Guitarist Dweezil Zappa and his 12-piece band tackle his legendary father's catalog on the Zappa Plays Zappa tour. Now in its third year (and available on DVD), the tribute to Frank Zappa stops at the Neighborhood Theatre on Tuesday (July 29). I spoke to Dweezil Zappa recently about how the project came together and what it's like to channel his dad on stage each night. (Editor's note: Answers are edited for brevity.) Courtney Devores, firstname.lastname@example.org
How long had this idea been brewing? I've been thinking about it for a long time, but the problem is where do you begin? When I got motivated I sat and studied the music for two years on my own before I put the band together. I listened to every record in chronological order, which took several weeks because there are 80 albums. He really accomplished so much more than what people have recognized. That's part of what I like to present to people. We play for almost three hours and people get a broad perspective of his career.
Do you find you're introducing a new generation to his music? In general, younger people know very little about my dad. The casual exposure people have makes them think of him like Weird Al. They know a few songs like “Titties & Beer,” “Don't Eat the Yellow Snow” and “Dancin' Fool.” Those songs don't scratch the surface.
What was the hardest part of tackling these songs? Part of the struggle is it's not always written on paper. Some of the major classical works and the most well known instrumental things we have the written scores for. A lot of work goes into getting the right notes and rhythms to make it sound like what exists on a record.
Are you playing your father's instruments on tour? No. I have guitars that look somewhat like his guitars. But to play his guitars would be problematic. They are unique one-of-a-kind instruments, so if they got stolen or damaged … I did rebuild my guitar equipment, so that I'm actually using some of the same pieces of gear he used to make very specific signature sounds.
Do you ever get swept up emotionally on stage with the video screens of him playing being right there? There can definitely be times that it can be emotionally overwhelming. The audience itself can feel that. I can look out and see people weeping. That's the thing about music. It's what attaches memories to people's minds. Some of this stuff is so ingrained in people they're so happy to get to see it onstage.