Buddy Holly at the Grand Theatre

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“Stevenson is so comfortable, so focused and so believable as Holly, lovers of rock ’n roll, music history or Buddy Holly should run to buy tickets. He’s that good.” – Joe Belanger, London Free Press

Thank you, Joe.  Buddy “rave’s on” in London, On until May 7th.  The LFP also gave us a 4/4 star review calling it a “must-see show that will not disappoint”.  Get your tickets NOW!

Next week: the Blue Frog!

By popular demand, I’ve been asked to return to the Blue Frog for an extended evening of Buddy Holly.  The 7pm shows on January 15 and 16th are SOLD OUT but the 9:30 shows still have some tickets left.  Get your tickets HERE.

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City!

They’ve gone about as far as they could go…  Seriously, with this production.  I think they have.

Yes.  I am here in smolderin’ Kansas City where everyone teases me about (I mean… abowt) my little Canadian-isms.  I look at the weather in awe that it’ll be 37 degrees on Friday!  Which to Americans sounds like a frozen Canadian Christmas.

I am truly grateful to be here.  The staff at the theatre have been tremendously hospitable and the cast is overloaded with talent and energy.  The production value is second to none and the audiences are as enthusiastic as ever.  After logging hundreds of performances in Canada, it’s exciting to be closer to the source.  Kansas City is only a few hours from Clear Lake, IO where Buddy played his last show.

Zachary Stevenson Buddy Holly Kansas City Missouri
Taking Buddy to new heights in rehearsal

Fun fact:  When I was a shy, ninth-grader, my sister insisted I audition for the high school musical.  I fought off some serious nerves and flubbed my way through some kind of 90s grunge rock song.  Haha.  I think it was Nirvana.  Somehow some potential was revealed and I was cast as Will Parker in Oklahoma!  “Kansas City” was the first song I ever sang for a theatre audience.  Little did I know I had cut the first branch, carving a path for myself as a stage actor that has taken me all over Canada and, now, into the US.

I still recall some of the lyrics:

“I got to Kansas City on a Frid’y, by Saturday a learned a thing or two,

for up to then I didn’t have an I’dy of what the modern world was comin’ to

I counted 20 gas buggies goin’ by themselves almost everytime I took a walk.  

And then I put my ear to a Bell telephone and a strange woman started in to talk”

And I swear, it’s even more up-to-date then the song suggests 😉

My biggest, little fan.

Acting and performing is a rewarding but often exhausting profession.  At the end of the run of the Buddy Holly Story, my muscles protested and my brain needed new batteries.  On that particular closing night, I had picked up my girlfriend early from the airport; I had flown to Victoria and back for an emergency a day before, it was the end of a long week at the end of a long run.

After I had greeted the audience in the lobby at the CDs table as per usual, the cast gathered in the lobby for a toast and some words of congratulations.  The crew began to tear down the set and we gathered our loose ends in the dressing rooms.  Mine was particularly bad.  At my station: hair sprays and brylcream, multiple pairs of glasses, greeting cards, towels, flowers, LPs, tonnes of coins and my “little Buddy” figurine.  On top of this, I had boxes of remaining CDs and my guitar to pick up.

With arms loaded with the aforementioned articles, my gal and I seized the opportunity to flag down a taxi at first sight.  We loaded in, loaded out at my apartment and took a nap.   There was just one thing- amidst the chaos I completely forgot that Bill (director) had asked me to meet a young fan in the lobby that had brought his guitar to sign!   By the time I remembered, it was hours later and too late.  I felt horrible.

Fortunately, everyone behind the scenes at the Arts Club were happy to help me try to amend the situation.  They were able to track down a phone number.  I called and got the young lads mom, Hiromi, on the line.  We set a time to meet outside the Stanley Theatre.


Meet Lance!   Turns out, he’s my number one fan!  He saw the show back in 2010 and has been a big fan ever since.  He even got a super-cool, Fender guitar only made in Japan that looks like Buddy’s Strat, only Lance-sized!  I was finally able to put my name on it.  I tuned it up and we jammed a little of “Rave On” on the street.  They were very gracious and even made me a custom “Buddy” bottle of wine!

I recently got to enjoy the Buddy wine at a romantic dinner.   Delicious.  It prompted me to write this little thank you note to Lance and his mom.  It’s for people like you that I do what I do.  Thank you so much for your thoughtful gift and for your appreciation of my performance.  And, Lance, next time I see you – I wanna see YOU rockin’ out Rave On on that sweet guitar!

Your Buddy,

Zach

Buddy Holly is alive and well at the Stanley Theatre

Eight shows a week (and a quick trip to see the Jays in Seattle) have kept me very busy as of late.  I figured, at very least, I could share a couple interviews I did recently.  Hope to see you at the Stanley!

