It’s been a long time that I frequent Swiss and German Promoters for my music journalist’s job. When I heard about a three days Tribute that would be dedicated to FRANK ZAPPA, I immediately understood that it would take place on the other side of the Rhine. It’s impossible to imagine such an approach in France, where everything is always complicated and with a lack of audacity.
Markus Muffler is the head of the BURGHOF, a cultural center in the city of LORRACH, in Germany, located on the borders of two neighboring countries (France and Switzerland). Every summer it’s where the STIMMEN FESTIVAL takes place with the greatest artists from the world stage/scene.
He managed to place it among the biggest outdoor festivals in Europe.
On January 9, 10 and 11, Markus Muffler managed to organize a fantastic Tribute to one of the greatest and most inventive musicians of the 20th century. Obviously, Markus is an unconditional fan!…But daring to invite DWEEZIL ZAPPA (one of the four ZAPPA’s sons) to cross the Atlantic and be present for a three-day program to honor his Father, it could have been in the realm of the impossible!!! Well it didn’t! DWEEZIL, accompanied by his lovely wife, crossed the Atlantic and made it to Lörrach!
RAN– Where did you get this idea to organise this Tribute to FRANK ZAPPA?
MARKUS MUFFLER– It is part of the Burghof Program to produce every two years an homage to an outstanding artist of the 20th century. In 2018, it was the German film- and theatre director and author Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Also, I am a great admirer of FRANK ZAPPA’s work and I felt that he has to be featured one day here at the Burghof
RAN– Was it easy to convince his son DWEEZIL, to participate to this event?
MARKUS MUFFLER– I know Dweezil from various shows of him with his band that I promoted at STIMMEN-Festival in Lörrach. Last time he played here, was in summer 2018 and we had the chance to have lunch together and talk about the idea of him participating in that event. Then it all started.
RAN– We could see that yo have a fantastic vision about ZAPPA’s albums. Which is the one that marked you the most?
MARKUS MUFFLER– If you mean by vision knowledge then I have several albums of course that are my favourites. But to bring it down to 3, I would say:
Roxy & Elsewhere, because of the fantastic band and the great live experience.
Sheik Yerbouti, because it was the tour to that album, when I saw FRANK ZAPPA the first time live.
One Size Fits All, because it was the first FZ album that I listened to and obviously, I got hooked.
Markus Muffler and the BURGHOF succeeded, and this will remain one of the highlights of this new year 2020.
Under the title “BROADCASTING ZAPPA”, the first evening was intended to a few audio tracks attentive listening, commented in German by Urs Musfeld and Christoph Schwegler (ex DRS3) followed by a film directed by Thorsten Schütte “FRANK ZAPPA- EAT THAT QUESTION “. Unimaginable in France to see 250 aficionados comfortably seated while listening audio tracks for an hour!! D’urine a light break of 30 minutes, DWEEZIL lent himself to a “talk show”. Seated on a comfortable sofa – a replica of the famous sofa which made the cover of the album “ONE SIZE FITS ALL”- he replied to a few questions about his Father’s work.
The film, very interesting, attracted all the attention of the present public because it transported us to all kinds of oddity, very typical of ZAPPA character.
The eight musicians of “ENSEMBLE RECHERCHE” from Freiburg, were proposed on the second day to address some classic influences from the ZAPPA universe: Igor STRAVINSKY, Edgar VARESE and one of the great figures of the French Classic, Pierre BOULEZ.
Last but not least, “FRANK ZAPPA- AHEAD OF HIS TIME” was the given title to this last evening, with the participation of the GRANDSHEIKS group. The best in Musical Tribute to ZAPPA, in Germany. Some titles from the albums “ROXY & ELSEWHERE”, “ONE SIZE FITS ALL”, “JOE’S GARAGE” and “SHEIK YERBOUTI” were masterfully interpreted, revealing the virtuosity and musical versatility of some major elements of this group.
RAN– How does it feel to be invited to this great ZAPPA’s event, with the presence of his son?
