25 February 2010

Icons of our time - Frank Zappa.

Frank Vincent Zappa (1940 – 1993) Musician, composer, producer, director - a jack of all trades in his chosen profession and one of the greatest guitarists that ever lived.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, to parents of Sicilian, Greek, French and Arabic descent. Yes, that is his real surname. The eldest of four brothers, Zappa was into music from an early age, joining his first band The Ramblers during high school, during this time he amassed a large record collection which he was to add to for the rest of his life. He also played drums for the band The Blackouts later at Antelope Valley high school. Here he met good friend and collaborator Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart. Together they shared similar tastes in music, notably R&B and would work together many times later in life.
During the mid 60's Zappa was invited to join local R&B band The Soul Giants who later became known as The Mothers of Invention. The Mothers released the acclaimed debut album Freak Out! in 1966, backed by producer Tom Wilson. The underground experimental sounds of the album established Zappa as a new voice in the LA scene and was cited as the first ever concept album. Freak Out has been a consistent entry into many best of lists.
Zappa was hands on with his own creations, often directing the music videos and designing the album covers too. Producing almost all of the albums he had worked on in a career spanning over thirty years. A genre defying musician, Zappa's music varies from the rock and jazz to avant garde and orchestral such a diverse style it would be hard to pinpoint exactly what some of his records actually were. Zappa was cleverly rhyming lyrics years before hip hop was popular.
Zappa had a voice and was not afraid to express that voice through his music, writing the lyrics to all of his songs, some often comedic and some often political and against the grain of the establishment, forced education, religion and authority. Zappa fought long and hard for the freedom of speech and battled against censorship in music, testifying before the US Senate Commerce, Technology, and Transportation committee in 1985 against their censorship ruling. Politics began to play a huge part in his life, with record sleeves encouraging people to use their votes, it was once alleged Zappa even considered running for the US Presidency.
He became a huge cult figure in Eastern Europe during the 70's and 80's both as a musician and an unlikely activist. In later years after disbanding The Mothers, Zappa hit the road touring, and released several studio albums. He also made a few television appearances in The Monkees and Miami Vice along with US talkshows and Saturday Night Live.
I personally got into Frank Zappa kind of by accident, as a youngster on our way to school in the old family Ford Cortina, my father played an array of odd sounds, the one's which really stuck were The The, Ice T and most of all Frank Zappa, as a nine maybe ten year old I didn't understand the lyrics to the likes of 'Bobby Brown Goes Down', 'You Are What You Is', and 'Jumbo Go Away', I just liked the music, twenty years later, I of course do understand the lyrics, well, most of 'em, and of course, still like the music. I always go back to listening to Zappa, and cannot see a time when I won't be laughing at choice lyrics and tapping my feet to certain beats. Whilst I'm not the most hardcore Zappa fan in the world I've got plenty of his albums in my collection, the more eclectic stuff are growers, and to me personally one's to listen to when alone or at work, great background vibes. Admittedly, it's the more commercial, studio stuff like Hot Rats and Sheik Yerbouti I like most with their heavy beats, crazy synth and guitar sounds and deliberate satirical and political messages.
Ask a more ardent Zappa fan and it's not that easy, there are better versions of the same tracks on different albums, you'd need his whole back catalogue to fully appreciate the whole Zappa sound.
Tragically diagnosed with an inoperable prostate cancer in 1990, his last work was the double album Civilization Phaze III. Zappa left for his 'final tour' at 6:00pm on Saturday December 4th 1993.In 1995 Frank Zappa was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

With his eldest offspring Moon Unit and Dweezil.

The Mothers of Invention.

With Captain Beefheart.

A giant bust of Frank Zappa in the rather random setting of Bad Doberan in Northern Germany.

...and one in Lithuania's Vilnius central square.
Swapping roles with Michael Nesmith on the Monkees.

and in Miami vice with 'Tubbs'.

Frank Zappa selected discography:
Freak Out! (July 1966)
Absolutely Free (April 1967)
Lumpy Gravy (December 1967)
We're Only In It For The Money (February 1968)
Cruising With Ruben & The Jets (November 1968)
Hot Rats (15 October 1969)
Burnt Weeny Sandwich (December 1969)
Weasels Ripped My Flesh (August 1970)
Chunga's Revenge (23 October 1970)
Fillmore East - June 1971 (August 1971)
Bongo Fury (2 October 1975)
Zoot Allures (29 October 1976)
Sleep Dirt (12 January 1979)
Sheik Yerbouti (March 3, 1979)
Joe's Garage (19 November 1979)
Tinseltown Rebellion (11 May 1981)
Shut Up 'N' Play Yer Guitar (11 May 1981)
You Are What You Is (September 1981)
Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch (May 1982)
The Man From Utopia (March 1983)
Baby Snakes (March 1983)
London Symphony Orchestra vol 1 (9 June 1983)
Jazz From Hell (15 November 1986)
London Symphony Orchestra vol 2 (17 September 1987)
Civilization, Phaze III (December 1994)
Läther (September 1996)

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