In a couple weeks I’ll be taking the stage at Crown Centre in Kansas City to perform in A Night On the Town Cabaret series at Musical Theatre Heritage. The three night stand will explore some highlights from my stage career including Buddy Holly, Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Phil Ochs as well as share some of my own stories and songs. Think Buddy Holly/Zachary Stevenson unplugged.
Went on 2 tours with the fantastic team at Legends of Rock & Roll– “A Rock & Roll Christmas” and a brand new, killer concept, “The Class of ’59” featuring Buddy, Jerry Lee, Bopper, Connie, Eddie, Elvis, Don & Phil.
I went on an epic road trip across the western and southern states and I played in a handful of Phil Ochs Song Nights in the San Francisco Bay area.
2014 is already upon us and I’ve got some exciting announcements.
I’m beginning the year in America’s most populous urban centre, New York City, doing research to develop a show centred on the folk music scene in the 60s. Only to fly right back to one of Canada’s most remote and unpopulated beauties, to reprise the Stampede Queen in Haida Gwaii, Jan 31/Feb.1st)
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.
The Rewind Button is a group blogging project instigated by Rachel Tynan. We’re writing our impressions of Rolling Stones top 40 albums of all time every Thursday.
Today: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On”
Having portrayed Phil Ochs, one of the figureheads of the protest music genre, I learned a fair bit about albums and songs of the era that were known for speaking out against injustice. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” came up in many articles. Motown produced an incredible number of hits throughout the 60s but few talked politics.
What I like about “What’s Goin’ On” is how cinematic it is. It sounds like a soundtrack to me. The title track and opening track begins with a soundscape, a party, people coming together. People asking questions. It keeps a very consistent sound throughout. Very atmospheric and spatial. Lots of reverb and auxiliary percussion. It closes strong with my personal favorite track of the album “Inner City Blues”. He speaks of the physical and spiritual trauma of war, the impact we have on future generations and financial inequality. I love the line “natural fact is: I can’t pay my taxes”.
What I don’t like about the album is that in between the strong bookends is a whole lotta sameness. What Gaye gains in continuity he loses in variety. I find that the tunes and grooves blend a little too much together for my taste. The tempos and instrumentation don’t deviate all that much for the duration of the record. Also the production, to my ears, lacks presence. I know, in part, this is due to the technology and the esthetic of the time. But there is so much reverb on the vocals and other instruments (like the Anchorman jazz flute) that it loses some intimacy that I think could serve some of his lyrics.
But when it does work, it really works. That final groove is so infectious that even if you weren’t on his wavelength you’d probably still join the protest for the party alone. And this is why I believe it made the all time list. You see, guys like Marvin Gaye made protest and politics hip. A key ingredient to “Make (you) wanna holler and throw up both (your) hands”. It’s what was happenin’ brother in the civil rights and anti-war groovement of the 1960s.
I don’t belong to the cult of Dylan. I’ve always viewed the phenomenon of Dylan to be a little bit of an emperor’s new clothes scenario. For every fan who really dug Dylan’s music, there were 10 more who were too afraid too admit that they didn’t get it and bought the record anyway for fear of seeming unhip. I went to a concert in 2005. Most of the audience gave a standing ovation after every single song. Even when it was clear Dylan couldn’t care less about connecting with the crowd or singing his legendary lyrics in a way that was remotely intelligible.
There is plenty on this album I don’t get, I must admit. But it is also somehow still very captivating. My favorite folk songwriter, Phil Ochs, said that Dylan had “produced the most important and revolutionary album ever made” when it came out in ’65. In an interviews disc I heard Phil say, “I put on Highway 61 and I laughed and said it’s so ridiculous. It’s impossibly good, it just can’t be that good. How can a human mind do this?”
And putting myself back in that scene, I think I can understand why he felt this way. Many writers, Phil included, had limited themselves by adhering too strictly to the folk tradition. Whether it be instrumentation, structure or subject matter. Highway 61 is completely irreverent of any of the aforementioned. Totally cocky and unapologetic. At this point, Dylan couldn’t care less about alienating his folk audience.
