Frank Zappa, renowned both for his relentless musical innovation and his peculiar sense of humor, was born December 21, 1940, and studied music theory at Chaffey College in Alta Loma, California for six months before dropping out. He met Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, early on, and built a studio in Cucamonga, California with the money he made from scoring Western film Run Home Slow in 1963.
In 1964, he joined the Soul Giants, which eventually became the Mothers, a band playing music all written by Zappa. MGM/Verve Records signed the band as "the Mothers of Invention," and they released their debut, Freak Out!, 1966. The next few albums, between which the line-up changed enough to reveal the Mothers as an outlet for Zappa's talents first and foremost, revealed his various songwriting impulses, whether the doo-wop styled tunes of 1968's Cruising With Ruben & the Jets or the Sgt. Pepper's parody to be found on the classic We're Only in It For the Money, released that same year. His first major solo release as "Frank Zappa" was 1969's Hot Rats, by which time he had begun a label and recorded several artists, including Alice Cooper and Wild Man Fischer, and started writing the soundtrack for cult classic film 200 Motels. That movie would see release in 1971, getting mixed reviews in much the same way that Zappa's public persona was: While he was banned from the Royal Albert Hall for "obscenity" in 1972, he'd score strong sales with the following year's Over-Nite Sensation, containing such oddball classics as "Montana" and the thoroughly risqué "Camarillo Brillo" and "Dinah-Moe Humm."
By the late '70s, he had started his own label under Mercury, Zappa Records, and stirred controversy (something he was accustomed to by this time) with the album title of Sheik Yerbouti and the song "Catholic Girls" from Joe's Garage, Act I. His reputation was considerable enough for he and his wife, Gail, to be running several businesses by the 1980s, including the Barking Pumpkin mail-order label and a show production group, World's Finest Optional Entertainment Co. He would win a Best Rock Instrumental Grammy for Jazz From Hell in 1988, the year of his last world tour (and live performance in general), and published his autobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book, in 1989.
It was announced in 1991 that Zappa was suffering from prostate cancer, which he fought vigorously for two years, even recording a couple of new albums during that time, including another tribute to composer Edgard Varèse, whose music Zappa adored and famously performed at a New York concert in 1981. He passed away on December 4, 1993. Continuing the various reissues series that he began in the late '80s, such as the You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore releases, various Zappa recordings have been released posthumously, and most recently, the last few years have seen the ongoing "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour led by Frank's son, Dweezil, traverse the world playing various songs from his father's vast catalogue.
Read more about Frank Zappa in Crawdaddy!:
"Zappa en Regalia"
"Frank Zappa: Frank Generation"
"Thank God For Mental Illness: Wild Man Fischer vs. Daniel Johnston"