What’s in a name? In the midst of a titanic family feud, the answer is ‘everything.’
Frank Zappa fans were thrilled beyond belief back in 2006 when son Dweezil, who had already established himself as a brilliant guitar player, decided to put together a band to honor his late father’s legacy. Thus Zappa Plays Zappa was born. The name was clear and concise, logically tweezed from the title of a superb FZ album released posthumously, Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa.
And for ten years, Zappa Plays Zappa brought tears to the eyes of the older fans as they watched Dweezil channel his dad on “Inca Roads” and dozens of other FZ staples, and it brought the wonderful world of FZ to those who never had the chance to see him live. The greatest compliment you could pay the Zappa Plays Zappa band is that Frank would have loved playing with them, and he was the toughest taskmaster. Period.
Zappa Plays Zappa will no longer be the name of this amazing band, however, as family politics have strained the relationships of the four siblings to the breaking point. Starting with the June tour, the band will be called Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa. On the one hand, that’s quite a mouthful. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s not big; it’s huge, seemingly unbridgeable. As Dweezil said, “It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but this is being done under duress.”
Ever since Frank’s passing in 1993, his wife, Gail, and the children established the Zappa Family Trust to manage all things Zappa. This allowed for a number of posthumous releases of music and the long-awaited video of the Roxy and Elsewhere recording (Roxy by Proxy).
The rift in the ZFT has been in the making for a long time. Most fans would be shocked to know that Gail charged Dweezil “an exorbitant fee” to use the name Zappa Plays Zappa. After Gail’s death, the family cleaved in two directions, with Ahmet and Diva on one side and Dweezil and Moon on the other. All four are beneficiaries, but only Ahmet and Diva are trustees of the estate.
The ‘trust’ (read: Ahmet) recently informed Dweezil that he could no longer use the name ZPZ and that each song performed under that name would warrant a $150,000 fine for copyright infringement. So the one man on the planet doing the most to keep his father’s music vibrant and alive was told to cease and desist.
As a result, a number of things will look differently on upcoming tours, starting with the one in June. Images of Frank will no longer be displayed, either at the show or on posters or online posts. Dweezil pointed out, “My last name is Zappa; my father was Frank Zappa. But I am not allowed to use the name on its own. I’m not allowed to use a picture of him. I’m not allowed to use my own connection with him without some sort of deal to be struck.”
Given the absurd restrictions and demands of ZFT, Dweezil sees all of this as an emancipation of sorts. One of the results of the feud is that Dweezil will no longer carry any of the family trust’s merchandise. That in itself is huge, because those CDs and DVDs and shirts and more have been consistent sellers at previous ZPZ shows. No mas, no mas.
The next issue was that Gail and the trust had attempted to seek more than the normal performing-rights licenses from those playing Frank’s music. They went after bands such as Project/Object, Bogus Pomp, Pojama People and numerous other groups, claiming “grand rights,” which means that the performance is viewed as a Broadway-type production. That would have required even greater fees, but ZFT was never able to make this claim successfully.
This exchange should tell you everything you need to know:
Ahmet: “Maybe he’s grieving. For all of us it’s been superemotional.”
Dweezil: “There is obvious deceit in my brother’s response. His actions speak louder than words.”
While it is indeed sad that the family of the most important musician of the rock era is a house divided, it seems unlikely that fans will be dissuaded or confused about who is on stage this summer. “I just hope people will understand that the only thing I’m changing is the name.”
Yes, Dweezil, we certainly do understand. And we are with you. All the way.
Frank must be rolling over in his grave.