Dweezil Zappa

Dweezil Zappa Enchants Audience With ‘Stories Beyond The Spotlight’ In Napa

Dweezil Zappa is an unusual name to say the least, but in some circles, it’s a household word. Such was the case in a small cabaret in Napa last weekend when the eldest son of Frank Zappa greeted an expectant audience, many of whom identify as “Others of Intention,” at a 125-seat venue with an affable, “Thanks for coming, everybody. I had no idea something like this was even going to take place.”

No wonder. Zappa’s been pretty much on the road since the Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F*ck He Wants: The Cease and Desist Tour launched at Red Rocks in Colorado last year. When “The Dweez” isn’t touring with that band, he’s on the road with Experience Hendrix. If that weren’t enough to keep him busy, the 47-year-old guitar maestro also hosts a master music camp called Dweezilla.

By the time Dweezil Zappa’s Stories Behind the Spotlight started at 7 p.m., Napa residents were more than ready to enjoy an evening of musical intellect and behind-the-scenes Zappa family anecdotes accompanied by (wait for it) no rain. Much of the month of February found the Bay Area besieged by deluge after deluge. Mudslides, downed trees, widespread power outages, and impassable roadways were in the process of being repaired when Dweezil and his delightful spouse, Megan, arrived from Reno by way of Oakland.

The overall demeanor of the small crowd at Silo’s was eager, inquisitive, and up for a laugh. Many noted thoughtful questions on cards in anticipation of the Q&A portion of the evening event. Dweezil strode from the green room (which is not green) to the stage as applause and “Purple Haze” filled the room.

KRVR 105.5 FM radio host Roman Guzman moderated the event wherein the most talented progeny of 21st century composer Frank Zappa recounted childhood stories, answered personal questions, and generally endeared himself to attendees. For two hours, Dweezil related tales of growing up in the Zappa home and explained complex guitar concepts while canoodling a red Gibson SG “50th Anniversary” guitar and Vox amp prudently placed on stage by local Napa musician and luthier Robert Sherman of Robert Sherman Guitars.

After a moment of banter regarding filtered water and feedback, Dweezil grinned and answered the question he said was most likely to be asked:

How’d he get that name?

“The name itself was a nickname -this is the legend- for my mom’s baby toe. I don’t know if it was the right foot or the left foot. In any case, this name existed. There’s even tapes that were in the vault of things that he was recording and intended to create a project called Dweezil. But then I got the name in 1969.”

Well, almost. As the story unfolded, Zappa explained that although the hospital staff looked the other way as far as Frank listing his religion as “musician” on the birth certificate, there was no way they were going to stand for a name like Dweezil.

“The problem with the name at the time was that the people who ran the hospital, the nurses and all that stuff, when they saw the name chosen was Dweezil, they said ‘oh no! No, this can’t happen here. It’s not allowed.”

Hospital staffers told Frank and Gail Zappa they could not see their newborn until they provided him with a “proper name,” so “Frank just wrote down names of other people that were in the band.” Thus, Frank Zappa’s first son’s first legal name was actually Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa. Dweezil revealed that he had the other names “surgically removed” and talked about embracing his decidedly rare name.

“I was in a shoe store when I about five. There was another kid in the store, and he was kind of a bully. He came up to me and he had on his new shoes and thought he was a bad ass, ya know. And he says ‘what’s your name?’ I said Dweezil. He said, “Pfft. That’s a stupid name.” I said whats your name, –he said “Buns.” So I saw that my name was far superior to his.”

Dweezil Zappa plays red Gibson SG in Napa
[Image courtesy of Napa luthier Robert Sherman / private collection]

Zappa’s Sunday night storytelling show at Silo’s Nightclub was the second in a series of intimate events dubbed Stories Beyond the Spotlight. The first Silo’s storytelling event featured legendary bassist Tony Levin. On March 19, West Coast rock ‘n’ roller Greg Kihn is slated to share his stories with the cabaret crowd.

Brotherly brouhaha

Although the Q&A portion of the evening revolved mostly around Zappa history, music mastery, and guitar technique, the subject of a copyright crusade currently being mounted by Ahmet Zappa in the name of the “Zappa Family Trust” was broached. Although reticent to say too much due to the pending legal status of the copyright issue, Dweezil revealed that the ZFT is not working in the best interest of all four Zappa progeny.

Because of the way Gail Zappa worded her will, majority control of the trust is in the hands of Ahmet and Diva Zappa. Instead of revising copyright rules laid down by their notably erratic mother, Ahmet uses his position at the ZFT to lord it over his elder siblings. As explained by The Trust Advisor newsletter, this could be construed by some as a “straightforward case of protecting the trademarks from pirates.” Scott Martin elaborated:

“The music is notoriously difficult. Dweezil is one of the few people on the planet who can even attempt some of these arrangements with anything near Frank’s aplomb. And since Dweezil was actively paying license fees and playing the songs, all the trustees may have bought here is a whole lot of tension and reduced cash flow for the estate they all share.”

As Dweezil explained to the attentive audience in Napa, Ahmet Zappa seeks to bar him from performing or merchandising with his own surname at the same time that he and the youngest Zappa sister, Diva, want to outright own the Zappa name to market things like yoga pants, beer, and marijuana edibles. Ironically, Diva’s first Zappa-themed yoga pants featured an image of a Frank Zappa album titled We’re Only In It For the Money.

Who are the brand police?

Dweezil’s show band performed to enraptured audiences around the globe as Zappa Plays Zappa for more than a decade, and paid hefty licensing fees to do so. In 2016, due to copyright issues with the so-called Zappa Family Trust, Dweezil changed the band name to Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa. For inexplicable reasons, the ZFT still objected to any use of the name “Frank Zappa,” even by the only son with the chops to perform the Zappa catalog. In lieu of kowtowing to the despotic demands of Ahmet and the ZFT, Dweezil amended the musical moniker to Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F*ck He Wants and hit the road with the critically acclaimed Cease and Desist Tour.

Currently, Dweezil is slated to perform with Experience Hendrix throughout the month of March. Shortly after that tour concludes, he’ll pack up his axe and first-class band and continue the 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F*ck He Wants: The Cease and Desist Tour that winds up in Norway in October.

Random reporter and Mrs. Zappa sporting Cease and Desist tour shirts at Dweezil's storytelling event in Napa
Not-so-random reporter and Mrs. Zappa in Napa [Image by KP Cleaver/private collection]

The Others of Intention

Having a notable name is no guarantee of riches, especially when your younger siblings make it difficult to perform under your own name. With this in mind, The Others of Intention campaign was conceived. Hosted at PledgeMusic, the limited time crowdfunding campaign offers new music, outstanding merch, and honorable mentions to contributors who support Dweezil in his righteous quest to honor the name and music of his father, Frank Zappa.

With less than two weeks to go, The Others of Intention campaign has reached 97 percent of its crowdfunding goal.

“I’m focused on the music I’m making with your help! Your pledges help me to continue to honor him and our shared last name. Are you ready and willing to become one of the ‘Others Of Intention’ by pledging to my campaign?”

[Featured Image by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images]

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