1940 – Frank Zappa was born in Baltimore, Maryland on December 21, 1940.
1953 – Zappa began his musical career on drums, taking his first lessons at school in the summer of 1953. He played drums with local teenage combos, but later switched to guitar. Although he performed as a singer and guitarist for most of his career, Zappa always retained a strong interest in rhythm and percussion.
1955 – By age 15, Zappa had attended six different high schools. Lancaster’s location gave Zappa access to the exciting sounds of radio stations in Los Angeles and KSPC 88.7 FM in Claremont, where Zappa had his own Saturday night show. In addition, his parents were affluent enough to afford a record player, records, a television, and musical instruments. Television also exerted a strong influence, as demonstrated by quotations from show themes and advertising jingles found in some of his later work.
1956 – Zappa met Don Van Vliet (best known by his stage name "Captain Beefheart") while taking classes at Antelope Valley High School and playing drums in a local band, The Blackouts. The Blackouts, a racially-mixed outfit, included Euclid James "Motorhead" Sherwood (who later lived with Zappa at ‘Studio Z’ and was a member of the Mothers of Invention). Zappa and Van Vliet became close friends, influencing each other musically, and collaborating in the late Sixties and mid-Seventies (on the 1975 album Bongo Fury).
1957 – Zappa was given his first guitar and quickly developed into a highly accomplished and inventive player. He considered his solos "air sculptures", and developed an eclectic, innovative and personal style. Zappa eventually became one of the most highly regarded electric guitarists of his time. While it is possible that Zappa might have become a professional jazz musician, he was soon drawn into rock music. Throughout, he retained a lifelong attachment to jazz forms, voicing and structures and often drew his band members from the jazz world (if only because of the high degree of competence his complex music demanded).
1958 – After graduating in June 1958 Zappa worked for a time in advertising. His sojourn in the commercial world was another important influence on his work, and within a few years Zappa was co-opting the techniques he learned as a commercial artist. Zappa used them to deconstruct music, the music business, the media and society at large by combining them with the ideas he had gleaned from his studies of dada, the Situationist International, and surrealism. Zappa thereafter always took a keen interest in the visual presentation of his work, designing some of his album covers (for example, Absolutely Free) and directing his own films and videos. Zappa’s album covers are highly distinctive; frequently bizarre and surreal. His two most important visual collaborators were Cal Schenkel in the Sixties and early Seventies, and Donald Roller Wilson in the Eighties and Nineties.
1959 – Zappa moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and spent most of the rest of his life there. Among his earliest professional recordings are two adventurous and remarkably accomplished scores for the low-budget films Run Home Slow and The World’s Greatest Sinner.
1963 – Began playing professionally around Los Angeles and bought the small Pal Recording Studio in Rancho Cucamonga, California (formerly called Cucamonga), which he renamed "Studio Z". Zappa had been recording at Pal since the early 1960s and after receiving a payment for one of his film scores he was able to buy the studio, including a unique 5-track tape recorder. Soon after, he moved out of his apartment and into the studio where he began routinely working 12 hours or more per day. This set a pattern that would endure for almost all of his life. At this time, only a handful of the most expensive commercial studios had multitrack facilities, the industry standard for smaller studios was still mono or two-track.
1966 – By the time he recorded his first LP with The Mothers in 1966 he was already an accomplished recording and mastering engineer and from his third LP on and for the rest of his career, he produced all his own work. After being approached by a customer who offered him $100 to produce a suggestive tape for a stag party, Zappa and a female friend jokingly faked the "erotic" recording, which purported to contain the sounds of people having sex (which consisted of Frank and his friend jumping on the bed and making sex sounds). Unfortunately the customer was an undercover member of the Vice Squad and Zappa was jailed for ten days on charges of supplying pornography. His entrapment and brief imprisonment left a permanent mark, and was a key event in the formation of his anti-authoritarian stance.
1980 – Zappa helped former band members Warren Cuccurullo, Terry Bozzio and Patrick O’Hearn launch their new band, Missing Persons, by letting them record their 4-song demo EP in his brand new UMRK (Utility Muffin Research Kitchen) studios.
1990 – Zappa visited Czechoslovakia at the request of President Václav Havel, a lifelong fan, and was asked by Havel to serve as Special Ambassador to the West on Trade, Culture and Tourism. Zappa enthusiastically agreed and began meeting with corporate officials interested in investing in Czechoslovakia. He told The Nation "You don’ have to know about international financing. You just have to know about composition." Bush administration officials pressured Havel to withdraw the appointment, but Havel made Zappa an unofficial cultural attach anyway.
1991 – Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After his diagnosis, Zappa devoted almost all of his energy to modern orchestral and synclavier works.
1993 – Frank Zappa died on December 4, 1993, age 52 of prostate cancer, and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Westwood, California. His grave is unmarked, although its location is known among fans and can be found on the Internet.
1995 – Zappa was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.