Even as a teenager, it was music from the 50s and 60s that dominated my collection. I’ve visited Graceland in Memphis. I’ve played guitar at Hank Williams’ grave in Alabama. I took a road trip to trace the life of Buddy Holly from Lubbock, TX to the plane crash site in Clear Lake, Iowa. But I would give anything to travel back in time to be there in the moment when Phil Ochs played his first coffee house in Greenwich Village, or the Beatles at Empire Stadium or to find myself walking down Union Avenue on December 4th, 1956.
Fortunately for me, there are records. And Sam Phillips made some of the best of them.
Sam seized his opportunity of being in the right place at the right time, recording the best of what Memphis’s diverse music scene had to offer: blues, country, gospel, boogie, western swing and everything in-between. Before long, Roy Orbison came a-knockin, then Charlie Rich, not to mention the four young men who became known as the “Million Dollar Quartet”. When Sam hit record he wasn’t just making hit records, he was documenting a special moment in history: the birth of Rock & Roll.
Sam named his company Sun as a sign of perpetual optimism: a new day and a new beginning. When we listen to these records, we ARE travelling back in time to that day. They haven’t been tracked, overdubbed, processed and auto-tuned. These are records of musicians in a room, playing together in all its raw, imperfect beauty. More than anything else, he captured the spirit of these pioneers and immortalized them on vinyl, “where the soul of a man never dies”.
Starting this month, the Arts Club Theatre takes audiences back to the greatest impromptu jam session in rock and roll history at 706 Union Ave in Memphis, Tennessee when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley played together for the first and only time . I’ve had such a good time putting this show together as musical director and I couldn’t be more proud of the cast.
I just want to give a quick thanks to Pete Paquette and everyone at Paquette Productions for a wonderful experience on my first tour in Ontario in several years. The photo above was shot backstage in Chatham, ON. The following three weeks will see me and the stellar cast of Class of ’59 touring Alberta and BC. Check the sidebar for ticket info and dates. Hope to see you there!*
*Please note: we are not selling any merchandise on this tour. If you are interested in purchasing a CD please visit my STORE.
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
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.
Via Surrey Now: One dead ringer for several dead singers
On stage at Surrey Arts Centre; Zachary Stevenson best known for becoming Buddy Holly in Arts Club’s hit musical about doomed rocker
By Adrian Chamberlain, Surrey Now
Zachary Stevenson plugs in again for Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, on stage at Surrey Arts Centre until Oct. 28.
Need help bringing a dead singing star to life?
Call Zachary Stevenson.
The actor-singer once starred in a show about protest singer Phil Ochs. He’s also portrayed country icon Hank Williams on stage.
But Stevenson is best known for becoming Buddy Holly.
“I’ve cornered the market as an actor, playing singers who have untimely deaths who wrote songs and played guitar,” said Stevenson with a smile.
For an interview, Stevenson wore the same prescription horn-rims he sports in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, which on Tuesday (Oct. 11) opened a two-week run at Surrey Arts Centre’s main stage.
Stevenson, who ordinarily plays acoustic guitar, straps on an electric to play the rocker who wrote “Peggy Sue” and “That’ll Be the Day.” His uncanny imitation and persona of the doomed rocker landed him the plum role with the Arts Club Theatre Company production.
“I initially was approached to perform in the full musical in Ontario,” said the 29-year-old. “I researched him, the era and his music.”
Stevenson has spent hours pouring over the Internet, reading about the legendary singer and hearing his music.
“I was very meticulous in the smallest of details about Buddy Holly because I wanted to capture his essence,” he said.
“As far as looking like him, I wear glasses and have curly hair myself, so that helps.”
Last year, Stevenson was chosen as one of the Vancouver Sun’s “10 Rising Talents to Watch for in the Arts.” According to the Sun’s arts critic, Peter Birnie, the young singer has: ” … mastered a mimicry of some interesting singers, and it’s paid off.”
