For Those Of You Who Might Not Know
To celebrate 20 years of bringing you Zappa and related news via my Idiot Bastard website, I am writing an essay each month that provides answers to some of those questions no one asks. Yes, I am giving you 12 FUQs (Frequently Unasked Questions) in 2020!
#7: The Quiet Life of Dweezil Zappa
On 13 August 2019, Dweezil wrote a short blog on his
official website, mostly about his name. Since then, he’s turned 50, seen his
‘Hot Rats Live! + Other Hot Stuff Tour’ play dates in North America and Europe,
released a 2010 live version of Gumbo Variations, scheduled 2020 Hot Rats dates Down Under and at
European summer festivals (including Zappanale #31), had two of his band members
depart (only keyboardist Chris Norton was replaced – by three-time Emmy winner Kevin Bents, who has previously performed with
the likes of John Fogerty and Steely Dan; Chris left
to join the Cirque Du Soleil show Axel
as the permanent bandleader. Singer Cian Coey was ‘let go’, ostensibly due to financial
constraints), and saw the tour come to a crashing halt in March 2020 due to
Covid-19. But he hasn’t written about any of this in his official blog. He has
also seemingly deleted his personal Facebook account. While he has made a few
posts on his Twitter and Instagram pages (mostly about the tour, while it was
running), he’s been fairly quiet. And that seems to be the way he likes it.
Obviously I fully respect his privacy, but I thought it might be fun to compile a few of the lesser known facts about the Dweez – for those of you who might not know.
His father Frank of course produced his first solo album, Havin’ A Bad Day for Barking Pumpkin Records, in 1986. It featured his mother, brother, sisters and Bobcat Goldthwait on vocals, Chad Wackerman on drums, Scott Thunes on bass and, like many Queen albums, no one on synthesizers. The promo video for the single Let’s Talk About It featured cameos by FZ, and actors Robert Wagner, Don Johnson and Jane Fonda.
Around the same time, Dweezil made a number of guest appearances on other peoples’ records, including: The Last Sound Love Makes by Don Johnson; Jingo by Jellybean Benitez; a hip-hop cover of The Beatles’ Baby, You’re A Rich Man by The Fat Boys (for the 1987 film, Disorderlies); Sleep Won’t Come by Maria Vidal; a Grammy-nominated cover of Wipeout by Herbie Hancock (with Terry Bozzio) from the Back To The Beach OST (FZ won the award, for Jazz From Hell); and Hendrix’s Purple Haze by Winger.
When Dweezil was still a minor, model Katie Wagner – the daughter of the afore-mentioned Robert Wagner, who appears in a number of Dweezil’s promo videos (notably as Detective Dick Knowse in My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama and as Phfil Beasley – “a lounge singer, with a huge pompadour” – in Gotta Get To You) – acted as his legal guardian while he was filming his part in The Running Man (1987) with Arnold Schwarzenegger. They were dating at the time. He later squired a few actresses, including Molly Ringwald, Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Connelly, Demi Moore, Sandra Bullock and Sharon Stone.
His second solo album, My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama (1988), also featured Ahmet and Thunes, plus Bozzio on a few tracks. This was on a major label (Chrysalis Records), with a front cover image by famed portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. But Dweezil later told me, “I think I was just signed to ‘Syphilis’ so they could take a tax loss at the end of the year – they seriously did nothing. It was like living Spinal Tap.”
He continued to guest on
others’ records, like a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Under My Thumb by stand-up comedian Sam Kinison, He-Man Woman Hater by Extreme, Hey, Holmes! by The Vandals (on the
album Fear Of A Punk Planet (1990),
which also featured sister Moon and Thunes, plus the band’s then drummer Josh
Freese), and (a-ha!) Diva Fever from
Spinal Tap’s 1992 album, Break Like The
Wind. He also appeared on the OST of Bill
& Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) as a part of Power Tool (with the
Nelson twins) on Two Heads Are Better
Than One, starred with Moon in the short-lived sitcom Normal Life (1990), and provided the voice for the character Ajax
in the Klasky Csupo animated series Duckman
(1994-1997, which utilised some of FZ’s music
in its first 13 episodes, including a few Todd Yvega-produced Synclavier
renditions). In 1989, with Moon, he contributed the track (In Love) With You Gumby to Gumby
– The Green Album, a tribute to Art Clokey’s ‘claymation’ character.
