By larry may
A typical music fan thinks that they know all there is to know about their hero’s lives. This is part of the allure of being a fan, the intense need to connect to someone that has touched so many lives in profound ways. More of the mystical figures in rock leave behind little hard fact, and the fans and pundits replace truisms with speculation, or more commonly, vicious fabrication. In order to make a legend worthy of being legendary, the harder the life lived, the more fascinating the figure they become. Dweezil Zappa, the son of of the innovative Frank Zappa, has hit the road to celebrate his father’s music, and hopefully, to quell any rumors started by the overzealous.
I called Dweezil at his home studio, and got his child’s answering machine message. When he called me back, I talked with a man determined to preserve a legacy,
celebrate some of the most improvisational music ever made, and correct some falsehoods that seem to dog his father’s legacy.
With the release of the new Zappa Plays Zappa, you have packed a ton of live performance footage on one disc. Was there any stuff left over?
There was. Because of the length of the songs, there are five or six songs that didn’t make the cut. Those concerts typically ran three hours plus. Because of the inclusion of the interviews and other extras, we couldn’t fit them on. But it’s still a great value for the money spent.
On your website, you ran a small diatribe about someone who was taping one of the shows, and claimed that he “owned that music”.
Somehow, fans have gotten the idea that it’s a bad idea to protect your work. If an artist does that, to them it boils down to greed. They don’t realize how the industry works, and that the majority of musicians are not rich. They believe that music should be free, and it’s just ridiculous. They just want that advantage to themselves, and don’t really respect the music, what it took to make it, and what it took to get it to the marketplace. Ignorance is bliss.
How did Frank view taping?
He hated being bootlegged. As most artists who prefer to have quality product in the market do. What it comes down to is a couple of things. Number one, the fans have no right to tape, and then circulate or sell it. They usually do a bad job because they aren’t good at what they do, and that’s just one of many levels of aggravation. Number two, an artist doesn’t want anything out there that doesn’t look or sound great, because we all care about quality, and don’t care for people who abuse copyright or trademarks. Is anybody else expected to give their work away for free? Or to donate the music, for the fans that believe it should be free? They’re all pretty hypocritical when you want to get into their pocket. I call it “hippie-criticial”. There are stores that are devoted to using my father’s work to market their sleazy practices. Most of them are head shops or such, but how about the fact that Frank never liked being associated with drugs, never did drugs, and neither does anybody else in the family.
Do any of the members of Frank’s bands play with you?
We have Ray White, who played with Frank on several tours. But we don’t have a lot of former members like Steve Vai, because the music didn’t sound the way it did because of the players, it was because of the way it was written and constructed and arranged. It was only Frank who was responsible for the way it sounded. When I announced that I was doing this, it probably was the expectation that I might bring his band out, and pretend I was him, They all thought that was going to really suck. But I obviously had no intention of doing that. I wanted to bring musicians who had no affiliation or maybe even knowledge of his songs, and I ended up with great musicians. That is evident on the DVD and from the response we’ve gotten on tour. We respect the music and the intent of the composer.
Do you plan on doing this tour again?
I’m going to do this annually and develop a Zappa festival that could turn into a film festival, so that the music can reach younger generations and help them to realize Frank’s contribution to the art of music. The point is make sure that everybody knows that Frank did it all for the right reasons. The casual fan only knows “Dirty Yellow Snow” or “Valley Girl”, and that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of his compositional skill. So we choose not to focus on the comedic stuff so much, we chose to dig deeper, and play some stuff that he didn’t play (classical) live, like some album cuts.
Would the festivals involve your siblings?
That remains to be seen. It hasn’t been discussed, and I don’t want to speak for them with having talked to them first. That’s all a couple of years down the road, but I have my own projects to concentrate on first. One of them is something I started fifteen years ago called “What the Hell Was I Thinking”? It is a continuous piece of music that is 75 minutes long that is constantly morphing from one style to another. It is best described as an audio movie. It has forty different guitar solos from guys like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Brian May, Angus and Malcolm Young, Steve Vai, and Warren DeMartini. Warren was a big influence on my playing, for sure.
I remember watching you on MTV in the ‘80s playing a green guitar, introducing videos. How cool was that?
I still have that guitar.
Any plans to more TV?
I don’t think I’ll do any more cooking shows. Seriously, when I’m not touring, I like to spend time with my family, so I don’t know if I’ll do TV again. I’m touring the rest of the year, so unfortunately, I will be missing almost a year of my kids growing up. I try to find a balance, but that’s proving to be difficult. Now that my oldest daughter is almost two, she has become a lot more conversational. She definitely knows when I’m going to work, or going on tour, and she doesn’t like either one.
Are you interested in other forms of media, like writing a book?
I would consider it. I don’t know if I would have any kind of topic anybody would want to read about. I do have interest in children’s books, because we read to the kids quite a bit. The books would be a reflection of the Zappa family humor, which is not exactly mainstream. For instance, my oldest daughter, Zola Frank, loves Frank’s music and loves the new DVD. We don’t let her watch television, but she loves to watch the DVD and dance to it. Her favorite song is “Eat That Question”. I’ve made her a CD of Frank’s music, and her current favorite is “Village Of the Sun”. She doesn’t listen to typical children’s music, like Barney, etc. I don’t like children’s music, it’s unnecessary and serves as more of a babysitter.
Has it ever been a disadvantage being Frank Zappa’s son?
I don’t think I ever looked at it like that. A lot of people expect because we’re both musicians, that I might be some wild and crazy guy. A lot of people have the misconception that I’m like that. I like and respect what he left behind, and am happy to be affiliated. I don’t really see any downside.
What is the biggest misconception about Frank?
The casual listener might only know the stuff that got on Dr. Demento. You know, talented music guy, kids with funny names, probably had to be on massive amounts of drugs to come up with all of that. All of those things combined make people miss the scope of Frank’s work. He wrote classical, and those people aren’t intellectually equipped to deal with it.
Dweezil Zappa strikes me as a man on a mission. He wants to educate, entertain, and be a great son with his music. Time may serve me wrong, but it seems as if right now, he has the upper hand. I know Frank is watching, and he should be proud of one of the best things he ever created.