Dweezil keeps Zappa legacy alive
By Gary Spencer
Photo: Zappa Plays Zappa will perform July 12 at Bogart’s in Cincinnati
A lot of second generation musicians have had to wrestle with the shadow of their famous parents’ musical legacies. Then there’s guitarist and bandleader Dweezil Zappa. The son of Frank Zappa, a man who many fans and critics consider a musical and creative genius, Dweezil has not only taken on his father’s legacy as a musical artist in the truest sense of the world “artist,” but as a champion for his father’s complex, but amazing, musical works through his own ensemble, Zappa Plays Zappa – a concept which has been a labor of family love.
“The idea behind it was I’ve always been a big admirer of my father’s music and proud of his accomplishments,” Dweezil said. “What happened with my dad’s career was because he had a sense of humor, a lot of people would dismiss or call it novelty music. He’s got classical music and intense, unique instrumental music that was overlooked or panned because he’s the guy with the crazy song names. My goal in putting the band together was to de-emphasize the comedy portion of things and focus on what I thought was the most overlooked part of him – his music.”
More than a mere cover band, Dweezil and Zappa Plays Zappa are committed to bringing FZ’s massive three-decade musical repertoire – which weaved styles ranging from guitar rock to doo-wop to jazz to avant garde classical – back to life through extended touring where they present both familiar crowd pleasers like “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” and “Peaches En Regalia” alongside deep album cuts. The show is for fans who discovered Zappa when he first rose to fame in the 1960s, as well as a new generation of fans who are just beginning to discover the brilliance of FZ’s challenging-yet-fun catalog of musical adventure. According to Dweezil, providing a modern conduit like this to keep Frank’s music alive in the hearts and minds of fans both new and old is exactly the way he wanted to do it.
“A lot of people of a younger generation aren’t familiar with [Frank Zappa’s] music,” Dweezil said. “People know him more as a personality or for his interview clips more than his music. It wasn’t carrying forward or being discovered with any real plan behind it. It has become my mission to introduce people to the music, but re-educate them in the process.”
Apparently, this re-education and introductory process has become quite successful, as Zappa Plays Zappa started touring in 2006. And while the inaugural tour made a big splash, featuring select alumni from Frank’s past bands like Terry Bozzio and Steve Vai, Dweezil has always wanted to shift the complexion of ZPZ by highlighting a younger generation of musicians who have been turned on to playing Frank’s music.
“The issue on the first tour was there was interest from the promoter to do the tour, but only if there was alumni involved, which was not what I was interested in at all,” Dweezil explained. “Since it was a success, I didn’t look at it as it was only because there were some alumni there. When trying to present the music, some people want to pigeonhole it as being from a certain era and that’s not the approach I wanted to take. I wanted a younger band to show this music could be of this generation. With having a younger band playing it, a younger audience could appreciate it from that perspective. If we present it as a nostalgia thing, it wouldn’t have the same impact.”
One musician who saw Zappa Plays Zappa perform got so inspired he ended up learning Frank’s music – eventually joining the ranks of ZPZ.
“[Keyboardist] Chris Norton had never heard [Frank’s] music before,” Dweezil explained. “He heard us play and got inspired to check out the music and wanted to audition for the band. He was 24 years old – that right there should show there are younger people getting into it. It’s happening elsewhere, too.”
But Zappa Plays Zappa isn’t just for educating young listeners in the ways of Frank Zappa’s music. According to Dweezil, ZPZ has been his ideal vehicle for old and new fans alike to re-discover and share the magic of Frank’s music together in a live music setting that will hopefully inspire fans of all ages to continue to delve deep into his father’s rich musical library.
“The real thing of interest to me was if there was a chance to reintroduce the music to his fans that already knew it and present it to a newer generation, it’d be a way for the music to be carried forward,” Dweezil said. “This has always been about focusing on the music. With over 80 albums and such musical variety it’s a daunting task to get interested. I created a tap for people to be introduced to his music, and that’s really the whole reason behind it.”
Zappa Plays Zappa will perform Saturday, July 12 at Bogart’s, 2621 Vine St. in Cincinnati. The show begins at 7 p.m. and tickets are $25 in advance. For more information, please visit zappaplayszappa.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.