Frank Zappa famously averted the typical rock ‘n’ roll cliches. He never fell into the trappings of temptation that the system offers up, the same issues that his contemporaries, Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix, couldn’t resist.
Due to the brand of mind-altering music that Zappa made during his career, it would be easy to assume that he was a frequent user of drugs associated with psychedelia, yet, they were never of interest to him. In fact, he didn’t drink alcohol, held a robust anti-drugs approach, and loathed everything about them.
Zappa once stated: “I don’t drink or do hard drugs. I’ve smoked less than ten marijuana cigarettes in my life. When I’m working on music with other musicians, like, say, practising for a tour, I keep very strict standards: no drugs. They can do what they want on their own free time.”
Instead, his vices of choice were coffee and cigarettes. Surprisingly, despite not taking illegal drugs himself, Zappa did believe that, for taxation purposes, they should be decriminalised and regulated.
This stance of sobriety made him an anomaly in the circle that Zappa hung around in, and the late guitarist was a firm believer that more would have benefitted from taking a leaf from his book. In a brutally honest interview that resurfaced on Reddit, Zappa gave his thoughts on almost every other guitarist on the planet, and he left no stone unturned.
When the line of questioning turned to his opinion to Hendrix, Zappa bluntly said: “I knew Jimi and I think the best thing you could say about Jimi was: there was a person who shouldn’t use drugs.”
Hendrix’s relationship with drugs is murky, and many have said his addiction woes were exaggerated. His former sound engineer, Roger Mayer, told the BBC in 2010 that he believed the guitarist didn’t abuse substances to the degree that many believe. He said: “When I knew him he wasn’t stoned all the time, which is what people think. You can’t play guitar to that standard on stage or in the studio if you’re stoned on drugs. I’ve seen other people try but it doesn’t work. He was less outrageous than a lot of other people at the time.”
Although Hendrix admitted to regularly smoking cannabis and hash, he denied using heroin. Additionally, the American musician admitted to taking cocaine on two occasions and experimenting with LSD five times.
However, there’s less of a grey area surrounding Eric Clapton’s history with drugs. He’s been open about his 20-year-old battle with heroin addiction and alcoholism before getting sober following the tragic death of his son, Conor.
Speaking about his thoughts on Clapton, Zappa said: “I know Eric. I haven’t seen him in years and years. There’s another guy who shouldn’t use drugs.”
The main takeaway from Zappa’s scathing comments are about what it tells us about his worldview and how contrary to common belief, drugs don’t improve creativity but are a hindrance.