Numerous people have never heard the music of Frank Zappa, let alone ever got the chance to see it performed live. That's all changing thanks to the efforts of his son, Dweezil. Formed four years ago, Zappa Plays Zappa is a note-for-note performance of Zappa's music. You might think it would be easy, but Dweezil spent two years studying his father's music before putting the band together. Creative Loafing recently spoke with Dweezil, by phone from his hotel in Lansing, Mich., about the tour, the music and his father's legacy.
Creative Loafing: How's everything going with the tour?
Dweezil Zappa: It's been going very well. We've been playing a bunch of festivals and our own shows in between, here and there. The main difference at the festivals is that we don't get a soundcheck, so you get a little different experience every time you go on stage. You're like, "Hmmm ... I wonder if my stuff is working today?"
You've been doing this for a couple of years now, how has it changed since you first started doing this? Has it changed?
The real basic idea of doing this is to have the opportunity to play Frank's music and expose it to newer generations. Younger people, generally, don't know that much about Frank's music. When I started doing this back in '06, even prior to that -- the prep work before that -- if you would ask a random person under 30 what they knew about Frank Zappa, you'd get a pretty typical response of, "Well, I know 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow' and 'Titties and Beer' and those kinds of songs." The younger you go, the less they know. It's one of those things I wanted to change because I think Frank's music is overlooked because a lot of people think of him like Weird Al Yankovic. They think he writes some comic music and that's not really the bulk of his music. In terms of what we do on stage, the only thing that changes is the setlist all the time. Our initial first tour proved that there was an interest to do this on an annual basis and there's certainly enough material to do that. I suppose one of the other major things that's changed is that on the first tour, we had multiple special guests because we didn't know if we were gonna have another tour the following year. So, we had a few special treats for the fans in case it was the only time we do this. We don't rely on massive special guests -- it's not a prerequisite to play the songs, but we have included Ray White on the last two tours because he's a tremendous singer and he's fun to play with. He's had a standing invitation. Steve Vai's come back and forth periodically, and he's fun to play with, too. That's pretty much it as invitations go. The other night in Quebec, Adrian Belew played before us, so he snuck on stage and did the Bob Dylan monologue in "Flakes," so that was entertaining.
I was going to ask how often some of these people -- Steve (Vai), Napoleon (Murphy Brock), Terry (Bozzio) -- got together with you ...
Well, on the first tour, they were -- Steve, Napoleon and Terry -- would play a few songs with us each night. They weren't on stage with us the whole time. In our current situation, we have Ray come out and play on quite a few songs with us. We don't really give out any invitations to do a full tour to anybody at this point. It's a very short list to anybody that would receive that. If we're in a particular area, and there's someone who hasn't made a particular transgression against Frank in some way through previous employment, they might be invited to play on stage.
Have any other members of your family played, such as Ahmet?
Originally, Ahmet was supposed to be involved, but it just didn't work out that way. He got busy with other things and I don't think that's going to happen any time real soon.
So your goal when this started was to give people a better appreciation, or to give them an opportunity to see it live if they haven't before ...
It's kind of like ... if given the opportunity to experience some of Frank's music, I thought it would be best if they got an overview from multiple eras of his career. So, they got a better understanding in one sitting of a lot of his music. In our full presentation of our own show, we play at least two-and-a-half hours and in that time there's over 20 songs in there from any particular era -- instrumental, classical stuff. We tend to focus on some of the more sophisticated things because those are often the things that are most overlooked in terms of Frank's contributions to music and the least understood in many cases.