Having severed his connection with Chrysalis, he released his third album, Confessions, in 1991. He also started touring with what was initially called The Dweezil Zappa Band (later “Z”) with Ahmet, Freese, Thunes and Mike Keneally.
Confessions was to have included a version of the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive with vocals by Ozzy Osbourne – until “Sharon or somebody at the record company decided they didn’t want Ozzy to be on it: they said you have to destroy that track and get rid of his vocal. So I put Donny Osmond on it instead!” A version with Ozzy was later issued on Osbourne’s Prince Of Darkness box set, but Freese and Thunes’ parts had been replaced, and Dweezil also added “a couple of different textures, to make it different from the original-original version.”
In November 1992, Ben Watson interviewed Dweezil and Ahmet in London for The Wire. The magazine rejected the interview (perhaps because Ahmet talked about the various ways he wanted to torture Lou Reed: it was clear from reading it that Dweezil was the McCartney to Ahmet’s Lennon), and so an edited version was later used in the British Zappa fanzine, T’Mershi Duween. In his book Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play, Watson reprints his letter to Gail the following year in which he sought to meet FZ. In it, he states that he wrote up the boys’ interview “in Dweezil’s fanzine Nos. 72 to 75”. In actual fact, Ben had sent the entire interview to me and asked if I had any ideas where it might be used. So ‘twas I who sent the thing to the Dweezil Zappa Fan Club Magazine, for which I was then writing a regular ‘From A to Z’ column. The editor (Cindy Zeuli) published it in three sections exactly as typed by Ben. But anyway, it worked and Watson got to get one of the last interviews with Frank. And do I get any credit in Poodle Play? Nah. But I digress.
As “Z” evolved, Freese
would be replaced by Keneally’s friend and eventual
Vaultmeister, Joe Travers, and Dweezil would later fire Thunes and replace him
with another of MK’s pals, Bryan Beller. Two “Z” albums would ensue: Shampoohorn
(1994) and Music For
Pets (1996), the latter appearing in different US and French versions, plus
there was a Bone-Us CD of outtakes
and a live promo single (My Beef Mailbox
b/w Purple Guitar) given away in
On this album, Keneally and Beller were churlishly listed and depicted as two dogs called Bing Jang and Arkansas, in retribution for their departure from “Z”. (They would however reunite with Dweezil several years later when he was preparing for Zappa Plays Zappa: Keneally helped Dweezil practice a few pieces, while Beller was the band’s original bassist but never actually made it out on the road: dates scheduled for 2005 with special guests Flo & Eddie had to be scrapped, and then both he and Ahmet bailed).
In concert, “Z” famously performed The Medley, which comprised a plethora of popular hits from the 70s. A version was eventually issued, as Z 70’s Medley NYC 1995, on the download-only album Demos And Rarities, put together as one of the rewards for Dweezil’s 2015 crowd-funded album Via Zammata’ (2015).
Guest appearances would
continue, with Pat Boone on his 1997 In a
Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy album (DZ plays on a cover of Deep
Purple’s Smoke On The Water), on a
cover of Peaches En Regalia recorded
live at The Roxy by Dixie Dregs (released in 2000) and “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Poodle Hat (2003), for which DZ performs
the opening guitar solo on Genius In
France, a song that attempts to emulate Frank’s music.
From 1998 to 2004, Dweezil dated musician Lisa Loeb, and produced/co-wrote and played on a number of songs on her albums Cake And Pie, Hello Lisa (both 2002) and The Way It Really Is (2004). They toured together in 2004 playing material from these albums, alongside covers of Van Halen’s Eruption, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven and an FZ medley. As well as Loeb, Dweezil and Travers, the band for this tour comprised Mark Meadows (bass) and Matt Beck (keyboards & guitar). The couple also taped two interesting covers together, firstly REO Speedwagon’s Keep On Loving You for VH1’s Hard Rock Live TV show, then Goodbye To Romance on the Ozzy Osbourne tribute album Bat Head Soup (2000).
