Frank Zappa, the avant-garde rock ‘n’ roll legend who tested commercial and critical boundaries at every turn, died Saturday of prostate cancer. He was 52.
“Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6 p.m. Saturday,” the family said in a statement. Zappa, who died at his Laurel Canyon home surrounded by his wife, Gail, and their four children, was buried Sunday in private ceremonies in Westwood.
Zappa gained national prominence in the late ’60s when he fronted the experimental band the Mothers of Invention.
He also was known for speaking out on First Amendment issues, testifying before Congress on censorship and violence in the industry. Zappa led the music industry charge against the labeling of albums with questionable lyrics, going head to head with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center during a round of congressional hearings and talkshow appearances.
Zappa’s place in counterculture rock ‘n’ roll was cemented with the release of almost 50 albums, most known for their titles as well as content. They included “Freak Out”– the industry’s first double album and widely considered the first rock opera –“Burnt Weeny Sandwich” and “Hot Rats.” Zappa often referred to the cuts as “sonic mutilations.”
The perennial Mothers of Invention disc, “Lumpy Gravy,” was to have been reprised next year as “Lumpy Gravy Phase III.” The album was ultimately retitled “Civilization Phase III” and remains slated for a spring release on Zappa’s own label, Barking Pumpkin Records.
Zappa did have several mainstream hits including “Valley Girl” that featured his then 14-year-old daughter Moon Unit, and “Dancin’ Fool,” a lampoon of the disco era.
The groundbreaking artist won a rock instrumental Grammy in 1988 for “Jazz From Hell,” an album that further blurred the lines between jazz, classical and rock music.
Zappa also recently toured to support “Yellow Shark,” but illness cut short the multi-city outing.
Barking Pumpkin will continue to be run by Gail, operating its highly successful direct mail business. The label has an extensive backlog of works and plans to release four or five Zappa discs in the next year.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Office for Intellectual Freedom, the nonprofit arm of the American Library Assn.