The band formed in 1964 as an R&B band called 'The Soul Giants'. Early on, the band recruited Frank Zappa to be their guitar player and from that moment on, it was Frank's show and the Mothers were his backup band.
While the original lineup was focused on reproducing R&B and soul hits, Zappa was influenced by virtually everyone. He was fond of big band, classical, jazz, and almost every other style of music imaginable. The Mothers were, in some ways, the most eclectic and hard to define band of all time.
Main Creative Force
Zappa. This isn't even worthy of discussion. He led the band, composed all their music, arranged all the music, produced all the records, directed and rehearsed them to death, and ran the show on stage.
Possibly the most Prog musician in history, Frank Zappa.
Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Once again, signs point to the drummer. Aynsley Dunbar has performed with a list of rock legends including a great many mainstream hard rock and pop bands. His list of employers contains numerous RRHOF inductees.
First Hint of Prog Brilliance
The very first album, 'Freak Out', gave some hints of what the Mothers of Invention would become. It was satirical, anti-establishment, anti-commercial, and at the same time critically acclaimed for the compositions, arrangements, and performances captured in what was a rather raw album within Zappa's history.
It is hard to spot a pinnacle in a long career utterly devoid of popular and commercial success. But most people tend to point to the 1968 album, 'We're Only In It For the Money'. Not only was it non-commercial and anti-establishment, it was scathingly mocking of the entire hippie movement right down to the parody cover resembling Sgt. Pepper's. But the album was also critically acclaimed for the unique structures and audio arranging that were used by Zappa to underscore the satirical lyrics and tone.
Influenced By Them
It is difficult to spot any overt influence of the Mothers on subsequent artists. For one thing, there was only one Frank Zappa and it is difficult to imagine any band having the talent or sheer force of mental power needed to replicate Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Beyond that, even if someone could, they wouldn't exactly be in high demand. The Mothers weren't exactly cranking out gold records back in their day.
The Almighty RRHOF had the intelligence to recognize the unique genius that was Frank Zappa, even if they did do it posthumously. Needless to say, it wasn't his contributions to Prog Rock that got him in the door, but rather his body of creative work and his history as a producer and innovator coupled with his scathing testimony before the PMRC hearings in Washington in 1985 that made him something of an icon for the industry.
Another legacy belonging to the Mothers of Invention has to do with an incident in 1971. They were performing at the Casino de Montreux in Geneva, Switzerland when a crazed fan fired a flaregun into the rattan ceiling of the ballroom and the ensuing fire burned the casino to the ground. Across the lake, the band Deep Purple was in the process of recording at a mobile studio. That night, Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord and the rest of the band 'Deep Purple' watched the casino fire and the smoke that spread across the lake. Before you know it, they had created the iconic rock song Smoke on the Water and the most recognizable guitar-organ riff in history was born.
My Personal Take
Frank Zappa is one of those artists I always knew was brilliant but I never quite wanted to drop 10 bucks for one of his albums. My best friend in high school had a copy of Absolutely Free and I found it intriguing and funny, but not something that really took me in. Over the years, I was always aware that the Mothers of Invention were impressive composers and performers, but never was a big fan. In the MTV era, we all got more familiar with Frank Zappa due to the PMRC hearings and without question, his testimony before those congressional wives revealed a man few anticipated. He was highly intelligent, completely unimpressed by the authority arrayed before him, and somehow conveyed that he was a responsible and capable parent, despite his essential irreverence and cynicism toward corporate and political forces. In short, he was clearly a man most of us could admire. He was taken from us far too soon.