Dweezil has been involved in a number of cover tracks for various – mostly Billy Sherwood-produced – compilation albums, including Little Guitars: A Tribute To Van Halen (2000); Stone Cold Queen (2001); Pigs And Pyramids: An All Star Lineup Performing The Songs Of Pink Floyd (2002 – on Run Like Hell, with Aynsley Dunbar on drums); Todd Rundgren & His Friends (2002); The Ultimate Tribute To Led Zeppelin (2007 – on Stairway To Heaven, with Vinnie Colaiuta on drums); Abbey Road – A Tribute To The Beatles (2009); and An All-Star Salute To Christmas (2009 – on Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime). Most of these tracks have been regurgitated by Purple Pyramid/Cleopatra Records and appear on other compilations too.
2000 saw Dweezil issue his first solo album since Confessions, with the release of Automatic. The album included a number of outtakes from “Z” days and thus featured Keneally, Thunes, Beller, Freese and Bozzio. The same year, he also contributed two tracks to Ready To Rumble (Music From And Inspired By The Motion Picture), including a cover of Britney Spears’ ...Baby One More Time, with brother Ahmet handling the vocals.
In the early noughties, Dweezil provided a number of ‘production music’ tracks to Extreme Music, which could be licensed and used in film, television, radio and other media. Some of these were recycled for his own 2006 solo release, Go With What You Know (eg. Dreamweave became Electrocoustic Matter and Double Bomb turned into Thunder Pimp) and one (Bad Intensions) was used on the soundtrack of the film Gracie (2007).
In a similar vein, Dweezil appeared alongside Nile Rodgers on Conker: Live & Reloaded (2005) – a video game soundtrack.
In September 2005, Dweezil married fashion stylist Lauren Knudsen. They had two daughters: Zola Frank Zappa (born 2006) and Ceylon Indira Zappa (born 2008), whom he describes as his ‘proudest accomplishments’. Knudsen though filed for divorce in 2010, citing irreconcilable differences. In March 2012, with the divorce case still unresolved, DZ’s former lawyer made a public issue of his unpaid legal bills. Then, a few months later, Knudsen was reportedly ordered to pay a lump sum settlement to Dweezil, ending further claims in their divorce. That same year, he married his current wife, former flight attendant Megan Marsicano. Together they live in LA with Zola and Ceylon, plus Megan’s daughter Mia. In 2014, they appeared in ABC TV’s Celebrity Wife Swap.
In 2007, Guitar Centers in the US made available the first in a series of Fresh Cuts CDs, which predominantly feature tracks by the company’s employees. Volume 1 included Magic Carolina credited to Dweezil (actually, it is an otherwise unavailable elsewhere live recording of Magic Fingers and Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy by ZPZ).
In 2011, Dweezil issued a homage to his father’s Shut Up ‘N Play Yer Guitar album, the 2CD Live – ‘In The Moment’ set.
In 2012, he released another double CD limited edition set comprising two releases: F.O.H. One and F.O.H. Two. This was swiftly followed by F.O.H. 3 – Out Of Obscurity.
In 2018, he released Live In The Moment II, which he confusingly described in his liner notes as “volume II of my F.O.H. Series”. It seems he is far more concerned about the intricacies of playing guitar and married life than such piffling details (indeed, in 2017 – during the trademark battle with his younger siblings – DZ gave an oral deposition in which he appeared confused about precisely when his parents passed away).
After Frank’s passing, his widow Gail revealed he had told her he did not want anyone else to perform his signature guitar compositions Black Napkins, Zoot Allures and Watermelon In Easter Hay. Dweezil has since played all three of these ‘sacred’ songs, finally debuting Watermelon at ZPZ’s New York Halloween show in 2013 – where his mother reportedly walked out.
In May the following
year – 16 months before she passed – Gail decided to divvy up the Trust so that
her two youngest children got a 30% each controlling share.
In 2018, Dweezil made yet another guest guitar appearance – this time on Spinal Tap bassist Derek Albion Smalls’ album Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing). DZ plays on the track MRI. Also in 2018, he belatedly placed Confessions in the digital marketplace. He was unable to locate the original artwork files, so used a modern day picture for the front cover (as well as expanding its title to Confessions Of A Deprived Youth).
© 2020 The Idiot Bastard
Photo of DZ in his Holiday Inn hotel room on May 8, 1991,
taken by the Idiot Bastard.
Some of the quotes used in this essay have been extracted from the three interviews I conducted with Dweezil (in 1991, 2012 and 2015); you can read the full transcripts of these in my book, Frank Talk: The Inside Stories of Zappa’s Other People (Wymer UK, 2017).