Zappa alumni share composer's spirit

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BRATTLEBORO — Guitarist Denny Walley and vocalist/saxophonist Napoleon Murphy Brock bring to their tribute band Project/Object first-hand knowledge from their years of playing alongside the late Frank Zappa.

"You retain that," Walley said. "That's the one thing you want to pass on: The way it was intended, the way he wrote it. There's nothing to improve on in that material. Just try to play it as best you can in the spirit, the way it was written in and intended to be played in."

Project/Object will appear at The Stone Church in Brattleboro at 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8. Tickets are available for $20 to $25 at stonechurchvt.com or at the door.

The show is part of a tour that started Nov. 29 and will end Dec. 16. The album "Bongo Fury" from 1975, which both Brock and Walley appeared on, is being played by the band in its entirety along with other cuts.

"It's a good mix of material," Walley said. "It's been a lot of fun."

He said Project/Object's vocalist, guitarist and harmonica player Andre Cholmondeley, is "really getting" Captain Beefheart, who appeared on "Bongo Fury."

"There's a lot of material," Walley said. "We have a backlog of stuff we do. Everybody works and tours so getting together and getting all the material together is a pretty big job."

He estimates the band now has about 30 to 40 songs to select from when making setlists.

Walley will sometimes perform with Zappa's son Dweezil Zappa, when he is in the Atlanta area, where Walley lives.

"Dweezil really rehearses them hard," Walley said, of the backing band. "Every one of those musicians is just the best and really nice people, too."

Playing with Frank, Walley said, was "fantastic."

"Music is my passion," he said. "Getting a chance to play with Frank and all of the musicians who surrounded him, that's like a dream gig, you know what I mean? It doesn't get much better than that. I haven't seen anything that compares, other than playing with Beefheart."

Walley met Frank when his family moved to Lancaster, Calif., around the seventh grade. Frank was two years ahead of him in school.

"But his brother Bobby was my best friend so I'd be at Frank's house every day," Walley said. "That was in about 1956."

It wasn't until 1975 that Walley started playing music with Frank. Walley's family, moving around because his father was in the aircraft industry, had relocated to New York when he was younger. But he reconnected with Tim "Motorhead" Sherwood, who played saxophone in Frank's The Mothers of Invention, when he moved back to California. They had all gone to school together, including Captain Beefheart, whose real name was Don Van Vliet.

Sherwood told Walley that Frank was looking for someone to play slide guitar. Walley went to a rehearsal the next day then went on to play on five different tours in the 1970s. Brock toured with Frank in the 1970s and 1980s.

Brock appeared on albums with Frank such as "Apostrophe (`)," "Roxy and Elsewhere," "One Size Fits All," and "Sheik Yerbouti." Walley played on "Joe's Garage" and "You Are What You Is," and Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller."

Walley said performing with Frank was like being paid to go to college.

"I respected him as a friend and musical genius," he said, describing Frank as "unfiltered" and "level all the time."

To play the Zappa catalog, Walley said, "you need good players, dedicated guys because a lot of it is not that easy."

Project/Object also includes Kendall Scott on synths and keyboards, Ryan Berg on drums and Max Johnson on bass.

"This is our second time this year up in this neck of the woods," Walley said, referring to the New England area. "I'm looking forward to getting up there, I'll tell you that."

His band has been performing and touring for more than 25 years.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.




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