Zach Parrish Serves Gutsy, Rocking Blues
Utah musician living in motor home behind tavern steps into national spotlight.
Axl Rose, Jim Morrison, and Rage Against the Machine have all been arrested for the love of music. It's time to add another to the list: Zach Parrish from Utah's own Zach Parrish Blues Band.
The West Valley City-born Parrish was finger-picking his vintage guitar outside of the east entrance of Crossroads Mall in Salt Lake City and appropriately moaning the lyrics to Robert Johnson's "Crossroads Blues" when officers approached and asked him to leave.
"I was in a bad mood that day," said Parrish, who was booked into the Salt Lake County jail for three misdemeanors (the charges were later dropped, he says). "At the time, I was bummed out, but now I think it's funny."
His musical style is no laughing matter, however. The 28-year-old Parrish plays with an intensity that might make you believe that his life depended on any single performance. One local reviewer wrote "one song and you're convinced this guy's been to hell and back ..."
His deep, flamboyant, house-rocking blues sound makes him one of the most impressive live acts around.
His band members have also bought into his intense "outlaw" philosophy.
"I like to think that we're on a mission to keep live music alive," said Brad Wheeler of Ogden, who plays harmonica in the band.
One of the most uncommon things about the band is that the cast of characters changes with every performance. One night the Zach Parrish Blues Band will be a three-piece, the next it may be a solo act or a six-member band. The only stable member in every variation of the band is Parrish himself.
"My favorite line-up is when we have bass, drums, keyboard, harmonica and myself on vocals and guitar," said Parrish before last week's heart-pounding performance at the Utah Arts Festival.
One of the current lineups includes longtime bandmate Tom Krug (bass), Anthony Perry (drums), Gerry Lee (keyboard) and his "partner in crime," Wheeler.
"They put it out there," said KRCL disc jockey Truman Wold, who co-hosts the station's "Red, White and Blues" program. "Typically, a blues band - in order to make it - will be a little slicker and do more covers. (The Zach Parrish Blues Band) plays it from the rootsierside. More of the Delta style - Delta meets Chicago - rather than the West Coast style or any of those slicker types of blues."
The unique style of the band has not only put its name among the elite of Utah blues, but also the national spotlight, sharing the stage with legendary blues singer Dave Van Ronk, folk singer Michelle Shocked and rocker Joe Walsh.
KRCL ranked Parrish's self-titled compact disc as one of the top 10 blues albums of 1999. The group also received a plug from a premier national blues magazine.
Blues Revue gave the disc an exceptional review, saying "Utah's Zach Parrish Blues Band plays capital-B Blues in great old styles - New Orleans here, spooky tremolo-effect minor-key blues there, a Little Walter-inspired jump, and a syncopated not-quite-funk or a rapid-fire stomp ... You'll dig his impressively gutsy singing, too ... Brad Wheeler on harmonica and Leonard Thomas on drums are MVPs. The Group's self-titled disc is cool and classy."
Wold concurs, "It's a very good disc, one you don't get tired of listening to."
Parrish, who has been playing the guitar for 20 years, is clearly the star of the band. The handlebar-mustachioed singer's recognition of the crowd and his quirky facial expressions and body movements are integral parts of his appeal.
The singer, who credits Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin as a few of his influences, admits that his music is different.
"I like a lot of varied approaches," he said. "I like to take country blues and adapt it to a band format."
All of this coming from a guy who lives out of a motor home. What RV park, you ask? None. Thy the parking lot of a Salt Lake tavern. (Parrish said he doesn't want to give out the name of the bar so adoring fans won't harass him in the middle of the night.)
And fans there are.
During his performance at the Utah Arts Festival, a crowd of nearly 100 people gathered to watch the "mustache mojo" and his band perform songs like "I'm a Guitar Man" (Parrish on a tirade telling his wife to leave because he's a "guitar man") and "She's Righteous" (a song that celebrates womanhood).
When the band left the stage, chants of "one more" and "Zach, Zach, Zach" swept over the state fairgrounds.
Does Salt Lake have a star in its midst? Is there a record deal headed toward the Wasatch Front for the Zach Parrish Blues Band? Wold thinks so.
"I think that they will get signed to a small national label from someone who's willing to take a chance on a smaller name band ... These guys are up and coming."
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