Birthday: December 21, 1940
Quotes By Frank Vincent Zappa
Died At Age: 52
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Frank Zappa
Born in: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S
Famous as: American musician
Spouse/Ex-: Kathryn J.
father: Francis Zappa
mother: Rose Marie Colimore
children: Ahmet Zappa, Diva Zappa, Dweezil Zappa, Moon Unit Zappa
Died on: December 4, 1993
place of death: Los Angeles, California, U.S
City: Baltimore, Maryland
U.S. State: Maryland
Frank Zappa was a versatile musician who wore many hats—he was a guitarist, singer and composer whose works have covered a variety of musical genres like rock, jazz and orchestral symphonies. Regarded a pioneer in the field of music, Zappa found his inspiration from avant-garde musical composers and developed an unconventional and unique approach to creating music. He loved music from a young age and began composing classical music while in high school. He also played drums and guitar in rhythm and blues bands. He was largely a self-taught musician known to combine different musical genres while composing music, thereby making it difficult to precisely classify his style. What further added to his appeal was that along with creating hybrid music, he also wrote lyrics that were satirical, humourous and abstract. Zappa was asked to take over a band called The Soul Giants which he renamed as The Mothers of Invention and released his debut album, ‘Freak Out!’, considered to be rock music’s first concept album. He valued his artistic freedom more than commercial success and preferred to work as an independent artist for most of his long and productive career spanning over three decades. Unlike many other musicians who were into drugs, Zappa was a passionate anti-drug crusader.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as the eldest of four siblings to Francis Vincent Zappa and Rose Marie. His father, a chemist cum mathematician worked in the defense industry and the family moved often because of his job requirements.
As a child he was accidentally exposed to mustard gas and radium due to which he was afflicted with several sicknesses, such as, asthma, earaches and sinus.
Because of his family’s frequent relocations he attended several high schools.
While attending Mission Bay High School, he started playing drums for a band. He did not like mainstream music and was influenced by avant-garde composers like Varese, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky.
He went to Antelope Valley High School from where he graduated in 1958. He wrote orchestral pieces and conducted performances for his school orchestra.
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He moved out of his house in 1959 and worked in advertising for a short period while trying to get a footing as a musician and composer. He played gigs at different nightclubs and recorded soundtracks for low-budget movies.
He wrote songs and composed music for other artists during the early 1960’s. He recorded some songs with singer-songwriter Ray Collins and Paul Buff, which helped him earn enough money to stage his own concert in 1963.
In 1965, he was asked to join the Rhythm & Blues band Soul Giants by Ray Collins. He joined as a singer cum guitarist, and renamed the band The Mothers of Invention.
The band released their debut album ‘Freak Out!’ in 1966. Considered to be among the first ever concept albums in rock music, the album did well in Europe and has since then garnered a cult following.
The very next year two albums were released: ‘Absolutely Free’ which comprised lyrics of political and social satire, and ‘Lumpy Gravy’ which featured orchestral music.
In 1968, the band brought out ‘We’re only in it for the Money’ which was again a concept album that satirized politics and hippie subculture. The music was a combination of rock and orchestra.
The band was growing popular, but in spite of it they were not doing well commercially. The band eventually broke up in 1969.
His first album after the disbanding of The Mothers of Invention was ‘Hot Rats’ which was released in 1969. It featured a sound very different from his previous albums as it focused on instrumental music rather than vocal performance.
He formed a new backing band, called The Mothers in 1970, which included drummer Aynsley Dunbar, George Duke, Ian Underwood and Jim Pons among others. ‘Chunga’s Revenge’ was the first album with this band.
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Zappa was a highly prolific musician who often released several albums in a year. He was very passionate about music, and valued freedom of artistic expression.
Out of the numerous albums he released during the 1970’s, the most popular ones were ‘Over-Nite Sensation’ (1973), ‘Zoot Allures’ (1976), ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ (1979), and ‘Joe's Garage Act I’ (1979).
He was as productive, if not more in the 1980’s. His best known albums of this decade include: ‘The Man from Utopia’ (1983), ‘Them or Us’ (1984), and ‘Guitar’ (1987).
In 1990, the great musician was diagnosed with cancer. He continued writing music even as he struggled with the disease. Out of the several albums he released in the years leading to his death, ‘The Yellow Shark’ (1993) was the last one.
Many new albums were released posthumously using the previously unreleased material from his recordings, thus continuing the legacy of Frank Zappa even after his untimely death.
Frank Zappa was a versatile musician who was highly respected and admired for his unconventional style of ‘hybrid’ music which combined rock, jazz, and classical genres. The prolific entertainer had released over 60 albums during his lifetime which continue to inspire avant-garde musicians even today.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 1997.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Kathryn Sherman in 1960 and divorced her in 1964.
He married Adelaide Gail Sloatman in 1967. The couple had a loving marriage that produced four children and lasted till his death in 1993.
He was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 1990 and died in 1993 at the age of 52.
He was a vocal advocate for freedom of speech and a passionate anti-drug crusader.
He was named on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004.
A Californian jellyfish was named Phialella zappai in 1987 in honour of the music composer.