And he did. But gained many more followers as a result. This was Dylan’s first full electric album. He had just come back from his well documented tour of England and had grown very resentful of what he was expected to be.
Allegedly written, as Dylan describes, as a “long piece of vomit”, the opening song “Like a Rolling Stone” is certainly one of Dylan’s all-time classics really embracing uncertainty and the changing of the guard. My favorite song on the album is “Ballad of a Thin Man” for its truly bizarre imagery. What’s kind of funny to me, though, is that it is written as a mockery of those on the outside of the counterculture, the journalists, the older generation who don’t get what it’s all about. But I, actually, find myself sympathizing with Mr. Jones because I often find Dylan too pretentious. My favorite lyric comes from “Tombstone Blues” which is “the sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken”. This was the era of free-association for Dylan. Sometimes he’s said it was as if a ghost was writing the songs on his behalf.
The band sound is instantly recognizably 60s. Especially that organ. It sounds like a live happening. Like Dylan gathered up some guys to play a one-time only concert on a flat bed truck rolling down highway 61. It really works to support the attitude of his vocal delivery. Though, I really would have appreciated hitting the breaks to take a moment to tune the electric guitar on “Queen Jane Approximately”. Seriously. Did anyone else catch this? It’s brutal. Perhaps this is what the “approximately” part was all about.
In closing, I still don’t really know if I’d call myself a Dylan fan. But I do find it a very fascinating record and one that can stir up plenty of conversation over the interpretation of his lyrics. Were they deep insights? Or was Dylan putting us on like the Emperor, or Mr. Jones and inviting us to make fools of ourselves acting like we really get it? If a copy of Highway 61 survives the extinction of humankind and later some aliens stumble upon it, would 11mins of “Desolation Row” provide more clues or red herrings to what we were really like?
Check these other blogs for more on Highway 61 and the Rewind Button Blogs:
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.”
If you have to beg or steal or borrow, Welcome to Los Angeles: City of Tomorrow! – Phil Ochs
from “The World Began in Eden and Ended in Los Angeles”
The heat of summer was cooling, my Rock n’ Roll show, FIRE, was put out but another small torch was burning south of the border in the hands of a humble, yet capable theatre company: Open Fist in Los Angeles.
A new play in the works about the life of my favorite folk singer, Phil Ochs was illuminated in it’s very first staged reading.
The Power and the Glory: the Tall Tales of Phil Ochs (American)
My hat goes off to the cast and company that pulled this off in such a short time. An especially big thank you goes out to my collaborator- Jesse Bernstein for his talent and perseverance and his lovely girlfriend for being such a welcoming host. And to Erhin Marlow for entertaining and guiding me through the ever intriguing, beautiful, sensual morgue that is Los Angeles.
His face is well known to a Cowichan Valley crowd but music lovers might not know his name right away.
He’s Zachary Stevenson and he’s been honing his ability to mimic well known performers for several years, often using Valley venues such as the Mercury Theatre and Ryder’s Roadhouse to polish his acts.
He appeared some years back in The Ballad of Phil Ochs and only a few years ago started to work on the astonishing tribute to Buddy Holly that has led to important gigs in Vancouver and a packed house at the Cowichan Theatre May 10 when he headlined in Duncan with the Legends of Rock & Roll showcase.
Stevenson is working hard at presenting the whole Buddy Holly, taking the famous performer far beyond the writer of iconic ’50s hits that were beloved by such later groups as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones but bringing out the part of his work that underpinned the rock music we know today.
Stevenson has actually visited Holly’s old studio and stood behind the microphone the pop idol used to record his hits and this extra work is paying off in additional reality.
The show in Duncan May 10 also featured Bill Culp as the Big Bopper and Ben Kunder as Ritchie Valens respectively, creating a concert line-up similar to the famous “Winter Dance Party” tour that ended in tragedy in 1959 when they were all killed in a plane crash.