It's a family affair: When great musicians' kids follow in their fathers' famous footsteps

From Frank Zappa’s son to the Waterson folk dynasty, music runs in the blood – and the new generation are living up to their famous names

You hear a lot these days about the progeny of rock stars following in their parents’ footsteps with varying degrees of success. Whether they pursue a similar aesthetic, as with Paul Simon’s singer/songwriter son Harper, or head off in pastures new – like Sting’s daughter performing as electro-pop act I Blame Coco, it usually appears to be a thankless task.

Regularly unable to match their parents’ achievements despite early exposure thanks to a familiar name, they suffer the weight of expectation alongside suspicion that they are having an easy ride on their forebearers’ coat-tails. Increasingly, an attractive alternative for offspring with musical ambition is to take on the responsibility of carrying the torch for their mothers’ or fathers’ legacies. You find this with Frank Zappa’s son Dweezil, Arthur Jeffes, son of Penguin Café Orchestra founder Simon, and, arguably, Lal Waterson’s daughter Marry.

At first glance, this last example might appear more natural as the Watersons are a folk dynasty, so Marry lives in a genre where carrying on tradition is a fundamental prerequisite. As with country, the whole point is to pass on the flame through the generations. Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s eldest daughter, continues to play country, albeit in a more melodic style than her father, while Hank Williams III has combined a career in punk bands with honky-tonk tributes to his legendary granddad.

Marry, though, has had an even more important relationship with her mother’s oeuvre. For when the Watersons disbanded in the early Seventies, Lal developed as a talented, Rimbaud-influenced writer of original material, annoying the folk fraternity and missing out on crossover success. Her reputation partly rests on the currently unavailable Bright Phoebus, a collaboration with brother Mike, released in 1972 in limited form and unavailable since the mid-Eighties. Lal died of cancer in 1998, with her brother passing away two years ago, and only recently has Marry been able to revisit her mum’s work.

Last autumn she organised a tribute tour for Bright Phoebus that featured turns from Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley. Marry has also helped collate a book Teach Me to Be a Summer’s Morning that features Lal’s paintings, drawings, stained glass designs, poems and lyrics, along with a disc of home demos. Yet while Bright Phoebus for now remains a great lost album, Lal is still respected by younger artists from Arcade Fire to King Creosote. Unlike Frank Zappa, who boasts a mammoth discography, but since his own untimely demise in 1993 has rarely been namechecked by contemporary musicians.

Enter son Dweezil to fill the vacuum: a former MTV VJ, actor and jobbing guitarist, who, under the Zappa Plays Zappa banner, has been touring the US and Europe since 2006 with his own band to remind fans of his dad’s singular musicality. Performing at venues as large as Liverpool’s Philharmonic and Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall suggests this is far from a niche activity.

Indeed, with an evolving setlist, as Dweezil delves deeper into his father’s back catalogue, he is on a journey that endears him all the more to true believers, along with pre-gig music bootcamps where he passes on his own autodidactic lessons.

Another idiosyncratic musician, albeit with a smaller profile, is Britain’s own Simon Jeffes, the composer who founded the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. The group formed in the Seventies and are best known for the deathless instrumental and film soundtrack staple “Music for a Found Harmonium”.

Its immediately engaging, repetitive melody gives a sense of Jeffes’s ambition to play sonic games in an accessible way. Although ahead of its time in allusions to minimalism and what became world music, the Orchestra’s later recordings were more coffee table than visionary, though the death of its core performer in 1997 from a brain tumour was still a premature loss.

It was a brave move, then, for his son Arthur to pick up the baton in 2011 and start up Penguin Cafe, a re-imagining of Simon’s original ensemble. Rather than simply playing old material with his dad’s former compadres, Arthur has brought together his own disparate group that has included the likes of Suede’s Neil Codling. They have focused on new compositions in familiar styles, first on warmly received debut album, A Matter of Life, with follow-up, The Red Book, due for release next month. Arthur admits that his father’s legacy continues to closely inspire his own work.

“The first album, I think, was about establishing our own sound and identity, dusting out and reopening the Cafe, so to speak,” he says. “But with The Red Book I think this is a grand new departure and ambition to sonically chart an imagined journey through the world.”

It is certainly a far-reaching trip, taking in Mexican guitar styles on “Black Hibiscus” and African zither on “Bluejay”. Penguin Cafe take the imaginary folklore motif of the group’s first incarnation and runs with it into new spaces, continuing Simon’s vision in an original way. Dad would be proud.

Penguin Cafe’s ‘The Red Book’ is out on 17 February on Editions Penguin Cafe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

    Rebranding Christmas

    More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up