Frank Zappa tribute band Project/Object returns to Sellersville Theater

Denny Walley
Denny Walley PHOTO BY ROBIN GELBERG
Napoleon Murphy Brock
Napoleon Murphy Brock PHOTO USED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE ARTIST

IF YOU GO

What: Project/Object featuring Napoleon Murphy Brock and Denny Walley

When: Concert is at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 18; doors open at 7:30

Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave., Sellersville.

Tickets: $25 – $40.00

Ages: All Ages

Info.: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com

Artist’s website: www.projectobject.com

Project/Object has been delighting Frank Zappa fans with live performances of Zappa’s music for over 20 years. Over the years founder, bandleader and guitarist/vocalist Andre Cholmondeley grew the band from a minor tribute act that played in tiny clubs in the New Jersey/New York City area to a touring act featuring Zappa alumni as guest performers and playing at larger, more renowned venues like Sellersville Theater.

Project/Object is, in fact, the longest continually touring alumni-based Zappa tribute band in the world. The band has included more of Zappa’s former band mates than anyone other than Zappa himself. Among Project/Object’s renowned alumni are Jimmy Carl Black, Mike Keneally, Don Preston, Ray White, and the ever-popular Ike Willis, whose band the Ike Willis Project performed at Sellersville Theater last October.

This time around the band will feature two Zappa alumni who have both been featured with Project/Object before — vocalist/saxophone player Napoleon Murphy Brock (who also appeared at Sellersville Theater with The Grandmothers) and guitarist/vocalist Denny Walley. It will be their first time performing together since they worked with Zappa, other than once when Walley sat in with Project/Object on a few tunes at a small club called Vinyl in Walley’s hometown of Atlanta.

Fans may have noticed that Project/Object doesn’t come through town as frequently as in the past. One reason is that Cholmondeley has developed a career that actually pays the bills — guitar tech and tour manager. He has worked with Adrian Belew, Al DiMeola, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, David Torn and John Wetton, among others.

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I spoke with Cholmondeley via Skype while he was in England and had a day off from the Yes tour, where he’s been working as Steve Howe’s guitar tech. Cholmondeley said it has been a goal of his to have a Project/Object tour with Brock and Walley together because he knows they have a special relationship. Finally everyone’s busy schedules aligned.

“When I first got in (Frank’s) band, (Napoleon) and I became really fast friends,” recalled Walley in a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta. “He was a total pro. I remember him coming in and he would bring cantaloupe that he would slice up and give to people.”

Walley believes that their connection was based on a mutual “respect for the music and also not to be so intimidated by it that you couldn’t put your own creativity into it. I think he appreciated the way that I interpreted things.”

Brock and Walley toured with Zappa in 1975 and ’76. Both appear on the classic “Bongo Fury” (1975) album, which also featured Captain Beefheart. The album’s most popular songs include “Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy” and the 11+ minute “Advance Romance,” about which AllMusic says “no Zappa vocalist was ever able to match Napoleon Murphy Brock’s demented rendition [of this song as] on the ‘Bongo Fury’ recording.”

Being as Zappa was one of the most prolific composers ever, Project/Object has quite the task of choosing what material to perform at their shows. Of course songs on which Brock and Walley performed — together and separately — will be included. But Cholmondeley said he also likes to occasionally throw the Zappa alums music from other eras.

Because the band members all live in different locales, the set list is developed well in advance so they can practice on their own before they get together to rehearse. Cholmondeley begins his suggested list with songs that the alums performed on and augments that with “Zappa classics.” He sends the list to the band members and then gets their suggestions and feedback.

“I added some things that I would like to see,” said Walley. “And then (Andre) put together a list that really flows great and I am thrilled with it. Plus, on the road, we have such a back catalog of things that if we decide, ‘Oh man, I’m tired of playing (a song), let’s try this,’ we have things we can just pull out of the hat that we all know that we haven’t rehearsed. So we have that going as well, which is really good.”

Walley added: “We’ve got guys that know most of the catalog, but this (show) is designed toward featuring Napoleon as much as possible because he’s done so many great things, so we try to get in the ones he really wants to do, and ones that I think people wanna hear. He’ll get a chance to play horn on more than a few things. And I’ll get to play slide on a few things, and sing, and it’s gonna be a big ’ol house party.”

In addition to the excitement of reuniting with Brock, Walley has another thing to look forward to. Holding down the bass chair on this tour is Andrew Walley — Denny’s grandson. It will be their first time touring together.

Project/Object has been known for their multi-generational bands; one tour in the 2000s featured 18-year-old Eric Slick on drums with the 70+ year old Don Preston. It illustrates how Zappa’s music has stood the test of time and is now appreciated and performed by people of all ages.

Whether you’re a Frank Zappa fan or not, this is the perfect opportunity to enjoy classic Zappa repertoire that you know and love or get a wonderful introduction to the late composer’s vast catalog.