Birnie also went on to say this about his role in Buddy: “Zachary Stevenson nails the rock ‘n’ roll legend in a full-throttle tribute that fires on all cylinders.”
After performing Holly on stage in a half-dozen productions across Canada, the lanky actor/singer has mastered Holly’s vocal inflections.
“I really trained on his accent marks in the lyrics so I could get all the hiccups down-pat before the first show,” he added. “I polish my performance every time and it feels more and more natural. Now, I can step on stage and be Buddy.”
He went on to add that: “Although Buddy’s songs were simple, he didn’t follow the typical rock formula of the times. His music is timeless because of that rock ‘n’ roll spirit he portrayed. He had a lot of energy on stage.”
Stevenson said he never set out to mimic deceased music legends. While at the University of Victoria studying for a theatre degree, the budding performer developed a one-man show about Phil Ochs, an obscure American protest singer who committed suicide in 1976 at the age of 35.
Stevenson spent endless hours listening to Ochs albums in his father’s record collection.
“I’d sit in my house in Parksville and play the record and play along, trying to figure out his picking pattern,” he said.
Meanwhile, Stevenson said the hits that made Buddy Holly a household name get everyone in the audience up on their feet and dancing.
“Everybody also starts singing,” he said. “It is so much fun for me to see the audience get into the music as much as I do.
“Some of the younger audience has told me it’s the closest they’ll get to seeing Buddy Holly perform, and the older crowd tell me they get energized and they tell me they have great memories of that era.? As long as people keep wanting the music, I’ll keep performing it.”
Stevenson has found success playing his own music as well, with folk-pop duo The Human Statues. “I guess you can describe our music as influenced primarily by early pop like The Beatles, but with a modern twist,” he said. “We are often compared to the Barenaked Ladies … but we aren’t a novelty act.”
As for playing another deceased music legend, well, Stevenson certainly isn’t averse to the idea.
“People say ‘who’s next?’ And I say I don’t know. Jimi Hendrix? I don’t know if I can pull that one off.”
We have firefighters for good reason. When something is ablaze, much is destroyed. Well, it seems, performing the theatrical play- Fire can be destructive for an actor as well. Yes, emotionally speaking, the character, Cale, (based on Jerry Lee Lewis) is fairly self-destructive, but I’m actually speaking quite literally in this case.
Within the rehearsal process and short run of Fire I managed to break: Two tables, two belts, a radio, a pair of shoes, a piano string, a thumbnail, nearly a finger and on the final flourish of the closing night encore of “Great Balls of Fire”- a piano key was knocked sheer off. Mind you, I was stomping on the piano 😉
Thank you to everybody at Blue Bridge – Brian Richmond, Darcy Stoop and especially Justine Shore; a fantastic cast and to all the people who attended and came with us on our journey. Amen.
Last night we opened FIRE to a standing ovation! The role of Cale Blackwell – a character inspired by Jerry Lee Lewis has been my greatest challenge as an actor to date. Just getting my fingers in shape to handle the songs in the show would’ve have been enough to focus on in three weeks. But the acting challenge presented in FIRE takes an equal amount of commitment, demanding a journey from a 17 year old preacher’s son to a celebrity at the height of the rock and roll era to a 42 year old washed-up, alcoholic on the verge of collapse.
Jacob Richmond as Herchel
“The multi-talented Zachary Stevenson rose to the role of rocker Cale Blackwell bravely and with limitless energy […] alternating between furiously pounding the keyboard, then sliding down it and even stretching a leg atop it and jumping aboard, in Lewis’s signature style.”
– Amy Smart, Times Colonist, Victoria, BC
FIRE runs until August 14th at the McPherson Theatre in downtown Victoria.
Tickets can be purchased individually or as part of a subscription package by calling (250)-386-6121 or visiting the McPherson Box Office at #3 Centennial Square in Victoria.
OR click to order online