Frank Zappa

Few challenged musical conventions more daringly than Frank Zappa, a hugely influential figure who fronted The Mothers Of Invention for many years before embarking on yet ever more wilder musical explorations on his own. From a colourful French, Italian, Greek and Arab ancestry, Zappa grew up a sickly child in various parts of America and, although he learned to play guitar at a young age, his first musical experience was as a drummer playing in a band in San Diego. He soon became involved in the alternative underground culture and was particularly influenced by the burgeoning psychedelic culture. He became good friends with Don Van Vliet (who later found fame as Captain Beefheart) and, after writing and arranging music for low-budget movies The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) and Run Home Slow (1965), he worked with Van Vliet using the name The Soots. In 1965 Zappa became guitarist with R&B band the Soul Giants and was soon its singer and main driving force as they became a leading attraction on the LA underground circuit, re-naming themselves The Mothers and then The Mothers Of Invention. Signed by top producer Tom Wilson, they released their landmark debut album Freak Out in 1966, a trailblazing mix of R&B, blues, doo-wop and experimental sound collages. Zappa's reputation as an intelligent, exciting and comedic free spirit was further enhanced by the second Mothers album Absolutely Free (1967), reaching a peak in 1968 with their most famous album We're Only In It For The Money. Ever restless, Zappa's subsequent work embraced all manner of styles, from classical to modern jazz and he disbanded The Mothers Of Invention in 1969 to indulge his solo projects, resulting in his acclaimed solo album Hot Rats. He revived the Mothers during the 1970s and moved into movies with the film and double album 200 Motels, though his edgy lyrics often brought charges of obscenity and caused outrage. Zappa continued to operate on the outskirts of the music industry, touring constantly throughout the 1980s - scoring an unlikely hit single Valley Girl in 1982 - while his music became more complex and far-reaching when he adopted the Synclavier, an early digital synthesizer. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990 and died three years later.

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