Jam Central Station 12.07.13: Frank Zappa
Posted by Jeff Modzelewski on 12.07.2013
Looking back at the life and music of Frank Zappa
So I wasn't planning on doing this article this week, but history changed my mind. This week marked the 20th anniversary of the death of Frank Zappa. While I'm certainly not as big of a fan or as well versed in his material as many others, I'm well aware of his influence. I felt that I should mark the anniversary with a look back at his amazing and often controversial life and career.
There are plenty of artists that I have covered (or will cover in the future) that are unique and original. Artists that pushed boundaries well beyond where conventional musicians would go. However, none of them come close to the genre-bending, line-blurring genius that was and is Frank Zappa. In an era of new and original music, Frank Zappa was light years beyond any of his contemporaries. He combined rock, jazz, and his own unique avant garde free-form sound to create music that broke through every convention of the day, and he pursued musical interests and styles that no other artist has ventured into yet. Artists of all genres list Zappa as an influence, despite a career that included no major hit records or singles. Between albums he released during his life and posthumous releases, the Frank Zappa catalog numbers nearly 100 albums, making him one of the most prolific artists of all time. He was nothing short of a creative genius, and for nearly 30 years he took his fans on musical journeys that simply could not be found anywhere else.
Zappa grew up a fan of many types of music in the 50's and 60's. In his teenage years he was particularly drawn to the early R&B music scene as well as modern orchestral music. He tended to focus on music that was far removed from the mainstream, ignoring musical fads and searching out anything outside of the norm. His early record collection included avant-garde composers, modern jazz, doo-wop, and other groundbreaking styles. As a musician, he started out as a snare drummer and focused on orchestral percussion, and was more interested in the sounds of the instrument than in typical harmony or melody.
Zappa started as a drummber but moved to guitar by high school. He joined a local band and began writing songs as well as avant-garde orchestral pieces. He also began his friendship with Don Vliet, better knon as Captain Beefheart. After school he worked as a songwriter and composer, and he worked on soundtracks for small films. Using this income he purchased his own recording studio, where he spent long hours experimenting with different sounds and techniques. He released songs independently and staged local shows. However, he was unsuccessful in getting a record deal, but his recordings and local performances were enough to make a living. However, in 1965 he was arrested for "conspiracy to commit pornography" over an erotic tape he had made and spent 10 days in jail. Shortly after that he was evicted from his studio.
Zappa joined The Soul Giants as a guitarist in 1965, and quickly took over leadership of the band. They changed their name to The Mothers and then to The Mothers of Invention. They were signed to Verve Records, releasing their debut album Freak Out! in 1966. The album was written almost entirely by Zappa, who had control over all of the studio musicians and overdubs. The band's second album Absolutely Free was less song oriented and more compositional than their debut, and Zappa had even more production control on this album. Lyrically Zappa focused on satire as well as non-conformist statements, and he was very vocal about his anger towards any sort of censorship or limits on freedom. He also released his first official solo album at this time, the orchestral Lumpy Gravy.
The band moved to New York in 1967 and took up residence at the Garrick Theater. It was here that the band mastered their live performances, moving from solos that highlighted individual members to performances of Zappa's songs. They also recorded We're Only In It For The Money at this time, a blazing satire of the hippie movement. The band's time in New York was extremely productive, and Zappa became well versed in blending live and studio music on albums, and he built up a tremendous collection of live recordings of the Mothers of Invention. Zappa also became involved in ownership of two record labels as well as producing albums for other artists. By the end of the 60's the Mothers of Invention had split up, but Zappa was turning into a true musical force.
The end of the Mothers of Invention cleared the way for Zappa to exert even more control over his music. He released Hot Rats in 1969, another defining Zappa album. Zappa brought together a new backing band for subsequent releases, dubbing them the Mothers instead of the Mothers of Invention. They backed Zappa on his next albums as well as on the 200 Motels soundtrack, a movie directed in part by Zappa. Not long after this, Zappa suffered a severe injury when an audience member pushed him off of the stage during a show. Zappa had to leave the road for over 6 months, and the new version of the Mothers mainly went off on their own.
