There are few things in today’s music industry more valuable than the song catalogs of and rights management for past rock legends. Anyone following the story of Prince and his vault full of unreleased music are seeing the beginning of yet another tug-of-war to gain control of these revenue streams. For another example, check out the story of Frank Zappa and the family trust that controls his music in such a restrictive way, his son Dweezil has been forced to change his band’s name.
For nearly a decade, Dweezil has toured the world performing his father’s music under the act name “Zappa Plays Zappa.” Following the death of Frank’s wife Gail in October of 2015, control of the Zappa Family Trust — which owns Frank Zappa’s music rights — was passed on to Frank’s other children, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan Zappa and Diva Muffin Zappa. A few months later, they threatened Dweezil Zappa with a seven-figure copyright infringement suit if he continued to tour as Zappa Plays Zappa.
“My last name is Zappa; my father was Frank Zappa,” Dweezil complained to The New York Times. “But I am not allowed to use the name on its own. I’m not allowed to use a picture of him. I’m not allowed to use my own connection with him without some sort of deal to be struck.”
Dweezil said he was forced to pay his mother Gail an “exorbitant fee” to use the name Zappa Plays Zappa, but now the Zappa Family Trust is demanding more concessions, including a “grand rights” fee, which is the fee paid when staging someone else’s theatrical work. To get around the Zappa Family Trust’s demands, all of Dweezil’s future shows will be performed under the name “Dweezil Zappa Plays Frank Zappa.”
“It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue,” he said ruefully. “But this is being done under duress.”
You can read more about the rift between Dweezil and the Zappa Family Trust in this New York Times interview or this Inquisitr article. Neither paints the people running the business side of Frank’s musical legacy in a very positive light.