For years, Dweezil Zappa, the guitarist son of avant-rock innovator Frank Zappa, has paid tribute to his father with a touring act called Zappa Plays Zappa. But Dweezil doesn’t actually own the name Zappa Plays Zappa. Instead, the name belongs to the Zappa Family Trust, which also owns the rights to Frank’s music and likeness. Frank’s widow Gail Zappa, who controlled the trust, died last year and now Dweezil tells The New York Times that his brother (and former bandmate) Ahmet Zappa has now denied him the use of the Zappa Plays Zappa name, and he also won’t let him sell any merchandise with Frank’s image. Instead, Dweezil is now about to start touring under the less-catchy name Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.
Dweezil claims that he’d have to pay the Zappa Family Trust an exorbitant fee to keep using the Zappa Plays Zappa name, even though his actual name is Zappa and he’s playing the music of someone else whose name is Zappa. He also says that the Zappa Family Trust, now controlled by his brother Ahmet and his sister Diva, is threatening him with $150,000 in copyright-infringement damages every time he plays a Frank Zappa song.
The real issue seems to be between Dweezil and Ahmet, who used to tour and record together and who now apparently only speak through lawyers. But since the Times ran that article last week, Ahmet has responded with an open letter that he’s posted on Facebook.
In the open letter, Ahmet says that he wishes his brother would call him and that they wouldn’t have to settle these issues through lawyers or in the media. He also says the Times story is misleading, that Dweezil would only have to pay a $1 licensing fee every year to use the Zappa Plays Zappa name, as well as a portion of his proceeds. And he says that percentage is necessary to keep the Zappa Family Trust going, to retain rights to Frank Zappa’s music and to keep reissuing it.
After reading the article in The New York Times, I’m not sure how else to reach you. If we talk through our lawyers, it’s not because I want that. It’s because you’ve refused to talk any other way. I’ve been reaching out to you for months. I even tried to set up a family meeting so we could discuss all of our family issues, but you repeatedly said you couldn’t fit it into your schedule, and that you weren’t available to attend without your lawyers present.
Instead, you’ve given this incomplete, misleading story to the NYT and the media, and invited the whole world to take sides about our family business. Now, we’re becoming “that family” – the spoiled brats arguing in public about who deserves what.
I understand you’re hurting and angry. We all are. But the more we fight about this in the press, the worse it gets for all of us. We’re not gaining anything by doing this in public.
You can read the whole open letter here.