More than 20 years after his death, Frank Zappa’s music, ironically, is reaching a much wider audience than it had during the three decades he toured. While most of his new fans can credit the Internet as the basis for discovering music that flew under the radar of the mainstream for decades, many of Zappa’s former musicians are thankful the music was discovered, and those fans are embracing the opportunity to see his musical partners carry on his legacy.
One outfit who has been using Zappa alumni since the mid ’90s is the insatiable Project/Object, which will finally make its return to the River Street Jazz Café in Plains on Oct. 23. Throughout the last 20 years, Project/Object has played with Zappa legends like Don Preston, Napoleon Murphy Brock and Ray White.
One of the heavyweights on this current tour, guitarist Denny Walley, was just a teenager when he met Zappa in 1957. From the start, Walley and Zappa shared a common respect and admiration of the blues and doo wop, two elements that defined most of Zappa’s career. Forming a bond with Zappa before he put out records and being looked at as one of Zappa’s go-to guys for many lineups, Walley is cautious when a Zappa band asks him to play with them, unless it’s Project/Object.
“One thing about expectations: if you have them, you’re bound to be disappointed,” he said. “Anyone wanting to play the music, I champion them … the short answer is, I’ll go out and jam with some bands, but I won’t go out for an extended tour with a group, unless it’s with someone like Project/Object who always has alumni and real quality players.”
Another Zappa heavyweight on tour – who has consistently toured with Project/Object – is the legendary baritone vocalist/guitarist Ike Willis, a fixture of Zappa’s bands from 1978 to 1988. Willis and Walley had a unique connection before Willis was formally a member of Zappa’s band. He saw what Walley is capable of, and is enthusiastic about the current tour.
“Denny will surprise you,” Willis said. “You’ve got to remember: Denny and Frank grew up together. He knew Frank since he was a teenager, and he knows a lot more material than people give him credit for. The thing about Project/Object is, we play every genre of Frank’s music; we don’t leave too much out. Sometimes it depends on the other personnel – who we have on keys, drums, bass, etc. As long as we have a strong keyboard player and a strong drummer, we could pretty much hit anything out of the park. With Denny, it gives us a little more versatility as well, vocally, but it gives us another guitar player who could throw stuff in as well. It’s also his attitude, sense of humor, and approach to the music that I love too. Denny kind of took me under his wing before I even got hired by Frank. He’s my adopted big brother; he took me under his wing when I was 20 years old.”
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