo and Eddie joined up with Zappa for the film 200 Motels. But once againmisfortune struck Zappa. On December 4,1971 there was a fire that destroyed thebands equipment and a crazy accident in which Zappa was pushed off-stage atLondons Rainbow theatre. He crushed his larynx (lowering his voice a third),and damaged his spine, which kept him wheelchair-bound for the best part of ayear. Apostrophe () showcased Zappas talents as a story – teller in theLord Buckley tradition. I reached number 10 in the Billboard chart in June 1974.
In 1975 Captain Beefheart joined Zappa for a tour, Zappa overdubbing most of theinstruments himself. He was experimenting with what he termed”xenochronicity” (combining unrelated tracks to create a piece ofnon-synchronous music) and produced intriguing results on Friendly LittleFinger. “Through rock music, the audience is being exposed to an assortmentof advanced musical and electronic techniques that five years ago might havesent them screaming into the street.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.3). In1976, Zappa filed a lawsuit against Herb Cohen, which in 1977 severed ties withWarner Bros., moving to Mercury two years later. There he set up Zappa Recordsand retired the Mothers name, calling all later groups Zappa. In 1980 Zapparecorded a single, “I Dont Wanna Get Drafted,” which Mercury refused torelease, prompting him to leave the label and eventually establish his ownBarking Pumpkin Label. In 1981 Zappa released his first Barking Pumpkin album,and that year, some ex-Mothers, including Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, andBunk Gardner, united to form the Grandmothers. “They did everything they couldto make sure their audience was moved erotically.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock;p.2). In 1984 he was quite outrageously prolific: he unearthed the an 18thcentury composer named Francesco Zappa and recorded his work on a synclavier.
Two releases, Shut Up N Play Yer Guitar and Guitar, proved that Zappasguitar playing was unique; Jazz From Hell presented wordless compositions forsynclavier that drew inspiration from Conlon Nancarrow; Thing-Fish was aBroadway musical about AIDS, homophobia and racism. In November of 1991,in New York on the eve of a tribute concert entitled “Zappas Universe,”Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa announced that their father had been diagnosed withcancer of the prostate. A lifelong teetotaler and abstainer from drugs (Zappa,however, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee incessantly), the composer continueda rigorous work schedule. And in May 1993 Zappa, clearly weak from intensivechemotherapy, announced that he was fast losing the battle as it had spread intohis bones. At the age of 52, shortly before his 53rd birthday, at his LosAngeles home Zappa succumbed to the disease. Zappas career in perspectiveshows a musical perfectionist using only the highest standards of musicianshipand the finest recording quality. “It has been discovered and revealed thatsong can capture the fancy of the American public efficiently.” (Frank Zappa,The New Rock; p.2). History will certainly recognize Zappa as a sophisticated,serious composer and a highly accomplished master of music. Zappa was one of themost exotic, original and complex figures to have emerged from rock culture.
Guitar hero, satirist, and political commentator, Zappa managed to avoid beingeasily categorized for over three decades. And to show their appreciation theCritics elected Zappa into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. “Its not importantto even be remembered,” he said, “I mean, the people who worry about beingremembered are guys like Reagan, Bush…. I dont care.”Bibliography”Frank Zappa-Biography.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000? “Frank Zappa.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 ?”Frank Zappa Tribute.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 ?”The New Rock..” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000 ?”Zappa BR Home Page.” Yahoo. Online. Yahoo Online. 7 April, 2000
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