Music News

Zappa Plays Zappa Stays True to Frank’s Vision

Attention, audio adopters like Diddy who think classic rock sounds better with a rap track laid down over it: Keep your hip-hop mitts off Frank Zappa's songs.

Dweezil Zappa, the oldest son of late avant-garde rock composer Frank Zappa, has been performing songs from his father's career for the past three years on the "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour. The multi-media shows include a wide range of the elder Zappa's material, played by Dweezil and various former members of Frank Zappa's band (including drummer Terry Bozzio and guitarist Ray White), video of Frank Zappa performing, and lots of loony lighting. What it does not include are contemporary twists on the original material.

"We try to perform the songs as they were originally written and performed," Dweezil Zappa says via phone from his studio in Los Angeles. "We don't try to modernize them, like, 'Hey, let's bring some jackass out to rap over the guitar.'"

Yes, outside producers and industry insiders have often approached Dweezil with stupid suggestions, including having an MC give Frank Zappa's songs the trendy treatment of simple rhyme schemes about bull crap that has nothing to do with the original tune. Can you imagine someone like Rob Van Winkle (a.k.a. Vanilla Ice) rapping about waxing "chumps like candles" over Zappa's classic instrumental "Peaches en Regalia"?

Dweezil says the point of the "Zappa Plays Zappa" tour isn't to adapt his father's songs by dumbing them down for a new audience. The point is to introduce Frank Zappa's body of work to a culturally deprived younger generation who takes its cues from radio — an outlet that was never receptive to his father's intricate, off-the-wall compositions.

"I think a lot of my father's music is criminally under-heard," Dweezil says. "I want younger people to be exposed to it. They don't have any idea what they're missing."

The music industry has recognized the excellence of Zappa's compositions — he received a posthumous Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, the same year Rolling Stone put him at number 71 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. And Zappa Plays Zappa won a "Best Rock Instrumental" Grammy Award this year for their recording of "Peaches en Regalia." Dweezil says the eight-piece Zappa Plays Zappa band has learned about 85 songs from his father's repertoire, and nailing down some of the tunes was no easy task.

"A lot of my father's compositions were very technical, and very tricky," he says.

The band spent months learning the song "G-Spot Tornado," and Dweezil says that finally figuring it out was a point of pride. "That's usually one of my favorites to play, because it's a great piece of music," he says. "But it's hard. It's an achievement to be able to play it, especially on guitar."

Thankfully, if Zappa Plays Zappa adds "G-Spot Tornado" to its set list this tour, MC Whatever won't be piddling second-rate poetry all over it. Everything will be true to its original form. After all, Frank would have wanted it that way.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea