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Dweezil Zappa

Son of the late, great FRANK ZAPPA and his second wife Gail, Dweezil was born Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa on September 5, 1969 in Los Angeles, California; the hospital refused to register the name Dweezil, so Frank opted to “rabbit-hat” the names of his band. At the age of around 5, he persuaded his parents to legally change and adopt his “Dweezil” nickname to his real name through the hiring of an attorney.
Surprisingly not at first inspired by his father’s avant-jazz guitar playing style and his un-PC er… antics, DZ cloned himself on two other hair-metal rock gods, Eddie Van Halen and STEVE VAI. At the age of 13, his dad’s Barking Pumpkin imprint (having just scored a Top 40 smash with `Valley Girl’ featuring older daughter Moon Unit), thought it time for Dweezil to branch out in the family business via a single, `My Mother Is A Space Cadet’. From guesting on two tracks on his dad’s 1984 epic `Them Or Us’ set, the child prodigy came of age with his debut long-player, HAVIN’ A BAD DAY (1986) {*5}; released outside America on Chrysalis Records a year later. With dual songwriting credits for his bassist/sidekick Scott Thunes (a stalwart of his dad’s solo band from 1980) and sister Moon Unit, the record showcased Dweezil’s guitar prowess – the same couldn’t be said for his vocals; groomed for stardom like some JULIAN LENNON kid, the looker got work as an MTV VJ and bit-parts in films, Pretty In Pink (as Simon) and Running Man (as Stevie).
Procuring the name of one of his father’s most infamous songs, Dweezil’s sophomore set MY GUITAR WANTS TO KILL YOUR MAMA… (1988) {*6} fared a little better critically, although it was clear the “rich-boy” teenager was finding it hard to capitalize on his dad’s fame; apart from three song contributions including the title track; it must be said that FZ always took a back seat apart from the odd bit of guidance and encouragement. His talented family were always on hand, none more so when Moon Unit and Dweezil starred in their own prime-time TV sit-com, Normal Life, from March 1990.
Released from his Chrysalis contract, Dweezil and backer/producer Nuno Bettencourt (of EXTREME) worked his next solo venture, CONFESSIONS (1991) {*5}. A double-set, it was clearly stuck in the 80s somewhere, although the determined Dweezil ploughed further afield via covers of The BEE GEES’ `Stayin’ Alive’ (featuring DONNY OSMOND), The BEATLES’ `Anytime At All’ and soulful platters `Bad Girl’, `Helpless’ and `Pain Of Love’. But for the VAI/SATRIANI-like instrumentals, `Shoogagoogagunga’ and `Obviously Influenced By The Devil’, plus a VAN HALEN homage `Gotta Get To You’, this might’ve fared worse on the musical Richter scale. Sadly, the passing of their eclectic father, Frank (in December 1993),
With irrepressible younger brother Ahmet as conspirator (he guested on his previous set), Dweezil kept the family connection as Z on two neo-prog-styled sets, SHAMPOOHORN (1993/4) {*5} and MUSIC FOR PETS (1996) {*5}; but the token VAN HALEN mimicry continued.
Back on the solo trail, with former FZ alumni behind him, Dweezil finally delivered his fourth solo set, AUTOMATIC (2000) {*4}, but there was little here to dig out but for the man guitar virtuoso; covers of Mort Stevens’ `Hawaii Five-0’, Bizet’s back-to-back `Habanera’ and `Les Toreadors’ felt somewhat amiss next to book-enders `Fwakstension’ and `Purple Guitar’, the latter featuring Mike Keneally, Joe Travers and new boy Bryan Beller (Scott Thunes, Terry Bozzio and his lady at the time, LISA LOEB, were in tow on other tracks).
Married in September 2005 to fashion stylist Lauren Knudsen, domestic life seemed to take hold as daughters (Zola and Ceylon) were subsequently born. Highlighting a re-tread of his dad’s `Peaches En Regalia’, his comeback of sorts GO WITH WHAT YOU KNOW (2006) {*4} was the usual run-of-the-mill instrumental hard-rock.
But then out of the blue, alongside former members of his father’s solo entourage (Napoleon Murphy Brock, Terry Bozzio and STEVE VAI as guests on late 2006 shows), he fronted tribute-type outfit ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA; the main band consisted of Jamie Kime (guitar/vocals), Pete Griffin (bass/vocals), Aaron Arntz (keyboards and trumpet), Sheila Gonzalez (sax/flute/etc), Joe Travers (drums) and Billy Hulting (percussion, etc.). Since 2008, there have been a string of mighty double-CD packages delivered, the eponymous ZAPPA PLAYS ZAPPA (2008) {*7}, RETURN OF THE SON OF… (2010) {*6}, LIVE – IN THE MOMENT (2011) {*5}, the 2-volume F.O.H. (2012) {*5} and F.O.H. III: OUT OF OBSCURITY (2012) {*5} – his father would be proud. Divorced in 2010, Dweezil married Megan Marsicano in April 2012.
Coincidentally, in the same month in 2015 that his mother Gail sadly passed away (leaving him and Moon 20% each of their father Frank’s family trust), DWEEZIL ZAPPA returned to the fold with a studio set of original tracks, VIA ZAMMATA’ {*6}. The record encompassed many aspects of his previous styles (hard rock, instrumental jazz and pop), whilst the weirdest turns came via `Malkovich’ (in honour of actor John), opener `Funky 15’ and `Dragon Master’.
Remarkably, 2016 saw the guitarist told off by siblings Ahmet and Diva (both on a controlling 30% share) to “cease-and-desist” from performing their late father’s music on stage. As a result of the rift, subsequent tours were billed as “Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever The F@%k He Wants”. Stronger and determined to get his act together – so to speak – and continuing on from a concert set several years back, the guitarist and his band(s) self-released LIVE IN THE MOMENT II (2018) {*6}. In the words of his dad: “Zoot Allures”.
© MC Strong/MCS Dec2012-Jun2019

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