Zappa Plays Zappa
Son of Frank reincarnating fatherís music at the Joslyn Saturday
By WILL SIMONS
Published in the City Weekly (Omaha) - June 5, 2008
The music created by the late, great composer/conductor/ all around larger-than-life personality Frank Zappa is nothing short of amazing, if not boggling. He took rock ‘n’ roll to new heights, melding it with elements of jazz, orchestral, avant-garde and even novelty music. And let’s not forget how his biting sense of humor astutely criticized the mainstream for its shallowness, outright laziness and lackluster standards of quality. By all definitions, Zappa was a genius – a man who is said to have put Jimi Hendrix to shame on guitar, a prolific composer who pioneered the artist-run record label and a man whose body of work spans three decades with more than 60 albums worth of material.
For those unfamiliar with Zappa and his music, his riveting and highly entertaining live performances, or if you’re an old fan wanting to relive the Zappa experience live once again, your chance lies in the dedication of his eldest son, Dweezil Zappa.
You see, Dweezil, since his father’s death in 1993, has dedicated much time over recent years to the exploring and dissecting of his father’s massive body of work. Doing so, he has put together a band that can respectfully recreate the compositions of his father. The result is the fitfully titled group Zappa Plays Zappa.
On a cell phone from his home near a recently burned Universal Studios, Hollywood, Dweezil chatted about the current lineup of Zappa Plays Zappa and what the group is setting out to do – all the while taking care of his young children on the other end on the line.
“It’s just morning madness right now,” Dweezil said of his early morning familial duties.
ZPZ began touring in 2006 to positive reviews, as people the world over were plenty eager to hear Zappa’s music performed live once again.
“The core fans that have been around for a long time had a chance to see Frank, so the real great part of this is the people that never had a chance … are getting a chance hear this music live on stage being played respectfully and being played very accurately,” he said. “It’s the closest thing you’re going to get other than what you missed out on.”
Previous incarnations of ZPZ have featured former member’s of Frank Zappa’s bands, including drummer Terry Bozzio, saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock and vocalist/guitarist Ray White, but for this current leg of touring (the second date of which is at Joslyn’s Witherspoon Hall this Saturday), Dweezil said the group is purposely comprised of younger musicians. Essentially, he doesn’t want to come off as the son of Frank trying to take the place of Frank.
“That’s what people thought was going to happen and I purposely didn’t do anything even remotely close to that because I wanted people to see the dedication that I had to it, but also that other musicians that had no affiliation to Frank would also show that same dedication,” he said.
However, the occasional guest-appearance from one of Frank’s former band members isn’t at all uncommon. “That’s just sort of like the icing on the cake,” he said.
Dweezil hopes to continue to take ZPZ all over the world, exposing the music of his father to younger audiences. “Most people that know the name Frank Zappa know very little about his music whatsoever because the casual exposure he got to more of a mass audience was through the songs ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,’ or ‘Valley Girls,’ or ‘Titties and Beer’… and that kind of stuff doesn’t represent the bulk of Frank’s work,” he said.
Zappa’s music is very complex. It’s difficult to learn, as much of the music zips lightning fast through intricate runs, shifting between different keys and time signatures with ease.
Dweezil, a talented guitarist in his own right, said diving head first into learning his father’s music was one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had as musician. “I learned a lot of things that I really never knew anything about … and it’s improved what I’m capable of more than 50-fold,” he said. “When you really get up into all those levels and get it all as accurate as possible, that’s very rewarding to be able to then play it and make it sound like what it’s really supposed to sound like.”