“I cried tears of joy when I was in the audience watching Zappa Plays Zappa in 2006,” recalls Kurt Morgan, who in a fortuitous series of subsequent events, became a personal assistant to Gail Zappa (Frank Zappa’s wife, who passed away in December), and then became the manuscripts librarian at Zappa headquarters. The “Scoremeister” worked for two years on a new rendition of the orchestral suites from 200 Motels, and he eventually scored his dream gig playing for both Zappa Plays Zappa—which covers material from all eras of Frank’s gargantuan repertoire—and Dweezil Zappa, who has a new original record for the first time since starting Zappa Plays Zappa just over a decade ago.
What stands out when you think back on your audition with Dweezil?
It was quick. He liked my playing, but asked me to switch from my fretless Fender Jazz Bass to a Precision Bass for its tone. I had actually never owned a P-Bass, but it was clearly time, and I fell in love right way. I was a longtime Jaco guy, and I’ve become a totally different player rocking a P-Bass with a pick. I go for an aggressive sound, and I’m enjoying it more and more on this gig. Frank’s music has an antagonistic quality, and I admit playing it gives me a certain sadistic pleasure.
Is that especially true when ZPZ breaks down to a power trio for “Apostrophe (’)”?
That’s the ultimate catharsis of the set. Bass players rarely get the chance to crank up the fuzz and really go for it. Honestly, when I hear the original recording featuring Jack Bruce on bass, his playing sounds so obnoxious. All I hear is a giant ego coming out of a speaker cabinet. I hear an attitude that says, “I’m going to show him,” which I find incredibly insensitive. I have to perform it every night, so I use that feeling as fuel to push us to an exhilarating place. The song dictates the approach. It’s like I’m playing a character, allowing whatever angst and frustration I’ve accumulated over the years to come out. I get off—it feels fantastic!
What was the most interesting aspect of creating Dweezil’s new record?
He asked me to help orchestrate “Funky 15,” which is a very ambitious piece of orchestral fusion. My job was to take his demo and create a note-for-note arrangement for live instruments such as strings and woodwinds. I had to make sure the long, sweeping lines were written within the range of each instrument. Dweezil can read music, but he doesn’t write with notation. I had to work from a MIDI file and get everything on paper so people could play it. “Funky 15” is a perfect example of Dweezil’s fearlessness when it comes to writing. That was a huge, fun challenge.
Dweezil Zappa, Via Zammata’ [2015, MRI Associated]; Los Angeles Philharmonic, 200 Motels: The Suites [2015, Zappa/UME]
Bass Fender Classic Series ’70s Precision Bass
Effects SolidGoldFX Beta bass overdrive, MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe, Eventide H9 Harmonizer
Rig Gallien-Krueger MB500 head, G-K 4x10 cabinet
Strings “I prefer the less rigid feel of pure nickel strings. Any brand’s standard-gauge set will do.”