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Composer, guitarist, singer, and bandleader Frank Zappa was a singular musical figure during a performing and recordingcareer that lastedfrom the 1960s to the '90s. His disparate influences included doo wop music and avant-garde classicalmusic; although he led groups thatcould be called rock & roll bands for much of his career, he used them to create a hybridstyle that bordered on jazz and complicated, modernserious music, sometimes inducing orchestras to play along. As if hismusic were not challenging enough, he overlay it with highly satiricaland sometimes abstractly humorous lyrics and song ...read more
Composer, guitarist, singer, and bandleader Frank Zappa was a singular musical figure during a performing and recordingcareer that lastedfrom the 1960s to the '90s. His disparate influences included doo wop music and avant-garde classicalmusic; although he led groups thatcould be called rock & roll bands for much of his career, he used them to create a hybridstyle that bordered on jazz and complicated, modernserious music, sometimes inducing orchestras to play along. As if hismusic were not challenging enough, he overlay it with highly satiricaland sometimes abstractly humorous lyrics and songtitles that marked him as coming out of a provocative literary tradition that included Beatpoets like Allen Ginsberg and edgycomedians like Lenny Bruce. Nominally, he was a popular musician, but his recordings rarely earnedsignificant airplay or sales,yet he was able to gain control of his recorded work and issue it successfully through his own labels while alsotouringinternationally, in part because of the respect he earned from a dedicated cult of fans and many serious musicians, and alsobecausehe was an articulate spokesman who promoted himself into a media star through extensive interviews he consideredto be a part of hiscreative effort just like his music. The Mothers of Invention, the '60s group he led, often seemed to offer aparody of popular music and thecounterculture (although he affected long hair and jeans, Zappa was openly scornful ofhippies and drug use). By the '80s, he was testifyingbefore Congress in opposition to censorship (and editing his testimonyinto one of his albums). But these comic and serious sides werecomplementary, not contradictory. In statement and inpractice, Zappa was an iconoclastic defender of the freest possible expression of ideas.And most of all, he was a composerfar more ambitious than any other rock musician of his time and most classical musicians, as well.
Zappa was born Frank Vincent Zappa in Baltimore, MD, on December 21, 1940. For most of his life, he was under the mistakenimpressionthat he had been named exactly after his father, a Sicilian immigrant who was a high school teacher at the time ofhis son's birth, that he was"Francis Vincent Zappa, Jr." That was what he told interviewers, and it was extensively reported.It was only many years later that Zappaexamined his birth certificate and discovered that, in fact, his first name was Frank,not Francis. The real Francis Zappa took a job with theNavy during World War II, and he spent the rest of his career workingin one capacity or another for the government or in the defenseindustry, resulting in many family moves. Zappa's mother,Rose Marie (Colimore) Zappa, was a former librarian and typist. During his earlychildhood, the family lived in Baltimore, Opa-Locka, FL, and Edgewood, MD. In December 1951, they moved to California when Zappa's fathertook a job teachingmetallurgy at the Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey. The same year, Zappa had first shown an interest in becomingamusician, joining the school band and playing the snare drum.
Although the Zappa family continued to live in California for the rest of Zappa's childhood, they still moved frequently; by thetime Zappagraduated from Antelope Valley Joint Union High School in Lancaster in June 1958, it was the seventh high schoolhe had attended. Meanwhile,his interest in music had grown. He had become particularly attracted to R&B, joining a band asa drummer in 1955. Simultaneously, he hadbecome a fan of avant-garde classical music, particularly the work of EdgardVarèse. After his high school graduation, Zappa studied music atseveral local colleges off and on. He also switched to playingthe guitar.
Zappa married Kathryn J. Sherman on December 28, 1960; the marriage ended in divorce in 1964. Meanwhile, he played inbands and workedon the scores of low-budget films. It was in seeking to record his score for one of these films, The World'sGreatest Sinner, that he beganworking at the tiny Pal recording studio in Cucamonga, CA, run by Paul Buff, in November1961. He and Buff began writing and recording popmusic with studio groups and licensing the results to such labels as Del-FiRecords and Original Sound Records. On August 1, 1964, Zappabought the studio from Buff and renamed it Studio Z. OnMarch 26, 1965, he was arrested by a local undercover police officer who hadentrapped him by asking him to record apornographic audiotape. Convicted of a misdemeanor, he spent ten days in jail, an experience thatembittered him. Aftercompleting his sentence, he closed the studio, moved into Los Angeles, and joined a band called the Soul Giantsthatfeatured his friend, singer Ray Collins, along with bass player Roy Estrada and drummer Jimmy Carl Black. In short order, heinduced thegroup to play his original compositions instead of covers, and to change their name to the Mothers (reportedly onMother's Day, May 10,1965).
In Los Angeles, the Mothers were able to obtain a manager, Herb Cohen, and audition successfully to appear in popularnightclubs such as theWhiskey Go-Go by the fall of 1965. There they were seen by record executive Tom Wilson, who signedthem to the Verve Records subsidiaryof MGM Records on March 1, 1966. (Verve required that the suggestive name "TheMothers" be modified to "The Mothers of Invention.") Thecontract called for the group to submit five albums in two years,and they immediately went into the studio to record the first of those albums,Freak Out! By this time, Elliot Ingber had joinedthe group on guitar, making it a quintet. An excess of material and Zappa's agreement toaccept a reduced publishing royaltyled to the highly unusual decision to release it as a double-LP, an unprecedented indulgence for a debut actthat waspractically unheard, much less for an established one. (Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde appeared during the same period, but itwas hisseventh album.)Freak Out! was released on June 27, 1966. It was not an immediate success commercially, but it entered the Billboardchartfor the week ending February 11, 1967, and eventually spent 23 weeks in the charts. In July 1966, Zappa met Adelaide GailSloatman;they married in September 1967, prior to the birth, on September 28, 1967, of their first child, a daughter namedMoon Unit Zappa who wouldrecord with her father. She was followed by a son, Dweezil, on September 5, 1969. He, too,would become a recording artist, as would AhmetZappa, born May 15, 1974. A fourth child, Diva, was born in August 1979.During the summer of 1966, Zappa hired drummer Denny Bruce andkeyboardist Don Preston, making the Mothers of Inventiona septet, but by November 1966, when the Mothers of Invention went back into thestudio to record their second album,Absolutely Free, Bruce had been replaced by Billy Mundi; Ingber had been replaced by Jim Fielder; andZappa had hired twohorn players, Bunk Gardner on wind instruments and Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood on saxophone, bringing the band up to anine-piece unit. The album was recorded in four days and released in June 1967. It entered the charts in July and reached the Top50.
The Mothers of Invention moved to New York City in November 1966 for a booking at a Greenwich Village club called theBalloon Farm thatbegan on Thanksgiving Day and ran through New Year's Day, 1967. After a two-week stint in Montreal,they returned to California, whereFielder left the group in February. In March, Zappa began recording his first solo album,Lumpy Gravy, having signed to Capitol Records underthe impression that he was not signed as an individual to Verve, aposition Verve would dispute. Later that month, the Mothers of Inventionreturned to New York City for another extendedengagement at the Garrick Theater in Greenwich Village that ran during Easter week and wassufficiently successful that HerbCohen booked the theater for the summer. That run began on May 24, 1967, and ran off and on throughSeptember 5. Duringthis period, Ian Underwood joined the band, playing saxophone and piano. In August, the group began recording itsthirdalbum, We're Only in It for the Money.
In September 1967, the Mothers of Invention toured Europe for the first time, playing in the U.K., Sweden, and Denmark. OnOctober 1, Vervefailed to exercise its option to extend the band's contract, although they still owed the label three moreLPs. They finished recording We'reOnly in It for the Money in October, but its release was held up because of legal concernsabout its proposed cover photograph, an elaborateparody of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which wasfinally resolved by putting the picture on the inside of the fold-out LPsleeve. We're Only in It for the Money was released onMarch 4, 1968, and it reached the Top 30. Another legal dispute was resolved whenVerve purchased the tapes of LumpyGravy from Capitol. Zappa then finished recording this orchestral work, and Verve released it under hisname (and that of "theAbnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra and Chorus") on May 13, 1968; it spent five weeks in the charts.
Although the Mothers of Invention still owed one more LP to Verve, Zappa already was thinking ahead. In the fall of 1967, hebegan recordingUncle Meat, the soundtrack for a proposed film, with work continuing through February 1968. During thisperiod, Billy Mundi left the band andwas replaced on drums by Arthur Dyer Tripp III. In March, Zappa and Herb Cohenannounced that they were setting up their own record label,Bizarre Records, to be distributed by the Reprise Recordssubsidiary of Warner Bros. Records. The label was intended to record not only theMothers of Invention, but also acts Zappadiscovered. Early in the summer, Ray Collins quit the Mothers of Invention, who continued to tour.Their performance at theRoyal Festival Hall in London on October 25, 1968, was released in 1991 as the album Ahead of Their Time. Thatmonth,Bizarre was formally launched with the release of the single "The Circle," by Los Angeles street singer Wild Man Fischer. InNovember,guitarist Lowell George joined the Mothers of Invention. In December, Verve released the band's final album on itscontract, Cruisin' withRuben & the Jets, on which Zappa for once played it straight, leading the group through a set ofapparently sincere doo wop and R&B material.The LP spent 12 weeks in the charts. (Zappa was then free of Verve, althoughhis disputes with the company were not over. Verve put out acompilation, Mothermania: The Best of the Mothers, in March1969, and it spent nine weeks in the charts..
The ambitious double-LP Uncle Meat, the fifth Mothers of Invention album, was released by Bizarre on April 21, 1969. Itreached the Top 50.(The movie it was supposed to accompany did not appear until a home video release in 1989.) In May,Bizarre released Pretties for You, thedebut album by Alice Cooper, the only act discovered by the label that would go on tosubstantial success (after switching to Warner Bros.Records proper, that is).The same month, Lowell George left the band;later, he and Roy Estrada would form Little Feat. Zappa began workingon a second solo album, Hot Rats, in July 1969. OnAugust 19, the Mothers of Invention gave their final performance in their original form,playing on Canadian TV at the end of atour. One week later, Zappa announced that he was breaking up the band, although, as it turned out,this did not mean thathe would not use the name "the Mothers of Invention" for groups he led in the future. Hot Rats, the second album tobecredited to Frank Zappa, was released on October 10, 1969. It spent only six weeks in the charts at the time, but it wouldbecome one ofZappa's best-loved collections, with the instrumental "Peaches en Regalia" a particular favorite. Although theMothers of Invention no longerexisted as a performing unit, Zappa possessed extensive tapes of them, live and in the studio,and using that material, he assembled a newalbum, Burnt Weeny Sandwich, released in February 1970; it made the Top 100.
At the invitation of Zubin Mehta, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Zappa assembled a new group of rockmusiciansdubbed the Mothers for the performance, with the orchestra, of a work called 200 Motels at UCLA on May 15,1970. Adding singers HowardKaylan and Mark Volman, formerly of the Turtles, Zappa launched a tour with this version of theMothers in June 1970. (Also included were areturning Ian Underwood, keyboardist George Duke, drummer Aynsley Dunbar,and guitarist Jeff Simmons.) In August, Bizarre releasedanother archival Mothers of Invention album, Weasels Ripped MyFlesh, which charted. Chunga's Revenge, released in October, was billed as aZappa solo album, even though it featured thecurrent lineup of the Mothers; it spent 14 weeks in the charts. After touring the U.S. that fall,the group went to Europe onDecember 1. From January 28 to February 5, 1971, they were in Pinewood Studios in the U.K. making a movieversion of 200Motels with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and co-stars Theodore Bikel, Ringo Starr, and Keith Moon of the Who. Zappahadplanned a concert with the Royal Philharmonic at the Royal Albert Hall on February 8 as a money-saving tactic, sinceaccording to union rules,he could then pay them for the filming/recording session as if it were rehearsals for the concert. Butthis strategy backfired when the RoyalAlbert Hall canceled the concert, alleging that Zappa's lyrics were too vulgar. Headded to his expenses by suing the Royal Albert Hall,eventually losing in court.
On June 5 and 6, 1971, the Mothers appeared during the closing week of the Fillmore East theater in New York City, recordingtheir shows fora live album, Fillmore East, June 1971, quickly released on August 2. It became Zappa's first album to reachthe Top 40 since We're Only in Itfor the Money three years earlier. John Lennon and Yoko Ono had appeared as guestsduring the June 6 show, and they used theirperformance on their 1972 album Some Time in New York City. the Mothers gavea concert at the Pauley Pavilion at UCLA on August 7, 1971,and the show was recorded for the album Just Another Bandfrom L.A., released in May 1972, which made the Top 100. They continued to tourinto the fall. 200 Motels premiered in movietheaters on October 29, 1971, with a double-LP soundtrack album released by United Artists thatmade the Top 100.Meanwhile, the Mothers' European tour was eventful, to say the least. On December 4, 1971, the group appeared attheMontreux Casino in Geneva, Switzerland, but their show stopped when a fan fired off a flare gun that set the venue on fire.The incidentwas the inspiration for Deep Purple's song "Smoke on the Water." Six days later, as the Mothers were performingat the Rainbow Theatre inLondon on December 10, a deranged fan jumped on-stage and pushed Zappa into the orchestrapit. He suffered a broken ankle, among otherinjuries, and was forced to recuperate for months. This was the end both of thetour and of this edition of the Mothers.
While convalescing at home in Los Angeles, Zappa organized a new big band to play jazz-fusion music; he dubbed it theGrand WazooOrchestra and recorded two albums with it. Waka/Jawaka, billed as a Zappa solo album, came out in July 1972and spent seven weeks in thecharts. The Grand Wazoo, credited to the Mothers, appeared in December and missed thecharts. By September 10, Zappa felt well enough toplay two weeks of dates with the group, now billed as the Mothers,starting at the Hollywood Bowl. He then cut the personnel down to tenpieces (the "Petit Wazoo" band) and toured from lateOctober to mid-December.
The start of 1973 marked a new and surprisingly popular phase in Zappa's career. He assembled a new lineup of Mothers,made a batch ofnew recordings on which he himself sang lead vocals (his voice having dropped half an octave as a result ofinjuring his neck when he wasthrown from the stage), and hit the road for the most extensive touring of his career.Inaugurating the new band in Fayetteville, NC, onFebruary 23, he spent 183 days of 1973 on the road, including tours of theU.S., Europe, and Australia. Meanwhile, the Bizarre Records dealwith Reprise/Warner had run out, and he launched a newlabel, also distributed by Warner, DiscReet Records, its first release being Over-NiteSensation in September 1973. The albumreached the Top 40, stayed in the charts nearly a year, and went gold. It was followed in April 1974by a Zappa solo album,Apostrophe (‘). Much to Zappa's surprise, radio stations began playing a track called "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow." Asingleedit of the song actually spent several weeks in the lower reaches of the Hot 100, and Apostrophe (‘) peaked at number tenfor the weekending June 29, 1974, the highest chart position ever achieved by a Zappa album. The LP also went gold.
