Dweezil Zappa has held many jobs—MTV VJ, a sitcom and voice-over actor, sideman to the likes of Winger and "Weird Al" Yankovic, Spinal Tap and Pat Boone. Between 1982 and 2006, he and his guitar led a band through a half-dozen albums of his own music.
But for the past eight years, his family name has become his most steady income. In Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil Zappa preserves the musical unorthodoxy of his late father, Frank Zappa, through an incessantly touring, obsessively detailed tribute. The shows are complete with era-specific guitar tones, guest appearances from the elder Zappa's former bandmates, and pre-show guitar clinics for the most dedicated Zappa fans.
As Dweezil readies yet another leg of touring, he discussed his father's influence and strange guitar approach, his own contributions, and how Zappa Plays Zappa is meant to preserve the spirit of his father's music, not just the sound.
His music is so inspiring to me. I want people to be able to experience it in a way that introduces it into their lives. The music itself is timeless. There's nothing needed to modernize it, other than to put it in context to someone's life in this day and age. [His legacy] is not something I dwell on. Ultimately, that's not a motivating factor, to create the history of a legacy. The music speaks for itself.
Novelties are things that are quickly forgotten, so I don't really associate this music with novelty. The issue that comes up is, if you have a sense of humor, people assume that you don't take what you do seriously or that your work shouldn't be taken seriously. People aren't open-minded enough to appreciate all the different levels and complexity that can exist in music. My dad's music is that kind of music; it lives on many levels at the same time.
There's nothing wrong with being funny. The problem comes when people decide that's the only thing they get from the music, and they ignore the rest. If you think that you know my dad's music because you've heard some of the songs that have funny stories or funny lyrics, that's just the tip of the iceberg. He made over 80 albums in his lifetime, so there's a lot more to it than that. The depth and variety is there. When we perform it, we try to emphasize that.
In this day and age, people tend to not want to work real hard for things, but to become a virtuoso requires a passion for creating the ultimate level of skill. And once that skill is achieved, there's really no boundary as to what you can create. Some people might think that technique takes over for virtuosos, and that it becomes less understandable for mere mortals, but I have a great appreciation for anybody who's excellent at what they do.
So many people that we'd meet after shows were asking, "How did you guys learn all this stuff?" and "How long did it take for you to do this?" It's akin to having a lobotomy and then training for the Olympics. It was a two-and-a-half- or three-year transformation. I literally took 30 years of guitar playing, threw it out the window and changed my whole technique and approach to guitar—physically and mentally.
The guitar class is always fun. I'm going to be doing more teaching in some online lessons and DVD lessons. There were some things that really clicked for me, and I thought, "Well, these would definitely help other people if they wanted to utilize some of these techniques." I took complicated ideas and distilled them into simple, small ideas that could be connected. I teach some things about fretboard visualization and phrase groupings, but I teach in a way that it doesn't matter what your level of skill is, or what your familiarity is with music theory. This stuff can be applied right this moment, can help people right away.
Anybody that has a different perspective, it's really a sign of intelligence. The people that can adapt to new ideas are the ones who are going to succeed. They're the people that are mavericks, the forefront, the trailblazer type of people. My dad was one of those sorts of people where, 40 years later, you're still going, "Wow! Nobody has done that or taken that same path."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Are you hung up?."