Frank Zappa

Frank ZappaI remember reading an article by a fairly serious music writer — most likely in New Musical Express — discussing Frank Zappa, who was born on this day in 1940. This was in the late 1960s and the writer said something to the effect that Zappa could be the best rock guitarist of all time if he would just take it seriously. I don’t think anyone ever so perfectly encapsulated Zappa. It wasn’t just his guitar playing. Zappa did not think much of popular music. I recall the early albums being filled with little comments. Like on Absolutely Free at one point, he says, “This is like The Supremes… See the way it builds up?” Most of his career was him saying, “I’m only playing this crap because you idiots like it.”

Zappa was always fundamentally a blues guitar player. But his mixing of various modes makes it often sound more like jazz. It’s actually more of a classical approach, but with his use of subtle string bends and other aspects of electric guitar technique, it all sounds highly idiosyncratic. Of course, now you can hear his influence in some of the more interesting “independent” bands over the last couple of decades. As you can probably tell, I admire Zappa at the same time that I think he was kind of a douche who didn’t do as much with his talent as he should have.

He was at his best when he was creating instrumentals like “Peaches en Regalia.” But since I’ve heard that song entirely enough for a far longer life than I will have, here is “Black Napkins” performed live:

Happy birthday Frank Zappa!

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