Peek inside Frank Zappa’s vaults, part 3

By  Will Romano

Dweezil Zappa has picked up his father's musical legacy with the band Zappa Plays Zappa.

Dweezil Zappa has picked up his father’s musical legacy with the band Zappa Plays Zappa.
Protect and Serve

Despite what has already been unearthed from the Vault, some fans have been waiting with bated breath for certain Holy Grail items to emerge (ie. concert film footage of the 1973 Roxy and elsewhere shows, immortalized by the appropriately titled 1974 live record Roxy & Elsewhere). But pleasing rabid fans isn’t always easy. Travers says that the Roxy project, in particular, has been delayed due to the quality of the footage and the cost and time involved in getting it street ready.

Yet, the hard, cold facts of why the Vault has not released this footage (and other material) don’t seem to deter hard-core Zappaheads from being overly suspicious and skeptical of posthumous Zappa records. (Check out some of the comments on at your own risk.)

“At least it has toned down,” Gail admits. “… It used to be really, really vicious, but now it seems [fans] are just talking about … what their preferences are.”

Still, one expects fans to voice their opinions of posthumous projects, even in some way tolerate it as going with the territory. Yet, it’s quite another thing for some fans/critics to get downright personal and nasty. Gail, due to her self-imposed position as Zappa legacy policewoman, has caught a lot of heat.

“… My job is to, first, protect Frank’s identity as an artist,” says Gail. “Everybody wants to reinvent everybody in [his/her] own way.  … I don’t want people putting words into Frank’s mouth or intentions where they don’t exist for reasons that are not applicable. Basically, that is what I do. My day job is to pepper … [to be] the original Sgt. Pepper, policewoman. …  To protect the … integrity of the work and serve the intent of the composer.”

Honoring his father’s music in his own way, son and guitarist Dweezil fronts the band Zappa Plays Zappa (ZPZ), which performs a wide range of compositions from Frank’s career.  “… I totally believe in this, and [the fact] that [Zappa’s music] can be performed by … people who have their heart and soul in it,” says Gail. “Right now we are lucky to have Ray [White, guitarist/vocalist and Zappa band alumnus] with Zappa Plays Zappa, because his voice, if anything, has gotten so much better. It is unbelievable. … [To] see a guy that age go out there and sing like that is just crazy.”

Within the Zappa Family Trust solar system, it seems ZPZ is one of, if not the only, officially sanctioned “tribute” touring bands performing the composer’s music. (The Zappa Plays Zappa explicitly reads: “Accept No Substitutes.”)

André Cholmondeley, whose band Project Object ( also performs Zappa’s music, has been at odds with Gail over rights to take his show on the road. Cholmondeley states that a Project Object gig in November 2008 was canceled because of pressure applied to the venue by the Zappa family. This sort of “annoyance” is an infrequent occurrence, says Cholmondeley, and not all venues comply with the Zappa family’s wishes. But last-minute scratches are always a possibility.

“Basically, as long as a club has their ASCAP/BMI dues paid, anyone can do covers of anyone else’s material any day of the week,” says Cholmondeley.

Yet, Gail has often said that such musical projects are a kind of affront to the intellectual property laws that she considers dear in her fight to uphold her husband’s musical legacy. “… If you think the government is slacking off in some areas, believe me, the copyright office is no exception,” says Gail. “The problem is that if you show me a government anywhere in the world that doesn’t respect copyrights, I’ll show you a fascist state. That is the … real backbone for why I fight the fight that I do. … I can’t make exceptions because somebody likes something or think they are clever enough to steal it  …”

Stay tuned for part 4 (the final installment) of our look inside Frank Zappa’s vaults!

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