Frank Zappa December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993 Zappa was an American musician, composer, social activist and filmmaker. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. He grew up in southern California was mostly self taught as a musician. Though he considered himself a percussionist first, he is regarded as one of rock's greatest and most innovative guitarists, displayed on hundreds of extended guitar solos over his prodigious career. A truer genius is hard to find. (more below)
His musical interests were extremely eclectic from Lightnin' Slim and Johnny “Guitar” Watkins to 20thcentury classical/avant garde composers Stravinsky, Webern and Varese and even Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh. It was Varese however that really caught Zappa's imagination in his youth and provided the springboard for his future musical endeavors. Zappa's mother allowed the 15 year old Frank to call the composer and it was revealed that Varese was working on his newest piece called Deserts. He later sent a letter to Zappa which he framed for posterity.
While in high school he became friends with Don Van Vliet later to become the legendary Captain Beefheart and they formed a band together. They would later record together. By his senior year in high school, Frank was writing, arrangingand conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra. He then attended Chaffey College for one semester and that was the entirety of Zappa's college and formal education. This led to one of his many great quotes - “If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.”
In 1964 he befriended the owner of a small recording studio Pal Studios which had one of the rare 5 track recorders of the day. Zappa quickly moved into the studio and began experimenting with overdubbing audio track manipulation, often for 12 or more hours per day. This set the pattern he was to adopt for the rest of his professional life. In '65 Zappa was asked to take over the guitar position in a R&B band called Soul Giants formed by fellow guitarist Ray Collins. He accepted and quickly took the band over and convinced everyone to start playing his music. The band's name was changed on Mother's Day to “The Mothers.” They started to get more live bookings and then Herb Cohen signed them which proved to be quite positive. Just little later Tom Wilson, a record producer heard the Zappa and the Mothers playing “Trouble Every Day,” his take on the Watts riots in Los Angels. Wilson ultimately signed them to Verve Records but insisted they modify their name to The Mothers of Invention, believing that too many would perceive Mothers as motherfuckers, though in musical parlance, especially in the jazz world, a mother was a label used for a great and highly skilled instrumentalist.The first album recorded for Verve was Freak Out. Zappa won and maintained an extraordinary amount of control over the virtually everything on the recording. In '67 Zappa met Gail Sloatman and according to him fell in love with her in 11 minutes. They were married a short time later and had four kids together – Dweezil, Ahmet, Moon Unit and Diva. Gail and Frank remained together until his death in '93. Zappa recorded 3 more albums with the Mothers and then disbanded the group in '69. That same year he recorded his first Frank Zappa album entitled Hot Rats which featured the oft played “Peaches en Regalia.” The album was entirely instrumental except for Willie the Pimp which Captain Beefheart sang on.
Zappa went on to record 62 albums during his lifetime including several with full orchestra including The London Symphony Orchestra and recording with Pierre Boulez who Zappa was influenced by early on. Since his death in '93 the Zappa Family Trust, administered by his wife Gail and now his kids, nearly 60 more recordings have been released for over 120 albums in total.