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His Mother father's son
Dweezil Zappa keeps dad Frank's legacy alive
Published on - July 14, 2007

It's hard to be a black sheep when you're part of the Zappa flock.

"That's the thing," laughs Dweezil Zappa, eldest son of rock legend Frank Zappa. "The only way to really rebel in our family would have been to become an accountant or a lawyer or a Republican. That would have left our parents scratching their heads and saying, 'What have we done to deserve this?' "

Needless to say, the Zappas didn't spend much time wringing their hands over Dweezil. The son of the Mothers of Invention founder ended up following in his father's musical footsteps. Now, at age 37, he's taking over the family business -- and, more importantly, keeping his dad's music alive -- with his Zappa Plays Zappa project.

"It's been a long time since any real focus has been put on Frank's music," explains Dweezil, who believes his father's reputation has diminished since he died of prostate cancer in 1993. "A lot of people think of him in the same context as 'Weird Al' Yankovic, and there's a lot more levels to Frank's music than that. And I think he's deserving of recognition. If I don't take the time to make the effort, there's a chance that future generations would not really have any idea about him."

Even though it's a labour of love, it still took years of labour to create Zappa Plays Zappa. Step 1 was listening to his father's entire catalog -- about 60 albums of rock, classical, jazz and electronic music, beginning with 1965's Freak Out -- "so that I could hear the whole evolution of his composing style and see what his total vision was throughout his career."

Step 2 was harder. Dweezil -- an accomplished rock guitarist in his own right -- had to learn to play the songs. And play them like Frank.

"That required a complete overhaul of my technical ability," he says. "I had to completely change my whole picking style in order to be able to play some of these parts. And that was the equivalent of learning how to walk all over again. It took me two years to get all this stuff together. I'm not just trying to go up there and mimic him, but I've gone to great lengths to recreate some of his signature guitar sounds."

Like his father, Dweezil also balances technical expertise and authenticity with entertainment value. Zappa Plays Zappa focuses on Frank's most successful era: The '70s.

"That's my favourite period in his music, too," says Dweezil. "So we do a lot of stuff from Apostrophe and Overnite Sensation. The Roxy and Elsewhere album, Sheik Yerbouti, we have stuff from there ... The fans get all the high points from his career in one show."

Despite all his care and woodshedding -- and the presence of longtime Zappa sideman Ray White on vocals -- Dweezil admits there are plenty of his dad's tunes he can't reproduce faithfully because "there are certain songs that require a certain satirical vocal style that only Frank could deliver." So, through the magic of technology, he will. "Frank will actually be performing with us, playing guitar and singing on a big video screen."

Ultimately, he stresses, that's the point of Zappa Plays Zappa: Keeping Frank and his music in the public eye.

"This is not me taking over and trying to make this music mine. I'm trying to introduce more people to Frank's music and inspire them to go check out the rest of his albums."

And if it doesn't work, well, there's always law school.

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