He returned to the road playing gigs with a big band setup before moving on to smaller arrangements. In 1974, Apostrophe became his biggest hit album, going up to #10 on Billboard. He also moved back into detail-oriented jazz fusion around this time with another version of The Mothers. Multiple live albums from this period were also released. A split between Zappa and longtime manager Herb Cohen resulted in a lawsuit, and another lawsuit with Warner Bros. resulted in Zappa not releasing any material for over a year. Because of this, Zappa spent much of the mid to late 70's on the road in a variety of setups.
By the end of the 70's Zappa had regained control of nearly every aspect of his musical life. He formed Zappa Records, where he would release his next few albums. Sheic Yerbouti and Joe's Garage were both released around this time, and are two of his most revered albums. Zappa also ran into numerous roadblocks at this time around the content of his lyrics, both for their sexual nature and other offensive content. Zappa vehemently defended his music and lyrical content and his right as an artist to express himself.
Do to a conflict with Zappa Records distributor Phonogram, Zappa founded Barking Pumpkin Records, the label where he would release most his material for the rest of his life. He continued to change up his band to include the best musicians that he could find. Steve Vai even toured with the band in the early 80's. You Are What You Is was a more rock-oriented album with strong political commentary, and then went on to release a trio of instrumental albums. In 1982 his biggest single, "Valley Girl," was released on the Ship Arriving Too Late To Save a Drowning Witch album. The song was also nominated for a Grammy.
With the complete creative freedom that he had, Zappa was able to move between rock, jazz, and orchestral music as he saw fit. He released two albums with the London Symphony Orchestra playing his compositions and also worked with other orchestras on a limited basis. By the mid 80's, Zappa had discovered the Synclavier, an early synthesizer that allowed Zappa to find the perfection that he was looking for. By the late 80's he had the opportunity to remaster and re-release earlier works. He also won his first Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance with Jazz from Hell. He toured in 1988 with a new band, and the tour produced 3 separate live albums.
Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990. He focused his remaining years primarily on orchestral music, and his work was recognized throughout Europe at this time. His last public performance was as a conductor in Frankfurt Germany of some of his orchestral music. He died on December 4, 1993.
Frank Zappa will be remembered as a musician, a political commentator and satirist,and a devout believer in free speech and freedom of expression. He was one of the most vocal opponents of the PMRC in the 80's and testified at a Senate hearing regarding "obscene" music. He encouraged his fans to vote and participate in the political system as well, despite his hostility towards many politicians. He even considered running for president before his cancer diagnosis prevented it.
Frank Zappa's influence on music likely can't be overstated. Without Frank Zappa, bands like Phish and The Flaming Lips likely wouldn't exist, at least not in their current form. His music is still popular enough today that his son, Dweezil Zappa, performs and tours playing his father's music as Zappa Plays Zappa. Frank Zappa continues to be a force in modern music, nearly 20 years after his death, and he likely will remain that way for many years to come.
The Last Chair Festival announces lineup
The Last Chair Festival, a music and skiing festival in Placer County, CA, announced their lineup. The event takes place from January 9-11, and the headliners include The Flaming Lips, Jurassic 5, and Matisyahu. The undercard doesn't have too many known names, but includes Fitz & The Tantrums, Mayer Hawthorne, Chali 2na 7 The House of Vibe, and Ben Rector
.Yonder announces another round of dates
Yonder Mountain String Band announced another set of dates this week. The band's early det of dates through February will be without Jeff Austin, but I believe he'll be back for hte second leg of the tour. The Travelin' McCoury's will open the first leg.
