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Continuing The Music

3 April 2012 | 5:37 am | Staff Writer

In 2006, Dweezil Zappa took to the road with a group of hot young musicians on a mission to present a cross-section of three decades' worth of his late father Frank's music. Zappa, who as a guitarist has released six albums of original material in his own right, wasn't interested in playing “the hits”, such as they were, but to give audience an idea of the extraordinary depth and breadth of the older Zappa's legacy. He dubbed the project Zappa Plays Zappa.

The shows were so well received, Zappa Plays Zappa has not only continued to tour, presenting new parts of the almost mind-bogglingly vast catalogue – more than 60 albums released before he passed away in 1993 – but has released three albums, 2008's Zappa Plays Zappa, 2010's Return Of The Son Of…, and last year's Live In The Moment. Dweezil's labour of love has obviously taken on a life of its own.

“The thing that's interesting about the way it's all turned out,” Zappa explains from his home in Hollywood, “is that, at a certain point in the nineties, I really kinda stopped playing guitar because rock guitar and particularly anybody that had any technical ability on guitar was sort of frowned upon here in the States. It became this whole simplistic approach and the grunge stuff sort of obliterated people's ideas of having to practice. It was more about do you have the right flannel shirt, tattoos and piercings and looking the part.

“So I just gradually came back to just playing guitar and one of the big focuses for me was I wanted to keep improving. I wanted to keep taking whatever I already had achieved on a level of skill to a whole other level and Frank's music is the most challenging music out there. It really made a huge difference in my own abilities and I'm at the point now where I'm starting to get interested in writing and recording my own music again, so it's really gonna be very different than it was prior to the Zappa Plays Zappa project, 'cause I just have so much more to draw on, you know, technically, harmonically, all kinds of stuff.”

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The live albums Zappa Plays Zappa have released were never part of the original mission statement for the project either. “This is all stuff I didn't intend to do to begin with,” he admits. “Setting out to do this, I didn't view this as, 'Okay, why don't I record all of this band's versions of the songs and put them in direct competition with Frank's own?' We were doing this to be the catalysts to get people interested in the original recordings. But somewhere along the line, what began to become noticeable was that the people that enjoyed seeing this band thought of this as a continuation of the music, not modernising it or anything like that, but because Frank's music, in certain songs, have arrangements that are designed to sort of reinvent themselves every time they're played live. So each time you play that song, it will be different, in perpetuity; only certain parts of it have to be played the same.

“So, based on that criterion, a lot of people view what we're doing as a chance for the music that they're well familiar with to continue into the future with new versions, keeping it in the same family as the originals. So there became a demand for it because people would come to the shows over and over and they really wanted to have recordings of this band – and a lot of people were bootlegging it anyway!”