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Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa

Known For: Acting · Birthday: 1940-12-21 · Deathday: 1993-12-04 (52 years old) · Gender: Male · Place of Birth: Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.

36 Movies · 7 TV shows

Also Known As: Zappa · FZ · Френк Заппа

Biography

Frank Vincent Zappa (December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993) was an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his era.As a self-taught composer and performer, Zappa's diverse musical influences led him to create music that was sometimes difficult to categorize. While in his teens, he acquired a taste for 20th-century classical modernism, African-American rhythm and blues, and doo-wop music. He began writing classical music in high school, while at the same time playing drums in rhythm and blues bands, later switching to electric guitar. His 1966 debut album with the Mothers of Invention, Freak Out!, combined songs in conventional rock and roll format with collective improvisations and studio-generated sound collages. He continued this eclectic and experimental approach whether the fundamental format was rock, jazz, or classical. Zappa's output is unified by a conceptual continuity he termed "Project/Object", with numerous musical phrases, ideas, and characters reappearing across his albums. His lyrics reflected his iconoclastic views of established social and political processes, structures and movements, often humorously so, and he has been described as the "godfather" of comedy rock. He was a strident critic of mainstream education and organized religion, and a forthright and passionate advocate for freedom of speech, self-education, political participation and the abolition of censorship. Unlike many other rock musicians of his generation, he personally disapproved of drugs, but supported their decriminalization and regulation. Zappa was a highly productive and prolific artist with a controversial critical standing; supporters of his music admired its compositional complexity, while critics found it lacking emotional depth. He had some commercial success, particularly in Europe, and worked as an independent artist for most of his career. He remains a major influence on musicians and composers. His honors include his 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the 1997 Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2000, he was ranked number 36 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at number 71 on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time", and in 2011 at number 22 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

Career

Childhood. Zappa was born on December 21, 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother, Rosemarie (née Collimore), was of Italian (Neapolitan and Sicilian) and French ancestry; his father, whose name was anglicized to Francis Vincent Zappa, was an immigrant from Partinico, Sicily, with Greek and Arab ancestry. Zappa was under the mistaken impression that he had been named exactly after his father for most of his life. It was only many years later that Zappa examined his birth certificate and discovered that, in fact, his first name was Frank, not Francis. Frank, the eldest of four children, was raised in an Italian-American household where Italian was often spoken by his grandparents. The family moved often because his father, a chemist and mathematician, worked in the defense industry. After a time in Florida in the 1940s, the family returned to Maryland, where Zappa's father worked at the Edgewood Arsenal chemical warfare facility of the Aberdeen Proving Ground run by the U.S. Army. Due to their home's proximity to the arsenal, which stored mustard gas, gas masks were kept in the home in case of an accident. This living arrangement had a profound effect on Zappa, and references to germs, germ warfare, ailments and the defense industry occur frequently throughout his work.Zappa was often sick as a child, suffering from asthma, earaches and sinus problems. A doctor treated his sinusitis by inserting a pellet of radium into each of Zappa's nostrils. At the time, little was known about the potential dangers of even small amounts of therapeutic radiation, and although it has since been claimed that nasal radium treatment has causal connections to cancer, no studies have provided enough evidence to confirm this.Nasal imagery and references appear in his music and lyrics, as well as in the collage album covers created by his long-time collaborator Cal Schenkel. Zappa believed his childhood diseases might have been due to exposure to mustard gas, released by the nearby chemical warfare facility, and his health worsened when he lived in Baltimore. In 1952, his family relocated for reasons of health to Monterey, California, where his father taught metallurgy at the Naval Postgraduate School. They soon moved to Claremont, California, and then to El Cajon, before finally settling in San Diego. First musical interests. Zappa joined his first band at Mission Bay High School in San Diego as the drummer. At about the same time, his parents bought a phonograph, which allowed him to develop his interest in music, and to begin building his record collection. According to The Rough Guide to Rock (2003), "as a teenager Zappa was simultaneously enthralled by black R&B (Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Guitar Slim), doo-wop (The Channels, The Velvets), the modernism of Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern, and the dissonant sound experiments of Edgard Varese."R&B singles were early purchases for Zappa, starting a large collection he kept for the rest of his life. He was interested in sounds for their own sake, particularly the sounds of drums and other percussion instruments. By age 12, he had obtained a snare drum and began learning the basics of orchestral percussion. Zappa's deep interest in modern classical music began when he read a LOOK magazine article about the Sam Goody record store chain that lauded its ability to sell an LP as obscure as The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One. The article described Varèse's percussion composition Ionisation, produced by EMS Recordings, as "a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds". Zappa decided to seek out Varèse's music. After searching for over a year, Zappa found a copy (he noticed the LP because of the "mad scientist" looking photo of Varèse on the cover). Not having enough money with him, he persuaded the salesman to sell him the record at a discount. Thus began his lifelong passion for Varèse's music and that of other modern classical composers. He also liked the Italian classical music listened to by his grandparents, especially Puccini's opera arias. By 1956, the Zappa family had moved to Lancaster, a small aerospace and farming town in the Antelope Valley of the Mojave Desert close to Edwards Air Force Base; he would later refer to Sun Village (a town close to Lancaster) in the 1973 track "Village of the Sun". Zappa's mother encouraged him in his musical interests. Although she disliked Varèse's music, she was indulgent enough to give her son a long-distance call to the composer as a 15th birthday present. Unfortunately, Varèse was in Europe at the time, so Zappa spoke to the composer's wife and she suggested he call back later. In a letter Varèse thanked him for his interest, and told him about a composition he was working on called "Déserts". Living in the desert town of Lancaster, Zappa found this very exciting. Varèse invited him to visit if he ever came to New York. The meeting never took place (Varèse died in 1965), but Zappa framed the letter and kept it on display for the rest of his life.At Antelope Valley High School, Zappa met Don Glen Vliet (who later changed his name to Don Van Vliet and adopted the stage name Captain Beefheart). Zappa and Vliet became close friends, sharing an interest in R&B records and influencing each other musically throughout their careers. Around the same time, Zappa started playing drums in a local band, the Blackouts. The band was racially diverse and included Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood who later became a member of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa's interest in the guitar grew, and in 1957 he was given his first instrument. Among his early influences were Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Howlin' Wolf and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. (In the 1970s/80s, he invited Watson to perform on several albums.) Zappa considered soloing as the equivalent of forming "air sculptures", and developed an eclectic, innovative and highly personal style. He was also influenced by Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh.Zappa's interest in composing and arranging flourished in his last high-school years. By his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra. He graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1958, and later acknowledged two of his music teachers on the sleeve of the 1966 album Freak Out! Due to his family's frequent moves, Zappa attended at least six different high schools, and as a student he was often bored and given to distracting the rest of the class with juvenile antics. In 1959, he attended Chaffey College but left after one semester, and maintained thereafter a disdain for formal education, taking his children out of school at age 15 and refusing to pay for their college.Zappa left home in 1959, and moved into a small apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles. After meeting Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman during his short period of private composition study with Prof. Karl Kohn of Pomona College, they moved in together in Ontario, and were married December 28, 1960. Zappa worked for a short period in advertising as a copywriter. His sojourn in the commercial world was brief, but gave him valuable insights into its workings. Throughout his career, he took a keen interest in the visual presentation of his work, designing some of his album covers and directing his own films and videos. Studio Z. Zappa attempted to earn a living as a musician and composer, and played different nightclub gigs, some with a new version of the Blackouts. Zappa's earliest professional recordings, two soundtracks for the low-budget films The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965) were more financially rewarding. The former score was commissioned by actor-producer Timothy Carey and recorded in 1961. It contains many themes that appeared on later Zappa records. The latter soundtrack was recorded in 1963 after the film was completed, but it was commissioned by one of Zappa's former high school teachers in 1959 and Zappa may have worked on it before the film was shot. Excerpts from the soundtrack can be heard on the posthumous album The Lost Episodes (1996). During the early 1960s, Zappa wrote and produced songs for other local artists, often working with singer-songwriter Ray Collins and producer Paul Buff. Their "Memories of El Monte" was recorded by the Penguins, although only Cleve Duncan of the original group was featured. Buff owned the small Pal Recording Studio in Cucamonga, which included a unique five-track tape recorder he had built. At that time, only a handful of the most sophisticated commercial studios had multi-track facilities; the industry standard for smaller studios was still mono or two-track. Although none of the recordings from the period achieved major commercial success, Zappa earned enough money to allow him to stage a concert of his orchestral music in 1963 and to broadcast and record it. He appeared on Steve Allen's syndicated late night show the same year, in which he played a bicycle as a musical instrument. Using a bow borrowed from the band's bass player, as well as drum sticks, he proceeded to pluck, bang, and bow the spokes of the bike, producing strange, comical sounds from his newfound instrument. With Captain Beefheart, Zappa recorded some songs under the name of the Soots. They were rejected by Dot Records for having "no commercial potential", a verdict Zappa subsequently quoted on the sleeve of Freak Out!In 1964, after his marriage started to break up, he moved into the Pal studio and began routinely working 12 hours or more per day recording and experimenting with overdubbing and audio tape manipulation. This established a work pattern that endured for most of his life. Aided by his income from film composing, Zappa took over the studio from Paul Buff, who was now working with Art Laboe at Original Sound. It was renamed Studio Z. Studio Z was rarely booked for recordings by other musicians. Instead, friends moved in, notably James "Motorhead" Sherwood. Zappa started performing in local bars as a guitarist with a power trio, the Muthers, to support himself.An article in the local press describing Zappa as "the Movie King of Cucamonga" prompted the local police to suspect that he was making pornographic films. In March 1965, Zappa was approached by a vice squad undercover officer, and accepted an offer of $100 (equivalent to $811 in 2019) to produce a suggestive audio tape for an alleged stag party. Zappa and a female friend recorded a faked erotic episode. When Zappa was about to hand over the tape, he was arrested, and the police stripped the studio of all recorded material. The press was tipped off beforehand, and next day's The Daily Report wrote that "Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday and arrested a self-styled movie producer". Zappa was charged with "conspiracy to commit pornography". This felony charge was reduced and he was sentenced to six months in jail on a misdemeanor, with all but ten days suspended. His brief imprisonment left a permanent mark, and was central to the formation of his anti-authoritarian stance. Zappa lost several recordings made at Studio Z in the process, as the police returned only 30 of 80 hours of tape seized. Eventually, he could no longer afford to pay the rent on the studio and was evicted. Zappa managed to recover some of his possessions before the studio was torn down in 1966.

Personal Life

Zappa was married to Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman from 1960 to 1963. In 1967, he married Adelaide Gail Sloatman. He and his second wife had four children: Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva.Following Zappa's death, his widow Gail created the Zappa Family Trust, which owns the rights to Zappa's music and some other creative output: more than 60 albums were released during Zappa's lifetime and 40 posthumously. Upon Gail's death in October 2015, the Zappa children received shares of the trust; Ahmet and Diva received 30% each, Moon and Dweezil received 20% each.

Early Life

Childhood. Zappa was born on December 21, 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland. His mother, Rosemarie (née Collimore), was of Italian (Neapolitan and Sicilian) and French ancestry; his father, whose name was anglicized to Francis Vincent Zappa, was an immigrant from Partinico, Sicily, with Greek and Arab ancestry. Zappa was under the mistaken impression that he had been named exactly after his father for most of his life. It was only many years later that Zappa examined his birth certificate and discovered that, in fact, his first name was Frank, not Francis. Frank, the eldest of four children, was raised in an Italian-American household where Italian was often spoken by his grandparents. The family moved often because his father, a chemist and mathematician, worked in the defense industry. After a time in Florida in the 1940s, the family returned to Maryland, where Zappa's father worked at the Edgewood Arsenal chemical warfare facility of the Aberdeen Proving Ground run by the U.S. Army. Due to their home's proximity to the arsenal, which stored mustard gas, gas masks were kept in the home in case of an accident. This living arrangement had a profound effect on Zappa, and references to germs, germ warfare, ailments and the defense industry occur frequently throughout his work.Zappa was often sick as a child, suffering from asthma, earaches and sinus problems. A doctor treated his sinusitis by inserting a pellet of radium into each of Zappa's nostrils. At the time, little was known about the potential dangers of even small amounts of therapeutic radiation, and although it has since been claimed that nasal radium treatment has causal connections to cancer, no studies have provided enough evidence to confirm this.Nasal imagery and references appear in his music and lyrics, as well as in the collage album covers created by his long-time collaborator Cal Schenkel. Zappa believed his childhood diseases might have been due to exposure to mustard gas, released by the nearby chemical warfare facility, and his health worsened when he lived in Baltimore. In 1952, his family relocated for reasons of health to Monterey, California, where his father taught metallurgy at the Naval Postgraduate School. They soon moved to Claremont, California, and then to El Cajon, before finally settling in San Diego. First musical interests. Zappa joined his first band at Mission Bay High School in San Diego as the drummer. At about the same time, his parents bought a phonograph, which allowed him to develop his interest in music, and to begin building his record collection. According to The Rough Guide to Rock (2003), "as a teenager Zappa was simultaneously enthralled by black R&B (Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Guitar Slim), doo-wop (The Channels, The Velvets), the modernism of Igor Stravinsky and Anton Webern, and the dissonant sound experiments of Edgard Varese."R&B singles were early purchases for Zappa, starting a large collection he kept for the rest of his life. He was interested in sounds for their own sake, particularly the sounds of drums and other percussion instruments. By age 12, he had obtained a snare drum and began learning the basics of orchestral percussion. Zappa's deep interest in modern classical music began when he read a LOOK magazine article about the Sam Goody record store chain that lauded its ability to sell an LP as obscure as The Complete Works of Edgard Varèse, Volume One. The article described Varèse's percussion composition Ionisation, produced by EMS Recordings, as "a weird jumble of drums and other unpleasant sounds". Zappa decided to seek out Varèse's music. After searching for over a year, Zappa found a copy (he noticed the LP because of the "mad scientist" looking photo of Varèse on the cover). Not having enough money with him, he persuaded the salesman to sell him the record at a discount. Thus began his lifelong passion for Varèse's music and that of other modern classical composers. He also liked the Italian classical music listened to by his grandparents, especially Puccini's opera arias. By 1956, the Zappa family had moved to Lancaster, a small aerospace and farming town in the Antelope Valley of the Mojave Desert close to Edwards Air Force Base; he would later refer to Sun Village (a town close to Lancaster) in the 1973 track "Village of the Sun". Zappa's mother encouraged him in his musical interests. Although she disliked Varèse's music, she was indulgent enough to give her son a long-distance call to the composer as a 15th birthday present. Unfortunately, Varèse was in Europe at the time, so Zappa spoke to the composer's wife and she suggested he call back later. In a letter Varèse thanked him for his interest, and told him about a composition he was working on called "Déserts". Living in the desert town of Lancaster, Zappa found this very exciting. Varèse invited him to visit if he ever came to New York. The meeting never took place (Varèse died in 1965), but Zappa framed the letter and kept it on display for the rest of his life.At Antelope Valley High School, Zappa met Don Glen Vliet (who later changed his name to Don Van Vliet and adopted the stage name Captain Beefheart). Zappa and Vliet became close friends, sharing an interest in R&B records and influencing each other musically throughout their careers. Around the same time, Zappa started playing drums in a local band, the Blackouts. The band was racially diverse and included Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood who later became a member of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa's interest in the guitar