Dweezil pays tribute to Papa Zappa
By CALVIN WILSON
Published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - December 14, 2006
Of all the tribute bands appearing in rock venues these days, Zappa Plays Zappa may be the most heartfelt — and the most necessary.
The late singer-guitarist Frank Zappa may be best known for novelty songs such as "Valley Girl," but he was also a forward-thinking composer equally influenced by jazz and classical music. And the argument can easily be made that his rock albums, both as a solo artist and as leader of the Mothers of Invention, are woefully underrated.
The three-hour show is the brainchild of guitarist Dweezil Zappa, who refers to his father as Frank. His core band performs alongside such Zappa veterans as Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio and Napoleon Murphy Brock.
In a recent interview, Dweezil Zappa talked about the importance of taking his father's music to new audiences.
Q. How did you get the idea for the tour?
A. It's something that I'd been thinking about for a long time. But it required a lot of preparation, mainly because the music is very complicated. So I took two years off from everything that I was doing, just to study the music. And decided that I was ready to do what I wanted to do with it.
Q. What went into deciding which songs to perform?
A. I pretty much just went through the list of the material that I grew up loving the most. And it happens to be a lot of Frank's more sophisticated music. I focused on the period from around 1972 to '79. So it's records like "Apostrophe (')," "Over-Nite Sensation," "One Size Fits All" and "Roxy & Elsewhere."
But we're reaching out to other areas as well. My choices came down to trying to represent what I felt were some of the most compelling compositions, that have all of Frank's idiosyncrasies as a composer. I really wanted to focus on what makes him different.
Q. Does the show omit some of your father's best-known work?
A. It wasn't about doing the songs that have been perceived as, perhaps, hit songs. So we're not really doing those songs. We don't play any of the stuff that the casual Frank Zappa listener might have heard. Not to say that "Dancin' Fool" and "Valley Girl" aren't worth playing, but I didn't want to focus on anything that would look like we were trying to put a "Greatest Hits" thing together. Because it's not about making Frank's music tolerable.
Q. Would you say that the music of Frank Zappa has yet to be properly appreciated?
A. We're trying to get a lot more people interested in it but have the music speak for itself. You could get lost in Frank's music. And it's so challenging that if you're not playing it all the time, you end up making mistakes.
Q. Do the orchestral compositions pose a particular challenge in live performance?
A. Definitely, we have to work a little harder. But it is a fairly large band — with a core of two guitars, bass, drums and percussion, and two keyboardists who also play horns. And the lead singer, Napoleon Murphy Brock, also plays saxophone and flute. So we're able to actually get a lot of those orchestral textures in there.