Dweezil Zappa: Jimi Hendrix "Rings True To Every Generation"

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As far as the estates of deceased classic-rock artists go, few can hold a lighter to the efforts of Jimi Hendrix's in terms of keeping the artist and their music alive.

In recent years, Experience Hendrix, LLC -- run by Jimi's half-sister Janie -- has churned out a number of products to satiate both committed and new fans of the guitar genius, including a number of well-received CD and DVDs.

But as Jimi's forte was live performance, so the ongoing "Experience Hendrix" tours are perhaps the effort's greatest achievement, gathering A-list musicians in a musical journey through Hendrix's music.

The 2012 edition's list of performers includes Billy Cox, who played bass for Jimi in both the Experience and Band of Gypsys; Buddy Guy, Robby Krieger of The Doors; Aerosmith's Brad Whitford; Taj Mahal; funk legend Bootsy Collins, Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos; and blues/slide axemen Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Johnson, Keb' Mo' and Robert Randolph.

All of them, with Dweezil Zappa, Chris Layton (ex-Double Trouble), and the Slide Brothers filling out the lineup.

Rocks Off spoke with Zappa about the Hendrix tour, his father Frank's music, and possible cocaine use among junior-high-school faculty.

Rocks Off: What made you want to take part in this tour?

Dweezil Zappa: It was a nice invitation to be asked to play the music of Jimi Hendrix, but to join with a bunch of guitar players I admire and getting to know them and play great music... it's kind of a no-brainer.

RO: How does Jimi's music appeal to you as a guitar player?

DZ: The thing that is so remarkable is the sound of it even today is still very contemporary. He was so innovative as a guitar player in terms of tone and sound and ways he expressed himself. It wasn't just pure pyrotechnics... fretboard gymnastics that had an impact.

There was an authentic expression of his personality in the music. And that rings true to every generation. He wasn't following trends. His playing was soulful and exciting and surprising.

RO: What's the structure of the show like?

DZ: Certain people are paired together, or multiple guitar players on certain songs... there's a lot of people on this tour (laughs)! The one I'm enjoying playing the most is "Love or Confusion" because I'm doing it with Eric Johnson, and in the past he'd done that song on his own.

I get to do all the fun psychedelic parts, and I use the approach that I do when I play my dad's music. Kind of take it apart.

RO: You've been doing the Zappa plays Zappa shows on and off since 2006. What is the most rewarding thing for you about keeping your dad's music alive?

DZ: Ultimately, the goal I set out to accomplish that I still push forward it to expose people to the live music in an official capacity to a new generation, just like this Hendrix tour. My feeling about Frank's music is that it's not only contemporary, it's ahead of its time.

It's part of a reeducation process, because the media portrays Frank in a way that is not fair to what he was as a musician. What was making radio play was not indicative of the totality of his music.

When people say, "Oh, I know Frank Zappa's music," a lot of them just think of "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" or "Valley Girl." It's just not accurate. There was so much more variety and depth. He was a composer who just happened to use a rock band as his orchestra.

RO: Your dad's lyrics got me into some trouble once in junior high. In drama class, we had to lip synch to a record and I picked "Dancin' Fool." And I mimed snorting coke during the line "And a spoon for up my nose." I don't think my teacher was amused.

DZ: Yeah, well... maybe your teacher went home and did coke!

RO: Hmm, I never asked her. Maybe that's a good question for the next reunion. Tell me a bit about the latest release in your F.O.H. series of live Zappa Plays Zappa recordings.

DZ: We really work to make sure that the audience can hear the details in the music on the CDs that they [may not hear] as much live. It's focusing on finding the recordings that came off well, but may be from different shows and different tours.

It shows the depth and variety of not only Frank's music, but what this band has played since 2006. And the double CD reflects a lot of material.

RO: Do you have any memories of playing Houston?

DZ: We've played a few times there. One of the things that I recall from the last time was that a local guitarist named Marshall Harrison sat in with us, and he's an astonishing technician on the guitar. I really enjoyed playing with him. He doesn't do a lot of live performing. I think he's a civil engineer by trade, but he's a great guitarist!

RO: And finally, you must be glad that, thanks to Houston's ZZ Top, you and your dad will never be listed last in an encyclopedia of American rock performers.

DZ: Yeah! Hey, if those guys are in town, I should try and get them to come up and play!

8 p.m. Thursday at the Arena Theatre, 7326 Southwest Fwy. For more on the tour visit www.experiencehendrixtour.com.

For more on Dweezil or Zappa Plays Zappa, visit dweezilzappa.com.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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