Saturday, February 14, 2009

Guitar Zack

Zack Wiesinger

Hey, when you're a kid from West Mifflin squeezing some blues out of your ax and having guys like Warren King and Steve Vai like the sound you make, well, that's a pretty good start.

Zack Wiesinger is that kid. He picked up his mom Char's guitar when he was ten, and was hooked. Joe Rossi taught him the basics, and the youngster's dedication and talent took over from there. He became a guitar prodigy almost overnight.

When he was twelve, he did a guest gig with Jill West and the Blues Attack. He played with them until he flew the 'Burgh coop for for left coast three years ago, doing the clubs and tours with the band, and getting to open for guys like Bruce Springsteen and BB King.

Wiesinger - "Guitar Zack" - made the move to LA in 2006 to see if he can forge a name for himself. He's Vai's personal assistant between gigs; every bluesman knows that you gotta keep a day job when you're breaking into the business.

Being able to drop Vai's name to a booking agent doesn't hurt the cause. Speaking of bookings, his manager is his childhood bud, Jesse Eichner. Doesn't anyone stay in Pittsburgh anymore?

Wiesinger met Vai in 2005 when he was in high school, at the Grammy Camp for aspiring young musicians, winning a scholarship while there. Vai liked his style, and Wiesinger became his protege of sorts. The kid, though, was storming ahead on his own merits.

He came in second in the Guitar Center's 2007 "King of the Blues Challenge" in Los Angeles. And second out of 4,200 entries ain't none too shabby. Wiesinger had to play the lead-off set of the finals, making his high finish more challenging.

He did even better in 2006, when he took home the Albert King Award at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis for Most Promising Guitar Player.

Wiesinger opened for Steve Vai on his 2007 "Sound Theories" (he backed him some on the album, too) international tour of the states and Europe. And it was all him. He performed solo, with just a Stratocaster and single amp, a perfect if high-wire blues set-up.

The stringbean bluesman has a between-songs stage presence that belies his age. He has a great rap with the crowd, and his showmanship keeps the audience into his jams, even if his herky-jerky playing style leaves some of them cold.

His enthusiasm and humor is contagious. Guitar Zack plays a song that goes: "My hair is perfect, it has seven sides," a little self-effacing jab at his pompadour, or whatever style his mop may be that day.

Starting last summer, he's headlined his own west coast tour in support of his 2008 album, "Misaligned Mind". He'll keep on the road with his new band (it replaced Guitar Zack & No Slack) which includes guitarist Andy Alt, who has toured with The Roots and The Black Keys, across the country.

The 22-year old West Mifflin Hi grad ('05) hasn't forgotten his hometown. In fact, Wiesinger is in Pittsburgh this weekend for his birthday, and gigged at Harvey’s, in West Mifflin, on Friday night.

Though his set is half covers - there are, after all, a lotta blues tunes to pick from - he's shown great talent as a writer. Wiesinger has a catalog of 300+ original songs written, performed (he laid down every instrumental and vocal line), recorded, and engineered in his parent's basement. He even did the "Dead Birds" Steeler track for WDVE.

Listen for "Zack's Blues" co-written by Wiesinger and Norman Nardini, in the 2007 Blair Underwood/Ving Rhames movie "The Bridge to Nowhere." Yah, he does soundtracks, too.

He's self-issued his original songs "2:30 (no matter what!)," "Plus Some That Don't Fit The Mold," and "Tranquil Madness," and sold thousands of copies at his shows. Nice little sideline, hey?

One thing that's fairly safe to say is that Wiesinger won't be tripped up by the bright lights. He was an A student in school, and the only time the tee-totaler is in a bar is when he's gigging. He spends his spare time honing his guitar work.

Heck, when he was in Amsterdam on the Vai tour, Wiesinger passed up a tour of the red-light district and headed for the museum.

What's the future hold? Who knows? The blues is a minefield when you're trying to earn your daily bread from it. And some industry guys think Wiesinger's calling is in writing songs, not playing them. Guitar Zack himself has never really put himself in the blues niche, so he has lots of room to explore and expand.

He's 22, with a bullet on the music industry charts.

Zack Wiesinger and No Slack playing "Dogs Eat Mush" live at SUNY-Buffalo.

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