Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention
You gotta love Francis Vincent Zappa. When everyone was pushing artistic integrity, Zappa and the Mothers of Invention released "We're Only In It For The Money." In addition, the cover was a brutal take-off of "Sgt. Pepper's." Ironically, Zappa could have been hugely popular, certainly he and the Mothers had the chops. Only it was a whole lot more fun to be creative.
Growing up in California, Zappa was influenced by both Doo-Wop and classical composers Stravinsky and Varese. Stylistic synthesis would prove to be a Zappa trademark. He played in numerous groups becoming proficient on several instruments including guitar. Zappa made ends meet in the early '60s by composing music for B-movies. He also ran into trouble for working on a porno movie project in an effort to finance his recording studio. That escapade bought him a brief stint in jail and a lengthy probation. By '64 Zappa had put together the first version of the Mothers of Invention and the following year recorded "Freak Out!" Not sure what it was or what to do with it MGM Records released "Freak Out!" on its jazz label.
Eclectic doesn't even begin to cover Zappa. The Mothers covered all the musical possibilities and their live shows were spectacles featuring numerous props and improv bits. If Lenny Bruce had lived and had any musical talent he would have been in Zappa's group. Not only was the music challenging the lyrics were no B.S., no compromise, excursions.
The Mothers bit the dust in the early '70s and Zappa continued on his own. But his work with the Mothers was the most significant. In the '90s Zappa was best known for fighting against music censorship.
Following a two year battle with prostate cancer, Zappa died on December 4th, 1993. Zappa, with or without the Mothers never had a hit, never even cracked the Top 40, but created some incredible music with wit and style.
Frank Zappa's Life & Times:
Zappa got a letter from a "hip" L.A. DJ saying he could make the Mothers of Invention as "big" as the Turtles and suggested a few modifications like shave, smile and play more accessible music. Other than that, no major changes. Zappa retaliated making the letter public.
Zappa was quoted as saying the Monkees' music (recorded by studio musicians) was better produced than most of the "serious" late '60s Rock coming out of San Francisco. However, he dismissed both as being worthless "manufactured" music.
OOne of the first artists to start his own label, Zappa launched Bizarre, Straight and Barking Pumpkin.
Zappa and the Mothers are predominately mentioned in Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water." The Mothers were playing at a Montreaux, Switzerland hotel ("The best place in town") when Deep Purple hit the Lake Geneva resort. Deep Purple had planned to record at the hotel but it burned down. Hence the title. Deep Purple had to retreat to a cold, empty hotel to get their album recorded. But they got off easy. The fire destroyed all of the Mothers' sound equipment and they didn't even get a classic hit out of it.
John and Yoko appeared at a Zappa concert in NY which later wound up on Lennon's "Sometime In New York City."
Zappa even won a Grammy for his "Jazz From Hell" in '88.
The Original Mothers Of Invention:
Jimmy Carl Black
Other Notable Mothers:
Van Dyke Parks: Beach Boy Brian Wilson's sometime songwriting partner.
Aynsley Dunbar: British drummer who was in the Jeff Beck Group, early Journey and Starship.
Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (Flo & Eddie): Former Turtles (little ironic-see above).
Terry Bozzio: Future Missing Persons founder/drummer.
"Were Only In It For The Money" is Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention's defining moment. This is an often scathing, often humorous shot across the Love Generation's bow. The song titles say it all: "Are You Hung Up," "Who Needs The Peace Corps," "You're A Beast," "What's The Ugliest Part of Your Body," "Nasal Retentive Calliope Music" and the timely "Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny." This album oscillates between R&B, Rock and experimental music. No "hits" but its influence ran deep.
The '66 debut "Freak Out" is another excellent choice, especially in context of the times. A live album, "Freak Out" nails some great R&B send-ups and extended Rock works.
Zappa's prime was the late '60s and early '70s with the largely instrumental "Lumpy Gravy," "Cruising With Ruben and the Jets," Hot Rats" and "Weasel Ripped My Flesh." From the mid '70s there's "Apostrophe" with the classic "Don't Eat Yellow Snow."