Frank Zappa has a famous rock cousin

By Rafael Alvarez

The Baltimore Sun, May 9, 1980

Going through life as Frank Zappa when you're not the real Frank Zappa can be very strange.

Francis Vincent Zappa, 39, is a world famous guitarist/composer and founder of the now-defunct Mothers of Invention. He will bring his act to the Baltimore Civic Center Sunday -- Mother's Day.

Francis Xavier Zappa, 26, works at the Giant Food store on Loch Raven boulevard. He will be moving to Seattle at the end of the month to enroll in scuba diving school. He's one of many Zappa relatives living in the musician's hometown of Baltimore.

"It's weird. You tell people you're Frank Zappa and nobody believes it. When I went down to the department of motor vehicles to get my picture license, the guy called my name out over the speaker and everybody turned around and said, ‘Where? Where's he at? Where's Frank Zappa?’ "

Frank X. Zappa says having a famous name hasn't caused him any problems ("it's a good way to meet girls, a real conversation piece") though he does have an unlisted phone number.

'"When I lived at home people would call the house at all hours of the night and ask for Frank Zappa. My parents would think it was one of my friends and get me out of bed. I'd say ‘hello’ and the guy would say, ‘Hey Frank man, I really dig you in concert.’ A lot of the calls would be from out of town."

Frank X. doesn't really know his famed cousin very well. In 1962, the younger Frank's dad, Joe Zappa, moved the family to California to open a restaurant ("Eat More") with his late brother, Francis Vincent Zappa, Sr. Frank X. was only 8 years old. (Joe and his family returned to Baltimore shortly thereafter.)

"The last time I talked to him was when he played the Civic Center in 1975. I asked him if he really enjoyed all the music he put out, and I kind of got the feeling that he didn't.

"I'm not going to the show Sunday. I wouldn't feel right bugging him for tickets when we never talk any other time. His music is too spacey for me. When it comes to free tickets, I'd rather have Bob Seger for a cousin."

Frank X's final statement about the celebrated branch of his family tree was, "I'm going to be famous one day, too. Just give me some time."


Joe Zappa is the man responsible for this story. The first Zappa born in the New World (Frank's father was born in Sicily), Joe is the last remaining child of parents that produced 18 children (including a few infant deaths). He is what is known as "good people."

Joe works at Haslinger's Seafood. He said Frank, the musician, was a "hyper kid who couldn't sit still," and a child who displayed a talent for drawing before music. His wife Elizabeth works in the credit office of the Hecht Company Northwood. The credit office also serves as a Ticketron outlet.

"You guys at the paper want a good story?" said the 67-year-old Joe over the phone. "My wife works at Hecht's and has been selling tickets to her own nephews concert. When those kids see her names plate they say, ‘Hey, man! Wow! Are you Frank's mother?’"

Elizabeth, who Frank has called "St. Elizabeth" since he was a youngster, was curious to know how a reporter tracked her down at work. When told her husband provided the information she shook her head and said, "I'll strangle him." She too has lost many nights of sleep answering phone calls from Zappa mania.

Elizabeth says when she and her husband went to Europe last summer they were asked in Italy, England and France if they were related to Frank. When asked to recount any amusing stories from Frank's childhood she replied, "I was too busy with six kids of my own to worry about Frank."

But there exists a Frank story that is a Zappa family favorite. It was told by Joe and Elizabeth's oldest daughter, Barbara, a few weeks older than Frank, as well as their youngest daughter, Debbie. Debbie Zappa, a cocktail waitress at the Pikesville Hilton with big brown eyes tells it this way: "When Barbara had her 17th birthday party, Frank was visiting Baltimore on vacation. My Mom heard screaming and yelled down the stairs, ‘Barbara, what's all that noise?’

" ‘Oh nothing Mom, Frank's just chasing the girls around the basement.’ Then my Mom saw smoke coming up the stairs and ran down to find that Frank had built a bonfire in the basement. She said, ‘Frank, don't you know you could have burned the house down?’

