During a career that spanned more than three decades, exhalted composer, guitarist, visual artist, film director and general avant garde visionary Frank Zappa wrote and produced a multitude of songs. His music strode a squiggly line between jazz rock and experimental classical music, and there was nothing like it then, or now. A few years ago, Zappa's oldest son Dweezil went on the road, re-creating his father's original compositions. The Grammy-winning tour, which continues to be met with success, comes to Albuquerque this week. Dweezil told us about it in a telephone interview.
Can you explain this tour and the premise of Zappa Plays Zappa?
No! I can't believe you asked me that! [Laughs.] When people first heard about it back in ’06 I knew they were going to be skeptical and think, This is just another famous person's kid trying to cash in on their famous last name, and blah, blah, blah. But I knew that once people saw the band, all of that would go away. ... It's been a good thing and it's all based on the fact that it's a band that's playing Frank Zappa's music and respecting the intent within the music. What I mean by that is that we don't change anything and say, This is how we do it and let's draw attention to ourselves and show you what we can do with Frank Zappa's music. We don't go up there and reharmonize, or rearrange, or change notes, or add sections that don't exist like some other people do.
Who taught you how to play guitar?
I listened to a lot of records and I pretty much taught myself on an utter didactic kind of program. But I did have the fortuitous opportunities to learn a few things here and there from some great, well-known players including Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and, of course, my dad.
What's your favorite Zappa album?
There are so many great ones, and it just depends on what kind of mood you're in. At the moment I was listening to one of his classical records called The Yellow Shark.
Do you carry your dad’s anti-censorship torch—are you involved in any of that?
I don't really get involved in anything political these days. And it's not that I don't agree with the concepts and things my father spent a lot of time talking about; I just don't get involved on the level he did because it's not up to me to try to uphold all the things he did as a person. I'm doing that to a degree within his music, but I'm not trying to go out there and replace my father or pretend to be him. So I avoid those kinds of things because I don't see it as necessary to assert myself in that way.
What's the best Christmas gift you've received?
For the past several years I just tell people not to get me anything, so I have to think back. Christmas used to be really cool between 7 and 10. If anything springs to mind it’s the mid-'70s. There was all of this Japanese animation and Japanese toys—things that were really shockingly new and different in America. So there was a transformer-style doll that was pretty big—as in tall—called Raydeen. And that was the coolest thing. When I got that I was like, Yeeees. Very few people will probably remember that, but for those that got Raydeen they'll be pretty psyched.