Frank Zappa

One of the most inventive and prolific musicians in rock, Frank Zappa was born in 1940. As a teen, he purchased of a album of by modern composer Edgard Varèse because he looked like a "mad scientist." Varèse instilled an interest in the avant garde in Zappa. He was an R&B drummer, but Zappa also took up guitar and in 1964 joined an R&B group called the Soul Giants. He became their creative leader, in addition to occasional vocalist, and changed their name to the Mothers. They signed to Verve Records and the name was further changed to The Mothers of Invention. Their 1966 debut album Freak Out! was rock's first double album and featured a political protest song, rock and doo wop songs with satirical lyrics and the first rock album with entirely experimental tracks. The Mothers continued their mix of rock and satire, adding jazz, classical and musique concrete elements to great critical acclaim, on 1967's Absolutely Free, 1968's We're Only In It For The Money, and 1969's Uncle Meat. We're Only In It For The Money was especially hailed for its scathing satire of the hippie counterculture and parody of the Beatles' Sgt Pepper album cover. In 1968 they also released Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, a doo wop album that affectionately parodied some lyrical clichés of the genre.

Uncle Meat was the first album to appear on Zappa's own Warner Bros. distributed Bizarre/Straight label. The label also released albums by Tim Buckley, Captain Beefheart and Alice Cooper's first two albums. Beginning in 1967 Zappa also released solo albums. The first was the mostly instrumental Lumpy Gravy, which included comical spoken interludes. Zappa's 1969 jazz rock album, Hot Rats, actually made it to the UK Top 10. Two subsequent Mothers jazz/classical rock album, Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Weasels Ripped My Flesh also made it into the UK Top 20 and 30 respectively.

Zappa's 1970 solo album, Chunga's Revenge featured a new band with former Turtles vocalists Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (aka Flo & Eddie). The new line up would go by the Mothers of Invention name in 200 Motels, a movie and album. They also appeared on the live albums, Live At The Fillmore East, June 1971 and Just Another Band From LA. In 1971 the band's equipment was destroyed while playing in Switzerland (documented in Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water"). Almost a week later, Zappa was pushed off-stage by a crazed fan. The fall crushed his larynx (altering his voice) and caused injury to his spine which kept him in a wheelchair for almost a year. He spent 1972 working with a new jazz big band/rock version of the Mothers. They appeared on Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo. Over-Nite Sensation marked the debut of a slightly more electric but still big version of the Mothers which continued on Apostrophe (') and One Size Fits All. Apostrophe (') featured Zappa's first ever charting single, "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" (US #86) and was his highest charting album to date in the US, reaching #10. One Size Fits All would be the last to feature the Mothers of Invention name.

His next album was a 1975 live collaboration with childhood friend Captain Beefheart, Bongo Fury. Zappa split with Warner Bros. in 1979. The label split up his current project into three instrumental albums, Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favourites. Zappa formed a new label, Barking Pumpkin. 1979's Sheik Yerbouti contained another minor hit, "Dancin' Fool." This disco spoof hit US #49. In 1981 he released three albums of live guitar solos in the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar series. Zappa had his biggest hit ever in 1982 with "Valley Girl." The song featured his daughter Moon Unit satirizing the affects and slang of southern California teenagers. It reached #32 on the US pop charts was a #12 rock hit.

Zappa continued to release numerous satirical rock albums in addition to other projects. In 1983 he released an album of orchestral music recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. The following year, French composer/condutor Pierre Boulez conducted Zappa's work on The Perfect Stranger album. The 1984 box set Thing-Fish was in the form of a Broadway musical, but with political and social content. Thing Fish marked the debut of the synclavier, a music computer that Zappa would continue to work with on his subsequent albums. 1984's Francesco Zappa was an album of synclavier music styled after 18th century classical music. 1985's Jazz From Hell featured the synclavier performing music at its most rhythmically complex. The album won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Rock album.

Zappa's 1988 tour featuring many new songs and was documented on three albums, Broadway The Hard Way, The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, and Make A Jazz Noise Here. Vintage concert recordings were released in the 1988-92 series You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore. Zappa also officially released the most popular bootlegs of his work on the must publicized "Beat The Boots" series. In the early 90s it was announced that Zappa was suffering from prostate cancer. He completed work on The Yellow Shark, a chamber music album with Ensemble Modern. Zappa died of the disease in December 1993. Before his death he also completed a sequel to Lumpy Gravy, Civilization Phaze III. The double CD featured the synclavier, Ensemble Modern, and a continuation of Lumpy Gravy's spoken portions. It was released in 1995. Also in 1995, Zappa's entire catalogue of over 50 albums were reissued by Rykodisc Records on remastered CDs. In 1996, the trio of 1979 Warner Bros. instrumental albums were issued in their intended form as the album Läther.