Frank Zappa

Active - 1962 - 2020  |   Born - Dec 21, 1940   |   Died - Dec 4, 1993   |   Genres - Music, Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A musician since high school, Frank Zappa left college after six months for paying jobs, and by age 23, he'd accumulated enough capital to open his own small-scale recording studio. He gained national popularity in the mid-'60s as guitarist/composer of the Mothers of Invention. To many adults, Zappa was a near-obscene provocateur, forever skirting the boundaries of taste and indulging in senseless cacophony; to those in the know, Zappa was as serious a stylist as his classical music idols, Stravinksy and Varese. He was also perhaps the most articulate and knowledgeable rock star on the scene, demonstrating his expertise in the many slyly humorous articles he wrote for mainstream magazines. In direct opposition to his "hippie freak" outward appearance, Zappa was a tireless, intimidatingly well-organized craftsman. He was known as one of the strictest and most demanding musical producers in the business, insisting that his musicians abstain from booze and dope if they wanted to work with him. Zappa's tight recording schedule allowed him a few precious moments to appear in films, though the results were not always that precious: a comic walk-on in the Monkees flick Head (1968); an acting/directing stint in the will-of-the-wisp, free-form rockumentary 200 Motels (1971); and the three-hour ego trip Baby Snakes (1979), in which producer/director Zappa allowed actor Zappa way too many scenes in which fans groveled at his feet (even Zappa finally decided that that was too much, and edited the film down to an hour and a half). After his untimely death from cancer in 1993, Frank Zappa's show business legacy was carried on by his daughter, singer Moon Unit Zappa (who, for better or worse, introduced the "Valley Girl" vernacular to an unsuspecting world) and by his son, Dweezil Zappa, an engaging young TV actor who supplied voices for the USA network cartoon series Duckman, which featured, as main-theme and background music, the experimental compositions of the late Frank Zappa.

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