"And Frank said, ‘Oh, St. Elizabeth, don't worry about it.’ "

That summer Barbara was given the responsibility of letting Frank pal around with her and the gang she hung around with. It was quite a job.

"He was into crazy stuff all the time," said Barbara. "None of my friends liked him very much and he was very bored with all of us. He just wasn't like the rest of us. He wasn't a bad kid, just different. He sort of had a dirty mind. Back then that stuff didn't go over too well.

"One time we were on the bus together and Frank was acting up. I don't remember exactly what he was doing but the bus driver threatened to kick him off if he didn't behave himself. I said. ‘You can't do that sir. I'm supposed to be taking care of him.’ "

Though she doesn't care for her cousin's music too much, Barbara has asked her husband to take her to the concert Sunday for Mother's Day. He refused. "He doesn't like Frank too much," she said.


The two biggest Baltimore Zappa fans in Frank's family are the aforementioned Debbie Zappa, 23, and Frank's first cousin on his mother's side, Mark Colimore, 18. They will be sitting on stage Sunday. It will be Mark's first Zappa concert. Debbie has seen Frank in concert many, many times, the first when she was in the fifth grade. Debbie recently begged Hilton management to let her run room service when the Grateful Dead stayed there for a concert last Sunday. Her favorite Zappa song is "Jelly Roll Gumdrop" off of "Cruising With Ruben and the Jets".

"When I go to see Frank in concert, he's sitting in a room by himself playing the guitar before and after the show. That's where I like to hear him play best. The band is out in the hallway partying and acting crazy and Frank is by himself playing the guitar.

"He's a very quiet guy, when I go backstage we usually talk about family. He asks me how St. Elizabeth is doing.

"It's been hard growing up with Zappa for a last name, it's as if I don't even have a first name. I've had people ask me for my autograph. Since I've gotten older I've learned how to handle it.

"My two favorite responses when I'm asked if I'm related to him are ‘I didn't mean it to happen this way’, or, ‘It's not my fault.‘

The other side of the situation is when people introduce me as ‘Frank Zappa's cousin.’ I tell them I'm Debbie Zappa and he's my cousin."

There is a famous poster of Frank Zappa sitting nude on a toilet which is titled: "Phi Zappa Krappa." Somebody once took a picture of Debbie going to the bathroom, at a party. She says one of these days she's going to get it blown up to have a poster of her own.

"It's neat to be a Zappa," Debbie concludes, "it makes you feel special." Mark Colimore agrees, "You better believe I'm proud to be Frank Zappa's cousin. It makes you feel one up on people. I don't like, to brag, but why not? My friends can't believe it."

Mark just graduated from high school last year. High schools are places where Frank Zappa rumors abound. Any teenage Frank Zappa fan will tell you Frank went to this Baltimore high school or that one, but the truth is, Frank's family left Baltimore when he was 12 years old.

"Yeah, I heard he went to Loyola and Dundalk," said Mark while hanging out on the corner with some of his buddies. Mark has never met his cousin Frank and is quite excited about Sunday's performance. In addition to Frank Zappa ("definitely one of my favorites because he's unique"), Mark's favorite bands are Ted Nugent, Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult.

Mark said he might ask his cousin for a job as a roadie.

Mark's father, Vincent Colimore, is Frank's mother's brother and a professor of philosophy and education at Towson State University. He says the students guffaw and say ‘Wow’ when he tells them he's Frank Zappa's uncle.

"I saw Frank in concert once. He was pretty beat after the show. He seemed very low key," said Mr. Colimore. He is aware of his nephew's indecent reputation and says it appeals to, "certain groups of young people."

"Frank wasn't very eccentric as a child. I think most of that occurred after they moved to California."

Of all Zappa relatives interviewed, Joe Zappa's middle daughter, Rose Marie, displayed opinions closest to Frank's about dealing with journalists.

"He's a very private person, an introvert, in my opinion. I don't think he'd enjoy someone nosing around into his past, asking a lot of questions about what he was like as a kid."

Read by OCR software. If you spot errors, let me know afka (at)