The offspring of famous singer/musicians rarely do their daddies proud. If you’ve heard the juniors Sinatra and Hank, you know what I mean. But Dweezil Zappa is paying tribute to his father in a way that does justice to an often undervalued musical legacy.
Frank Zappa wasn’t for everybody—which is really kind of the point. What made the skilled rock singer/guitarist/composer—who died from prostate cancer in 1993 at age 52, but spent much of his upbringing in IE bands, and had his Studio Z recording room in Rancho Cucamonga—so unique was his ability to mesh intricate, difficult musicianship with often freakish, snide humor. Zappa and his Mothers of Invention pushed the boundaries of popular music (and good taste) at a time—mostly in the 1960s and ‘70s—when much of rock and pop music was bland, predictable, and bloated with self-importance. Sadly, due to off-color ditties like “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,” “G-Spot Tornado,” “Titties and Beer” and “Punky’s Whips,” many dismissed Zappa as an adults-only version of some Weird Al Yankovic-type personality.
That’s where Dweezil and his Zappa Plays Zappa tour comes in. Dweezil’s mission is to dispel misperceptions about his father by showcasing Frank’s musical depth and compositional complexity (alongside the absurdist humor). And, rather than round up a bunch of old Zappa band alums to faithfully cover note-for-note a batch of papa’s tunes, Dweezil wants to introduce new generations of music fans to the Zappa canon by using younger musicians (most in their 30s). The band—featuring drummer Joe Travers, bassist Pete Griffin, keyboardist/vocalist Aaron Arntz (Dweezil’s brother), hornplayer/keyboardist Scheila Gonzales, melodic percussionist Billy Hulting, rhythm guitarist Jamie Kime, and Dweezil on guitar and occasional vocals—rehearsed more than 30 songs over a 90-day period. (This core group is joined at times by “special guests” and key Zappa contributors, including drummer Terry Bozzio, guitarist Steve Vai, and saxman/flute player Napolean Murphy Brock.)
Dweezil prepared well for Zappa Plays Zappa, spending two years altering his own guitar style to “expand myself and really dive into Frank’s work.” At the same time, he insists there’s plenty of space for improvisation in the open areas of his dad’s compositions. So the challenge then for Dweezil is to walk that fine line of exerting his own voice while remaining true to the spirit and sound of Frank’s style.
Just another band from L.A.? Never.
Zappa Plays Zappa at the Key Club at Morongo, 29500 Seminole Dr., Cabazon, (951) 755-5391; www.keyclubmorongo.com. Sat., 7 p.m. $50-$75. 18+.