Dweezil Zappa grew up wanting to play guitar like Eddie Van Halen.
This was a common desire for young guitarists listening to the radio circa 1982. But most of them were not the son of one of the most inventive and influential rock musicians of all time – Frank Zappa.
“When I was getting into guitar most of the solos I heard were pre-composed, and very rarely were they ever 100 percent improvised, like my dad’s were,” said Zappa, 44. “Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhoads (of Ozzy Osbourne’s band) had really appealing sounds, and that’s what I wanted to sound like. So when I started playing my dad’s stuff I had to learn a whole new vocabulary, a whole new way of thinking about the guitar.”
Zappa’s own search to understand his father’s guitar methodology resulted in his “Zappa Plays Zappa” shows, which he’s been doing off and on for about eight years. On Friday night he’ll bring his “Zappa Plays Zappa” show to Portland’s State Theatre. On Friday afternoon he’ll share his knowledge of his father’s style with guitarists during a master class at the theater, for $75 a person.
So people can find out a few things about how Frank Zappa came up with some licks during “Joe’s Garage” or “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow” or some other tune, and then maybe hear Dweezil Zappa perform the same song later on.
Zappa began doing these master classes around the country last year, while touring. The classes are a traveling extension of a music camp in California he started a few years ago called “Dweezilla.”
“I just got so many questions from people, about all the different parts (in Frank Zappa’s songs) so I decided it would be good to create an environment where I could show people what I do,” said Zappa.
Zappa said that in the classes he talks about how his father looked at playing, and at the guitar physically, in a different way from most musicians. Part of the class, for instance, is about how to visualize the neck of the guitar in a different way.
“It’s about using notes in a different way, re-sequencing notes to make music right away,” said Zappa.
Frank Zappa looked at everything a little differently, including naming his children. The name Dweezil was just one of several on Dweezil Zappa’s birth certificate – Ian, Calvin and Euclid were some of the others – but Dweezil was the one he liked best and he’s stuck with it. To understand the way Frank Zappa made music, one has to understand his own background in music, said his son. Frank Zappa, who died in 1993 at the age of 52, grew up wanting to write and perform classical music. He studied classical music at his local libraries, and was composing pieces as a youngster. He sent pieces to conservatories hoping to get someone to play them.
“But he couldn’t get anyone to play his music so he formed his own rock band to play his compositions,” said Zappa.
Throughout his life Frank Zappa tried to produce classical music with orchestras, often paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire orchestras to record his work. At the same time, he became a rock music and counterculture icon, creating a huge and diverse resume of songs spanning from the psychedelic days of the mid-’60s into the disco and techno era of the 1980s.
His music featured studio-generated sound collages and lots of improvisation, and he inspired generations of musicians with his creativity and innovation.
“He had this whole vocabulary he used to spontaneously compose music, and I needed to actually learn a lot about that before I could play his music,” said Zappa. “It’s about rhythmic ideas and a very different approach.”
And now that Zappa is teaching master classes, it’s an approach that is no longer just a family secret.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:[email protected]Twitter: RayRouthier