Here is an appearance on Vancouver’s Urban Rush:


From the Courier, July 31st:

10 Questions: Buddy-ing actor makes Holly pilgrimage

 

Photo by Dan Toulgoet

By Michael Kissinger, Vancouver Courier

Vancouver audiences know Zachary Stevenson for his Jessie Award-nominated portrayal of Buddy Holly in the Arts Club’s crowd-pleasing Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which returns to the Stanley this summer and runs until Aug. 26. But the local rock ’n’ roller is also a talented singer-songwriter, both as a solo artist and as a member of the band the Human Statues. Stevenson took time from his busy schedule to rave on with the Courier and discuss songwriting, eyeware and his likeness to Cee-lo Green.

1. Where does one find proper Buddy Holly glasses?

eBay! Actually, you know, it’s really tough to find really authentic Buddy glasses. They have really strong angles, which few modern dark-rimmed hipster glasses do.

2. Having played Buddy Holly and performed his songs so many times, do you feel your performance has evolved or changed?

Absolutely. When I was first cast as Buddy, I was a shaggy-haired, side-burned hippy coming off a production of Hair. I played a decent folk guitar but had never played blues or rock on an electric. I worked really hard to get it off the ground. Every production since has given me another crack to dig a little deeper and get more detailed. Also working with multiple directors and actors contribute a lot to refining the character as well. A couple of summers ago I finally went down to Lubbock, Texas; Clovis, New Mexico; and Clear Lake, Iowa to do some hands-on research and reflection on the trail of Buddy Holly, which deepened my connection with him. There’s a really cool video my sister made of the trip called “Searching for Buddy Holly” on YouTube.

3. What was it like to actually see in person the towns, recording studios and concert halls portrayed in the production and even perform a song with one of Holly’s backup singers?

Unforgettable. I had already logged over 200 performances of the Buddy Holly Story before I finally was able to head down and see some of the locations that we portray onstage. I’d spent so many hours visualizing these places that it was really surreal to actually be in the presence. It was quite emotional to actually step into that studio floor. I’m not a “spiritual” person per se. But I could really feel the presence of energy and the vibrations that Buddy and the boys had caused in those walls all those years ago.

4. How has playing Buddy Holly influenced your own songwriting?

Editing. Most of Buddy Holly’s songs are not much longer than two minutes. No self-indulgence here. Helps me to edit anything that is extraneous to the song.

5. Your recently released album Smashed Hits consists of covers of Buddy Holly songs and other early rock ’n’ roll classics, and the album art looks of that time period. What about that era of music appeals to you?

I love how exciting it was for people to hear new songs on the radio. How there was a lot of mystery about the performers. That people gathered ’round the record player and listened to music and treated it with more reverence and focus. We consume so much music now on the go and with visuals on the Internet. A lot of pop music has become a little like fast food.

6. You’ve played Phil Ochs, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly on stage. Which one is the hardest to play?

Jerry Lee was. Mostly because I’m not a natural Boogie-Woogie player so it took A LOT of practice to give up to a performable level. I think I naturally share more in common, personality-wise, with the other guys, too.

7. What modern day musician do you think you’d be best suited to portray?

How ’bout Cee-lo Green? A lot of people have said I look like Chris Isaac but I’d love to be Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (one of my fav bands).

8. Have you ever suffered any Buddy Holly-related injuries?

Haha. Just last night I sliced up my finger pretty good on a broken string.

9. What kind of music do you listen to when you’re at home?

I listen to a lot of different styles. I just bought Hey Ocean’s latest album. It’s really good.

10. I assume there are times when you must get tired of playing the same songs night after night. What is the key to warding off Buddy Holly exhaustion?

The look in an older lady’s eyes as she tells me how she couldn’t keep still during the performance and how much it meant to her to hear those songs that flooded her with memories of her youth. It reminds me of the power of music and why I love it so much. Though, I may not wake up every morning thinking “I can’t wait to play ‘Peggy Sue’ yet again tonight!” I do go to bed every night thankful I did.

mkissinger@vancourier.com

53 years ago today…

Today is another busy day in the studio working on the new Human Statues album. It’s sounding really good. As I have a moment sit as Jeff records an acoustic track, I realize today is the anniversary of Buddy Holly’s untimely passing.
I already posted this article last March but in light of today being THE “day the music died” I thought it was worthy of a re-post.
I’ll be reprising the role of Buddy this summer in Vancouver’s Stanley Theatre.

Toronto Star‘s travel section:

In America, remembering the Day the Music Died

by Reb Stevenson

CLEAR LAKE, IOWA—On an autumn afternoon, a young man enters a dense cornfield. He’s tall, slender and wears horn-rimmed black glasses.

It’s not just any field: on Feb. 3, 1959, a plane crashed here, killing rock n’ roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper.

