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Biographie de Frank Zappa
Source / Auteur : Divers Date : 14/08/2005 Nb consultation : 3004
Frank Zappa, born Frank Vincent Zappa, 21 December 1940, Baltimore, Maryland, USA, died 4 December 1993, Los Angeles, California, USA. Frank's parents were second-generation Sicilian Greeks; his father played 'strolling crooner' guitar.
At the age of 12 Frank became interested in drums, learning orchestral percussion at summer school in Monterey. By 1956 he was playing drums in a local R&B band called the Ramblers. Early exposure to a record of IONISATION by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varese instilled an interest in advanced rhythmic experimentation that never left him. The electric guitar also became a fascination, and he began collecting R&B records that featured guitar solos: Howlin' Wolf with Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown were special favourites.
A school-friend, Don Van Vliet (later to become Captain Beefheart), shared his interest. In 1964 Frank joined a local R&B outfit, the Soul Giants (Roy Collins; vocals, Roy Estrada; bass, Jimmy Carl Black; drums), and started writing songs for them. They changed their name to the Mothers ('Of Invention' was added at record company insistence). Produced by Tom Wilson in 1966—the late black producer whose credits included Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan—Freak Out! was a stunning debut, a two-record set complete with a whole side of wild percussion, a vitriolic protest song, Trouble Every Day, and the kind of minute detail (sleevenotes, in-jokes, parodies) that generate instant cult appeal. They made great play of their hair and ugliness, becoming the perfect counter-cultural icon. Unlike the east coast band the Fugs, the Mothers were also musically skilled, a refined instrument for Frank's eclectic and imaginative ideas.
Tours and releases followed, including We're Only In It For The Money, (with its brilliant parody of the SGT PEPPER record cover) a scathing satire on hippiedom and the reactions to it in the USA, and a notable appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in London (documented in the compulsive Uncle Meat). Cuisin With Ruben & The Jets was an excellent homage to the doo- wop era. British fans were particularly impressed with Hot Rats, a record that ditched the sociological commentary for barnstorming jazz-rock, blistering guitar solos, the extravagant Peaches En Regalia and a cameo appearance by Captain Beefheart on Willie The Pimp.
The original band broke up (subsequently to resurface as the Grandmothers). Both the previous two albums appeared on Frank's own Bizarre record label and together with his other outlet Straight Records he released a number of highly regarded albums (although commercial flops), including those by the GTO's, Larry Wild Man Fischer, Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley and the indispensible Frank-produced classic TROUT MASK REPLICA by Captain Beefheart.
Eager to gain a 'heavier' image than the band that had brought them fame, the Turtles' singers Flo & Eddie joined up with Frank for the film 200 Motels and three further albums. Fillmore East June '71 included some intentionally outrageous subject matter prompting inevitable criticism from conservative observers. 1971 was not a happy year: on 4 December fire destroyed the band's equipment while they were playing at Montreux (an event commemorated in Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water) and soon afterwards Frank was pushed off-stage at London's Rainbow theatre, crushing his larynx (lowering his voice a third), damaging his spine and keeping him wheelchair-bound for the best part of a year.
He spent 1972 developing an extraordinary new species of big band fusion (Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo), working with top west coast session musicians. However, he found these excellent players dull touring companions, and decided to dump the 'jazztette' for an electric band.
1973's Over-Nite Sensation announced fusion-chops, salacious lyrics and driving rhythms. The live band featured an extraordinary combination of jazz-based swing and a rich, sonorous rock that probably only Frank (with his interest in modern classical music) could achieve. Percussion virtuoso Ruth Underwood, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, featured in the King Kong project, and keyboardist George Duke shone in this context. Apostrophe(') showcased Zappa's talents as a story-teller in the Lord Buckley tradition, and also (in the title track) featured a jam with bassist Jack Bruce: it reached number 10 in the Billboard chart in June 1974. Roxy & Elsewhere caught the band live, negotiating diabolically hard musical notation—Echidna's Arf and The Bebop Tango—with infectious good humour. One Size Fits All, an under-acknowledged masterpiece, built up extraordinary multi-tracked textures. Andy was a song about b-movie cowboys, while Florentine Pogen and Inca Roads were complex extended pieces.
In 1975 Captain Beefheart joined Frank for a tour and despite an earlier rift, sang on Bongo Fury, both re-uniting in disgust over the USA's bicentennial complacency.