Dr. Jorg HEUSER (Guitar-Vocals)– It’s a great honor to be invited to such an event. 3 days of Zappa that is quite outside the norm. Obviously, it’s an event for hardcore fans, enthusiasts and “inside” people. That’s a kind of unusual audience for us… Although we have a lot of hardcore fans at our regular concerts there are still a lot of regular concert goers sometimes not even too familiar (or at all) with Zappa’s music. Therefore, this was very special and having Dweezil there also a bit intimidating. Plus we do not just cover the music (like Ensemble de Recherche, ZPZ) but we are doing our own thing with his music (not just the solos but also doing different arrangements e.g. Joe’s Garage) – that is our strenghth and still there are people who think that bands like us should rather play the music note for note. So we weren’t really sure if that would be appreciated by everybody… Also not being able to play through a set was also kind of hard for us: We are used to playing one long set (2 hours, or a festival 90-minute set) plus encores or if the concert promoter wants it we make one break (so people buy more drinks) therefore 2 one-hour sets plus encores. The festival idea in Lörrach was totally different from that, of a regular concert: there were 3 long breaks with A LOT OF TALKING in between, that was weird for us and I think for the audience too: The people we talked to expected a regular concert with a peak at the end (Dweezil with us on stage). Dweezil agreed (shortly before the concert) to play 2 tunes with us: Slime and Torture but since it was so (too) late he decided to play only Slime….
RAN– ZAPPA’s musical career has a large record dimension. What albums do you prefer to play on stage?
Dr. Jorg HEUSER– Since most of us have a strong Jazz and Rock background, the 70’s and 80’s albums are our favorites especially Roxy & Elsewhere, Overnite Sensation, In New York, Sheik Yerbouti, Joe’s Garage and the live albums from that era (YCDTOSA etc.) yet interesting earlier tunes make it in our set as well (Brown Shoes, Mr. Green Genes). We think that in the 70s/80s the musicianship and the musicians abilities were absolutely great…
RAN– You played with some ZAPPA’s musicians. How does it feel to be recognised by them?
Dr. Jorg HEUSER– It’s just a lot of fun and a great learning experience at the same time: With most Zappa-alumni it was really easy to work with (Napoleon, Mike Keneally, Ed Mann, Robert Martin) since we have a lot in common: The love for Zappa’s music and the willingness to work hard in bringing the music to the people live and getting them to appreciate this great music and finding new audiences for this music. A lot of common ground, and probably they noticed right away that we are serious musicians playing this complex music well together – so it was easy for them to join us.
Getting inside information (about the music and beyond that) from people who played and created this music originally is also invaluable. That‘s an important tool as well to become more authentic and persuasive and after all: It’s just great and fulfilling to play with these guys – MUSIC IS THE BEST!
They offered to the old FZ “aficionados”audience sophisticated arrangements, exposing the great musical complexity of ZAPPA’s universe.
The two guitar players (Dr. Jörg Heuser and Thomas Schmittinger) perfectly master the subject, very complex guitar scores structures.. Daniel Guggenheim, with his enormous talent as a multi instrumentalist seduced us with fantastic Sax solos (Sax and Keyboards) Andi Martens on Bass and Christian Majdecki on Drums, provided the rhythm section wonderfully. Maximilian Hilbrand had the difficult and theatrical role of leading us vocally towards the quirks of ZAPPA.
It was already late at night, when the icing was placed on the cake! Dweezil took his guitar to join The Grandsheiks on stage to make us vibrate with a great solo guitar on I AM THE SLIME !!!!
Thanks to Rosine, my EU Editor colleague, for editing and publishing this fantastic event!
I was born in Portugal and lived the Sixties exploring the great UK Rock magazines: "The New Musical Express" and "Melody Maker". Ray Charles and Pat Boone were my father’s fav. I became “The Great Pretender”. Cliff Richard was our Elvis Presley. As a beach boy, with my first guitar, I met a beautiful French girl on the beach! It was the Summer of 69!! We got married and rock music was our dowry. In France, I became a Wine Genetic Research Scientist. One of my works contributed to the decoding of the genome of the vine! As a rock journalist, I’ve worked twenty years for the Portuguese and Brazilian Rock Press. I ‘ve interviewed so many great artists. Then, one day I met FRANK ZAPPA! I got into trouble for introducing my wife to "Uncle Meat"!