Few modern musicians have pushed the musical envelope like Frank Zappa.
Perhaps best described as an inventive and avant garde composer, Zappa fused jazz, rock and manic percussion to create epic, mind-bending music with a twisted sense of humour.
Zappa, who succumbed to prostate cancer in 1993, released an incredible 62 albums in his 27-year recording career and the Zappa Family Trust have released 29 posthumous recordings since.
His rich musical legacy has been perpetuated by his oldest son Dweezil, who in 2006 formed the band Zappa Plays Zappa.
Dweezil formed a world-class band and set about learning and performing his father’s music in every minute detail.
This month the tribute act will return for their third Australian tour to play faithful renditions of Zappa’s work.
“Australia is one of my favourite places in the world,” Dweezil says from his Californian home.
“If I didn’t have strong family roots here I would want to move there.”
Dweezil feels that there is a continuing admiration for Zappa’s music in Australia.
“I think it’s always been really good down there,” Dweezil says.
“People in Australia are used to taking a risk – they like to travel, check things out and be a part of something communal like live music.
“People appreciate the human element and the effort that goes into that process.
“So Frank’s music is a natural fit.
“Even if they don’t know the music on an intimate level where they know the words to every song, I think there’s a lot of appreciation from Australian fans.”
Zappa Plays Zappa have travelled to Australia more than Frank did during his career.
“[Frank] went down [to Australia] two times in the mid-70s, but it wasn’t [financially] easy to take large bands on tours to Australia and the far east,” Dweezil says.
“So Frank didn’t make it to places where other contemporary acts of the time did go, because sometimes he’d have a 10 or 12 piece band.”
Zappa Plays Zappa is an eight-piece band and will perform at Newcastle Panthers on Sunday, April 8.
To Zappa fans who saw the group on their last Australian visit, Dweezil asserts that this tour will feature an entirely different set-list.
“For the duration of the project, since 2006, my effort has been to create a set-list that tries to balance well-known songs with things that are under-recognised,” Dweezil explains.
“The fans that really know the music don’t necessarily span the entire catalogue, so there’s going to be a few surprises on a nightly basis.
“We don’t approach this like a ‘greatest hits’ kind of thing.
“Stylistically we want people to know that there’s so much diversity and depth in Frank’s musical compositional style and that’s also required to perform the music authentically.
“The musicians have to have variety and depth within their abilities.
“In the early years of touring, my attention was focused on a lot of the stuff from the middle ‘70s, because that’s the stuff I grew up watching him make in the studio and watching him tour - as a little kid it had a massive impact on me.
“It was also his most prolific guitar years, so that was a natural fit.
“But this year my emphasis on the music is geared towards getting a little bit from each decade.
“We’ve tried to find some more obscure stuff from the ‘70s and some from the ‘80s.”
With the benefit of hindsight most music critics can agree that Zappa was ahead of his time.
“If you look at records like
“It’s so ahead of its time production-wise, compositionally – everything on those records sounds fresh and is very contemporary.
“There’s nothing on there where you think, ‘That had its day’.
“There’s songs on there like
“To hear those songs done like the record, recreating the wild distortion and at times complete chaos, it’s a fun thing to do and it’s a challenge to make it sound like it did.”
Though Dweezil is in his element while paying homage to his father, he is a songwriter and world-class guitarist in his own right.
Since 1982 the 42-year-old has released six solo albums and two records with his brother Ahmet Zappa.
Dweezil has slowly become more comfortable with allowing his own style to become a part of the Zappa Plays Zappa show.
“More and more my own style of playing is becoming recognisable on its own,” Dweezil says.
“Over the years I’ve tried to play in context to whatever the song requires, so stylistically, technique-wise and tonally, it will vary.
“I don’t think I’ve been a guitarist with a signature guitar-sound or style.
“But oddly enough in working on this music I’ve developed a couple of those characteristics.
“I have certain sounds that have become recognisable to my playing, but also a style that has emerged throughout this [project].
“Through learning Frank’s music my playing grew tremendously – technique-wise, harmonic concepts.
“I don’t do too many of Frank’s solos note-for-note – he had some pretty long solos and they’re really hard to memorise let alone play.
“But what I do try to do is learn as much of his vocabulary and use his style of phrasing to create guide posts throughout each solo and try to fill in the blanks with my own ideas.
“I don’t want there to be a jarring left turn when it comes time for a solo on a song that people are used to in Frank’s music.
“That’s the whole goal – when we present [the music] we want to present it in a way that is closest to how Frank wanted it heard on the recordings he put out.
“If we’re the conduit to somebody checking out the original recordings, they might as well get something that gives them a good idea of what they’re getting into.”
# Zappa Plays Zappa plays at Newcastle Panthers on Sunday, April 8.
Tickets are available through Ticktek.
The Mercury has three double passes to giveaway to the Newcastle show.
For your chance to win fill out the attached coupon and return it to the Mercury’s new office by noon next Wednesday.