Obituary: Frank Zappa

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The Independent Online
ANDY GILL's obituary of Frank Zappa (7 December) rightly recalls him as a man who grew to fame in a milieu whose values he did not share, and whose manners he frequently lampooned, writes Matthew Hoffman.

In 1967 three friends and I opened a recording studio in New York's Greenwich Village (Apostolic Studios) that attracted the new wave of recording artists who wanted to get away from the uptown 'commercial' studios favoured by their record companies.

Frank had just started a record label, Bizarre Records, and he booked himself in for a series of sessions that stretched over several months. He chose us because of our state-of- the-art multitrack recording equipment and our easygoing manners. His band would hang out in the lobby chatting up groupies while he himself spent endless hours mixing tapes in the studio control room and lapping up cherry pie and vanilla ice cream.

Frank's joy in his search for new combinations of sounds - whether from prepared pianos, virtuoso overdubbing or electronic effects - was infectious. One of our employees, Dick Kunc, became so devoted to Frank and his music that he finally migrated to Los Angeles to be his personal recording engineer.

Despite his concentration on his own music, he did take the time to keep an eye on his rivals. I recall sitting one day in his very middle- class, comfortable rented apartment with his wife Gail and their baby daughter Moon Unit, listening to him tell of a Van Morrison recording session he had recently attended. He described in detail a studio full of classical musicians all playing from carefully scored sheets of music, and then delivered his stiletto put-down: 'I closed my eyes and the whole combination sounded like a solo harpsichord.'

Frank's music never sounded like less than the world turned upside down; a goal which, more than any other popular musician of his time, he achieved in his work.