Universal Music Group has announced an agreement with Frank Zappa’s family to acquire the legendary musician’s recordings, publishing catalog, film archive, name and likeness, and the contents of “The Vault,” the storage facility that houses his complete archives. The agreement is between UMG and the Zappa trust — comprising the musician’s children Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva Zappa — and spans his four-decade career. The deal, terms of which were not disclosed, expands on a previous partnership and the assets will continue to be managed by the company’s recorded-music catalog division, Universal Music Enterprises (UMe), and Universal Music Publishing Group.
A creator of musically complex and often eccentric works, Zappa has few precedents in the music realm and even fewer in the hits-obsessed, multi-billion-dollar music catalog gold rush of the past several years: Amid a sprawling discography that began in 1966, two of his singles cracked the Billboard Top 50 (barely) and one of his 122 official albums went gold.
But his challenging and often brilliant music is likely to be studied for decades to come, and ultimately he may be remembered more as a jazz or avant-garde musician than a rock one. His song titles give a sense of the music — “Watermelon in Easter Hay,” “Cosmik Debris,” “Peaches En Regalia,” “Uncle Remus” — and stylistically they range from orchestral compositions to borderline novelty songs, such as his two top-charting singles, 1983’s “Valley Girl” (sung by a teenaged Moon) and the 1979 disco spoof “Dancin’ Fool.”
Zappa, who died in 1993 of prostate cancer at the age of 52, was an obsessive documentarian of his own work, and his vault contains a substantial amount of unreleased material. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and awarded the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1997.
The Zappa Trust said, “Ten years ago, Gail Zappa partnered with UMe to bring Frank Zappa’s music into the digital era and help expand the Frank Zappa business around the world, setting in motion a fruitful partnership that has resulted in exponential growth. Together over the last decade we made Frank’s vast catalog of music available for streaming and download, reissued many of his pivotal albums on vinyl, created a slew of exciting archival releases and expansive box sets, including a series celebrating FZ’s legendary Halloween concerts, and were nominated for a Grammy for the ‘200 Motels (The Suites)’ orchestral album. UMG have more than proven their passion for Frank’s art and so the entire Zappa family – Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva – is thrilled to pass the baton to the new forever stewards for all things Frank Zappa.”
UMe president-CEO Bruce Resnikoff said, “It has been a privilege to work with the Zappa family to release Frank Zappa’s music around the world, grow his audience, and protect his legacy for the past decade. Zappa was a pioneering, visionary artist who created an incredible body of work and we are incredibly proud that Gail, and now his children, have entrusted us with his important legacy.”
UMPG COO Marc Cimino said, “A powerful voice in music and culture, Frank Zappa was one of the most brilliant artists of his time. We are honored to welcome Zappa’s influential song catalog and that his estate has chosen UMG to uphold his artistry and to grow his immense legacy throughout the world.”