When Dweezil Zappa released his first album, Havin' a Bad Day, in 1986, he was a teenager enthralled with the shredding of Eddie Van Halen.
As the years passed, Zappa honed his chops, dabbled with television, and eventually became the custodian of the musical legacy of his father, Frank Zappa. This role didn't come without its share of problems, chief among them a public feud in the mid-2010s with his brother Ahmet over the rights to performing under the name Zappa Plays Zappa, but Dweezil persevered through this, helping keep his dad's weird, complicated art rock alive in the 21st century.
Frank and Gail Zappa had Dweezil Zappa on September 5, 1969, arriving just between the releases of Uncle Meat and Hot Rats. The hospital where he was born didn't allow his parents to register the name Dweezil, so his birth name was Ian Donald Calvin Zappa; he changed it legally as soon as he could. Dweezil picked up the guitar very early, when his father gave him a guitar for his sixth birthday. He didn't become obsessed with the instrument until he was 12 and had his mind blown by Van Halen and Randy Rhoads, the guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne. Dweezil received guitar lessons from both his father and Steve Vai, who was playing "stunt guitar" in Frank's band at the time.
In 1982 -- the same year he had a hit single called "Valley Girl" featuring his daughter Moon on vocals -- Frank Zappa had Dweezil release an Edward Van Halen-produced single called "My Mother Is a Space Cadet" on his Barking Pumpkin Records imprint. Dweezil first appeared on one of Frank's records in 1984, playing guitar solos on two cuts on Them or Us. Two years later, Dweezil Zappa released Havin' a Bad Day, which was co-produced by Frank and Bob Stone and released on Barking Pumpkin.
Following the release of Havin' a Bad Day, Dweezil Zappa worked his way into the pop culture consciousness through a stint as a VJ on MTV, which then spun off onto appearances in the films Pretty in Pink and The Running Man. He played guitar all over the place, taking a lead on the Fat Boys' 1987 cover of "Wipe Out" and popping up in the video for Don Johnson's "Heartbeat." He and his sister Moon starred in the sitcom Normal Life, which ran for a season in 1988-1989. He also released a second album, My Guitar Wants to Kill Your Mama (its title came from an old song of his father's, released as a single in 1969 by the Mothers of Invention), which was released on Chrysalis Records and produced by Beau Hill. Confessions followed on Barking Pumpkin/Food for Thought Records in 1991, accompanied by two videos directed by Dweezil.
During the early '90s, he spent a lot of time working on television, composing the theme song "Groove Holmes" for the 1992 sketch comedy program The Ben Stiller Show and voicing Ajax Duckman for USA's cult animated series Duckman. Frank Zappa died in 1993, with his widow Gail establishing the Zappa Family Trust to administer his music, but Dweezil didn't immediately begin playing his dad's music at that time. He returned to performing music via Z, a band he formed with his brother Ahmet. Z released their first album, Shampoohorn, in 1994, following it quickly in 1996 with Music for Pets before splitting. The brothers continued to work together on USA's Happy Hour television show in 1999; a year earlier, Dweezil appeared as a music agent in the Michael Keaton family comedy Jack Frost.
After all this activity on the fringes of Hollywood, Zappa began to dip his toes into instrumental music for 2000's Automatic. This record revived his interest in the guitar, and he set about sharpening his chops over the next few years, while also continuing to work in television. He composed the theme for WB's sketch comedy The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and led a live band for the network's improv comedy On the Spot, then appeared in a 2004 Food Network show called Dweezil & Lisa, which he co-hosted with his then-girlfriend, Lisa Loeb.
In 2005, Dweezil formed his Zappa Plays Zappa revue, hiring such Zappa alumni as Terry Bozzio, Napoleon Murphy Brock, and Steve Vai for a 2006 tour. Zappa Plays Zappa turned out to be a success, somewhat overshadowing his accompanying 2006 solo album, Go with What You Know. Dweezil captured the Zappa Plays Zappa band on a 2008 set, which was followed by Return of the Son Of... in 2010. He continued to tour with slightly shifting lineups of the group over the next five years, releasing specialty live albums under the F.O.H. banner all the while. Additionally, he opened up a music camp called Dweezilla. While continuing his tours with Zappa Plays Zappa, Dweezil wrote and recorded the music featured on Via Zammata', a 2015 solo album.
Gail Zappa died in October 2015, leaving Ahmet and Diva Zappa in charge of the Zappa Family Trust. The next year, just as Dweezil was set to mount a tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of Frank Zappa's debut, Freak Out!, the Zappa Family Trust sent him a cease-and-desist letter denying him the ability to perform under the "Zappa Plays Zappa" name. Dweezil's attempt to use "Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa" also received a cease-and-desist letter, so he named his revue "Dweezil Zappa Plays Whatever the F@%k He Wants!" ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine