One of the most famous names in Rock and Roll, yet a man whose work was not seen or heard as much as other famous individuals was, FRANK ZAPPA. Frank was often referred to as either a genius or a "piece of work." And work he did, Frank wrote, produced and performed on a remarkable 60 albums over his 30 year career with The Mothers of Invention. He was a satirist of American Culture among other things, and a lot of people would listen to his songs and shake their heads, not understanding that he was sending them up.
Mr. Zappa was a self-taught composer, and dabbled in the: Pop, Rock, Jazz, Jazz Fusion and Orchestral genres, combined with sound experimentation and improvisation; often producing brilliant and funny work at the same time. What a lot of the public didn't know was that Frank was also a devoted family man and avoided drugs--contrary to popular belief. (Folks would say: "How does he come up with that stuff if he isn't stoned?")
Early on he had a home near the end of Laurel Canyon with a little pond and an automobile tire hung from a tree to swing on. I had the great privilege of speaking at the International Broadcast Festival in Montreux, Switzerland in the '90's, and learned the story of Deep Purple's hit song, "Smoke on the Water." In 1971 The Mothers of Invention were playing at the Casino there on Lake Geneva, and a stage flare set their equipment on fire, burning the building to the ground.
The guys in Deep Purple watched from the other side of the Lake and were inspired to write the song. The band escaped the fire, but a week later playing with rented equipment in London, a fan ran up and pushed Frank off the stage into the concrete floor of the Orchestra Pit and he sustained serious injuries to his voice and body. There was a long period of rehabilitation with Zappa in a wheelchair for a while, but eventually he returned to performing wearing a leg brace; he'd joke that One Leg was now shorter than the other. (The subject of the video I'm posting called: "Dancing Fool").
Frank Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, both awarded posthumously. Sadly, Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1991. Doctors suspected it may have been growing for a decade, and 3 years later just before Christmas he passed away.
But as we always say here at TDR, his music lives on and Scott found a great clip of Frank and the Mothers performing the One-Leg Is Shorter song, "Dancing Fool," Live with great color picture and audio. May his soul rest in the Cosmic Peace. @therealdonrocks
A version of this post originally appeared on The Don Rocks Facebook page. For more stories like these every day, join us on Facebook and Twitter.