On Dweezil Zappa, and his father's music from the futureBy Chris Starrs firstname.lastname@example.org – updated Sunday, May 3, 2015 - 5:00am
Since 2006, Dweezil Zappa has been crisscrossing the globe with his colleagues in the “repertory ensemble” known as Zappa Plays Zappa, reaching out to a new generation of listeners and satisfying a considerable group of long-time fans of the work of his late father Frank Zappa, who gleefully managed to be both an icon and an iconoclast during his too-short life.
Dipping deep into the well of his father’s canon, Zappa has headlined hundreds of concerts in the last decade, performing everything from the scabrous to the ethereal, and he admits to plenty of internal head shaking when it is suggested he attempt to update his father’s sound.
“People always say, ‘When you’re trying to get a new audience, don’t you have to change it and modernize it?’ And the answer is no – this music is from the future,” Zappa said during a recent phone interview. “It’s beyond current — it’s ahead of its time. I don’t change it because I’m not going to improve it; it’s great the way it is.”
One of the greatest song collections in Zappa the elder’s catalog is the subject of Zappa Plays Zappa’s 2015 tour, which comes to the Georgia Theatre on Wednesday. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of “One Size Fits All,” the final album credited to the Mothers of Invention and a favorite of Zappafiles everywhere, thanks in no small part to classic songs like “Inca Roads,” “Po-Jama People” and “Andy,” among many others.
“Knowing this was the 40-year anniversary of the record, which was a popular fan favorite, we thought it would be fun to play the whole record and then do another 90 minutes or so of music from throughout Frank’s career,” Zappa, who will also host a guitar master class at 4 p.m. the day of the show at the Georgia Theatre, said.
When asked about the special challenges associated with recreating “One Size Fits All,” Zappa pointed to the album’s opener, “Inca Roads,” which features one of his father’s most beloved guitar solos and most intricate sonic arrangements.
“The hardest song on the record is ‘Inca Roads,’ and it’s the first song out of the gate,” said Zappa, who noted that Covington resident Jim “Bird” Youmans, who played on the “One Size Fits All” album also played with Frank Zappa on the 1979 guitar duet “Sleep Dirt.” “The rest of the record has a bunch of stuff that’s still challenging, but it’s really fun. It’s a good balance of melodic material on there and it suits the band.
“For us, ‘Inca Roads’ is probably the hardest thing to play, and that would be the case if it was on its own anywhere in the show – it’s always one where you have to take extra care to be sure you’ve got it right.”
Although the Zappa Plays Zappa roadshow has been all over the world, Wednesday’s show marks the band’s Athens debut.
“We’re always looking for places to play that can bring out a new audience and Athens is the kind of place that has a young music scene and has had one for a while, so we’re trying to see if people want to come and check out this music,” he said.
After spending most of the last decade exploring his father’s body of work, Zappa is set to release his first solo album in 10 years, “Via Zamatta” (named after the street where Zappa’s grandfather lived in Partinico, Sicily, before emigrating to America – the street has since been renamed “Via Frank Zappa”), which features the only song the two Zappas ever wrote together and was financed through crowdfunding (through PledgeMusic.com).
“The new record is sort of a combination of all the thing that made me want to make music,” Zappa, who has released five solo albums and two albums with his brother Ahmet, said. “I decided to do a little bit of an introspective journey and get in a lot of different influences that made me interested in music and put them into some different songs. It came out in very different ways.”
Zappa was particularly stoked about “Dragon Master,” the writing collaboration with his father, which utilizes the famous Zappa disposition to poke holes in the heavy metal genre.
“There’s a song on the record that my dad wrote the lyrics to and he asked me to write the music,” Zappa said. “It’s a super heavy metal song that he wrote as a joke heavy metal song. There are definitely layers of things happening on this. The average metal fan won’t hear a joke in there. They’ll hear full-on metal. The song is somewhere between Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath and it talks about Satan and the heavy metal imagery some people live for.”
In many ways, Frank Zappa could be considered the father of crowdfunding as he spent much of his energies recording rock albums and playing concerts in hockey arenas to earn the money to pay for his orchestral productions.
When asked if he felt his father – who would be 71 now – could utilize modern-day crowdfunding, Zappa said, “There’s so much in the world of technology he would have been a driving force behind. If you read his book, ‘The Real Frank Zappa Book,’ there’s a page towards the end where it shows he had applied for a patent on a music delivery system that’s basically what iTunes is today. And he was talking about that in the late 1970s and 80s. He knew what was coming. With his social skills, (crowdfunding) would have been pretty good.”
Five Fine Solos
Dweezil Zappa has said it took years of practice to be able to play some of his father’s more challenging music, and there’s no lack of examples of Frank Zappa’s six-string wizardry stretched across the 100 albums released under his name in the last 45-plus years. Here’s one listener’s list of five favored Frank Zappa solos.
“Muffin Man”: From the 1975 album “Bongo Fury,” the solo that closes the album is much like a musical hailstorm, raining down speed and technique behind a furious rhythmic buzz provided by drummer Terry Bozzio and bassist Tom Fowler.
“Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy”: Also from “Bongo Fury” (which featured one of the final recorded collaborations between Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart), the song provides an excellent representation of Zappa in the 1970s – a risqué song with a thunderous solo presented much like “Muffin Man,” a coda that threatens to wear out the artist’s wah-wah pedal.
“Inca Roads”: From “One Size Fits All,” 1975. Perhaps the first example of Zappa mixing media, what he called xenochrony. Zappa dropped a guitar solo recorded in 1974 in Finland in the middle of the studio recording of the song, a technique he would return to again and again. The solo is befitting of the lyrics describing aliens visiting earth.
“Hungry Freaks, Daddy”: The first song on the first Mothers of Invention album, “Freak Out!” released in 1966. Although the song’s lyrical content definitely shows its age, Zappa’s slicing guitar foray (of exactly one minute, meshing nicely with somebody playing the xylophone in the background) can almost make one overlook the Mothers’ unapologetic early attempt at shock rock.
“Sleep Dirt”: Title cut on the 1979 album of the same name, released without Zappa’s permission during his long legal struggle with Warner Brothers Records, and then re-released in 1996 posthumously as part of Zappa’s infamous “Läther” album. For all of the many recordings of Zappa guitar solos that have been unleashed on the market, there are few acoustic examples. This rights that wrong and features Covington resident James “Bird” Youmans on second guitar.