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Phish, Primus Men Pick Zappa

Two compilations highlight rock iconoclast's work

October 15, 2002 12:00 AM ET

When Frank Zappa died in 1993, he left behind one of the most influential catalogs in popular music. It's also one of the largest; Zappa frequently released several albums per year, many of which were double and triple sets. The sheer volume of work is enough to intimidate the most determined record buyers.

But fear not: Rykodisc has called on the experts to assemble their own Zappa compilations to guide newcomers through his catalog. Today the label releases Zappa Picks -- by Larry LaLonde of Primus and Zappa Picks -- by Jon Fishman of Phish.

Both musicians discovered Zappa during their early teen years. Fishman, already an accomplished drummer at thirteen, was drawn to the virtuosity of the performances. For LaLonde, who hadn't yet picked up a guitar when he first heard "Dumb All Over," there were other charms. "The whole attraction was to the weird music," he says.

Both Zappa Picks albums draw liberally from Zappa's work in the Seventies and early Eighties, a time when his fusion of jazz, rock and classical music was flirting with mainstream acceptance. But compiling favorites from the thirty-plus albums Zappa released during this period was daunting.

"I thought, 'What a great opportunity!'" Fishman says. "Then I thought, 'Holy shit -- how am I going to boil it down to seventy minutes?'"

The answer came when Fishman scrapped his initial song list and began reflecting on what Zappa meant to him. "I started reminiscing about all these moments in my life that Zappa had been the soundtrack for," he says. "I decided that's how I'd go about the album; I'd just make it a very personal event for me."

LaLonde took a similar approach, and their results reveal the two musicians to have surprisingly similar tastes in Zappa music, with the Just Another Band From L.A., Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation albums being particular favorites.

For Fishman, who frequently played along to Zappa records in his parents' basement when he was growing up, putting together his album revealed other things as well. "I realized how much of [Zappa drummer] Terry Bozzio's vibe had snuck into my drumming," he says. "It's still one of the few influences I wear on my sleeve."

Ultimately, the exercise turned into a process of self-discovery for both LaLonde and Fishman, both of whom make clear that Zappa left a mark on them not just as musicians, but as people. "I've always loved what he stood for," Fishman says. "His art has been a huge part of my life since deep into my childhood and had an effect on my formation as an adult, as far as my way of looking at the world. Until I sat down to do this project I didn't realize the extent of his influence on me."

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