Dweezil Zappa hits the road to Canton Palace
By DAN KANE - Repository Entertainment Writer
Published in the CantonRep.com - October 20, 2006
Dweezil Zappa sounds plenty proud and pumped about “Zappa Plays Zappa,” the show he’ll bring to Canton’s Palace Theatre on Sunday night.
The concert tour pays tribute to Frank Zappa, Dweezil’s musically brilliant, satirically sharp and unashamedly silly father, who died in 1993 at age 52 with more than 75 albums to his credit.
“It’s really an official event,” Dweezil, 37, says of the tour, which was launched earlier this year to enthusiastic audience response in the United States and Europe. “Obviously the only thing missing is Frank.”
He doesn’t call him Dad, not once during our interview, but the admiration and respect and even awe Dweezil feels for his father is undeniable.
“Frank had so much respect for music and the power of music and the creative force of music,” Dweezil says. “This tour is not about nostalgia, because Frank’s music to me is very contemporary.”
Dweezil leads a six-piece band that he’s assembled to closely replicate Frank’s music in all its complex and quirky twists and turns. His bandmates are Aaron Arntz, keyboards and trumpet; Scheila Gonzales, sax, flute, keyboards and vocals; Jamie Kime, guitar; Pete Griffin, bass; Billy Hulting, marimba, mallets and percussion; and Joe Travers, drums and vocals.
Special guests in the show are three musicians who worked with Frank Zappa: Steve Vai, guitar; Terry Bozzio, drums; and Napoleon Murphy Brock, vocals, sax and flute.
“My goal with this tour is to make this music sound as accurate to the actual sounds and arrangements from the records as possible,” Dweezil says. “We’re very much about all of the little details. The overall picture Frank painted is there for a reason.”
Following are excerpts from my recent telephone conversation with the thoughtful and articulate Dweezil.
Has your last name worked more for you or against you over the years?
I don’t think it’s ever helped me do anything in particular. It might get somebody to set up a meeting with me sooner than somebody else. But Frank was not exactly mainstream. It’s not like I was ever going to be the instant next pop sensation.
Was Frank your first guitar teacher?
He did show me some things, but he also tried to stay out of the way. He just wanted to see what I would do. That was the thing about Frank. Even though his music was strictly composed and conducted, he always left room for anyone he was working with to demonstrate what they were all about.
Did you ever perform with him onstage?
I did a few times. The first time, I had only been playing guitar for nine months, so that was pretty crazy.
Let’s talk about this tour. Can you tell me about the music you’ll be playing?
I don’t want to spoil it for people, but a lot of the things we’re focusing on are from records like “Apostrophe,” “Overnite Sensation,” “Roxy & Elsewhere,” “Zappa in New York,” “Freak Out!,” “Just Another Band From L.A.”
There’s so much to choose from. How did you pick?
I wanted people to be able to discover what made Frank Frank. He’s got a lot of music from over 75 records, but the stuff that continually mesmerizes people in terms of his compositional skills is what I wanted to focus on, to demonstrate what he’s all about as a composer. Some of it is extremely difficult.
His songs that got airplay were always the silliest ones — “Valley Girl,” “Dancin’ Fool,” “Yellow Snow.”
And that has only confused people. A lot of people tend to think of Frank almost like Weird Al Yankovic because that’s all they ever heard. There’s a lot of complexity and sophistication in the music, but he did have a great sense of humor and he did love to use it.
Is there much talking and reminiscing in the show?
There’s a couple of stories here and there about certain songs. But we run the show sort of traditionally. A lot of songs segue one into another. There’s a real flow to things. We don’t necessarily do things in chronological order, but there is a little bit of a time machine aspect to some of this stuff.
Are you and Steve Vai splitting up the guitar leads?
Steve is actually only out for part of the show. He and Terry come out for specialized sets within the show. I’ve put together a band that easily stands on its own. Bringing out Steve and Terry and having Napoleon singing is an added bonus for the fans.
Are hardcore Zappa fans coming out of the woodwork for these concerts?
That has been the case, yes. We’re getting the core fans and as I’ve been hoping for, we’re getting a good amount of younger people and I would like to see that increase. This show is a perfect way for someone who hasn’t been exposed to Frank’s music before to become indoctrinated.
Your father is often called a genius. What do you think?
I think that is definitely a word that is overused for other individuals, but not Frank. The world is just catching up.