In the Name of the Father
Frank Zappa's music back on stage, courtesy of son Dweezil
By JEFF SCHWACHTER
Published in the Atlantic City Weekly - October 26, 2006
Over a recent two-year stretch Dweezil Zappa had to relearn how to play the guitar. Not because the 37-year-old guitarist, who had been playing since he was a child, suddenly forgot how to play, but because he was studying the style and technique of one of the all-time masters of the instrument — his father, Frank Zappa.
While teaching himself how to play the guitar in his dad's rather unique and complex style — Dweezil compares the process to all of a sudden learning how to walk in a different way — he was embarking on a project that he'd been kicking around for a while: an authentic live representation of his dad's music for old fans and new ones to appreciate.
Thus, Zappa Plays Zappa, the concert tour, was born. Dweezil deemed the first leg, which ran through Europe and parts of the U.S. earlier this year, a “success.” It was the first official presentation of his father's music since he died in 1993 after a battle with cancer. This month and in December, Dweezil will bring his handpicked ensemble across the United States. Along with Zappa on guitar, the band includes Aaron Arntz on keyboards and trumpet; Scheila Gonzalez on saxophone, flute, keyboards and vocals; Pete Griffin on bass; Billy Hulting on marimba, mallets and percussion; Jamie Kime on guitar; Joe Travers on drums and vocals; along with special guests Napoleon Murphy Brock (vocals, saxophone and flute), Terry Bozzio (drums) and Steve Vai (guitar).
Dweezil says picking which tunes to include in the show was hard considering that Frank Zappa left one of the most enormous legacies in the history of music. Aside from being a guitar virtuoso, he was a classical composer, master showman and bandleader, teacher, producer, record label head, prolific recording artist and one hilariously funny dude. Whether he was satirizing hippies at the height of Flower Power, singing about “Dancing Fools” during the disco era or discussing the rights provided by the first amendment on a 1986 episode of the CNN show Crossfire, Zappa's sharp wit always shined through. But, although he's often recognized by mainstream audiences more for his novelty-esque compositions (such as 1974's “Don't Eat The Yellow Snow” and 1984's “Valley Girl”) Zappa's gigantic and varied catalogue of recorded music (which started 40 years ago with 1966's double-LP Freak Out!) holds something for everyone, whether you dig doo-wop, jazz, rock, symphonic music, blues, experimental or funk.
“I spent a good two years learning some of these really hard things,” says Dweezil Zappa, who brings the show to the Borgata this Friday, Oct. 27. “It's really, really accurate, it's just Frank's not there.”
Earlier this month, Dweezil took a moment from rehearsals for the next phase of the tour, to chat with AC Weekly.
AC Weekly: How long did you prepare for this show and how did it come about?
Dweezil Zappa: Well, I've been thinking about it for a long time, but suddenly I got really inspired to learn some stuff and then just see what it was going to take for me. And once I got to a certain place in my own process — I started saying, ‘OK, I gotta put a band together and really make this happen now.' But it wasn't until I was comfortable enough with what I was able to do and do it in the way that I wanted to do it, to make sure that it would be as accurate as possible and with the right timbre and intent throughout all of the tunes that we do. I wanted people to have an experience that was as close to seeing a show of Frank's without Frank as could possibly be.
ACW: Are old fans or potential new fans the target for the show?
DZ: Well, it's sort of a combination. The fans that have been there throughout Frank's career, we knew they'd be excited and be interested in coming to see this, but we also wanted a younger fan base to be exposed to the music. I feel that Frank's music has skipped a few generations; his music has never really been afforded the opportunity to be widespread on the radio and so there's been quite a lull in the process of discovery for people I think because unless you are friends with somebody who's into it or if your parents were into it, there hasn't been too many opportunities for people to get it. It's still not even findable in a legal manner online. Our goal is to expose it to people in the most authentic way possible in a live situation and then have them hopefully be interested in listening to Frank's actual entire catalog of music — because, you know, he made over 75 albums in 30 years.
ACW: That's an exceptional amount of music he produced.
DZ: It's not even so much that it's the quantity as it is the quality of it and the range of the music. There's so much depth to it … I wanted to focus on the things I felt were filled with the elements that really made his music unique … Quite a bit of it is from the middle '70s; I think that is when he really found a way to blend a lot of different styles. He was using a rock band the same way that he would an orchestra and he was playing some of his classical compositions that were later recorded by orchestras with these rock bands. So specialized ensembles throughout his career were able to bring some of this stuff to life in a really cool way, so that was my challenge — how could I put a band together that would be able to accommodate al these kinds of arrangements and I was fortunate to find players who could handle it.
ACW: For the new fans, what album would you recommend them starting out with?
DZ: I usually always tell people that they should get Apostrophe and Over-Nite Sensation. I think on those records he hit a stride where he was blending rock, jazz, classical, funk — all of these things all together in these unique arrangements. And the sound of the records are so great. So I think that's a great starting point to hear some of his signature styling, but again, he's got over 75 records and there's so many periods to choose from.
Zappa Plays Zappa, at the Borgata Event Center on Friday, Oct. 27, at 8pm. Tickets are $65-$35 and can be purchased at Borgata box office, by calling 1-866-900-4849 or going to www.theborgata.com.