He stops at a guitar-shaped monument. Apart from the strong breeze that rustles the crispy stalks, it’s eerily silent.

Under normal circumstances, this creepy scene would prompt me to dial the ghostbusters. But I have some mitigating information: the man isn’t Buddy Holly’s spectre but my own brother, Zachary Stevenson.

Zach, a musician and actor, has played the optically challenged legend five times, including the lead in last summer’s sold-out Vancouver production of “The Buddy Holly Story.” With 260 shows down, he decided a three-state research trip was overdue.

So here we are, standing where it ended for Holly, who was just 23 years old on “the day the music died.”

Where it all began, however, is a whole 1,000 miles south.

Holly was born in Lubbock, Texas, in 1936, forming the band The Crickets in his teens.

Zach and I made the rounds: we drove past Lubbock High, stopped in at a radio station where Holly hosted a show and Zach laid a guitar pick on Holly’s grave.

But, honestly, none of that stuff gave me a true understanding of why this short-lived musician is considered a rock ’n’ roll luminary.

The answer came in the guitar-shaped gallery of The Buddy Holly Center: I learned that both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones revered Holly in their infancy.

“Buddy still appeals to people of all ages on many different levels,” says curator Jacqueline Bober.

Plenty of memorabilia resides there, including his bedroom furniture, his last Fender guitar and — most heartbreaking of all — the signature glasses that were plucked from the cornfield.

Lubbock had its limitations, and so The Crickets found a recording studio 100 miles away in Clovis, N.M. Since that state is an hour behind Texas, the boys would gun it to see if they could pull in at the same time they’d left.

When we joined a guided tour at Nor Va Jak studios in Clovis, Zach and I exchanged a wide-eyed look that silently communicated the delicate sentiment: “Holy crap, this place is freaking awesome!”

Most impressive: A living piece of Buddy Holly history on hand. His name is David Bigham and he sang backup on four tracks, including “It’s So Easy.”

Bigham quit two weeks after Holly died, returning to the studio as a volunteer 31 years later.

“The moment I walked through that door, it was like I had left the night before. Everything was the same,” says Bigham, now 73.

Indeed, Nor Va Jak is a time capsule. Given the original equipment, the Baldwin piano and the celesta you hear in “Everyday,” you’d think Buddy had just popped out for a pee break.

If you’ve listened to “That’ll Be The Day,” “Peggy Sue,” or “Maybe Baby,” then you’ve already heard this space. A dozen Buddy Holly hits came out of Clovis, where producer Norman Petty added his own unique flair to the songs.

One day, Holly’s drummer, Jerry Allison, was absent-mindedly slapping a rhythm on his knee.

Petty’s response: “Let me put a mic on that.”

The midwest was a far cry from the heat of New Mexico and Texas, particularly in February, 1959. The tour bus for the Winter Dance Party kept breaking down and one musician even got frostbite because the heating system was kaput.

Holly snapped, booking a charter flight directly following the show at Clear Lake’s Surf Ballroom.

As for the outcome of that decision — well, a sad pall still hangs over Clear Lake. In a shop on the main street, we find framed photos of the wreckage for sale, bodies and all. I’m happy to report that Zach isn’t enough of a crazed fan to buy one.

He is, however, keen to see the Surf Ballroom. On that fateful night, parents got in free and hovered at the back, keeping a watchful eye on the 1,100 youngsters in attendance (who knew how this new rock ’n’ roll stuff might corrupt innocent little Bobby or Susie?).

We can envision the scene perfectly because the ballroom has practically been embalmed. The South Seas theme, the booths, a machine that projects clouds on the navy blue ceiling — it has all endured.

“It’s a bucket list item for a lot of people,” says spokesperson Laurie Lietz. “Especially for people who were teenagers in that era — the crash was a real turning point for them. It’s not uncommon to see a tear shed here.”

Despite its tragic association, The Surf is an active music venue. On a lark, we see former Guns n’ Roses guitarist Slash play there (now there’s someone for Bobby and Susie’s parents to fret about).

But before that, Zach asks if he can jump onstage with his guitar and play a few Buddy Holly tunes.

“Of course!” says Lietz.

You’d think that, for someone who has performed for thousands, playing in an empty ballroom would be no biggie. But today’s rendition of “That’ll Be The Day” is more emotionally charged than most. Because, in his heart, Zach is playing to one very significant spectator — and I don’t mean me.

Reb Stevenson is a Toronto-based writer. Read her blog at www.rebstevenson.com. Her trip was partially subsidized by Texas Tourism. For a video of Reb’s trip, go to www.thestar.com/travel

JUST THE FACTS

SLEEPING: In Lubbock, stay in the 1950’s room at The Woodrow House B&B (2629 19th Street; 806-793-3330; www.woodrowhouse.com; $99-139 per night). In Clear Lake and Clovis, you’re looking at chain motels. The upshot: you can buy more rare Buddy Holly memorabilia on eBay with the money you save.