Zoot Allures in 1976 was principally a collaboration between Frank and drummer Terry Bozzio, with Frank over-dubbing most of the instruments himself. He was experimenting with what he termed 'xenochronicity' (combining unrelated tracks to create a piece of non-synchronous music) and produced intriguing results on Friendly Little Finger. The title track took the concept of sleaze guitar onto a new level (as did the orgasmic moaning of The Torture Never Stops), while Black Napkins was an incomparable vehicle for guitar. If Zoot Allures now reads like a response to punk, Frank was not to forsake large-scale rock showbiz. A series of concerts in New York at Halloween in 1976 had a wildly excited crowd applauding tales of singles bars, devil encounters and stunning Brecker Brothers virtuosity (recorded as Live In New York). This album was part of the fall-out from Frank's break-up with Warner Brothers, who put out three excellent instrumental albums with 'non-authorized covers' (adopted, strangely enough, by Frank for his CD re-releases): Studio Tan, Sleep Dirt and Orchestral Favourites. The punk-obsessed rock press did not know what to make of music that parodied Miklos Rosza, crossed jazz with cartoon scores, guyed rock ‘n’ roll hysteria and stretched fusion into the 21st century. Undaunted by still being perceived as a hippie, which he clearly was not (We're Only In It For The Money had said the last word on the Summer Of Love while it was happening!), Frank continued to tour.
His guitar-playing seemed to expand into a new dimension: Yo' Mama on Sheik Yerbouti (1979) was a taste of the extravaganzas to come. In Ike Willis, Frank found a vocalist who understood his required combination of emotional detachment and intimacy, and featured him extensively on Joe's Garage.
After the mid-'70s interest in philosophical concepts and band in-jokes, the music became more political. Tinseltown Rebellion and You Are What You Is commented on the growth of the fundamentalist Right. In 1982 Frank had a hit with Valley Girl, with his daughter Moon Unit satirizing the accents of young moneyed Hollywood people.
That same year saw him produce and introduce a New York concert of music by Edgar Varese. Ship Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch had a title track which indicated that Frank's interest in extended composition was not waning; this was confirmed by the release of a serious orchestral album in 1983.
In 1984 he was quite outrageously prolific: he unearthed an 18th century composer named Francesco Zappa and recorded his work on a synclavier; he released a rock album Them Or Us, which widened still further the impact of his scurrilously inventive guitar; and renowned French composer Pierre Boulez conducted Frank's work on The Perfect Stranger.
Two releases, Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar and Guitar proved that Zappa's guitar playing was unique; Jazz From Hell presented wordless compositions for synclavier that drew inspiration from Conlon Nancarrow; Thing-Fish was a 'Broadway musical' about AIDS, homophobia and racism.
The next big project materialized in 1988: a 12-piece band playing covers, instrumentals and a brace of new political songs (collected respectively as The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, Make a Jazz Noise Here and Broadway The Hard Way). They rehearsed for three months and the power and precision of the band were breathtaking, but they broke up during their first tour.
As well as the retrospective series You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore, Zappa released eight of his most popular bootlegs in a 'beat the boots' campaign. In Czechoslovakia, where he had long been a hero of the cultural underground, he was appointed their Cultural Liaison Officer with the West and in 1991 he announced he would be standing as an independent candidate in the 1992 USA presidential election (almost immediately he received several death threats!).
The man never ceased to astonish, both as a musician and composer: on the way he produced a towering body of work that is probably rock music's closest equivalent to the legacy of Duke Ellington. In November 1991 his daughter confirmed reports that Zappa was suffering from cancer of the prostate and in May 1993 Zappa, clearly weak from intensive chemotherapy, announced that he was fast losing the battle as it had spread into his bones. He lost the fight against the disease seven months later.
Zappa's career in perspective shows a musical perfectionist using only the highest standards of musicianship and the finest recording quality. The reissued CD's highlight the extraordinary quality of the original master tapes and Zappa's idealism. Additionally, he is now rightly seen as one of the great guitar players of our time. Although much of his ouvre is easily dismissed as flippant, history will certainly recognize Zappa as a sophisticated, serious composer and a highly accomplished master of music. The additional fact that he did it all with a remarkable sense of humour should be seen as a positive bonus.