Dweezil Zappa creates 'time machine'
By DOUG PULLEN
Published in the Flint Journal - July 27, 2007
Dweezil Zappa isn't only in it for the money.
He conceived the "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour, which comes to Meadow Brook Music Festival tonight, as a way to keep his late father's legacy alive.
"I didn't want my dad's music to disappear in my lifetime," said Zappa, 37, whose father, arguably rock's first genius, died of prostate cancer at age 52 in 1993.
"It needs to continue on and have more and more people find it," he insisted.
This is actually the second annual edition of the tour, which features mostly younger, highly skilled musicians recreating Zappa's often complex, always diverse music while adding some touches of their own.
"In the end, it gives people the feeling of being in a time machine - in a good way," Dweezil said. "We evoke the sounds, like when you put the record on in your house. When we play 'Willie the Pimp,' it sounds like that era."
Last year's critically acclaimed tour, which stretched out over five months here and in Europe, focused on the elder Zappa's '70s music, Dweezil's favorite period. This year's set list has stretched into earlier, often more challenging songs, like "Son of Suzy Creamcheese," "Brown Shoes Don't Make It" and "American Drinks and Goes Home."
"A lot of people used to request (songs like that) and Frank would say he'd love to play that, but it's too hard to do in a live situation. We really buckled down and tried to recreate ... the album version Frank did," said his proud son, who plays a Gibson SG similar to his dad's.
Dweezil, who refers to his father by his first name, cut his teeth on guitar-oriented bands like Van Halen, Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. But to learn the intricacies of his dad's sophisticated guitar phrasing, he voluntarily relearned his guitar playing technique over a two-year period before the intensive 31/2-month rehearsal process that preceded last year's tour.
In addition to recreating his father's fretwork, he also transcribed parts written for other instruments, such as marimbas and horns, to the guitar.
"It just blew up my whole concept of what's possible on guitar," he said. "I've learned some very, very different things. It's one thing to play it or just learn parts at home, another to execute it live on stage, because you have to memorize that (particular song) and 20 other songs that are equally as difficult. It becomes almost like a Cirque du Soleil type act, with everybody playing at their highest level of ability."
Zappa feels like he's achieving his goals of keeping his father's work and memory alive, filling a void for hardcore Zappa fans while appealing to younger fans born after his dad's death.
"You have to be very respectful of the fan base that supported him from the beginning. Obviously, they're a huge part of why I'm doing this," Dweezil said.
But he believes younger fans, who make up about 25 percent of the tour audience, need to know there's more to music than what's popular today. "I want to make sure people had the opportunity to see ... especially at a younger age that instead of people being inspired to do the least amount of work and get the right haircut and tattoos, why not try and bring the art form back and really do it as a craft," he reasoned.
The message seems to be getting across in some corners, such as Norway, where Zappa tells of 15-year-old girls in the front row singing along to the songs.
"That was totally weird to me," he recalled with a laugh. "This isn't the Backstreet Boys."