Six years ago, Dweezil Zappa put together Zappa Plays Zappa, a full band project that meticulously replicates his late father Frank's intensely complex music. He listened to every one of his dad's albums (no easy task, since he released almost 100 of them) and learned to play the songs just like Frank played them. "We want to create a show that gives a good balance of the iconic things that make my father's music stand out," says Zappa. "It's an opportunity to reeducate the audience, because they go into it thinking of 'Valley Girl' and 'Dancin' Fool' and 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow.' They think of it as novelty music. That's not the best way to think about it." The current Zappa Plays Zappa show covers music from most of Frank's various periods. Dweezil helpfully talked us through some of the songs they're playing onstage.
We do the arrangements from the Weasels Ripped My Flesh album. We do it the way just like it is on the record, even though there are so many different versions that were played.
"Let's Make the Water Turn Black"
We're doing the instrumental. We have played it with vocals, but we're doing an instrumental arrangement that has a cool distorted saxophone sound to it. The one we're doing is from the album Ahead of Their Time.
"Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance"
There are several versions of this song, but the one we're doing is the middle-'70s live arrangement that was from the FZ:OZ record. It has a bit of a reggae feel.
"You Didn't Try to Call Me"
This originally was more of a doo-wop kinda song. This version is more of a combination of gospel and rock. It's from the record Philly '76, and that's the arrangement we're doing. It's actually an older song that first came out around 1967, but [Frank] rearranged it a completely different way three or four times. And this was one of the last rearranged versions.
"Hungry Freaks, Daddy"
We do the freak-out version of this. Back when they recorded it, there were no distorted amplifiers made at that time. The way people would get distortion is that they would take the console channels and overload them until you got distortion. It had this raspy square way of getting distortion. To recreate that guitar sound and have reverb in the right texture was a bit of a challenge, but those are the details we look at.
This is, of course, a fan favorite. How many other people have a song about dental floss? It has this great musical interlude passage that has some tricky polyrhythms, and you have to sing along with it. It's really not for for the faint of heart. Almost nobody can sing the part.
"The Black Page"
This is a really difficult instrumental. It was originally written as a drum solo but then had a melody attached late. It appeared on several records, and the version we do is from the Live in New York album.
"The Orange County Lumber Truck"
We've never played this song before. We're playing the version from the Ahead of Their Time record. It has a cool spacey jam section at the end of it. It'll be a fun one to explore.
It takes a regular blues progression and turns it on its ear. There are tricky little bits and music cues in there. It's a funny story about one of those guys trying to take all your money by convincing you that you're getting spiritual enlightenment, just because he has a turban on. We're doing the album version. There are different versions where the cues change and different segments get inserted. This is a classic that we pay respect to and do the original way.
"Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy"
It has some great vocal harmonies in it. It's kind of a folklore song that Frank wrote about being on the road and things that happened on the road. It first showed up on Bongo Fury, and that's the version we do.
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