D.C. charity Guitars Not Guns catches eye of Dweezil Zappa

November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Dweezil Zappa’s Feb. 2 show at The Birchmere has been rescheduled for May 5.

But look on the bright side: this gives you more time to discover Zappa’s music and his favorite D.C. charity, Guitars Not Guns, both of which feed Zappa’s desire to reach future generations.

“I’m playing music from my new album called ‘Via Zammata.’ It’s the first record I’ve made in the 10 years that I’ve started doing Zappa Plays Zappa, so it’s really the first record that gave me a chance to incorporate things I’ve learned from 10 years of playing my dad’s music,” Zappa tells WTOP.

Dweezil describes his new album as a “twisted pop record,” a fitting evolution from the “radical rock” his father Frank Zappa invented in the 1960s, mixing avant garde with classical, jazz and rock.

“The reason Zappa Plays Zappa exists is because there’s so few opportunities for newer generations to really discover my dad’s music, and I felt like it was in many ways undiscovered,” Zappa says.

With such a passion to introduce younger generations to his father’s music, it was only a matter of time before his world would collide with that of Greggory Hammond, who works as D.C.’s top-rated guitar lesson teacher and spends his spare time running the D.C. chapter of Guitars Not Guns.

“We’re a national 501(c)(3) non-profit children’s music charity. What we do is provide guitars and guitar lessons to foster kids, at-risk kids, basically any under-served community of kids who don’t have access to a music program. We use music and mentoring to help kids build their self-esteem and realize that they do matter and that they can create things themselves,” Hammond tells WTOP.

The free program is run entirely by volunteers, many of whom are past graduates of GNG.

“All the students are loaned a guitar, they get to have a one-hour lesson once per week, and after eight weeks of classes we present them with a test. If they can pass that test and show us that they can play six guitar chords and name all the parts of the guitar, they get to keep their guitar,” he says.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQ–7aoFA6g

Born in D.C., Hammond moved at a young age to the Florida Keys, where he had a rough childhood.

“When I was a kid, I got into a lot of trouble because I had kind of a broken home. Music was the thing that pulled me in the right direction and helped me make better choices, and playing the guitar specifically, that was my outlet, being able to release the angst that I had,” Hammond says.

He first picked up a guitar at age 11, and began taking official lessons at age 19. But when a hurricane destroyed his home in 2002, he was left searching for what to do with his life.

“It was time for me to seek out my purpose in life. … I traveled around the United States, I did wilderness survival classes and learned how to rub sticks together, how to track lost people and do search and rescue. I learned how to embark on a traditional four-day vision quest, where I sat in the woods for a full 96 hours with just water, seeking a vision of what my life purpose was,” he says.

Surrounded by the wonders of nature, Hammond suddenly had an epiphany.

“What I discovered was, I was supposed to be teaching and mentoring kids in a city, and of course that seemed like a far-fetched thing because I had never really spent time in a city. And part of that calling was to come back to the place where I was born, Washington D.C.”

Thus, “Mr. Hammond Went to Washington,” just as Jimmy Stewart came to Congress to pitch a national boys nature camp in Frank Capra’s classic film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (1939).

While Capra’s monumental film was based on the book “The Gentleman from Montana,” Hammond similarly met Zappa in Montana during the Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival in Big Fork.

Zappa was instantly down with Hammond’s cause.

“It seemed like it was a very worthy cause to get invested in, just because playing guitar is something you can do for a lifetime, but when you learn at an early age, it’s something that can keep you very occupied and self-motivated. … It keeps you out of trouble because you have things to do, things to accomplish, rather than find yourself with the wrong crowd,” Zappa says.

Zappa liked the charity so much that he represented it on the “Celebrity Rock Star” episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped,” where he competed for $10,000 for GNG. He was ultimately “chopped” by the judges and didn’t win the money, but he got GNG some national recognition on television.

November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

Afterward, he donated show memorabilia back to the D.C. chapter of GNG, from his rock-star chef jacket to his dressing room sign, which was signed by his fellow rock chef competitors: Runaways rocker Lita Ford, Foreigner frontman Kelly Hansen and Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda.

“Everybody was there to have fun and raise awareness for their charities, so they were happy to lend their brief moment of signature status to those items,” Zappa says.

Most recently, Zappa brought GNG alum Tyvon Hewitt up on stage to perform his father’s “Muffin Man” at the same Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival where Zappa first met Hammond.

“It was quite literally an out-of-body experience. He started doing these wild dance maneuvers and his eyes were rolling in the back of his head. He was in a trance! He was having a great time on this song. But it was a real monumental performance outlet for him. He was talking about where he came from and what obstacles he had overcome and how Guitars Not Guns has helped,” Zappa says.

Who knows? Perhaps Tyvon’s son will one day form a tribute band, Hewitt Plays Hewitt, just like Dweezil formed Zappa Plays Zappa. After all, music appreciation echoes through the generations.

“It’s just one of those things that can open doors for people if they want it to. It’s just a transfer of energy to the right direction. If you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy … If you can see it in your mind’s eye, you can make it happen. There’s so many things in life that people are going to tell you, ‘No, that’s not possible,’ but that’s not for them to say,” Zappa says. “It’s for you to choose.”

Click here for more information about joining the D.C. chapter of Guitars Not Guns.

November 29, 2019 | (Jason Fraley)

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