Dweezil Zappa to perform music of Frank Zappa at F.M. Kirby Center in WB
Frank Zappa created a musical legacy that still entertains and challenges listeners nearly a quarter century after his passing. Spanning across the genres of jazz, rock and classical, Zappa’s music seems to actively reject those types of classifications and rest simply in it’s own, unique milieu.
But, to twist a phrase attributed to one of Zappa’s musical inspirations, early 20th century French composer Edgar Varese, this musician’s compositions refuse to die. And making sure that it stays that way is Frank’s son Dweezil. For over 10 years now, Dweezil has been touring the world, performing his father’s works for fans old and new, keeping the music alive.
The tour’s current incarnation, the “Cease and Desist Tour,” will arrive at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre at 8 p.m. on Thursday. At 3 p.m. that day, Dweezil will be presenting a guitar master class at the downtown theater.
Naturally, Dweezil has spent his life around Frank’s music. But growing up, that environment came with a slightly strange cost.
“I was really only exposed to the music my dad was writing or rehearsing or listening to from his record collection. I really didn’t know anything about pop music until I was 12 when I started to hear the radio,” Dweezil, now 47, recalls. “At that point, I was a little confused because it was so simple. I was thinking to myself ‘Where’s the rest of it? Why aren’t people doing more stuff? Where are all the other instruments? Why is there no improvisational-sounding interludes?’”
Dweezil soon found himself drifting to the guitar-heavy rock of the early 1980s. It would greatly inform his own guitar playing and song writing, as is evident on his first two albums “Havin’ A Bad Day” (1986) and “My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama” (1988). Both releases were recorded and released while he was still a teenager. Although both records featured musicians from Frank’s band, Dweezil was more intent on striking out in his own musical direction than in following in his father’s artistic footsteps.
“When I started making my own music early on, I was never really concerned about people comparing me to my dad’s music, because the stuff I was doing didn’t sound like my dad’s music,” Dweezil states. “I wasn’t conscious of saying anything like ‘I will never do anything like my dad.’ I was just inspired by a lot of the rock stuff I was hearing, guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhodes and Jimmy Page.”
But when he decided to begin touring Frank’s music, Dweezil discovered that he had to change his entire approach to playing the guitar.
“I had to really listen to my dad’s music and learn it in a way that I had previously never been able to do,” he explains. “I had to completely change my guitar playing style and techniques. The way I physically played changed dramatically. And in doing so, it has brought me to a different place as a songwriter and composer, because I had a whole new set of skills.”
Frank released 62 albums during his lifetime with another 47 being released posthumously.
While many of those albums contained live versions of songs previously released as studio recordings, Frank wrote a songbook of several hundred works from which Dweezil can draw for setlists during his shows. And, as is often the case with a prolific artist like Frank, a concert program is not going to contain every audience member’s favorite song. But for Dweezil, the focus is on exploring and presenting facets of Frank’s music.
“The balance of the show comes from selecting an era we’re going to focus on,” Dweezil says. “This year, what we’re focusing on in maybe the first 45 minutes of the show is all from the early years of the Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention era. There’s a lot of stuff from (Frank’s first album) ‘Freak Out!’ (1966) and moving on past that.”
Another way that Dweezil continues to keep his father’s music alive is through the semi-annual music camps he hosts in which musicians of all ages join him for a week-long intensive dive into Frank’s work. It also allows the campers to perform alongside the musicians in Dweezil’s touring band and in smaller combos made up of other campers.
For Dweezil, the ultimate aim of the camp is to not just open the musicians up to the intricacies of his father’s work, but to inspire them in their own musical journeys.
“I can create the opportunity to accelerate people’s own creativity and excitement about their own abilities,” he said. “A lot of times you learn an instrument, you reach a plateau, and you find yourself feeling like you don’t know if you want to continue or the process is very slow to get re-inspired. So a camp like this is a good opportunity to catch people at a point where they need some guidance getting to the next level of fun and creativity.”
IF YOU GO
What: Dweezil Zappa: 50 Years of Frank
Where: F.M. Kirby Center, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Additional information: At 3 p.m. Thursday, Zappa will teach a guitar master class at the F.M. Kirby Center. Tickets for his 8 p.m. performance $22.50 to $68.50 and are available at the Kirby Center box office, online at kirbycenter.org and by phone at 570-826-1100. The master class costs $75 to attend, and tickets are available through the same outlets.