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Frank Zappa, businessman

Frank Zappa, businessman

Dec. 12, 1989: Frank Zappa in the living room of his Studio City home — where he also had a complete recording studio. As an independent musician, Zappa was a pioneer long before the Internet era, giving upĀ major record labels and tours.

In a Dec. 19, 1989, Los Angeles Times article, staff writer Patrice Apodaca explains:

Frank Zappa has long been known as a rock ‘n’ roll iconoclast, an outspoken, unconventional musician who earned the devotion of a moderate-sized following with records such as “Freak Out,” “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” and “Sheik Yerbouti.” But the former leader of the Mothers of Invention is also a shrewd businessman. “I don’t have anything against making a profit,” he said.

Zappa, who turns 49 on Thursday, always did part his hair differently than his more commercially successful contemporaries. But this year, while middle-aged rockers such as the Who, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones were reaffirming their popularity on high-profile concert tours, Zappa was smart enough to stay home. He hung up his road gear after he lost $400,000 on his self-financed 1988 tour.

“Everybody got paid but me,” he said. Even though the four-month tour of the United States and Europe was 90% sold out, Zappa said the losses piled up because of high travel costs and salaries for the 12-piece band. There were 43 people in all, three buses and five trucks. “I had to pay the cost of all the airplane tickets, all the buses, all the food, all the per diems and salaries,” Zappa said.

“That sort of dampens one’s enthusiasm for going out there and doing it again,” he said, adding that he’s unwilling to accept financial backing from a corporate sponsor because it would mean hawking products such as beer or soft drinks.

But Zappa is hardly struggling. Like any other businessman, he’s worked at cutting his overhead and he looks for new business opportunities where he can find them, some as distant as the Soviet Union. From offices in North Hollywood and his hilltop Laurel Canyon home, Zappa and his wife of 22 years, Gail, run several businesses: a record label, a mail-order company, a video company and a music publishing firm. All the businesses are 100%-owned by Zappa and his wife and he says they are profitable, although he remains tight-lipped about sales and earnings.

He owns the lucrative master tapes for many of his recordings, thanks to a lawsuit he filed against his former record company, Warner Bros. Records, and he slowly re-releases the old titles on compact discs. Much like an annuity, the money keeps coming from those re-releases. “My stuff sells year after year and the income from those sales goes to me,” Zappa said.

This portrait by former Los Angeles Times staff photographer Bob Carey accompanied the aboveĀ  Apodaca story. In 1993, this photo was published with Frank Zappa’s L.A. Times obituary. The photo also appeared in the L.A. Times book “Imagining Los Angeles: Photographs of a 20th Century City,” published in 2000.


  1. May 20, 2011, 2:49 pm

    Zappa was a class act .

    By: bblo
  2. May 20, 2011, 3:40 pm

    […] Framework Posted in: Picture Of The Day   Tags: businessman, Frank, Zappa […]

  3. May 20, 2011, 5:15 pm

    I don't think it is possible to measure the impact this one man had on contemporary music, as well as his narrative on the American cultural landscape since he released his first album in 1966. Everyone of us musicians owe this towering musical genius and social iconoclast an endless debt of gratitude. We miss him terribly.

  4. May 20, 2011, 11:19 pm

    R.I.P. Mr. Zappa

    Thanks for the memories.

    May your music live on.

    By: KC
  5. May 21, 2011, 12:01 am

    I saw that tour in 88.

    It was in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    I will be forever thankful.

    Tight, rehearsed, and sincere.

    They played the last encore with the house lights up.

    I’ll never forget.

    By: retrosurf

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