Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil Zappa has again been forced to change the name of his upcoming band and tour after receiving a cease and desist letter from the Zappa Family Trust, which owns and administers the recordings and rights to all of the late composer’s work and is run by Dweezil’s siblings Ahmet and Diva.
Dweezil announced in the spring that Zappa Plays Zappa, the band he’s led for a decade, was being forced to perform its upcoming tour as Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa instead of the original moniker.
Dweezil will now tour simply under his given name, Dweezil Zappa.
In an act of defiance, though, Dweezil has dubbed the cuss-laden tour as 50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the ... He Wants — the Cease and Desist Tour.
Dweezil has long had issues with the trust. Until her death in 2015, Gail Zappa had guarded her late husband’s name and legacy from those who might profit off of his art, even if that person was her son.
After a recent rehearsal in North Hollywood with what was then called Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa, Dweezil said his only goal was to celebrate his father’s work.
“What I've always done with Zappa Plays Zappa was to try to give people the opportunity to hear the music,” he said. “It was really about putting the music at the forefront of everything. It was never about, 'Hey, let me do this thing that's going to showcase me.' If anybody's ever seen the show, they'll realize that it's not at all set up to be that way.”
The new name change comes after Dweezil’s attorneys received a letter on Thursday from the Family Trust’s lawyers reminding them that it owns the Zappa Plays Zappa trademark and that until the parties reach a licensing agreement, Dweezil is not allowed to use either it or the longer moniker.
“It remains our hope that these matters will be resolved and Dweezil may continue operating under the ZPZ marks,” wrote Zappa Family Trust attorney Owen J. Sloane in the letter.
Zappa.com, the official online hub for all things Frank and family, no longer includes dates for Dweezil’s upcoming summer tour.
Until recently, Dweezil could tour under the Zappa Plays Zappa name and keep the gate receipts but had to turn over to the trust all the profits from on-site merchandise sales. Dweezil has long disputed the terms of this arrangement, arguing that his work as Frank’s musical ambassador should entitle him to a percentage of the merchandise money.
During a conversation in May at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen — the name of Frank’s recording studio at the family’s longtime Laurel Canyon compound — Ahmet defended the trust’s protecting of its trademark.
“I want nothing but the best for my brother,” he said. “The part that hurts my feelings is I have no reason to stand in the way of my brother's success, my older sister's success, my younger sister's success as it relates to anything Zappa related. I have to do how the trust works. I'm not doing anything other than having to do what's in the trust.”
The latest actions between the Zappa Family Trust and Dweezil come less than a year after Gail Zappa’s death. The family matriarch ran the business of promoting and monetizing Frank’s work and earned a reputation as a fierce advocate for both his art and the brand.
After Gail’s death, the family put the compound on the market. It did so in an announcement, via Kickstarter, of an Alex Winter-directed documentary on Frank’s legacy. The campaign raised more than $1.1 million and broke records in its category.
Another documentary, “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words,” opens on June 24. It features vintage footage of Zappa both in conversation and in concert.
The trust recently finished emptying the Laurel Canyon home of its vast collection of art, musical instruments, recording equipment, archives and memorabilia. As of late May, the contents of the legendary Vault remained on site and intact, although those are slated to be moved to an off-site storage facility.
Dweezil Zappa’s “50 Years of Frank: Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the ... He Wants — the Cease and Desist Tour,” begins on July 1 in El Prado, N.M.
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit