Faces of a modern composer The life and career of Frank Zappa (1940-1993) is a study in stylistic breadth, dogged perseverance and good, solid work ethic. Sample the different periods of his immense catalog and you’ll realize that there were at least four Zappas:
1.)The satirist/absurdist responsible for such sublime pieces as “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” (Zappa’s statement of intent from the Mothers of Invention’s 1966 debut, Freak Out!), as well as numerous pieces of cheap, crude humor in the ’70s and beyond (“Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”),
2.)The composer who drew on such 20th century figures as Varese and Stockhausen, as well as his beloved doo-wop, greasy ’50s r&b and, seemingly, anything else he could find (and who, when working with live musicians proved too problematic, resorted to the programmable Synclavier),
3.)The six-string hero of Hot Rats and Over-nite Sensation (Rykodisc) who regularly won “best guitarist” polls throughout the ’70s and inspired the likes of Steve Vai and Phish’s Trey Anastasio, and
4.)The studio wizard–a master of track and tape manipulation who fashioned composite pieces from completely unrelated tracks (“xenochronicity”).
Of course, Zappa’s career encompassed much more than this. He launched the experimental Bizarre and Straight labels (issuing records by Beefheart, Wild Man Fischer and others) and, later, Barking Pumpkin, a vehicle for his projects alone. He was also an outspoken cultural critic, unafraid to attack neither hippie-dippy values nor mid-’80s record-rating proponents the PMRC. But perhaps Zappa is best remembered as a musical visionary who managed to succeed on his own terms, often flying in the face of convention and kicking open numerous doors to new possibilities along the way.
-Pulse Magazine (March 2002 – Rock’s First Underground)