In The Name Of The Father

4 April 2012 | 7:06 am | Paul Ransom

“Playing Frank’s music is like training for the Olympics,” says Dweezil Zappa from his home in LA.

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“Playing Frank's music is like training for the Olympics,” says Dweezil Zappa from his home in LA.

And he should know; because not only is he the son of the legendarily idiosyncratic Frank Zappa, but also an accomplished guitarist in his own right. Guided by family friend Steve Vai as a child, Dweezil Zappa first played on stage with his father at age 12. Various solo projects and a short-lived stint as an MTV VJ followed, (there was even time for a cooking show with long-time girlfriend Lisa Loeb), before Zappa Plays Zappa formed in 2006. Since then Dweezil has been touring his father's music around the globe, mining Frank's not inconsiderable back catalogue and getting his fingers around some notoriously technical compositions. “There's music that Frank made 40 years ago that still sounds like it's from the future,” Dweezil concludes with a wry laugh.

Born Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa (after the hospital refused to register the name Dweezil) it's perhaps easy to see how Dweezil may have found himself forever in the shadow of his famous father. Zappa Plays Zappa has clearly transcended those concerns.

“There's an obvious emotional connection for me,” Zappa declares. “I consider it a way for me to have a continued relationship with my dad; but it's not only me that can feel this stuff. The audience feel it too; they get very emotional. I mean, that's the thing about music, it attaches itself to the fabric of your life and your memory.”

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Here then is the other obvious question: To what extent is ZPZ just a cover band with a more than usually intimate connection to the original? It's obviously something that Zappa has had to contend with before. “Y'know, it's pretty easy to generalise and say that it's a tribute act or a cover band because technically it could be considered as such,” he concedes. “But it's more analogous to an orchestra. Technically an orchestra is a cover band and yet it's considered the highest level of musical achievement to be in an orchestra.”

Dweezil Zappa is unapologetically proud of the work he's doing, not simply as a torch bearer for his father's massive musical legacy but as an artist in his own right. Apart from the sheer logistics and “not exactly inexpensive” exercise of touring an eight-piece band (and four crew) around the world, ZPZ is all about fine musical detail and loving recreation rather than reinterpretation.

“You wouldn't have an orchestra playing a piece by Bach or Beethoven and then suddenly deciding to hire a rapper to modernise it. You're not gonna have some guy come out and go, 'Yeah, yeah, Beethoven, one, two, one, two'.”

Having learnt more than 200 songs since 2006, ZPZ have risen to the challenge of Zappa purists, even delving into obscure B-sides and unreleased rarities. For this year's tour they have decided to focus on material from Frank's early albums, particularly his 1966 debut Freak Out and 1968's We're Only In It For The Money.

Casting a son's eye over Frank Zappa's career, Dweezil is pretty clear about his father's legacy. “I view his music as being misunderstood and misrepresented for larger audiences. The casual listener is mostly familiar with things like Don't Eat The Yellow Snow and Valley Girl; and if they think that's what Frank's music is about because that's what got accidentally played on the radio, then they have a pretty poor indication of the majority of his music. So the challenge with ZPZ has been to re-educate the audience.”