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For the past decade, Dweezil Zappa has been playing the music of his late father, Frank Zappa.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of "Freak Out!," the seminal debut album by The Mothers of Invention that was fronted by the elder Zappa, and Dweezil Zappa has crafted a show that highlights several songs from the album.
"This time around is a bit special because of the anniversary," Zappa said.
He is bringing his tour, Cease and Desist: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F- He Wants, to Salt Lake City on Thursday.
The "Freak Out!" playbook can offer big challenges for live performances, including the song "It Can't Happen Here." But Zappa has found a way to perform it onstage, despite the varying tape speeds and multiple layers of vocals and music that his father dubbed over each other to create the original song in the studio.
"When you listen to that song now, you wonder, 'How did you come up with this and why?' " Zappa said. "It's just a crazy, crazy song, and it was never performed with the studio arrangement live. But we've played it a few times now, and it's a really fun and ridiculous piece of music."
Zappa works hard to stay true to his father's music. He has studied Frank Zappa's improvisational style to learn what he might have done during a guitar solo, but the younger Zappa also brings his own sensibility to those moments.
"I see how he built his solos and then filter it through my own tendencies, and that creates a hybrid of the two different styles," Zappa said. "I like to try to feel like I'm playing in the context of my dad's music and not taking a complete left turn in my improvisation. I love my dad's improvisational vocabulary, and [my performance] needs to be in that authentic realm."
While Zappa sees his father's music as a tribute to his memory, it hasn't been without controversy. The tour originally was called Zappa Plays Zappa, but the name changed after threatened litigation from the Zappa Family Trust. His mother, Gail, previously ran the trust. After she died, control went to his brother, Ahmet, and sister Diva. The siblings have been feuding over rights to the music and, more pressing, what percentage of the merchandise sales should go to whom. No litigation has been filed, but Zappa's new tour name pokes fun at the several cease-and-desist letters he says he's received.
"This has always been a labor of love for me, and playing the music is the important part of the equation here," Zappa said. "For it to keep going is what the people want."
Regardless of the feuding, Zappa is looking forward to playing in Salt Lake City once again.
"One of the curious things about when we come through there is how young the audience is. We love to see that, and they're very enthusiastic about the songs," Zappa said. "But, on the surface, you wouldn't expect that from Utah."
50 Years of Frank
Dweezil Zappa is marking the 50th anniversary of "Freak Out!," the seminal debut album by The Mothers of Invention that was fronted by his father, the legendary Frank Zappa.
When • Thursday, Oct. 6 , 8 p.m.
Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple (at The Gateway), Salt Lake City
Tickets • $23 in advance, $28 at the door, available at smithstix.com and all Smith's Tix outlets