Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Frank Zappa was raised in California where he grew
up influenced in equal measures by avant garde composers such as Edgar Varese
and Igor Stravinsky and the local rhythm and blues and doo-wop groups.
After a short career as a professional songwriter (his elegiac "Memories of El Monte" was recorded by The Penguins) Frank Zappa joined a local R&B band as a guitarist. A short time later he re-christened the band "The Mothers" (and, later still, "Frank Zappa and the Mothers Of Invention" at the insistence of the record company.)
The Mothers were signed by well known producer Tom Wilson, and soon produced the double album Freak Out (1966) a mixture of often topical R&B and experimental sound collage. The similarly eclectic Absolutely Free and Lumpy Gravy followed the next year. Zappa also recorded We're Only In It For The Money, a withering satire on both flower power and the prevailing mood of mainstream America; the cover parodied that of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, replacing flowers with vegetables.
After several more albums with the Mothers including the Doo-Wop flavored Cruising With Ruben And The Jets, Frank Zappa released the solo instrumental album Hot Rats, featuring his free jazz inflected guitar playing, as well as a live set recorded at the Fillmore East and featuring John Lennon. He continued this high rate of production through the early 1970s, including the excellent and accessible albums One Size Fits All and Apostrophe, with a new versions of the Mothers. See Tom and Jerry for an anecdote from this era.
After a break Frank Zappa returned, and much of his later work was influenced by his use of the synclavier as a compositional and performance tool and his mastery of studio techniques for producing specific instrumental effects. His work was also more explicitly political satirising the rise of television evangelists and the Republican party.
On September 19, 1985, Zappa testified before the US Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee, attacking the Parents Music Resource Center or PMRC, a music censorship organization founded by Al Gore's wife Tipper Gore and including many other political wives, including the wives of five members of the committee. 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 enforce mental 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."
In the early 1990s Frank Zappa devoted almost all of his energy to modern orchestral and synclavier works. In 1992 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, a disease which caused his death on December 4, 1993. His last tour in a "rock band format" took place in 1988 with a 12-piece group which was reported to have a repetoire of over 800 (mostly Zappa) compositions, but which split acrimoniously before the tour was completed. The tour was documented on the albums The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life (Zappa "standards" and obscure cover tunes), Make a Jazz Noise here (mostly instrumental and experimental music) and Broadway The Hard Way (new original material), with bits also to be found on You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Volume 6.
On his death in 1993, Frank Zappa was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California.
Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. That same year the only known cast of Frank Zappa was installed in the center of Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Konstantinas Bogdanas, the most renowned Lithuanian sculptor who had previously been casting portraits of Vladimir Lenin immortalized Zappa.
There is an asteroid named in his honor called (3834) Zappafrank.
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