THE MUSEUM: The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, Texas is open Tuesday to Sunday (806-775-3560; www.buddyhollycenter.org; admission $5).

THE STUDIO: Nor Va Jak Studio in Clovis, New Mexico is open Monday to Saturday by appointment only (contact Kenneth Broad (ksbroad@yucca.net or 575-760-2157; admission by donation).

THE VENUE: The Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clear Lake, Iowa is open year-round Monday to Friday ( www.surfballroom.com or call 641-357-6151; admission by donation).

THE CRASH SITE: Free maps to the crash site are available at The Surf Ballroom.

Buddy in Coquitlam

Arts Club brings Buddy Holly back to life

buddy-dress3.jpg

The Arts Club Theatre on Tour production of Buddy.
By Larry Pruner – The Tri-City News
Published: October 19, 2011 9:00 AM

Zachary Stevenson doesn’t just play legendary rock-n-roller Buddy Holly?. He lives him, despite Holly’s very vibrant yet tragically fleeting career and life span.

Stevenson and the Arts Club musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story play at Coquitlam’s Evergreen Cultural Centre from Oct. 29 to Nov. 4.

The show has taken off as part of a series that opened last month and tours through November at various B.C. cities, just as Holly’s music career was doing before his untimely death.

“The day the music died,” as Don McLean wrote in his 1971 tribute song, American Pie, was Feb. 2, 1959, when the chartered plane in which he was travelling crashed in a Iowa farm field and claimed his life of a mere 22 years, along with those of other rising singers: Ritchie Valens?, 17, and 28-year-old J.P. “The Big Bopper?” Richardson.

While Stevenson, 29, is far too young to remember Holly firsthand, his own band, Human Statues, has its music infused with duo harmonies similar to The Beatles, who made it no secret in their early days they were inspired greatly by Holly.

It is said that Holly set the template for the standard rock and roll band: Two guitars, a bass and drums. He was also one of the first of his genre to write, produce and perform his own songs.

“I really only know the basics about Buddy… and maybe a little more for someone my age,” Stevenson, a Parksville native and current Vancouver resident, told The Tri-City News on Monday. “I didn’t even realize before he was from Texas. I didn’t hear that [accent] in his voice. He was an interesting character. He was polite and of Baptist religion, yet kind of rebellious at the same time.

“His music was really kind of punk rock for its day,” Stevenson said.

The play also involves Holly’s love interest, Maria Elena Stantiago, whom he proposed to after a whirlwind romance and was left a widow after only six months of marriage.

She was pregnant at the time of Holly’s death and miscarried shortly after, reportedly due to pyschological trauma.

“There’s only so much we know about him,” Stevenson said of Holly, who perished only 18 months after his biggest hit, That’ll be the Day, was released. “What we do have is his music itself and the energy it reveals… about life and love and all that stuff a young man goes through. But, at the same time, it’s cutting edge, too.”

Elena Juatco, who plays Holly’s wife Maria, says everybody in the play has a true and timeless connection with Holly, whose other hits include Peggy Sue and Not Fade Away.

“I think it’s important to say we all love music and this show’s about Buddy Holly and his music,” Juatco says in an interview on the Arts Club’s website (www.artsclub.com). “Everyone on our cast plays an instrument and when we have breaks everyone picks up a guitar or gets on drums and we just start jamming together.”

On Sept. 7 and what would have been his 75th birthday, Holly received a star posthumously on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And he has a star like Stevenson, paying him a live tribute well-worth watching.

• For tickets, call Evergreen at 604-927-6555.

Fall Dance Party!

In the year Buddy Holly would’ve turned 75, his spirit is, once again, on tour.  Last night we opened the Arts Club’s touring production of the Buddy Holly at Capilano University to a rockin’ crowd.  Kudos to our newest cast members Gordon Roberts, Mat Baker, Tom Pickett and Mark Burgess for learning the entire show in a mere 6 rehearsals!

Last night I was reminded just how demanding this role is physically and vocally and how much energy it takes honor the show and memory of Buddy Holly.  But it is never hard to pull off when the music moves you.  We have the same Crickets (band) as last year – Scott Carmichael, Jeremy Holmes and fellow Human Statue, Jeff Bryant.  And together it sounds dynamite!

This tour begins in North Vancouver, and tours to Burnaby, West Van, Surrey, Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, Mission, Nelson, Kelowna, Chilliwak, Vernon, Cranbrook, Victoria, Courtenay, and closes at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo on November 20th.

For full details and links on how to buy tickets visit the Arts Club site.

Click the Streampad below to hear my cut of “That’ll be the Day”

Z

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