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Frank Zappa tribute band Project/Object returns with Zappa alumni Ike Willis and Denny Walley

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STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN 
For Digital First Media

Project/Object has been performing and touring together for nearly 20 years. Though the band members have changed over time there has been one constant – guitarist and founder Andre Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley discovered early on that there was a market for live Zappa music, and he created the very first touring Zappa tribute band featuring Zappa band alumni. They’ve performed for enthusiastic audiences at venues in the U.S. and internationally, including the famed Zappanale Festival in Bad Doberon, Germany.
In a phone interview from his home in Asheville, NC, Cholmondeley describes how he got introduced to the music of Frank Zappa.
“I was 14 when ‘Sheik Yerbouti’ (1979) [came out],” said Cholmondeley. “I also was a big fan of the Dr. Demento Show… he would play the weird Zappa, of course – the funny, odd things. And then ‘Dancing Fool’ came on the radio. And that was a big hit.”
Cholmondeley said that listening to “Dancing Fool” made him realize that there was more to Zappa’s music than just being funny; besides making fun of disco it incorporated rock guitar, xylophones and time signature changes. But it wasn’t until he went to Rutgers University and a friend introduced him to Zappa’s “Zoot Allures” (1976) album that he discovered the true brilliance of Zappa as a musician and a composer.

Ike Willis and Denny Walley are shown. Photos by Robin Gelberg

Ike Willis and Denny Walley are shown.
Photos by Robin Gelberg

“It starts out with that funny song ‘Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station’ and it’s got the high-pitched voice… and it goes right into ‘Black Napkins,’ which is still (considered) by many people the Mt. Everest of Zappa’s guitar playing.
“And that was it,” said Cholmondeley. “I fell in super hard and I haven’t looked back. I would borrow records and tape things and by the time I went home for winter break I probably had 50 Zappa albums.”
In 1988, Cholmondeley decided to throw a 24-hour party with all Zappa music on Zappa’s birthday. After a few years of playing Zappa recordings at the annual parties, he decided to have his band Zen Pajamas play, so they added some Zappa material into their repertoire. It was a hit so they learned more Zappa material for the following year’s party.
“After doing that for 2 years I said ‘This is it. This is the new band.’”
Zen Pajamas, with a few additions, became Project/Object. The band is named after a term that Zappa used.
Cholmondeley paraphrased Zappa’s definition of the term: “My entire body of work is the Project/Object. It’s a project and it’s an object. It’s an art piece and it’s a commercial entity and it’s my creativity… Every note that’s been played, every bit of film that we’ve created, every mention of a poodle, every concept… they’re all rolled up into one big ball of wax and that’s my Project/Object.”
Project/Object’s first show was on Zappa’s birthday at The Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ, where Cholmondeley had played for several years with other bands. It was a packed house. Then they played at the Lion’s Den, a now-defunct music venue in New York City. They found a booking agent and started doing short tours in the northeast, and eventually the touring grew.
Cholmondeley, who had originally met Zappa’s vocalist and guitarist Ike Willis at a Zappa concert in Jones Beach, NY in 1984, invited Willis to perform with the band. After listening to a tape of the band Willis agreed.
Cholmondeley recalled that Willis said “‘There’s a bunch of things to polish up, I hear some wrong chords. But I’d love to do it. Fly me out and let’s rehearse and we’ll tighten this up.’”
Willis was the first Zappa alumnus to perform with Project/Object. His first show with them was in 1997.
“I loved Project/Object because it was the first (Zappa tribute band) that I had in the states,” said Willis in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles. “It was such a great band and the guys in the band were fantastic to play with. Pretty funny guys. We became like a family.”
Slide guitarist Denny Walley first began sitting in with Project/Object when the band performed in Atlanta. He has since performed with the band on a few tours. In a phone interview from his home in Atlanta, Walley expressed how meaningful it is to have the opportunity to perform with Project/Object.
“Andre is an amazing musician and a great person… He understands and cares about the music. He commands a lot of respect from people because of his dedication to getting it right and presenting it the way it was meant to be played.”
This tour will obviously focus on the material that both Willis and Walley performed with Zappa.
“We’re going to focus on the things they did together, which (are) the ‘Tinseltown Rebellion’ (1981) album, something from ‘You Are What You Is’ (1981) and a bunch of stuff from ‘Joe’s Garage,’ (1979) of course – the one that they’re well known for doing together,” said Cholmondeley. “And then separately. The ‘Bongo Fury’ (1975) album – we’re gonna do a few things from that with Denny. And then we’re gonna hit some things that are favorites for both guys. Things from ‘One Size Fits All’ (1975) and some classics.”
In addition, the Philadelphia show will feature The King’s Frying Pan as the opening act. This trio is one of Cholmondeley’s side projects with Project/Object’s bassist Max Johnson and Philadelphia drummer G. Calvin Weston.

IF YOU GO

What: Project/Object with The King’s Frying Pan
When: Concert is set for 8 p.m.; doors open at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 19.
Where: World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St., Philadelphia.
Tickets: $17 in advance, $20 day of show.
Ages: All ages
Info.: Call (215) 222-1400 or visit www.philly.worldcafelive.com
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What: Project/Object
When: Concert is set for 8:30 p.m.; doors open at 7 Sunday, Oct. 25.
Where: Havana, 105 South Main St., New Hope.
Tickets: $25 in advance
Ages: All Ages; those under 21 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian
Info.: Call (215) 862-5501 or visit www.havananewhope.com

Artist’s website: www.projectobject.com

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