DWEEZIL ZAPPA About The Family Feud Which Resulted In The Name Of The Current Tour!

Dweezil Zappa
Photo: Jeff Dean

To mark the 50th anniversary of the release of Frank Zappas debut album Freak Out, his son, Dweezil Zappa is out on the road with a set highlighting music from across his father’s career. Mick Burgess caught up with Zappa ahead of the tour to talk about the tour and the family feud which resulted in the name of the tour.

You’re over in the UK for a series of shows in October. Are you looking forward to touring the UK again?

Yes definitely. I’m very excited. We’ll be playing songs we haven’t done before and I’ll be working with Adam Mincoff who is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a long time. Finally, our schedules worked out and we’ll be able to do that. He plays guitar and other instruments as well and having him in the band means that there’s certain material we can do that we haven’t been able to do before like some of the early Mothers of Invention stuff.

You’re playing 5 shows in atmospheric venues such as The Royal Festival Hall in London, The Lowry in Salford and The Sage up here in Gateshead. Was that an intentional plan to pick venues like that?

I think they are the type of venues that suit our fanbase for an evening out, more so than a Rock club. It’s also nice to play at some of the venues that my Dad played like the Royal Festival Hall that he played in a few times.

The first night of your tour is up here at The Sage in Gateshead. Is this the first time you’ve played in this venue?

I have played there before and I loved it. It’s one of my favourite venues and has a wonderful atmosphere with great acoustics.

The tour is a celebration of your Dad’s work and to mark the 50th anniversary of the release of his debut album Freak Out. What sort of show have you got lined up for the tour?

The show is designed to give the audience a chronological experience so you can hear stuff from the first album all the way through to some of his last records in the ’80’s. There’s about 45 to 50 minutes worth of songs from The Mothers of Invention era and it moves through the ’70’s and 80’s from there. Depending on what happens each night we may jump around a bit from decade to decade so it’s not entirely chronological but it does start off that way.

He recorded 62 studio albums over his career. That’s a lot of albums and a lot of songs. How on earth have you been able to whittle that down into a collection of songs for a show?

The challenge is always to create a show that gives the audience the depth and variety of my Dad’s compositional skills. It has a flow of energy that keeps building so there’s an intent to select the music that flows from one thing to another. It’s meant to be a dynamic roller-coaster ride of music highlighting my Dad’s work.

This is a great opportunity to not only highlight Frank’s extensive catalogue of music to long standing fans but also open up his music to a new generation of people who may not be too familiar with his work. Is this what you were hoping to achieve when you first started this?

The goal has always been to give people a chance to experience a wide variety of my Dad’s music played live and the important thing about seeing it played live is that it really does make a differing impression on someone that’s never heard the music before rather than having just listened to it out of a computer speaker. This is a much more engaging experience where you can see the attention to detail and the skills needed for people to play this music. When I was a kid when I saw my Dad’s show it’s as if it were a magic trick. It was incredible that people could play this stuff. It gives people the chance to see people working together to make music. There’s nothing like it and my Dad’s music is so unique. Our goal is to let people experience it for the first time and give them that sense of wonderment. For those people who have seen my Dad’s work in the past it gives them the chance to experience it again in a way that’s commensurate with the way my Dad did it. It’s an apples to apples comparison and that’s what we set out to do.

64 albums is a lot of albums for a beginner to contend with. Where would you recommend someone to start who is new to Frank Zappa?

It’s always interesting to me where people do start with my Dad’s music. My recommendation to get into it would be Apostrophe or Overnight Sensation as your first things to hear. Then maybe from there go back 10 years to Freak Out and We’re Only In It For The Money and Zappa in New York. With those albums you get to see some big changes over a relatively short period of time. These records have really great guitar playing and the instrumentation is really orchestral and you get a good idea of what he is like but you also start to get all of the different colours of other sides to his work. Freak Out sounds nothing like Apostrophe and you can see all of the different facets to his music.

When did you realise that your Dad didn’t have a regular 9 to 5 job like other people?

As kids we just got used to whatever was going on. Your day to day life schedule is what becomes normal to you. He was gone a lot and when he was home he was working pretty much 17-hour days and as a kid you got used to it and that became normal.

When did you start taking interest in the music yourself?

I always liked music but I didn’t seriously get into it until I was 12 years old. I always liked my Dad’s music but when I was 12 I started noticing what was on the radio more than before. My Dad’s music was very complex so when I started listening to stuff on the radio I used to wonder where was the rest of it as I was used to listening to all of this complex orchestration and rhythms and different layers of sound. I got into Rock bands around 1982 like Van Halen and also Randy Rhodes guitarist with Ozzy’s band and those guitarists inspired me initially and made me want to do that on a guitar. I loved other classic artists too like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Queen, the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix. If you’re a fan of guitar playing there’s a lot of options out there.

Did you get many opportunities to record or play live shows with your Dad?

The first time I played live on stage with my Dad I’d only been playing for 9 months and that was at the Hammersmith Odeon. That was really exciting but also nerve wracking.

You originally toured as Zappa Plays Zappa but you were blocked by a legal dispute with your family. Is your new title Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@&k He Wants your response to those who have tried to block your way?

It has been so frustrating for me. I had been using the name Zappa Plays Zappa for 12 years. To cut a long story short, my Mum trademarked that name without me knowing it in 2007 after I’d already been using the name and it was owned by the Zappa Family Trust which is basically my Mum and all of the Zappa kids. She created it as a way for me to pay licence fees to her. There was an ongoing dispute over that for a long time. When she died she left Ahmet and Diva in charge and they started having issues and said that I couldn’t play the music without them having total control. They wanted to take 100% of the merchandise money. I said that wasn’t reasonable so I just changed the name from Zappa Plays Zappa to Dweezil Zappa Plays The Music of Frank Zappa. They sent me a cease and desist letter saying that I couldn’t use the name Frank Zappa to promote anything as they owned the trademark to the name Frank Zappa. It’s really raw.

Did you not want to contest that?

Rather than waste a lot more money on lawyers and legal costs I said fine, I’ll change the name again and now it’s Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@&k He Wants: Cease and Desist Tour. It’s my reply to their stupid decision. The reality is they can’t stop me or anybody from playing the music. It’s been a real hassle for me and people don’t realise how much money it’s wasted that’s gone straight to lawyers just by changing the name several times. During that whole period there was $70,000-$80,000 wasted in legal fees. I just don’t have that kind of money to waste.

What about unreleased demos or recordings? Have you any of those where you could add some new parts to those original works and finish them off so it’s you and your Dad playing together?

At this point the Zappa Family Trust won’t permit me to do anything with Frank Zappa recordings. They’ll let other people do recordings like Steve Vai who, when he was on tour he had video footage of my Dad playing on screen and audio so they let other people use it but they won’t let me.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and going in 2018? Will you be continuing the Frank Zappa theme or are you working on other projects too?

I’ll definitely start creating more of my own music. I’ll be doing a concert next year of my own orchestral music and I’ll also do some of my Dad’s orchestral music as well with a 100-piece orchestra. It’ll be interesting and fun to experience.

Dweezil Zappa plays at The Sage, Gateshead on 8th October.

Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@&K He Wants UK Tour starts on at The Sage, Gateshead on 8th October.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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