As 2016 has proven, the “legacy artist” is a dying breed that is defined by an extraordinary sphere of influence and a high volume of record sales. Whether these musicians have attained popularity during their years of production is irrelevant as the music speaks louder than the money rolling in.
For Dweezil Zappa, son of the 60’s sonic guru Frank Zappa, the issue of legacy was his focal point for the past 10 years as he continues to tour, playing his father’s music more than 20 years after his death.
“It’s always been very different than anything else that came out at that time and it continues to be ahead of its time,” said Zappa about his father’s music.
Since 2006, Zappa has played under the name of Zappa Plays Zappa, which highlights three decades of Frank Zappa’s music with a fresh face and modern twist. Zappa sought to continue the legacy of his father by branching out the music to new audiences as there was no resurgence of his father’s music except for a few records put out by the Zappa Family Trust, which was run by Gail Zappa, Frank’s wife, who died October of last year.
“People, that were [in] his original fan base continued to be interested in some of the records that were coming out, but younger people were not having the chance to discover the music in any way,” said Zappa. “Basically, [I had to] do a grassroots thing and bring the music door to door.”
Since the inception of the first tour, Zappa quickly noticed a change in crowd as younger generations were becoming accustomed to the music of his father. “Eleven years later, it’s not people in their middle to late 70’s or early 80’s that are coming to shows. We see the age range going down and down, so you see plenty of people in their 20’s,” said Zappa.
“When people do find out about the music, they get deep into it. It becomes sort of a lifelong obsession for many, many people,” added Zappa.
Playing Frank’s music though continued to be an enlightening experience for Zappa, as he first began his solo career at the tender age of 12. Thirty-five years later, Zappa has managed to play with guitar greats including the likes of Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, while constantly honing his own technical proficiency.
In comparison to his dad’s playing style, Zappa commented that “there are certain aspects of [Frank’s music] that are challenging because you have to play strictly written parts and execute them, and a lot of the stuff I play wasn’t meant to be played on guitar.”
Zappa stressed the proficiency of soloing that came about with his father, proving to be one of the more difficult components when studying his music. “When it came to playing solos, my dad was 100 percent extemporaneous. He didn’t play pre-composed or preconceived ideas,” said Zappa. “So to be able to play in the way that he plays in context to the music, I had to study his style of playing and had to learn his tendencies and mannerisms in terms of his vocabulary.”
However, this year provides an unexpected change as Zappa has become embroiled in a legal battle regarding the usage of the Zappa name with siblings Ahmet and Diva, who recently took over the Zappa Family Trust. After the death of Gail, Ahmet and Diva took control of the Zappa estate and this past spring issued a cease and desist order against Zappa, which ordered him to stop playing under the moniker of Zappa Plays Zappa, while simultaneously dropping Frank’s music from his live catalogue or face paying exorbitant fees.
“One of the things that they want to do to ‘protect the name,’ is to prevent the usages by others that will confuse the public, such as me,” said Zappa. “They want to make sure that I can’t use the name Zappa in my own name.”
Zappa since has fought legally against his siblings, hoping to rile against the “asinine” attempt to monetize his father’s name and music while also allowing him to be a registered trademark under the umbrella Zappa trademark. It would allow Zappa to receive the proper royalties and monetary funds that should be entrusted to himself.
The topic of establishing a crowdfunding effort in hopes to balance the legal fees was brought up by Zappa, which essentially would include various merchandise and events focused on Frank’s fans in hopes to defend the music. “At the end of the day, it can be a victory celebration and concert,” said Zappa.
In turn, Zappa has changed the name and face of his 2016 tour, opting for the title “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants!” The tour focuses heavily on the 50th anniversary celebration of Frank’s original record, “Freak Out!,” which will be highlighting the first half of the show. “The front half is a very fast paced, 60’s sounding part of the show and then it jumps forward to stuff from the 70’s and 80’s,” said Zappa.
Zappa will play the Warehouse in Fairfield on Oct. 28.