The Mothers of Invention were a rock and roll band active from 1964 to 1975. They mainly performed works by and were the original recording group of composer and guitarist Frank Zappa, although other members have an occasional writing credit.
Initially, the group was named "The Soul Giants" and consisted of drummer Jimmy Carl Black, bass player Roy Estrada, saxophonist Davy Coronado, guitarist Ray Hunt, and vocalist Ray Collins. After Collins got into a fight with Hunt in 1964 (Collins "punched his lights out" according to Zappa), Hunt quit the group and Frank Zappa took his place as guitarist - quickly becoming the leader of the group, which changed its name to "The Mothers" on Sunday, May 10, 1964 (that year's Mother's Day).
In late 1965, record producer Tom Wilson made a brief visit to a bar where The Mothers were playing and offered them a contract and an advance of $2500.
The Mothers and Wilson then spent several months and thousands of dollars recording and editing the band's first album, a double LP named Freak Out!. At the insistence of their record company, MGM Records (the band's name was shorthand slang for "motherfuckers"), The Mothers again changed their name, this time to "The Mothers of Invention". Their debut was released in 1966, and The Mothers of Invention subsequently went on tour.
MGM recorded sales of Freak Out! amounting to a relatively poor 30,000 copies. The record label responded by cutting the band's budget for their next LP to $11,000. The Mothers of Invention continued regardless, releasing Absolutely Free in 1967, We're Only in It for the Money in 1968 and Uncle Meat in 1969 under the leadership of Zappa.
In 1969, Zappa disbanded the original Mothers of Invention lineup. Estrada went on to form Little Feat with Lowell George, who had been in the Mothers for a few months in late 1968 / early 1969 but was reportedly fired by Zappa because of his drug use.
In 1970, Zappa created a new incarnation of The Mothers which included only one other original Mothers member, Don Preston. This 'new' lineup also featured British-born drummer Aynsley Dunbar (ex-John Mayall's Bluesbreakers), multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood (keyboards, guitar, woodwind, vocals) and Ruth Underwood (marimba, vibes), who had joined the original Mothers for the recording of Uncle Meat in 1969.
George Duke (keyboards, trombone, vocals) first performed with Zappa in 1970 on 200 Motels and subsequently became a key member of the Zappa's mid-70s touring bands. New Mothers members included Jim Pons (bass), Bob Harris (keyboards, vocals), vocalists Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (aka "The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie", former members of '60s pop group The Turtles), and Jeff Simmons (bass, rhythm guitar).
The "new" Mothers (with drummer John Guerin) first played on the 1970 album, Chunga's Revenge although it is credited solely to Zappa, followed by Zappa's ambitious concept film/album project 200 Motels, which also featured Jimmy Carl Black, folk singer Theodore Bikel and former Beatle Ringo Starr.
Now credited as "The Mothers", Zappa and the group recorded two acclaimed live albums, Fillmore East - June 1971 and Just Another Band From L.A., but Zappa again disbanded the band in late 1971 after an attacker had pushed him offstage into an orchestra pit at a concert in London, resulting in serious injuries that kept him off the road for more than a year.
Although Zappa had always released, and would continue to release, albums explicitly as solo artist (Lumpy Gravy, 1967; Hot Rats, 1969; Chunga's Revenge, 1970; Apostrophe ('), 1974), various line ups of the Mothers followed in the 70s, the band now clearly a mere vehicle for Frank Zappa. Albums were variously released as Mothers/Zappa (Roxy & Elsewhere, 1974) or Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (One Size Fits All, 1975) until Zappa permanently dropped the moniker in 1976, from the release of Zoot Allures (1976) onwards. Later releases by Zappa in CD format contain Mothers of Invention material from various line-ups (e.g., You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 3, 1988) and is occasionally credited as such on the album cover art (Playground Psychotics, 1992; Ahead of Their Time, 1993).
Since 1980, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston and Bunk Gardner, plus other former members of the Mothers of Invention, have occasionally performed and recorded under the name "The Grandmothers" or "The Grande Mothers Re:Invented", performing music by Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart as well as originals and blues standards.