February , 2014
By Michael Insuaste
Dweezil Zappa: The Son Of The Mother Of Invention
Gearing Up For The Experience Hendrix Tour 2014
Photos Courtesy of Dweezil Zappa's Facebook
Born in the late sixties at a time when America was being liberated by rock music, drugs and the freedom of love, the second offspring of fame musician Frank Zappa, know to some, unknown to many, 44 year old Dweezil Zappa has lead quite a musical career toting around the name Zappa with a variety of accomplishments that would make any famed parent proud. His diverse selection of projects include working with The Fat Boys, Spinal Tap to sixties teen idol Pat Boone, Dweezil has kept his mind and opportunities open that has landed him in places he himself can now reflect on.
Dweezil took the time to speak with JAM as he gets on board, once again, on the 2014 Experience Hendrix Tour. Musician, teacher, V-jay and occasional actor, Dweezil has worn many hats throughout his young life with the legacy and name of his late great father Frank Zappa firmly stuffed in his guitar case, he remains grounded and in comfortable shoes.
Dweezil Zappa - Hi Michael, Dweezil Zappa calling.
JAM: Hey man, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Where are you?
I'm in York, Pennsylvania, on my own tour, I was just finishing a guitar class. Before every show, before sound-check around 3 o-clock, I teach guitar lessons to around 38 students.
JAM: Cool, a bit different... do you enjoy that?
Yeah, it's fun to do because when you teach stuff you learn things yourself in a different way and it's good to share that information too, so other people can enjoy things and break free from bad habits.
JAM: How did you get the invite to join the 2014 Experience Hendrix Tour?
Well, I did it the last time and it was nice to get the invite to come back and as a guitar player it's fun to play with all these guitar players you hear all the time like Zakk Wylde, Eric Johnson... all these people who are on the tour that you get to hear them a little out of context playing Hendrix music. It's like a summer camp for guitar players.
JAM: Having Zakk Wylde throws a harder edge, too me, he doesn't seem like a right fit. But I am looking forward to seeing him on this tour.
I know him and his playing, he is a very proficient player who is really inspired by Jimi Hendrix. I don't know if he is going to go out there and try to play exactly like Jimi, or in the same style, probably going to do his own thing with it, but the tour encourages that and as a rule, which is different on what I do with my dad's music when we do the Zappa Plays Zappa thing. We very strictly inhere to how the music was composed and try to recreate the same sound from those eras. So I take the same approach when I learn the Hendrix stuff, I want to play it as Jimi played it, without trying to do my own thing. I want to respect the music for what it is.
JAM: Who are you scheduled to play with on this tour. Do they have that detailed out?
I think I have one song I do with Billy Cox and a couple that I do with Eric Johnson. Eric and I have played before on the Hendrix tour and he has also played with me on my own shows, Zappa Plays Zappa tour. He is one of my favorites.
JAM: Your father, Frank Zappa, lived through the Jimi Hendrix Experience days, any memories you can share that he might have told you about?
Well, I know that they were friends and they would hang out, we have some film footage of Jimi coming to say hi to Frank when Frank was playing the Royal Albert Hall. There is no audio but you can see them laughing about something. There are some stories that I have heard over the years how Frank actually introduced Jimi to the Wha Wah Petal, since Frank had one and said "You should check this out you will really like this." And Jimi obviously did like it and did quite a bit with it.
JAM: Reading the Experience Hendrix Bio, it states your father listed your religion as "Musician" on your birth certificate, when exactly or to the best of your recollection, can you remember taking the guitar seriously?
I have always liked the sound of the guitar, always watch my dad play guitar as a kid, but it wasn't until I was 12 that I picked it up with any real intent to say "I want to get to know how to use it" and my dad's music was quite an inspiration but I knew his music was so hard that I was going to have to learn some other stuff first. That is really what I did first before I am doing what I do now that is playing his music, I learned all kinds of other technique, then focus heavily on learning his stuff, which lead me to a whole other style of learning to play guitar, a whole other approach.
JAM: Going back to those days, those early, early pre-teens, you must have gone through your fathers record collection. Can you recall anything that he liked or stuck out?
The thing about is, I didn't hear any other music other than his own music, that he was writing or working on until I was around 12. Occasionally I hear some things that he was casually listening to, but he was always working on his own music, so the things I did hear him listen to were like Stockhausen, Stravinsky and Breves... stuff like that and occasional strange ethnic music like Arabian, Bulgarian women's choir these kind of things. When I would hear the radio, I heard regular music that was out there, I thought "where's the rest of it" where are the other instruments, where are the weird rhythms. All I was use to is hearing all this sophisticated and different kind of stuff and when I would hear the basic stuff and would say, uhh, there's not enough here to keep my interest. But there was a lot of traditional things that everybody likes, including Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and Randy Rhoads playing with Ozzy Osbourne, but I always like hearing all the other things too.
JAM: How many guitars do you own? And do you have a favorite that you are taking on this tour?
I don't have that many, I use to have more but I sold a lot of stuff, if it would sit in a case and wasn't used for four years it most likely would not get anymore use, so I pretty much only have about 10 or 11 guitars that are the main guitars that I use.
JAM: Would that be the same for your dad. Did he have a small collection of guitars that he used?
Yeah, over the years some stuff got stolen, but ultimately his main active guitars were about 13, 14 guitars
JAM: You have a long list of accomplishments under your guitar strap, since 1982 you have released solo projects and have appeared on many albums, various movies with a diverse group of musicians from Spinal Tap to Pat Boone, how do you decide what projects to take on and what to pass on?
I think there are so many opportunities in life to learn different perspectives and to be open, so my dad had a quote "Your mind doesn't work unless it's open, your mind is like a parachute." So I am pretty much gamed for trying something new as long as it seems like it would be a worthwhile venture. That's pretty much my approach to things.
JAM: What has been your most difficult struggle in your musical career?
I think the process of learning my dad's music played a challenge. I had to take more than 25 years of guitar playing, skill and habits and basically start with a clean slate. I had to dissolve a new approach and a new set of technique, change my picking and really change how I looked at the intranet in a different mental approach as well. That was a two year process. I had to design from the ground up on how I actually operated the instrument. Most people wouldn't take that step, too time consuming, too many hours of tedious practice. It ultimately benefited me because I can do things on guitar now that I would have never been able to or conceive of 20 years ago.
JAM: Being the son of one of the great guitar players of the rock generation, did you feel the pressure of meeting up to an expectation carrying the name Zappa?
A lot of people wonder about that kind of stuff, I'm a big fan of my dad's work so when it came to me playing his music many people said "Would you be afraid of putting yourself in direct comparison" and I really wasn't because I knew to play the music and play it well, would demonstrate that I was serious about it and with direct comparison comes this other sense that people view my playing on a different level and have become more interested in my playing, then before they would say "Oh, the son of a famous guy, who cares about that" now they have that direct comparison and see something they are interested in and say "Oh, if he can do that, lets see what else he can do," that's sort of what it turned into. I wasn't really concerned either way cause I knew that what we were doing comprise with Frank's music.
JAM: What are some of your future projects?
I am working on setting up one of my music camps Dweezilla Guitar School thing in Los Angeles in October and then Zappa Plays Zappa tour in the fall an that's all an on going thing.