For most kids, the idea of emulating their dad sounds about as appealing as having a tooth pulled — without the benefit of novocaine. But if your father was Frank Zappa, one of the most prolific musicians of all time, you might recognize that there’s a legacy to live up to. That’s the case with Dweezil Zappa, a man who’s spent most of his life in the shadows of his famous father.
Not that they played music together a lot. Growing up, he played onstage with his dad’s band a few times, and they’d only occasionally play at the house. Still, his dad’s music made an indelible impression on him and instilled a responsibility to introduce it to a new generation that might not have heard it when the elder Zappa — who died of prostate cancer in 1993 — was still alive. After his father’s death, Dweezil immersed himself in his dad’s music for two years, retooled his approach to playing guitar, put a band together, and rehearsed the material for two and a half months before taking the group out on the road.
“It was a huge challenge for me to try to learn to emulate his playing,” he says. “Our similarities are small as far as technique goes. He played in a way that was natural to him but totally unnatural to others. My technique is more fundamental. I have more of a heavy rock edge to my playing, and he had more of a legitimate old-school blues background. In the last ten years, I’ve adapted and learned to guide my playing based on my dad’s principles.”
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From the beginning, Zappa says he’s been on a mission to keep his father’s music — which jumps from rock to jazz to classical to areas that defy categorization — alive and relevant to the younger audiences that come to his concerts.
“I wanted a younger generation to discover that my father’s music is not nostalgia or novelty music,” he says. “It’s music from the future that is largely undiscovered and underappreciated. There is stuff in his catalog that is 50 years old and is still ahead of its time as far as songwriting and production goes. So it is very gratifying when people show their appreciation for our efforts. Like all of my dad’s music, there’s still nothing that sounds like it.”
Zappa Plays Zappa: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 10, at the Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $28. Visit ticketmaster.com.