Trust and trademark dispute: Zappa siblings freak out
One of our favorite topics to write about at Spidell is trusts gone wrong, and in years past we've shared stories about musicians including Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and John Denver. The latest entry for the Tribune: Frank Zappa and the Zappa Family Trust.
Musician and composer Frank Zappa died in 1993 without leaving specific instructions on what to do with his publishing rights and massive archive of master recordings. Gail Zappa, his widow and mother of their four children (Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet, and Diva), eventually founded the Zappa Family Trust in 2002 to manage Frank's intellectual property.1
Gail died in 2015, leaving only Ahmet and Diva with controlling shares of the trust. Frank's two most famous children, Moon (who sang on Frank's top-40 single Valley Girl in 1982) and Dweezil (who was an MTV VJ in the 1980s and a musician in his own right) were left with smaller shares.2
Anyone who has ever filed a trust return can see where this is going.
Dweezil's most popular music project is Zappa Plays Zappa, a band he formed in 2006 as a tribute to his father's legacy that he still tours with today. The band name is owned by the trust, and he licensed it until early 2016 when Ahmet — through the Zappa Family Trust — sent him a cease-and-desist order.
The news made the New York Times,3 and the brothers continued arguing with each other in public through open letters on Facebook and blog posts. Dweezil changed the name of his band and his tour, but the legal fight continued. One of the main disagreements was over the Zappa Plays Zappa merchandise money: Ahmet felt it should go to the trust, while Dweezil thought it should stay with his band — after all, they were the ones earning the money on tour year after year.
In the following months, the Zappa Family Trust put Frank Zappa's Hollywood Hills home and recording studio up for sale to help pay off the trust's debt, and Dweezil started a PledgeMusic campaign to raise money to cover legal fees in the trademark dispute over his use of the Zappa Plays Zappa name. The house sold (to Lady Gaga!) for $5.25 million in September 2016, while Dweezil reached his fundraising goal earlier this month and is now raising money to continue to record new music. But it remains to be seen what name Dweezil will tour under when the music is released.