Zappa Family Bars Dweezil from Using ‘Zappa Plays Zappa’ Name

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PHOTO: Gary Miller | Getty Images

When Dweezil Zappa takes his long-running Zappa Plays Zappa tribute project on the road this summer, it will be under a new name: Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.

As the guitarist notes, “It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.”

Zappa Plays Zappa has paid tribute to Frank Zappa for 10 years with virtuoso performances of the composer and guitarist’s remarkable and complex music. It’s toured the world and earned a Grammy.

But now, it’s getting a new name. As the New York Times reported this past week, the Zappa Family Trust, which owns the rights to Frank’s music, told Dweezil this past April that he does not have permission to tour as Zappa Plays Zappa. The name is trademarked by the trust, and he can be fined $150,000 for copyright infringement each he plays a song without permission.

“My last name is Zappa; my father was Frank Zappa,” Dweezil tells the Times. “But I am not allowed to use the name on its own.”

To make the matter more galling, the orders are coming from within Dweezil’s own family. Since the death last year of Zappa’s widow, Gail, the trust has been controlled by Zappa’s children Ahmet and Diva. Dweezil and his sister Moon are not trustees, though all the children are beneficiaries.

Ahmet has said he’s not engaging in a fight with Dweezil or barring him from playing their father’s music, only maintaining the integrity of the late composer’s estate.

But it sounds like a feud to hear Dweezil talk about it. The dispute goes back years and includes a set of Frank’s guitars that Dweezil said were given to him by his father and “repossessed” by his mother. In addition, Dweezil says that Gail charged him an “exorbitant fee” to use the Zappa Plays Zappa name.

Also under dispute is the licensing of Frank’s music. The family trust says live performances that consist largely of Frank’s music can’t rely on standard performing-rights licenses but instead require special permission, known as “grand rights,” from the estate. The term is typically applied to theatrical performances. The Zappa Family Trust has gone after several Frank Zappa tribute acts on the contention that they are theatrical performances rather than the more typical concert show.

Dweezil says he has never paid for a grand rights license to perform his father’s music, though he may be required to in the future.

The in-fighting reveals another side of the Zappa family, which has appeared to be close over the years. Dweezil and Moon have recorded together, as have Dweezil and Ahmet. The two men made two albums together and performed regularly on TV. These days they communicate mostly through lawyers.

As for Dweezil, he’ll launch Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa in July, performing his father’s music faithfully, as he always has.

“I just hope people will understand that the only thing I’m changing is the name,” he says.

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Here’s Zappa Plays Zappa performing “Inca Roads.”