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John Lamb, Published December 05 2012

Weekend Watch: Dweezil Zappa keeps father Frank’s music alive

FARGO – Most kids find a colorful way to defy their parents’ authority and for many it involves playing music their folks can’t stand.

That was a problem for Dweezil Zappa as his father Frank was known for his wide-ranging body work.

“For me to rebel against my parents, I would’ve had to become an accountant or a lawyer,” says the oldest son of the late musician. “That would’ve been really bad for me.”

Instead of revolting against his father, he fol-lowed in his footsteps and now even his fingering. Since 2006 Dweezil has toured, performing his father’s music.

He brings the show, Zap-pa Plays Zappa, to the Fargo Theatre tonight.

An accomplished musi-cian on his own, with six solo albums and guest appearances with not only his dad, but Winger, Ex-treme and Spinal Tap, the son likes the challenge of playing his father’s compo-sitions as well as keeping the music alive.

After nearly 40 years of performing, touring and recording an influential and unpredictable mix of rock, jazz and experimen-tally-inspired music, Frank Zappa died in his home surrounded by family on Dec. 4, 1993 after a three-year bout with prostate cancer. The following day there was a private burial and the day after that, nineteen years ago today, his family announced his death in a statement that read, “Composer Frank Zappa left for his final tour just before 6 pm on Satur-day.”

While his voice was si-lenced, his music finds new fans.

“Give people a chance to experience music where music speaks for itself,” he explains. “A lot of people have some idea of Frank’s music based on some things that may have been written about him or casu-al exposure to something that may have gotten on the radio. The stuff of his that got on the radio is not reflective of the majority of his work. So if you only know ‘Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow,’ ‘Valley Girl’ or ‘Dancing Fool,’ and you think you know what Frank Zappa’s music is all about, it’s really not fair to say that that’s accurate.”

He acknowledges that his father was most popular for his lighter tracks, but that really he was a serious composer. As a result, in the first years of touring Zappa Plays Zappa, he avoided playing the more humorous tunes.

“A lot of people only think of his music as novel-ty music as opposed to a modern composer who used a rock band as an orchestra. There’s so much more to the music than comedy music,” Dweezil says.

Over the years, different tours have focused on different albums. The cur-rent jaunt is what Dweezil calls a decades tour, with works from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s and will be the first time the band has played notable numbers like “Moggio” and “Strictly Genteel,” his father’s fa-vorite compositions.

Fargoan Gordy Richard-son, saw Frank Zappa eight times and is looking forward to seeing Zappa Plays Zappa for the third time tonight.

“The people that don’t understand his music have heard some of his shocking lyrics and are turned off by that,” Richardson says.

Dweezil says most of the current set focuses only on the music by playing in-strumental pieces. Rich-ardson believes this is a good introduction to a wide-ranging artist’s work.

“What they’ll find is the songs, are complex, but still melodic with a mix of everything from jazz to doo-wop, avant garde to blues,” he says. “He created his own style of music.”

Richardson is impressed with Dweezil’s playing and calls the son, “A chip off the old block.”

Dweezil not only grew up in a musical house, but it was either his father’s original tunes or the music he was studying - every-thing from jazz to Bulgari-an women’s choir – that the son was raised on.

“I always appreciated it. Right from the beginning,” he recalls. “That was what I heard until I was 12.”

After that, he started lis-tening to popular rock, like the Beatles, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

He and his father would take turns playing tracks for each other and sometimes Frank would help Dweezil figure out songs, like Randy Rhoads’ guitar work on Ozzy Osbourne’s “Blizzard of Ozz.”

Dweezil recalls how his friend Warren DeMartini, best known as the lead guitarist in 1980s hard rock band Ratt, would come over and talk to Frank, who started using metal guitar picks after hearing what the younger shredder was doing with them.

“Little influences come around,” he says.

And he wants his father’s music to come around to new fans.

“When I would see shows with my dad as a kid, I was always impressed with how the band was able to play a variety of music and knowing one person wrote that variety of music was really impressive to me,” he says. “I hope that we can convey that to people and inspire them to dig deeper and learn more about the music or even learn how to play some of the music.”

If you go

What: Zappa Plays Zappa

When: 8 tonight

Where: Fargo Theatre, 314 Broadway

Info: Tickets are Tickets are $39.50 and $62.50. (866) 300-8300.


Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533