December 11 Puerto Morelos, MEX – Strings and Sol
December 12 Puerto Morelos, MEX – Strings and Sol
December 13 Puerto Morelos, MEX – Strings and Sol
December 14 Puerto Morelos, MEX – Strings and Sol
December 27 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
December 28 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
December 29 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
December 30 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
December 31 Boulder, CO – Boulder Theater
January 22 Lexington, KY – Buster's Billiards and Backroom*
January 23 Covington, KY – Madison Theatre*
January 24 Nashville, TN – Marathon Music Works*
January 25 Atlanta, GA – Tabernacle*
January 29 Pensacola, FL – Vinyl Music Hall*
January 30 Jacksonville Beach, FL – Freebird Live*
January 31 St. Petersburg, FL – Jannus Live*
February 1 Fort Lauderdale, FL – Revolution*
February 5 Charleston, SC – Music Farm*
February 6 Ashville, NC – Orange Peel*
February 7 Ashville, NC – Orange Peel*
February 8 Knoxville, TN – Tennessee Theatre*
February 11 Charlottesville, VA – Jefferson Theater*
February 13 Indianapolis, IN – The Vogue Theater*
February 14 Columbus, OH – Le Pavilion Outdoor Amphitheater*
February 15 Madison, WI – Orpheum Theatre*
February 16 Urbana, IL – Canopy Club*
March 19 Fayetteville, AR – George's Majestic Lounge
March 20 Tunica, MS – Bluesvill
March 21 Tulsa, OK – Cain's Ballroom
March 22 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
March 23 Springfield, MO – Gillioz Theater
March 26 Baton Rouge, LA – Varsity Theatre
March 27 New Orleans, LA – House of Blues
March 28 Austin, TX – Stubb's BBQ
March 29 Dallas, TX – Granada Theater
April 1 Flagstaff, AZ – Orpheum Theatre
April 2 Salt Lake City, UT – The Depot
April 3 Stateline, NV – Montbleu Resort Casino and Spa
April 4 Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades
April 5 Oakland, CA – Fox Theater
April 8 Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom
April 9 Eugene, OR – McDonald Theatre
April 10 – Seattle, WA – Showbox at the Market
April 11 Missoula, MT – Wilma Theatre
April 12 Missoula, MT – Wilma Theatre
(*) with Travelin' McCourys moe. adds winter dates
moe. may be cancelling Snoe.down this year, but they'll certainly be on the road. Along with a trip over the Europe, the band will be on the road in the U.S. through mid February, as well as at Jazzfest in New Orleans in April.
December 6 Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre
December 7 Denver, CO – Ogden Theatre
December 9 Park City, UT – Park City Live
December 12 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
December 13 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
December 14 San Francisco, CA – The Independent
December 30 Albany, NY – Palace Theatre
December 31 Albany, NY – Palace Theatre
January 24 New Brunswick, NJ—State Theatre
January 25 Baltimore, MD—Rams Head Live
January 26 York, PA—Strand Capitol
January 29 Charleston, SC—Music Farm (w/Jimmy Herring and the Ringers)
January 30 Charlotte, NC—The Fillmore (w/Jimmy Herring and the Ringers)
January 31 Nashville, TN—Marathon Music Works
February 1 Atlanta, GA—The Tabernacle
February 4 Raleigh, NC—Lincoln Theatre
February 5 Wilmington, DE—The Grand Opera House
February 7 Port Chester, NY—Capitol Theatre*
February 8 Port Chester, NY—Capitol Theatre^
February 9 Northampton, MA – Calvin Theatre
February 12 Pittsburgh, PA – Stage AE
February 13 Cleveland, OH – House of Blues
February 14 Syracuse, NY – F Shed at the Market
February 15 Syracuse, NY – F Shed at the Market
March 26 Hamburg, GER—Fabrik
March 27 Amsterdam, NED—Melkweg
March 28 Berlin, GER—Quasimodo
March 29 Plauen, GER—Malzhaus
March 30 Munich, GER—Backstage Halle
April 3 Cologne Bresciano, ITA—Cineteatro Parrocchiale
April 4 Winterbach, GER—Lehenbachhalle
April 5 Lorsch, GER—Kulturhaus Rex
April 6 Bonn, GER—Harmonie
April 8 London, ENG—The Garage
April 25 – New Orleans, LA – The Civic Theatre
April 26 – New Orleans, LA – The Civic Theatre Railroad Earth adds 2014 dates
Railroad Earth has an extensive run of 2014 dates lined up (although none in Ohio so far). They're current set of tour dates takes the band into April, just in time for festival season.
anuary 9 Milwaukee, WI – Pabst Theater
January 10 Minneapolis, MN – First Avenue
January 11 Chicago, IL – Vic Theater
January 12 Bloomington, IL – Castle Theater
January 15 Des Moines, IA – Wooly's
January 16 Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theater
January 17 Denver, CO – The Fillmore
January 18 Denver, CO – The Fillmore
January 21 Fayetteville, AR – George's Majestic Lounge
January 22 Tulsa, OK – Cain's Ballroom
January 23 Columbia, MO – Blue Note
January 24 Lawrence, KS – Granada
January 25 St. Louis, MO – The Pageant
February 6 Richmond, VA – The National
February 7 Washington, DC – 9:30
February 8 Washington, DC – 9:30
February 12 Buffalo, NY - Town Ballroom
February 13 Syracuse, NY - Palace Theater
February 14 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
February 15 Philadelphia, PA – Union Transfer
February 20 Burlington, VT – Higher Ground
February 21 Boston, MA – House Of Blues
February 22 New York, NY – Best Buy Theater
March 13 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
March 14 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
March 15 San Francisco, CA – The Fillmore
March 20 Seattle, WA – Neptune Theater
March 21 Portland, OR – Crystal Ballroom
March 22 Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom
April 2 Knoxville, TN - Bijou Theatre
April 3 Charlotte, NC- The Fillmore
April 4 Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
April 5 Atlanta, GA – Variety Playhouse
Strings & Sol
December 11-15, 2013
Puerto Morales, Mexico
Performers include: Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Keller & The McCoury's, and Greensky Bluegrass
Warren Haynes' Christmas Jam
December 13-14, 2013
US Cellular Center
Performers include: Gov't Mule, Phil Lesh Quintet, Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit, Michael Franti, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Keb Mo, OAR, and The John Scofield Uberjam Band.
December 16-20, 2013
Puerto Morales, Mexico
The event will feature three shows each from Umphrey's McGee, The Disco Biscuits, and STS9, and will also feature Big Gigantic, Papadosio, Cherub, Orchard Lounge, and DrFameus.
December 20-21, 2013
Papadosio will headline both nights. Other artists include: Ott & The All Seeing I, Hundred Waters, Shigeto, and The Main Squeeze.
January 4-9, 2014
Performers include: Les Claypool's Duo de Twang, Bootsy Collins, Galactic, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Keller Williams, Galactic, and many others.
One Big Holiday
January 26-30, 2014
Riviera Maya, Mexico
My Morning Jacket will be performing 4 nights at this event.
Aura Music & Arts Festival
February 14-16, 2014
Spirit of the Suwanne Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Performers include: Papadosio, Lotus, Conspirator, Zoogma, The Werks, The Revivaalists, Particle, Marco Benevento, Dopapod, and many others.
February 19-23 2014
Hard Rock Hotel, Riviera Maya, Mexico
Performers include: Multiple shows from the String Cheese Incident, EOTO< Kyle Holingsworth Band, The Motet, and Prophet Massive.
February 21-23, 2014
Performers include: Greensky Bluegrass featuring Sam Bush, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Elephant Revival, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, Fruition, and many others.
Jam in the Sand
February 28-March 4, 2014
Dark Star Orchestra will host the event. Other performers to be announced.
Panic en la Playa tres
March 17-21, 2014
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Widespread Panic will perform four shows during the event.
March 20-23, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL
Performers include: Avett Brothers, Punch Brothers, Sam Bush Band, Southern Soul Assembly, Donna the Buffalo, Greensky Bluegrass, and many others
Hoopla in the Hills
Poston Lake Music Park
Performers include: Papadosio, Keller Williams, EOTO, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, Cosby Sweater, Rumpke Mountain Boys, and many others.
April 10-12, 2014
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oaks, FL
May 22-25, 2014
Three Sisters Park
Dark Star Jubilee
May 23-26, 2014
May 29-June 1
Performers include: The Avett Brothers
June 12-15, 2014
July 23-27, 2014
Performers include: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite, Ms. Lauryn Hill, ray LaMontagne, Thievery Corporation, Ziggy Marley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Buddy Guy, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, and many others
Gathering of the Vibes
July 31-August 1, 2014
Lockin' Music Festival
September 4-7, 2014
September 5-7, 2014
Thanks again for stopping by. I'll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!