I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird
News has emerged that around 60 of Frank Zappa’s albums have been remastered and will be re-released over the next few years. The move has been fully endorsed by the Zappa Family Trust (headed up by the musician’s widow Gail), who have always fought to protect the integrity of one of America’s most singular recording artists.
Born in Baltimore in 1940, Zappa epitomised the free thinking spirit of the Sixties and adventurous – and at times indulgent – approach of the Seventies. Growing up, Zappa fell in love with the soulful simplicity early R&B and Doo Wop, but also developed a profound interest in little known Electronic music pioneer Edgard Varese, an Italian emigre who studied under Debussy before experimenting with much more challenging and Avant Garde music. These two separate strains would be life-long influences on Zappa, his prolific output generally sitting in one of the two camps.
His earliest albums, which will be the first see release, were recorded with his band The Mothers of Invention. Their debut, ‘Freak Out!’ is still regarded as a landmark recording, the scope and scale of the set so unprecedented amongst the music of the time that it counts as the first ever double album. What followed can only be described as relentless, with anything up to three or four albums emerging a year and Zappa, a confessed self-archivist recording pretty much every concert the band ever played.
His interests continued to diversify throughout his career. 1969′s ‘Hot Rats’ album ushered in a new phase of improvised Jazz, whilst two years later he further extended his creative remit by writing and directing his first film, 200 Motels. A highly stylised portrayal of life on the road, the film starred Ringo Starr (as a dwarf) and Keith Moon (as a licentious nun). The early Seventies saw Zappa lead The Mothers through one of their most accessible periods, with sets like ‘Over-Nite Sensation’ and ‘Apostrophe(‘)’ reaching mainstream audiences, though never compromising the band’s musical complexity.
The group’s line-up changed to suit Zappa’s musical ambition, and over the years gave early breaks to musicians such as George Duke, Steve Vai and Alice Cooper. It proved to be to constrictive for Zappa though, and by 1976 he had become a solo recording artist. Unbound from his major label contract and free from having to co-ordinate and account for an entire band, Zappa’s work throughout the rest of the Seventies and Eighties was astounding in its range and volume; solo guitar albums and orchestral works were released alongside three disc live albums and electronic interpretations of Eighteenth Century chamber music, whilst on rare occasions concessions were even made for the Top 40 audience (see ‘Valley Girl’, a satirical take on the Californian youth of the late Seventies, featuring Zappa’s daughter Moon Unit on lead vocal).
The pending re-releases are sure to win over a new audience for this maverick of American music, not least because it will be the first time the majority of his output has been made available in the digital format. For more information on the campaign visit the website maintained by the Zappa Family Trust.