Frank Zappa (21.12.1940 - 04.12.1993)
Frank Vincent Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland on 21 December 1940, the son of Sicilian-Greek immigrants. In 1950 his family moved to Lancaster, California. Although the young Frank was something of an outsider in California, he did become friends at school with Don van Vliet, later to become a prominent member of the late-sixties West Coast subculture in his persona of Captain Beefheart. It was with van Vliet that Frank Zappa was to take his first tentative steps to the rock business.
Zappa made his first appearances as the drummer for a school band in San Diego, not beginning to play the guitar until 1956. After graduating from high school in 1958, he took courses in musical harmony and composition.
He wrote his first rock songs at the age of 18 when trying to earn a living with a string of short-lived bands. During this period he would frequently appear at avantgarde concerts, even trying his hand for a time as a producer for local bands.
In late 1964 Frank Zappa joined the band 'Soul Giants'. As time went by, the group (rapidly renamed 'The Mothers') began to replace the soul numbers in their programme with Zappa's own compositions. In an effort to emphasise the stak between themselves and the 'straight' pop outfits of the time, the band soon began to use provocative, often freaky programme content. As Frank Zappa's own reputation began to spread, the first live appearances followed.
The band finally made its breakthrough in 1966 with the release of their first album, 'Freak Out'. The record contained a huge amount of socially critical, ironic and hilarious parodies of a range of different musical styles. To improve the group's marketing potential, the record company insisted on renaming them the 'Mothers of Invention'.
Zappa quickly became a regular cult figure on the underground music scene thanks to his bizarre stage show, and the band released a series of other records.
Zappa's music was always shaped by his style montages and personal spontaneity. In an effort to realise his own highly unusual ideas, Zappa broke up the band in the early 1970s and continued to play with different groups, similarly to his early career.
From 1976 onwards, Frank Zappa began to release records exclusively under his own name. The lyrics of his songs, in which he would use often vulgar modes of expression to criticise, amongst other things, political corruption, led to strict censorship of rock texts in the US. Zappa protested personally at this drift to Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California.
His wide experience of the music industry throughout his career turned Frank Zappa into an outstanding businessman, who succeeded in making himself independent of the major record companies by expanding his own music and film production company.
In late 1991, Frank Zappa fell seriously ill when he was diagnosed far too late as having prostate cancer. He died on 4 December 2003 in Laurel Canyon, California, just two weeks before his 53rd birthday.