Frank Vincent Zappa was born on 21 December 1940, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. His parents were second-generation Sicilian Greeks, the family had arabian and french origins too. His father played "strolling crooner" guitar. At the age of 12 Frank, who had relocated to California with his family, became interested in drums, learning orchestral percussion at summer school in Monterey. In high school he had some more harmony training because he was an unruly senior, and was given permission to take some harmony classes "to occupy his mind with". In fact, he found the training very boring. The first time he had any of his music performed was at Mount St. Mary's College in 1962 - an "all oddball, textured weirdo stuff", that "didn't sound at all like music is supposed to sound"; still, "the thing was actually taped and broadcast by KPFK".
Zappa played drums in a local R&B band called The Ramblers, and after moving to Lancaster formed the racially-integrated Blackouts. Early exposure to a record of Ionisation by avant garde classical composer Edgard Varèse instilled an interest in advanced rhythmic experimentation that never left him. The electric guitar also became a fascination, and he began collecting R&B records that featured guitar solos: Howlin' Wolf with Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters, Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown were special favourites. A school friend, Don Vliet (later to become Captain Beefheart), shared his interest.
In 1964 Zappa, who had been working in a local studio, recording spoof doo-wop singles and composing scores for b-movies, joined a local R&B outfit called The Soul Giants, whose line-up included vocalist Ray Collins (b. 19 November 1937, USA), bass player Roy Estrada (b. 17 April 1943, USA), and drummer Jimmy Carl Black (b. 1 February 1938, El Paso, Texas, USA). Zappa changed their name to The Mothers, but "Of Invention" was later added at the insistence of their label, Verve Records. A string of guitarists came and went, including Alice Stuart and Henry Vestine, before Elliot Ingber was added to the line-up. Produced by Tom Wilson in 1966, the late black producer whose credits included Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane and Bob Dylan, the Mothers Of Invention's Freak Out! was a stunning debut, a two-record set complete with a whole side of wild percussion, a vitriolic protest song, "Trouble Every Day", and the kind of minute detail (sleeve-notes, in-jokes, parodies) that generate instant cult appeal. They made great play of their hair and ugliness, becoming the perfect counter-cultural icons. Unlike the east coast band the Fugs, the Mothers were also musically skilled, a refined instrument for Zappa's eclectic and imaginative ideas. Ingber left to form the Fraternity Of Man before the recording of the band's second album, Absolutely Free. He was replaced for a short period by Jim Fielder, before Zappa chose to expand the Mothers Of Invention with the addition of second drummer Billy Mundi, keyboardist Don Preston (b. 21 September 1932, USA), and horn players Bunk Gardner and Jim "Motorhead" Sherwood.