Frank Zappa was just a normal dad
Frank Zappa was just a normal dad, says his son Dweezil.
The 43-year-old musician, who tours with a band that seeks to keep the maestro’s music alive, admits unusual events were commonplace in the Zappa household – but the youngsters didn’t realise they were unusual.
In Classic Rock No.178, on sale now, Dweezil tells Mick Wall about his childhood as part of an in-depth feature about his father.
When your name is Dweezil, your elder sister’s name is Moon and your dad’s name is Frank Zappa, one might fairly assume one’s upbringing was a tad unusual.
Not so, however, says Dweezil, now aged 43. As he points out, “To us kids it just seemed like the most normal way of life you can imagine.”
What, even when your babysitter is Miss Pamela, the self-styled “zany nanny” who says she “never really thought of Moon and Dweezil as children anyway”, and is dancing half-naked around the breakfast table with Keith Moon?
“Well, yeah. But then my mom and dad never really treated us like little kids anyway. They really encouraged us to be ourselves, didn’t really make any rules for us to follow. We called them Frank and Gail.”
Nevertheless, it was his mum’s good looks that landed him a job as a teenage VJ on the fledgling MTV – and his dad’s razor-sharp wit that got him fired from the gig after badmouthing the station on Howard Stern’s radio show.
Dweezil also inherited his father’s talent for playing guitar, along with a great deal of his taste in music. “We always had music on in the house, growing up, but it was never the radio or from watching TV. It was always my father’s music,
most often classical or jazz.”
Wasn’t that a little challenging for a kid? “No – like I say, to us it was normal. When I finally got to hear Top 40 music at high school, I liked it but I could never understand why it ended so quickly. All these three-minute Top 40 songs, even when they had great guitar playing, I’d think they were just getting going when they’d suddenly stop. I was always waiting for the next section to kick in.”
The first serious break from his father’s music came when Dweezil fell in love with the playing of Eddie Van Halen. “He was my real guitar hero. My dad thought he was pretty cool too. Up to a point…”
There were eventually Dweezil solo albums – notably, My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama, which brought him to the UK for his first gigs in the late 80s – and guest appearances on a number of weird and wacky releases by other artists (not especially notable but definitely odd, playing guitar on Winger’s version of Purple Haze), plus various cameos on film and TV (hey, who remembers Ajax Duckman from the Duckman series? Just saying…).
Since 2006 Dweezil has fronted Zappa Plays Zappa, a revolving-door group of musical high-flyers – including Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio and Ray White – that tours the world playing highly accomplished selections from some of Zappa senior’s 100-plus albums.
“It’s not a tribute band but a genuine project to keep that music alive,” he explains. “We don’t just play the obvious stuff. When I first came up with the idea, I decided I should sit down and listen at least once to every single track my father ever recorded. It took me three weeks.”
Buy the print edition from all good newsagents or direct from here: