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Rock Icons: Frank Zappa by Mike Portnoy

Mike Portnoy pays tribute to the late, great Frank Zappa

I first discovered Frank Zappa in the late 70s when I was a teenager. It was his sense of humour that actually attracted me. How could you resist anyone who had a song called Broken Hearts Are For Assholes? I just had to check him out.

But beyond that sense of humour, there was also that musicianship, which was amazing. Frank Zappa always had the very best musicians in his band, from Steve Vai to Adrian Belew and Terry Bozzio. I got to see him on his last tour in 1987-88. I followed him around the US, and remember sleeping outside The Beacon Theater in New York to get tickets for a show. These days, you just have to click a link online, but back then, it was tougher for us fanatics!

His diversity also gets me. From classical to jazz to electronica, nothing seemed beyond the man. I must have about 60 CDs of his, and it’s astonishing what he accomplished. I reckon there’s nobody like him today. Maybe Mike Patton comes close, but even he doesn’t have what Zappa had. Steve Vai also has a certain element of Frank in the way he performs, composes and leads. But then he was taught by the very best, wasn’t he?

I never met Frank. But I first met his son Dweezil when he was doing his tribute tour to his dad. That was a special moment for me. And I’ve gotten to know Vai and Bozzio quite well over the years, which gives me a flavour of what the great man himself must have been like.

Frank Zappa was a genius. Unique. A visionary. There’ll never be anyone else like him.

From the archive

From the archive

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