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Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa was an American singer, composer, arranger, guitarist, bandleader,

and all around musician who was one of the greatest iconoclastic musicians of

the 20th Century. He also produced over 60 albums in 30 years. Some considered

him to have demonstrated a mastery of pop idioms ranging from jazz to rock of

every conceivable variety. As astute an entrepreneur as he was a musician, he

was impatient with any division between popular and high art; he combined

scatological humor with political wit, required of his players an intimidating

skill, and displayed consistent innovation in instrumental and studio

technology. “I knew there was a big thing here that was unique, because the

beat 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-Arab

meteorologist father was employed by an arsenal that manufactured poison gas

during World War II. The eldest of four children of a guitar-playing government

scientist, Frank Zappa moved with his family at age ten to California. At the

age 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. “I

was extremely suspect of any rock music played by white people. The sincerity

and emotional intensity of their performances, when they sang about boyfriends

and girlfriends and breaking up, etc., was nowhere when I compared it to my high

school Negro R&B heroes like Johnny Otis, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Mae

Thornton.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). Early exposure to a record of

Ionisation by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varese instilled an interest

in advanced rhythmic experimentation, which lead to the fascination of the

electric guitar. “Enlightenment is , to a certain extent, attributable to the

evolution of rock and vice versa.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.1). In 1963

Mr. Zappa wrote a score for a Western called Run Home Slow and with the money

built a studio in Cucamonga, California. But along with success come some

misfortune in which Zappa was charged for conspiracy to commit pornography by

the San Bernardino Vice Squad after an undercover policeman requested some sex

“party” tapes. Zappa delivered tapes of faked grunting, and served ten days

of a six-month jail sentence. In 1964, Zappa joined a local R&B outfit, the

Soul Giants and started writing songs for them. Eager to gain a heavier image

Flo and Eddie joined up with Zappa for the film 200 Motels. But once again

misfortune struck Zappa. On December 4,1971 there was a fire that destroyed the

bands equipment and a crazy accident in which Zappa was pushed off-stage at

London’s 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 a

year. Apostrophe (‘) showcased Zappa’s talents as a story - teller in the

Lord 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 the

instruments himself. He was experimenting with what he termed

“xenochronicity” (combining unrelated tracks to create a piece of

non-synchronous music) and produced intriguing results on ‘Friendly Little

Finger’. “Through rock music, the audience is being exposed to an assortment

of advanced musical and electronic techniques that five years ago might have

sent them screaming into the street.” (Frank Zappa, The New Rock; p.3). In

1976, Zappa filed a lawsuit against Herb Cohen, which in 1977 severed ties with

Warner Bros., moving to Mercury two years later. There he set up Zappa Records

and retired the Mothers name, calling all later groups Zappa. In 1980 Zappa

recorded a single, “I Don’t Wanna Get Drafted,” which Mercury refused to

release, prompting him to leave the label and eventually establish his own

Barking Pumpkin Label. In 1981 Zappa released his first Barking Pumpkin album,

and that year, some ex-Mothers, including Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, and

Bunk Gardner, united to form the Grandmothers. “They did everything they could

to 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 18th

century composer named Francesco Zappa and recorded his work on a synclavier.

Two releases, Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar and Guitar, proved that Zappa’s

guitar playing was unique; Jazz From Hell presented wordless compositions for

synclavier that drew inspiration from Conlon Nancarrow; Thing-Fish was a

‘Broadway musical’ about AIDS, homophobia and racism. In November of 1991,

in New York on the eve of a tribute concert entitled “Zappa’s Universe,”

Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa announced that their father had been diagnosed with

cancer of the prostate. A lifelong teetotaler and abstainer from drugs (Zappa,

however, smoked cigarettes and drank coffee incessantly), the composer continued

a rigorous work schedule. And in May 1993 Zappa, clearly weak from intensive

chemotherapy, announced that he was fast losing the battle as it had spread into

his bones. At the age of 52, shortly before his 53rd birthday, at his Los

Angeles home Zappa succumbed to the disease. Zappa’s career in perspective

shows a musical perfectionist using only the highest standards of musicianship

and the finest recording quality. “It has been discovered and revealed that

song 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 the

most exotic, original and complex figures to have emerged from rock culture.

Guitar hero, satirist, and political commentator, Zappa managed to avoid being

easily categorized for over three decades. And to show their appreciation the

Critics elected Zappa into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. “It’s not important

to even be remembered,” he said, “I mean, the people who worry about being

remembered are guys like Reagan, Bush…. I don’t care.”

“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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