Gail Zappa, the widow of the rock guitarist and composer Frank Zappa, who battled major record companies and cover bands alike as a fierce steward of her husband’s musical legacy, died on Wednesday at her home in Los Angeles. She was 70.
Her death was announced by her family, which did not disclose the cause.
Mrs. Zappa met Frank in 1966, when she was a 21-year-old secretary at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub in Los Angeles. He was four years older and already establishing his reputation as a maverick musician with a bad-boy streak as the leader of the Mothers of Invention, which had just released its first album, “Freak Out!”
After meeting Gail, it took Zappa just “a couple of minutes” to fall in love with her, he said in his 1989 autobiography, “The Real Frank Zappa Book,” written with Peter Occhiogrosso. Her first impression had more to do with his casual hygiene. After that was settled, she moved in with him, and the couple were married shortly thereafter in 1967, just as the Mothers of Invention were about to leave for a European tour.
In 1968 they bought a house, near Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, that remained her home and the family headquarters, with a basement “vault” that houses Zappa’s voluminous recordings.
Adelaide Gail Sloatman was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 1, 1945, the daughter of a nuclear physicist with the United States Navy. As a teenager she lived in London, where she worked as a model. She also attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York before hitchhiking to Los Angeles, where in 1966 she became part of the Sunset Strip music scene, recording a single with the producer Kim Fowley under the name Bunny and Bear.
Mrs. Zappa was closely involved in managing her husband’s career, which over the years included various conflicts and lawsuits with record companies that led to the family’s recovering the rights to all of his music. She is survived by two daughters, Moon Unit and Diva; two sons, Dweezil and Ahmet; and four grandchildren.
Before Frank Zappa died of prostate cancer in 1993 at 52, he asked his wife to sell his master recordings and get out of the music business, she has said. But, she noted, he never said what to do with his publishing catalog — the rights to his compositions — and so she defied his request and became the keeper of his musical empire. In 2002, she created the Zappa Family Trust to manage his intellectual property, including the rights to his image.
In her management of her husband’s legacy, Mrs. Zappa was often combative. She denounced cover bands that played her husband’s music without permission and in 2008 unsuccessfully sued Zappanale, a German music festival, for appropriating the family name and even using her husband’s signature facial hair as its logo. She once wrote Steve Jobs a profanity-laced letter with her complaints about iTunes, she said.She did all of this, by her account, to protect the integrity of her husband’s work.”My job is to make sure that Frank Zappa has the last word in terms of anybody’s idea of who he is,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 2008. “And his actual last word is his music.”