grew, and in 1957 he was given his first instrument. Among his early influences were Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Howlin' Wolf and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. (In the 1970s/80s, he invited Watson to perform on several albums.) Zappa considered soloing as the equivalent of forming "air sculptures", and developed an eclectic, innovative and highly personal style. He was also influenced by Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh.Zappa's interest in composing and arranging flourished in his last high-school years. By his final year, he was writing, arranging and conducting avant-garde performance pieces for the school orchestra. He graduated from Antelope Valley High School in 1958, and later acknowledged two of his music teachers on the sleeve of the 1966 album Freak Out! Due to his family's frequent moves, Zappa attended at least six different high schools, and as a student he was often bored and given to distracting the rest of the class with juvenile antics. In 1959, he attended Chaffey College but left after one semester, and maintained thereafter a disdain for formal education, taking his children out of school at age 15 and refusing to pay for their college.Zappa left home in 1959, and moved into a small apartment in Echo Park, Los Angeles. After meeting Kathryn J. "Kay" Sherman during his short period of private composition study with Prof. Karl Kohn of Pomona College, they moved in together in Ontario, and were married December 28, 1960. Zappa worked for a short period in advertising as a copywriter. His sojourn in the commercial world was brief, but gave him valuable insights into its workings. Throughout his career, he took a keen interest in the visual presentation of his work, designing some of his album covers and directing his own films and videos. Studio Z. Zappa attempted to earn a living as a musician and composer, and played different nightclub gigs, some with a new version of the Blackouts. Zappa's earliest professional recordings, two soundtracks for the low-budget films The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965) were more financially rewarding. The former score was commissioned by actor-producer Timothy Carey and recorded in 1961. It contains many themes that appeared on later Zappa records. The latter soundtrack was recorded in 1963 after the film was completed, but it was commissioned by one of Zappa's former high school teachers in 1959 and Zappa may have worked on it before the film was shot. Excerpts from the soundtrack can be heard on the posthumous album The Lost Episodes (1996). During the early 1960s, Zappa wrote and produced songs for other local artists, often working with singer-songwriter Ray Collins and producer Paul Buff. Their "Memories of El Monte" was recorded by the Penguins, although only Cleve Duncan of the original group was featured. Buff owned the small Pal Recording Studio in Cucamonga, which included a unique five-track tape recorder he had built. At that time, only a handful of the most sophisticated commercial studios had multi-track facilities; the industry standard for smaller studios was still mono or two-track. Although none of the recordings from the period achieved major commercial success, Zappa earned enough money to allow him to stage a concert of his orchestral music in 1963 and to broadcast and record it. He appeared on Steve Allen's syndicated late night show the same year, in which he played a bicycle as a musical instrument. Using a bow borrowed from the band's bass player, as well as drum sticks, he proceeded to pluck, bang, and bow the spokes of the bike, producing strange, comical sounds from his newfound instrument. With Captain Beefheart, Zappa recorded some songs under the name of the Soots. They were rejected by Dot Records for having "no commercial potential", a verdict Zappa subsequently quoted on the sleeve of Freak Out!In 1964, after his marriage started to break up, he moved into the Pal studio and began routinely working 12 hours or more per day recording and experimenting with overdubbing and audio tape manipulation. This established a work pattern that endured for most of his life. Aided by his income from film composing, Zappa took over the studio from Paul Buff, who was now working with Art Laboe at Original Sound. It was renamed Studio Z. Studio Z was rarely booked for recordings by other musicians. Instead, friends moved in, notably James "Motorhead" Sherwood. Zappa started performing in local bars as a guitarist with a power trio, the Muthers, to support himself.An article in the local press describing Zappa as "the Movie King of Cucamonga" prompted the local police to suspect that he was making pornographic films. In March 1965, Zappa was approached by a vice squad undercover officer, and accepted an offer of $100 (equivalent to $811 in 2019) to produce a suggestive audio tape for an alleged stag party. Zappa and a female friend recorded a faked erotic episode. When Zappa was about to hand over the tape, he was arrested, and the police stripped the studio of all recorded material. The press was tipped off beforehand, and next day's The Daily Report wrote that "Vice Squad investigators stilled the tape recorders of a free-swinging, a-go-go film and recording studio here Friday and arrested a self-styled movie producer". Zappa was charged with "conspiracy to commit pornography". This felony charge was reduced and he was sentenced to six months in jail on a misdemeanor, with all but ten days suspended. His brief imprisonment left a permanent mark, and was central to the formation of his anti-authoritarian stance. Zappa lost several recordings made at Studio Z in the process, as the police returned only 30 of 80 hours of tape seized. Eventually, he could no longer afford to pay the rent on the studio and was evicted. Zappa managed to recover some of his possessions before the studio was torn down in 1966.

Movies & TV shows

2020.

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1966.

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1965.

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1962.

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Frank_Zappa", which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.