Zappa plays Zappa in Asheville
By JEDD FERRIS
Published on Citizen-Times.com - August 10, 2007
Frank Zappa was an obscure musical icon, known just as much for his zany lyrics as he was for constantly pushing the compositional boundaries of rock ‘n’ roll. Over a more than 30-year career, he released more than 60 albums with material that ranged from comical political and cultural commentary to jazz guitar instrumentals with odd melodies and time signatures. His prolific output was cut short, though, when he died of prostate cancer in 1993 at the age of 52.
Now the spirit of Zappa’s music is being revived by his son, Dweezil. On the Zappa Plays Zappa tour, which lands at the Thomas Wolfe Auditorium on Saturday, the guitarist and a six-man band explore some of his father’s extensive catalog — always delivering many of Zappa’s cult hits, as well as some of his rare works.
Once an MTV VJ, Dweezil has been releasing solo albums since 1986. He’s also made appearances in a handful of films, including the Brat Pack era “Pretty in Pink” with Molly Ringwald and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “The Running Man.” A couple of years ago he turned his focus to learning his father’s music and by 2006 the Zappa revival show was born. He recently explained the project.
Question: Why was it important to you to extend the tradition of your father’s music?
Answer: I had been thinking about doing this for a long time, but to do it right required a lot of work. I’ve always been a player that could do some technically challenging things, but when I turned my focus to Frank’s music, I wanted to learn a lot of passages that weren’t meant to played on guitar, so it meant altering my whole approach to how I play physically and mentally. It was a long process that took two years before I even put the band together.
Q: Frank Zappa released more than 60 albums. How did you decide what material to interpret?
A: I have in mind the most popular periods in the fan base, because I want this to be a way for the fans to get together and celebrate his music in a live situation. On a personal mission, I want to focus on a lot of the stuff I enjoyed growing up. Last year we focused on “Apostrophe,” “Overnite Sensation” and “One Size Fits All,” which are middle to late ’70s. This year we have diversified and gone backwards and forwards, so we have stuff from the late ’60s into the early ’80s.
Q: Did you grow up learning to play these songs?
A: I always listened to the music, but like most people, when I first heard it I thought it was very complicated. It’s a great challenge, but once you’re able to play some of that stuff, it’s very rewarding. Even though I’d heard some of these songs a million times,
I had to spend a lot of time learning them.
Q: Your favorite Zappa piece to play?
A: I really like his signature guitar songs like “Peaches En Regalia,” “Black Napkins” and “Watermelon in Easter Hay.” I mostly lean toward instrumental music, but there’s so much to choose from in my dad’s catalog, it’s impossible to pick one.
Q: Is it true during the show you actually have your dad on a big screen take a solo through synchronized technology?
A: We have several of his performances that were videotaped. Frank controlled his catalog in a way that he owned all of his master tapes and video performances. We have the ability to play with this footage and then he’ll be in sync with the audio, so on a nightly basis he’s performing live with us. It’s cool, because some of these performances have never been released, so the only other people that have seen them were there the night that they happened.
Q: Did you play together a lot when you were a kid?
A: I played at a few of his concerts that ended up being on records. The first time was when I was 12, and I had only been playing guitar for nine months. Then I played again when I was 14 or 15. My playing has evolved drastically to play this music, not only for the technical parts but to play in context and in a similar style to Frank, because that’s important to capture the overall experience. I don’t go up there and try to be him, but I incorporate his ideas and phrasing.