Zappa continued to tour extensively in 1974. His next album, the double-LP live collection Roxy & Elsewhere, credited to"Zappa/Mothers,"appeared in September 1974 and made the Top 30. Adding his old friend Captain Beefheart to the band, heplayed shows at the ArmadilloWorld Headquarters in Austin, TX, on May 20 and 21, 1975, that he recorded for the albumBongo Fury, credited to Frank Zappa/CaptainBeefheart/the Mothers, released in October; it made the Top 100. Prior to thathad come One Size Fits All, credited to Frank Zappa & theMothers of Invention, released in June; it made the Top 30. OnSeptember 17 and 18, 1975, two concerts of Zappa's orchestral music wereperformed by a group dubbed the AbnucealsEmuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra (in memory of Lumpy Gravy) and conducted by MichaelZearott at Royce Hall, UCLA.The shows were recorded, but the material was not released until May 1979 as Orchestral Favorites, which spentseveralweeks in the charts. Starting on September 27, 1975, Zappa launched another extended period of touring, staying in the U.S.through aNew Years concert at the Forum in Los Angeles, then playing in Australia, Japan, and Europe, finishing on March17, 1976. This ended anotherphase in his career. He split with his longtime manager Herb Cohen and disbanded his group,which, because of legal disputes with Cohen,would turn out to have been the last one called the Mothers or the Mothers ofInvention. Hereafter, he would perform and record simply asFrank Zappa. There were also other legal issues. In October1976, he reached an out-of-court settlement in a suit he had waged againstMGM/Verve that resulted in his winning therights to the masters of his early albums.
Zappa surprised fans when his name turned up as the producer of a new album by Grand Funk Railroad, Good Singin', GoodPlayin', in August1976. In September, he launched his first world tour under his own name, playing in the U.S., the Far East,and Europe through February1977. Zoot Allures, the last album to be credited to the Mothers, was released on Warner Bros.Records on October 29, 1976, the DiscReetlabel apparently being claimed by Cohen; it reached the Top 100. Zappa was alsoseeking to end his deal with Warner. In March 1977, hedelivered four albums to the label simultaneously (the initial titleswere Studio Tan, Hot Rats III [Waka/Jawaka having counted as Hot RatsII], Zappa's Orchestral Favorites, and the doublealbum Live in New York, recorded in December 1976); he demanded the four $60,000advances the albums called for, andsued Warner for breach of contract when it did not pay. In the summer of 1977, he announced that hehad concluded hiscontract with Warner. He declared that the four albums really constituted a single work called Leather (later spelledLäther),which he sold to Mercury/Phonogram Records. Warner then sued to block its release.
On September 8, 1977, Zappa launched another North American tour, staying on the road until New Year's Eve. His showsfrom October 28-31at the Palladium in New York City were filmed and recorded, the material later emerging in the movie BabySnakes. The European leg of thetour opened in London on January 24, 1978. The resolutions of Zappa's legal disputes led toan unusually large number of releases over thenext year. Zappa in New York (originally called Live in New York) was releasedon DiscReet in March 1978 and made the Top 100. Studio Tanappeared in September 1978 and charted. Sleep Dirt (originallycalled Hot Rats III) was released in January 1979 and charted. OrchestralFavorites completed the releases of the materialZappa had delivered to Warner in March 1977. With these matters settled, Zappa launchedZappa Records, with distributionthrough Mercury/Phonogram in the U.S. and CBS Records in the rest of the world, releasing the double-LPSheik Yerbouti onMarch 3, 1979. The album managed to distinguish itself from all the other Zappa albums in the record bins and peakedatnumber 21, Zappa's best showing in five years, promoted by the single "Dancin' Fool," which made the Top 50. That trackwas nominatedfor a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male), and "Rat Tomago," another track on the album, got aGrammy nomination for BestRock Instrumental Performance.
Zappa toured Europe and Japan in the spring of 1979, then returned to the U.S., where he completed work on his homestudio, called theUtility Muffin Research Kitchen, on September 1. The home studio and his continuing practice of recordinghis shows, along with greatercontrol over his record releases, seemed to free Zappa to issue more records. Joe's Garage ActI was released in September 1979 and madethe Top 30; it was followed in November by the double-LP Joe's Garage Acts II &III, which made the Top 100. Baby Snakes, the film of the1977 Halloween shows in New York, opened on December 21,1979. A soundtrack album did not appear until 1983. Zappa spent much of 1980on the road, beginning a tour of NorthAmerica and Europe on March 25, with dates continuing through July 3, and then touring again fromOctober 10 throughChristmas.
