As a young guitarist, Dweezil Zappa had the chance to play on stage with one of the most innovative and creative rock guitarists ever.

His father, Frank Zappa.

But at the time, young Dweezil really didn’t get what his father was doing. In his teenage mind, he wanted to be fronting an ’80s hair-metal band, not re-inventing and reforming guitar-driven rock like his old man.

“The stuff I was most motivated to learn how to play was stuff by Van Halen or (Ozzy Osbourne guitarist) Randy Rhoads,” said Zappa, 41.

“That stuff was top of the heap, selling tons of records. It had a level of difficulty all its own. But pretty soon you had everyone wanting to be as good as possible, and pretty soon technique overtook everything, and it all sort of imploded. Then the response to that was grunge, where it became popular to play like you didn’t know what the hell you were doing.”

But through all the changes and fads in guitar rock over the past 45 years, the music of Frank Zappa, who died in 1993, has remained unique and fresh.

That’s a big reason Dweezil is using his own musical career to help keep his father’s music in the public mind.

He’ll bring his “Zappa Plays Zappa” tour to Portland’s State Theatre tonight.

He started doing the “Zappa Plays Zappa” tours a few years ago because he worried that younger audiences weren’t having a chance to fully appreciate his father’s music.

“I had this feeling that Frank’s music was under appreciated and misunderstood,” he said. “If you asked people under 30 what they know about Frank Zappa, they’d say ‘Who’s that?’

“I didn’t want it to fade away. I wanted people to experience the music themselves live, and realize that it’s not nostalgic music from the ’60s. Some of Frank’s music is 40 years old or more, but still ahead of its time.”

Dweezil has been playing music professionally since he was a teenager. He played on some of his father’s recordings and has recorded several solo recordings as well.

He stopped playing guitar for a while in the late 1990s, when he felt that innovation and skill were becoming attributes not desired in guitar players.

“It was like being a craftsman who knows how to do all this ornate building, but you’re out of work because everybody wants pre-fab,” he said.

Frank Zappa, who had been inspired by avant-garde composers and many genres of music, burst onto the scene in the mid-1960s with his band The Mothers of Invention. His songs used a conventional rock format, but could be filled with lots of improvisation and sound collages.

Although Frank Zappa wasn’t a hit maker in the traditional sense, works like his rock opera “Joe’s Garage” were played often on radio. One of his more satirical songs, the disco spoof “Dancin’ Fool,” was nominated for a Grammy.

The elder Zappa influenced countless musicians. After his death, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and given the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dweezil spent about two years studying his father’s music in preparation for his first “Zappa Plays Zappa” tour, about five years ago.

“I was playing six to eight hours a day, really training,” he said. “With Frank’s music being such a challenge, it’s like training for the Olympics.”

On some of his tours, Dweezil has used musicians that have played with his father. But he wants to use a variety of musicians, including younger ones, so people don’t think of this as a nostalgia tour.

Dweezil is an avid golfer, and played a lot of golf during the years he didn’t play guitar. He says that golfing helped him, in a way, prepare for “Zappa Plays Zappa.”

“It’s a solitary confinement kind of thing, where you focus on one particular thing you want to execute as perfectly as possible. (Playing his father’s music) is the equivalent of re-learning how to walk,” he said.

“My dad described his playing as making air sculptures. Most guitarists are like, ‘Here’s my bag of tricks.’ But Frank didn’t do that. He reacted in the moment.”

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]