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Dweezil Zappa - City Winery, Chicago, 7/7/2017

  by Lisa Torem

published: 12 / 8 / 2017

Dweezil Zappa - City Winery, Chicago, 7/7/2017


American guitarist and educator Dweezil Zappa entertains fans at City Winery Chicago with delightful stories about his father, formative career and more, using his red SG for effect.

A native Angelino in the year of 1969, Dweezil Zappa is the son of American composer Frank Zappa and Gail Zappa. While he received his first guitar at six, he wouldn’t comprehend its parameters until six years later, at which time he devoted many hours to practice. At twelve, he also joined his father’s band at the Hammersmith Odeon, and recorded ‘My Mother is a Space Cadet’. Perhaps the first time he understood his father’s celebrity was when he picked up the phone and heard a voice alleging to be Eddie Van Halen. “In my mind, he’s backlit with a smoke machine,” Dweezil recalls. Twenty minutes later, the rocker actually appeared at the door, looking to jam with Frank. He played ‘Eruption’ and the introduction to ‘Mean Streets’. That fateful meeting foreshadowed future collaborations between the two musicians. A member of Frank’s band, guitarist, Steve Vai, proved to be another important mentor and guitar teacher. Dweezil eventually developed an astounding ability to imitate complicated instrumental phrases by ear, and to eventually create his own unique approach to instrumental storytelling. But at his sold out City Winery Chicago appearance, Dweezil told actual stories about his technique, formative years, being the son of a legend, and made references to a bitter family battle that threatens Dweezil’s right to use his given name (which heavily impinged on his ability to use the 'Zappa Plays Zappa' moniker.) He was introduced by the moderator as, “The man with the name…” The event was well-attended and interactive, as it included shout outs from the audience after a well-paced, formal discussion. When Dweezil first appeared onstage, he admitted, “This is a new experience for me. Maybe a speed round will be necessary.” He jokingly talked about officials at the hospital of his birth questioning his unusual name. His father’s take on the incident? “It’s the last name that will get you in trouble.” Dweezil painted an evocative picture of his father as a stand-up guy who fought for his kid’s rights, and a creative genius. He claimed, “It was not uncommon for him to work a 17-hour day; he liked to work the back end of the clock,” but who was often clueless in everyday matters. The Zappa composition ;The Dangerous Kitchen' (The Man From Utopia, 1983) was based, according to Dweezil, on the chaos that occurred routinely when his parents undertook the simplest household tasks: “This kitchen was his kryptonite,” Dweezil mused. “My mother used to feed the cats on the kitchen counter.” When asked about other celebrity sightings, Dweezil mentioned the time that a famous troubadour asked Frank to produce one of his records. This led to a humorous anecdote about their family pooch. “Doggess liked everyone but Bob Dylan,” he chuckled. Dweezil’s home life was not as surreal as people think, he confided, but he did get exposed to a great deal of music, as opposed to his more sheltered peers. As far as censorship in the Zappa home? “I never got shielded from the music. If you’re just listening to it, you get to make your own decisions about what it is.” Dweezil went on to discuss Scandinavian concerts where his audiences chanted allegedly suggestive lyrics; which took the pressure off his father as a performer. And even when lyrics were under the gun, his father’s audiences paid little heed. “They danced to ‘Bobby Brown’ (Sheik Yerbouti, 1979) in Norway,” Dweezil shared, hinting that whether the lyrics were considered risqué or not, it really didn’t much matter — everyone had fun. Dweezil also talked about musicians that dissed his father and “the weirdest things” he’s ever been asked to sign. In one instance a fan said, “I want you to sign my face. I’m going to get a tattoo.” Dweezil looked out at the crowd, knowingly, and shook his head. And the time that his career got put into an anachronistic perspective? When pop band, One Direction, attracted 15,000 screaming fans outside a hotel where Dweezil and his wife were staying due to his own concert appearance. A few fans approached them to inquire: “Could you pretend to be our parents? Can you take us into the hotel?” Dweezil appeared in the John Hughes film, 'Pretty in Pink'. He touched on his decision to leave the thespian life: “The whole world of acting is based on extreme narcissm,” but waxed poetic about his favourite performance halls: The Royal Albert in London and the Montreux in Switzerland, where he had the rare opportunity to play ‘Smoke on the Water’ with Deep Purple years later. To the delight of the fans, Dweezil also pulled out his electric, red “SG” and played an excerpt from ‘Watermelon in Easter Hay’ (Joe’s Garage, 1979). “The sound is what gives it all the emotion. I go to great lengths to make sounds that are as evocative as possible.” Dweezil was visibly moved by the sound he created and the positive audience reaction. “Even playing that part of it is gut wrenching for me,” he confided. He used this casual platform to elaborate on his father’s skills. “He had this endless vocabulary to draw from. You could spend a lifetime trying to create such variety.” He went on to describe a particularly intricate phrase as “the battle between the chicken and the spider,” and further declared, “I use his phrases as guideposts — my dad developed his own voice early on.” Dweezil admits that he remains in a state of wonderment when it comes to his father’s legacy. “Wait a minute. What kind of sorcery is going on?” he stated, after a display of “a contrary motion kind-of-thing,” and then concluding, “It was this chromatic thing, but it didn’t sound chromatic.” But despite the reverence he feels for Frank Zappa’s repertoire, Dweezil retains his own principles. “Developing your own voice on an instrument is the ultimate goal,” he insisted midway through the discussion, directing his comment to a couple of young girls and parents, interested in his storied career path. And perhaps to satiate their curiosity, he also humbly added, “I feel like I’m always going to be a student of the guitar; I’m always learning new things.” To offset that futuristic comment, he also gave a nod to the vintage past, reminiscing about pig nose amps and the early making of exploratory music. To that end, he demonstrated three “annoying” sounds and then magically fused them together to illustrate the theme of a popular American TV program. Along those same lines, Dweezil played an atonal version of another popular American standard. And to respond to the practical query, “Can you ever have too many guitars and pedals?” a bemused Dweezil replied, “When you have too many, you use what you have and get more.” When the theme turned to politics, Dweezil refused to get flustered. When asked about the one song he would recommend for the current administration, he suggested: David Bowie’s ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’. He also talked about the vision of his music camp, Dweezilla: “We give people a chance to play in an ensemble,” he clarified. He went on to talk about the principle behind forming the camp, and how he strongly feels the participants benefit from the annual celebration. Although Dweezil had a Nashville event to attend later that night, he good naturedly stuck around for a considerable amount of time after the Q & A to field more questions and sign records and ticket stubs, after disclosing another heartfelt bit of advice: “Always play with people that love what they do.” Photos by Philamonjaro www.philamonjaro.com

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Dweezil Zappa - City Winery, Chicago, 7/7/2017

Dweezil Zappa - City Winery, Chicago, 7/7/2017

Dweezil Zappa - City Winery, Chicago, 7/7/2017

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