Son aims to present Zappa's music just like his dad
By JOHN WENZEL - Denver Post Staff Writer
Published on DenverPost.com - October 12, 2006
It's clear why Dweezil Zappa reveres his father's music. He grew up around the colorful concerts and musicians on the freaky side of the '70s, picking up the performance bug early in life.
But touring Frank Zappa's music with a collection of virtuoso guitarists and original bandmates is another thing entirely, one requiring years of practice and dedication.
When "Zappa Plays Zappa" hits the Paramount Theatre Wednesday, Dweezil will be doing more than just interpreting his father's complex psych-rock. He will be presenting it as close to the original, mind-expanding versions as possible.
"Frank was a composer, not just a rock musician," Dweezil said. "Parts were distributed to the musicians, and it was played under his direction. There's a lot of people who try to play the music but they make changes and violate trademarks, and that's a nuisance. Nobody would do that if it were Beethoven."
Dweezil set aside two years to obsessively learn and practice a wide swath of his father's oeuvre. Far from a spoiled dabbler, he poured his already honed guitar skills into matching the spirit and letter of Frank's pieces.
"It was like training for the Olympics," he said. "I didn't want to go out there and do it without authenticity or accuracy. When a lot of people heard about it they had this very asinine but modern sort of approach where they thought, 'Oh, it's just going to be some rich kid who never had to do a thing in his life going up there and trying to be his dad."'
They would never accuse him of that if they were paying attention. More heavy metal than psychedelic, Dweezil has always cut his own path. He's released solo albums, VJ'd on MTV, appeared in movies like "Pretty in Pink," voiced cartoon characters and hosted TV shows. Presenting his father's music wasn't just something to pass the time.
"People might think I'm just trying to capitalize on it, but (Frank's) music was never commercial to begin with, so how do you capitalize on that?" Dweezil said. "This comes from a place of pride for me, and I put a lot of time and effort into it."
Choosing a potential set list presented a challenge. His father was prolific, sometimes releasing up to seven albums a year, not including concerts and collaborations.
"My favorite era happens to coincide with the fan base's era, roughly 1969 to '79. I think it's when he really hit his stride, blending rock and jazz and funk and classical," Dweezil said. "He was working with musicians that could play some of his more difficult music. And the fact that he was able to work with them made him write more."
The "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour, road tested in Europe earlier this year, will feature original members of Frank's band. Guitar god Steve Vai, an acolyte of Frank's that toured the world with him in the early '80s, will join drummer Terry Bozzio, who played on 10 albums and several tours. Saxophonist and flutist Napoleon Murphy Brock rounds out the guest bill, backed by a large band.
But Dweezil cautions it's not about the individual players, even though Vai and Bozzio will play mini-sets throughout the show.
"We're bringing Steve and Terry out as icing on the cake, because the band I put together stands on it own," Dweezil said. "It adds to the authenticity of the sound, since we're going after individual sounds from the records ... little nuances, from every note written on the page down to the improvised notes."
He hopes the tour expands into a festival that keeps his father's challenging music alive for a new generation.
"It's been great seeing 11-year-olds at these shows because I always think of myself at a young age at Frank's concerts, being amazed and all, 'How do they do that?"' Dweezil said. "It's a totally different impression than the current musical climate, where it's not about doing something amazing. It's about instant gratification and having the right tattoos and bombs going off."