“A lot of times people sort of make requests and say, 'oh, you should play this song, you should do this album', but 'Hot Rats' is one that we’ve played a few of the songs over the years, but we’ve never played all of them, all in sequence.
“And it just seemed to make the most sense that, on such an auspicious occasion of it being 50 years old and still so ahead of its time, why not highlight it?”
'Hot Rats' was Frank's first recording project following the dissolution of his band The Mothers Of Invention, and helped establish himself as a composer and guitarist.
The six-track album, described by Frank as 'a movie for your ears', is a pivotal instalment in the evolution of jazz fusion and progressive rock styles, seamlessly blending odd time signatures and balancing structural composition with unrestrained free-form improvisation.
Discussing how best to translate his father's work from record to live stage, he says it's about balancing his father's original intentions with his own approach to how he interprets the music. “The thing about it is, there is enough stuff on the record that has structure to it,” explains.
“Then there’s enough structure to what the improvisational sections are supposed to be in terms of straight form, but the ability to then have your own voice and improvise on top of it, and have it be in context to the music, that’s what I always take into consideration when I’m playing my dad’s music.
“So for example, the song ‘Son Of Mr Green Genes', that has a six or seven-minute guitar solo on it, but what he played is so pivotal and so specific in the song that I decided to learn that solo note for note, and I just play it as he played it or as close as I can make it sound to exactly what he played.”
scenestr SA cover Feb 2020
'Hot Rats' is an almost entirely instrumental album, with just one track featuring vocals, 'Willie The Pimp', sung by former member of Mothers Of Invention, Captain Beefheart. Even without an abundance of vocals on the album, 'Hot Rats' remains a favoured selection among Zappa fans and aficionados.
“It’s one of the records that always top the list of fan favourites, even though it has only one vocal song on it,” Dweezil says.
“Typically, people respond more to vocal-oriented music than straight-up instrumental, but there’s something about the sound quality of the album and the material on it.
“If you relate it to an audio movie, there’s a lot of feelings of tension and release that happened with it, and you can tell the moments that are in free-form improvisation and you can tell the moments that have the total structure.”
It can't be easy to walk in the shadow of someone like Frank Zappa, a bona fide musical genius who uprooted established conventions and forever altered the stale perceptions people had about what rock music could be. Yet, Dweezil has carved himself an outstanding and accomplished career of his own that stands well apart from that of his father.
Unlike many children of celebrities, Dweezil spent much of his early life away from the notorious fame his father courted as a celebrated madman of music.
His father's position did, however, afford him access to some guitar mentors that suburban shredders in their bedrooms could only daydream about. One of those guitar mentors was one Edward Van Halen, who also performed on and produced the first single Dweezil recorded 'My Mother Is A Space Cadet' when he was just 12 years old.
“At the time there was no MTV, there was no internet, there wasn’t any way for you to see musicians like those that you mentioned up close,” Dweezil explains.
“You didn’t know what their voices sound like, you never saw them interacting with people; you only either saw them live on stage or in a photograph from the album cover or liner notes.
“And so it heightened the experience that much more to be able to have this experience where we had a random phone call come to the house from a guy saying it was Eddie Van Halen. Turns out it was Eddie Van Halen, and then 20 minutes later he was at the house.”
If not Eddie Van Halen, Dweezil also had the assistance of the guitarist in Frank Zappa's band, a young Steve Vai, who taught him fundamental knowledge of guitar technique as well as scales.
Together, it all made for a full and comprehensive musical education that's served him loyally over the years performing his father's music as well as his own original compositions.
Though he may have inherited a legacy, Dweezil Zappa is no mere scion. As he prepares for his Australian jaunt, Dweezil says audiences here will be privy to hearing one of the greatest albums of all time written by one of the greatest musicians of all time, performed live by what he considers the best band line-ups he's had the pleasure of working with.
“This is the best version of the band I have ever had,” he says. “The musicians are able to tackle the hardest instrumental passages and cover a limitless range of vocals.”
Dweezil Zappa plays Bluesfest (Byron Bay), which runs 9-13 April.
Dweezil Zappa 2020 Tour Dates
Thu 9 Apr - The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane) Sun 12 Apr - Enmore Theatre (Sydney) Mon 13 Apr - Croxton Bandroom (Melbourne) Wed 15 Apr - The Gov (Adelaide) Fri 17 Apr - Astor Theatre (Perth)