Frank Zappa, born on December 21, 1940, was an American musician who passed away on December 4, 1993, in Los Angeles, California. The self-taught musician and composer had a wide range of musical inspirations, which led him to produce often enigmatic music. Zappa was not just a superb rock guitarist but also a hardworking rock star who opposed the hippie movement of the 1960s and despised its conformism, false ideas, and drug use. He was also an innovative filmmaker, music producer, businessman, iconoclast, and perceptive political and social commentator.
Frank Zappa was the oldest child of Francis Vincent Zappa and Rose Marie. His father, a chemist, and mathematician, worked in the military industry, and the family frequently relocated because of his job requirements. As a child, Zappa was accidentally exposed to mustard gas and radium, which caused him to suffer from asthma, earaches, and sinus infections. Since his family often relocated, he attended several high schools. He began playing drums in a band while attending Mission Bay High School. He disliked conventional music and was influenced by avant-garde composers like Varese, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky. He attended Antelope Valley High School and graduated in 1958. He wrote orchestral music and conducted concerts for his school orchestra. In 1959, he moved out of his house and briefly worked in advertising while trying to establish himself as a musician and composer. He performed at different nightclubs and made soundtracks for low-budget films. During the early 1960s, he wrote songs and created music for other artists. Zappa recorded some songs with Ray Collins and Paul Buff, which helped him fund his own performance in 1963.
In 1965, Ray Collins invited Zappa to join the band Soul Giants. He joined as a vocalist and guitarist, renaming the band The Mothers of Invention. In 1966, the band released its debut album, “Freak Out!” The album, considered to be one of the earliest concept albums in rock music, did well in Europe and has since gained a cult following. The next year, two albums were released: “Absolutely Free,” with political and social satire lyrics, and “Lumpy Gravy,” with symphonic music. In 1968, the band released “We’re Only in It for the Money,” another concept album that satirized politics and hippie subculture. The music was a mix of rock and orchestral elements. Despite the rising popularity, the band was not doing well commercially, and they finally split up in 1969. “Hot Rats,” Zappa’s first album after the breakup of The Mothers of Invention, was released in the same year. It featured a different tone from his previous albums as it focused on instrumental music rather than vocal performance. In 1970, he formed The Mothers, a new backup band that included drummer Aynsley Dunbar, George Duke, Ian Underwood, and Jim Pons, among others. “Chunga’s Revenge” was the band’s debut album.
Zappa was a highly prolific musician who frequently released many albums in a year. He was a music lover who appreciated the freedom of artistic expression. Among the various albums he released throughout the 1970s, the most popular were “Over-Nite Sensation” (1973), “Zoot Allures” (1976), “Sheik Yerbouti” (1979), and “Joe’s Garage Act I” (1979). He was just as productive, if not more, in the 1980s. His best-known albums from this decade were “The Man from Utopia” (1983), “Them or Us” (1984), and “Guitar” (1987). The legendary musician was diagnosed with cancer in 1990. Although battling cancer, he continued to compose music. “The Yellow Shark” (1993) was the final of the several albums he released in the years leading up to his death. Many new albums were released posthumously using the previously unreleased material from Zappa’s recordings, thus continuing the legacy of Zappa even after his untimely death.
His first release with the original Mothers of Invention is the conceptual double album “Freak Out!”
He is awarded the Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance for the album “Jazz From Hell.”
Zappa is honored posthumously as he is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
He is the winner of the Grammy for Best Recording Package for his album, “Civilization Phaze III.”
He receives the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement Award after his death.
Why We Love Frank Zappa
He didn’t use drugs
Zappa strongly opposed the use of drugs that he'd threaten to fire any musician who'd use them. Despite his hatred for drugs, he was a harsh opponent of the government's ‘War on Drugs,’ mainly due to its apparent hypocrisy. Zappa's main point was that the government aided in the spread of narcotics across the country.
He inspired a revolution in Czechoslovakia
Zappa became increasingly political during the ‘80s, and Czechoslovakia's 1989 Velvet Revolutionaries took his music to heart. Zappa received a hero’s welcome and was even given an official title when he performed there at the invitation of the country's new president, Václav Havel.
He’s very talented
Zappa was not an average musician. He was an intelligent person whose musical works bear the fruits of his critical thinking. Apart from music, he was also competent in filmmaking, songwriting, and business.
5 Surprising Facts
He worked regular jobs
Zappa worked as a window dresser, a copywriter, and a door-to-door salesman.
He used to like directing
Long before he began to play guitar, Zappa found a love for his father’s 8mm camera, which he’d borrow to make home movies.
He was detained for 10 days
While making a living as a commercial artist, Zappa was hired to create a stag party tape for a hundred bucks, but he got caught and was charged with pornography.
Zappa almost got burned alive
His band was playing a gig at the Montreux casino hall when a fan with a flare gun shot it towards the hall's ceiling.
Zappa got pushed off stage
A crazy spectator threw him off stage at London's Rainbow Theatre, and he fell into the orchestra pit, suffering serious injuries.
Frank Zappa FAQs
Why is Frank Zappa important?
He was an outspoken critic of everything from middle-class herd mentality to rock and roll censorship. He worked in every genre, from rock to jazz to classical music, and created 60 innovative, revolutionary, and satirical albums over his career.
What were Frank Zappa's last words?
His actual last word is his music.
Where is Frank Zappa's grave?
He was buried at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, in an unmarked grave.
Frank Zappa’s birthday dates