Amazingly, Zappa did not release an album during 1980. (A single, "I Don't Wanna Get Drafter," just missed making the Hot100 in May.) Buthe made up for that in 1981. In May, yet another new label, Barking Pumpkin Records, was launched withthe release of a double-LP,Tinseltown Rebellion, which made the Top 100. By now, Zappa had perfected a method of meldingstudio and live performances on hisrecords, such that the finished versions were a combination of the two. Also in May 1981,he simultaneously released three instrumentalalbums via mail order: Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar, Shut Up ‘N Play Yer GuitarSome More, and Return of the Son of Shut Up ‘N Play YerGuitar. In September came another double album, You Are WhatYou Is, that made the Top 100.
Zappa's spring/summer tour of Europe in 1982 was plagued with problems including canceled dates and even a riot at oneshow; afterfinishing the stint on July 14, he did not tour again for two years. Meanwhile, on May 3, 1982, he released a newalbum, Ship Arriving Too Lateto Save a Drowning Witch, and it featured another of his surprise hit singles, as radio picked upon "Valley Girl," a track featuring a vocal byhis daughter Moon Unit Zappa, imitating the character and employing the slang ofa typical Southern California valley girl. The song peaked atnumber 32 on September 11, 1982, making it the most successfulsingle of Zappa's career. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for BestRock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Thealbum made the Top 30. After coming off the road, Zappa concentrated on recording andon his orchestral music. On January11, 1983, conductor Kent Nagano led the London Symphony Orchestra in a concert of Zappa's works at theBarbican ArtsCentre in London, preparatory to three days of recordings that resulted, initially, in the album London Symphony Orchestra,Vol.1, released in June 1983. (A second volume followed in September 1987.) Prior to that, Zappa had released a new rockalbum, The Man fromUtopia, on March 28, 1983, which charted for several weeks.
As he had the year before, Zappa saw some of his orchestral music recorded in January 1984, this time by the EnsembleInterContemporain ofconductor Pierre Boulez. With other material, these recordings would be released by Angel Records onAugust 23, 1984, as Boulez ConductsZappa: The Perfect Stranger. The other material was Zappa's own recording on anadvanced synthesizer instrument he had purchased calledthe Synclavier, capable of replicating orchestral arrangements. TheSynclavier freed Zappa from the technical limitations (and, in some cases,the objections) of live musicians, especiallyclassical musicians, and he turned to it increasingly from this point on. Having discoveredmanuscripts of music composed inthe 18th century by an ancestor of his, Francesco Zappa, he recorded an album of it on the Synclavier inMarch 1984,releasing the results on an LP called Francesco Zappa on November 21, 1984.
On July 18, 1984, two years after the end of his last tour, Zappa went back on the road for an extensive, worldwide trek thatran throughDecember 23. On October 18, he released a two-LP set, Them or Us. A month later came the triple-LP box set,Thing-Fish, on the same day asthe Francesco Zappa album. By this time, Zappa's records were no longer reaching thecharts, as he focused on his existing fan base, heavilymarketing to them through mail order. Having re-acquired the mastersto his Verve/MGM albums, he had found the tapes in dire condition andhad re-recorded the bass and drum parts for thealbums We're Only in It for the Money and Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets, which were partof a box set he offered to hismailing list, The Old Masters Box 1, in April 1985. (The Old Masters Box 2 followed in 1986, and the series wascompleted withThe Old Masters Box 3 in 1987..
During the year 1985, a group of wives of prominent politicians in Washington, D.C., formed the Parents Music ResourceCenter (PMRC) andlobbed Congress for restrictions on what they saw as obscenity in popular music. Zappa, long anopponent of censorship, became a leader ofthe opposition to the PMRC, and on September 19, 1985, he testified before theSenate Commerce Technology and Transportation Committeeto voice his opinions. Of course, his testimony was a matter ofpublic record, and he quickly used the recordings in an album he assembledcalled Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers ofPrevention, released in November 1985. In January 1986, it became his 33rd and last album to reachthe Billboard chart.
In January 1986, a Zappa live album drawn from the 1984 tour, Does Humor Belong in Music?, was released in Europe, butquickly withdrawn.It was an accompaniment to a home video of the same name that was taken from a single date on thetour. The album was later reissuedwith a new mix. Meanwhile, Zappa signed a contract with the independent CD labelRykodisc to reissue his albums on CD. The reissueprogram was launched in the fall of the year. At the same time, Zappareleased a new instrumental album largely consisting of materialrecorded on the Synclavier, Jazz from Hell. The album wonhim his first Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (Orchestra,Group or Soloist), and the track "Jazz fromHell" itself earned a nomination for Best Instrumental Composition.
On February 2, 1988, Zappa launched what would prove to be his final tour, playing 81 dates in North America and Europethrough June 9.Meanwhile, he continued to issue new recordings. In April came a double album of guitar solos in the mannerof the Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitarseries, simply called Guitar, and the first in a series of double-CD archival live recordings,You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 1. Intypically unusual Zappa style, the series found him editing together liveperformances by different configurations of the Mothers and hisbackup bands at different times. By 1992, the seriesextended to six volumes. The second volume, which actually replicated a single concertperformed in Helsinki in 1974,appeared in October 1988 at the same time as an album of recordings from the 1988 tour, Broadway the HardWay.Launching a home video line, Honker, in 1989, Zappa finally issued Uncle Meat on VHS tape, along with the documentary TheTrue Storyof 200 Motels and Video from Hell. (The following year, Honker issued The Amazing Mr. Bickford, a documentaryabout the animatorresponsible for the clay animation work seen in Baby Snakes.) In May 1989, Zappa published hisautobiography, The Real Frank Zappa Book,co-authored with Peter Occhiogrosso. And in another surprising non-musicalcareer development in 1989, Zappa began traveling to Russia as abusiness liaison. These efforts were extended in January1990, when he went to Czechoslovakia, where he met the recently installedpresident, playwright and Zappa fan VáclavHavel, and agreed to become a trade representative for the country. Understandably, this ranafoul of the Administration ofAmerican President George Bush, however, and Zappa's role became unofficial.
It's hard to say what might have come of Zappa's trade efforts with the former Soviet Union and the former Iron Curtaincountries, where hewas something of a cultural hero. In May 1990, he suddenly canceled scheduled appearances in Europeand returned to the U.S. due to illness.He managed to go to Czechoslovakia and Hungary in June 1991, however. In themeantime, he continued to issue volumes of the You Can't DoThat on Stage Anymore series and albums drawn from the 1988tour, The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life in April 1991, and Make aJazz Noise Here in June 1991. In July 1991, in yetanother unusual marketing move, he assembled a collection of eight bootleg albums thathad appeared over the years andoffered his own version of them (mastered directly from the bootleg LPs themselves) as a box set calledBeat the Boots; thealbums were also released individually, and a second Beat the Boots box was released in June 1992.
Zappa was scheduled to appear in New York for a performance by a group of alumni from his bands called "Zappa's Universe"on November 7,1991. When he was unable to attend due to illness, his children explained publicly for the first time that hewas suffering from prostatecancer. He managed to fly to Germany on July 13, 1992, to work with the Ensemble Modern on apiece it had commissioned from him, TheYellow Shark, and he was present for concerts it performed in September. InOctober, Zappa released Playground Psychotics, an archivalalbum of previously unreleased material from the 1970-1971edition of the Mothers. The Yellow Shark was released in November 1993. Zappadied at age 52 on December 4, 1993.
After Zappa's death, his widow sold his existing catalog outright to Rykodisc. But, like such well-established rock artists asthe Grateful Dead,he had produced a tremendous archive of studio and live recordings that Gail Zappa was able to assembleinto posthumous albums for hislegions of fans. The first of these was the ambitious Civilization Phaze III, which Zappa wasworking on in the period up to his death, releasedin December 1994, and other albums, either containing concerts or othermaterial, have also appeared, along with expanded versions ofpreviously released albums such as Freak Out! Decades afterZappa's death, this stream of releases showed no evidence of stopping, as longas Zappa fans were interested in buying. « hide
Similar Bands: The Mothers of Invention, Caparezza, Ween, Isaac Baranoff, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
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