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John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



Early Blues Interview
Zach Prather, US guitarist & band leader

www.dixonlandingmusic.comZach's Biography:
"Born in Chicago in 1952, Zach Prather grew up listening to many of the great Blues players. He began playing at the age of 13 and by the time he was 15, he had made his first record with Curtis Mayfield's Label
Curtom Records. During this time he had commence playing at many of the well known clubs and venues in the Chicago area.  

At 17 Prather completed two years military service, after which he formed another Band and returned to the club scene. However, it was not the local Blues players that influenced Prather then, rather the British Invasion groups such as the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Small Faces and The Who. In 1974, Zach moved to Los Angeles and began playing with another Chicago guitar player, Cash McCall. Together they performed with some of the biggest names in the Blues, including Screamin' J Hawkins, Etta James and of course Willie Dixon. "Cash and I had already become very good friends when he introduced me to Willie and in a short time we also were very close, so he, Willie, decided we should record together. Willie really liked the things I was doing, he knew people where calling it Rock 'n Roll but no one knew better then him where Rock 'n Roll came from. During this Recording Project Willie became ill. Zach was with him the day before he died, and he will always be grateful for being able to meet this man and for all he taught him about life which is the blues.  

Later while touring Europe with Screamin' J. Hawkins, Zach meet Luther Allison, and after one jam session and some quick arrangements Zach moved to Paris where he performed with Luther for three and a half years. While living in Paris, Zach made his first CD called Never My Love, with Melodie/Encore records. He has not stopped since ....... "


Alan:   What are your first musical memories growing up in Chicago?

Zach:  Well some of the first memories are of sneaking into my living room at night to listen to what my parents where listening to Ray Charles Muddy, Wolf, Ella Fitzgerald, Charles Brown. I cut my teeth on that stuff man. I didn’t know what I was hearing but I knew it made me drift away and forget my troubles….not that they where so big, the troubles of a kid…lol 

Alan:   You started playing at an early age, what kind of material were you playing in the early days?

Zach:  Well back then I was playing Motown stuff at first attempt, Marvin Gay, Smokey, that stuff; James Brown we were trying to play it. I'm not so sure it was good..lol but we where kids and people found it interesting and cute. We would play a lot at that time for anything mostly parties and only for a short time. Then later, in my teens I heard the Beatles and everything changed man  J it was rock and roll fever, I'm talking 64 or so then I was doing Beatles, Stones, some of the early Mayall stuff, Stevie Marriot….I was hooked! 

Alan:   Did you always was to become a musician?

Zach:  Well at first I wanted to be an actor. I would find refuge in old black and white films I loved them. I think I wanted to be an actor before a musician. 

Alan:   What first attracted you to the blues?

Well what got me into the blues was the British stuff, they where all playing blues but I didn’t know that. It was much later that I really got into it once I meet Willie Dixon and Etta James and Screamin' J Hawkins.

Alan:   Tell me a little about the 'British Blues Invasion' of the States.

Zach:  It was an exciting time, these New Faces and the fact they played instruments as well as sang and wrote their own songs was really something different. I guess you could say they represented freedom as an artist. It seemed you could really create that way and it attracted me. Even the clothes where exciting and at a young age I tried to be a mod…a face actually..lol. It was a breath of fresh air and really change my view about being an entertainer. 

Alan:   Who are your favourite blues artists (both old and new)?

Zach:  Well from the old school I loved Albert King, that was my man I would have to say my favorite. Later I got into Freddy King as well and Muddy and Wolf of course plus Etta James, there was something about her voice man she was and still is the best for me and I'm really happy I had the chance to play with her.

New people…well I'm still stuck in the old days..lol but one of my favorite young guys is Ronnie Baker Brooks. He's got a great tone, good ear for the blues and a killer voice, You can tell him I said so..lol Then there's a guy from North Africa named Amar Sunday another killer guitar player. He struggles a little with English but hey that’s his blues..lol and Luther Allison's son (though he's more rock then I would play). He's solid I've known him since I played for his dad. He is a force to recon with.

Alan:   Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?

Zach:  Well writing I would say the British guys. I loved British pop as well and lyrics are a big part of that. It was from that I learned to try and be as literal as possible. Playing, well my mentor a man named cash McCall  He's the biggest influence on me as a player and of course Albert King.

Alan:   How did you get to play with Etta James and Willie Dixon?

Zach:  I meet them along with Screamin' J Hawkins from my friend Cash. He played with all these people and would drag me around with him. Every chance he got he would suggest me for a gig. He was working on a record with Willie (he also co-produced a couple of the later years Dixon CD's) and brought me in as a background singer. We hit it off from the start and it grew into a great close friendship. 

Alan:   Tell me a little more about your time with Willie.

Zach: Well like I said, we became really close. He liked what I was doing musically as well cause he heard a couple of things. He ask me if I wanted to do a record but I wasn’t deep in the blues then. I was doing more funk and I said even though I know it’s a big compliment I wasn’t ready. He liked that... he understood I respected him and the music enough not to just jump at the chance to have Willie Dixon produce a record for me. Later. once the bug hit. I accepted but it was during the project he got sick.

Alan:   Tell me a little about your time with Luther Allison.

Zach:  Well playing with Luther was all about energy… high energy. I learned a lot about being an entertainer from him. 3½ years of high volume… lol. I had to move to Paris for those years to play with him so in a way he provided me with a world view as well. 

Alan:   Tell me about how you came to play with Mick Jagger and what the experience was like.

Zach: Well, I have a good friend from England. Her name is Danna Gillespie, some people in her band introduced me to her. She does a blues festival in Mustique, a little island where Mick has a house, along with David Bowie and every other famous person... lol. She liked me and tried to help me. So she took me to the fest. People liked me there and I've been going every couple of years for the past 5 or 6 years. One year Mick was there and decided to pitch in (the fest is to raise money for sending poor kids to secondary school… the Basil Charles Children's Fund) so he came down to a couple of shows to see who he would want to play with him. He liked what I was doing we had a couple of conversations and he let me play with Him… it was a great experience for me cause I'm such a Stones fan. Plus he is really a cool guy, I mean as cool as you can be when your'e Mick Jagger. I liked him a lot and hope to have the pleasure again at some point. 

Alan:   What is your favourite guitar?

Zach: Right now my favorite is my 1963 Les Paul custom… its killer. My favorite to play on stage is my 63 squire strat, first year or so they made them so actually it’s a fender…lol. Sounds sweet; I play it all the time.

Alan:   Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Zach:  Yea, all of them..lol.  I only write songs about my life. Willie Dixon told me once “blues are the facts of life, tell your facts and you are the blues” I took that to heart.

Alan:   How healthy do you think the blues scene is in the UK/Europe compared with the US?

Zach:  Well it always seemed to me Europe always had more respect for the blues and that’s understandable. In the States man the time period when they where really going on it was a time most black people want to forget. Its coming back now but it wasn’t always that way. I've been in Europe for almost 20 years now. We're working on coming back with the new record so ask me latter…lol.

Alan:   Tell me about the making of your latest album Freak.

Zach:  Freak is the first CD I have produced all on my own (well me and the band..lol). I left my French label and started my own production company called Freak Productions. We did 2 weeks pre production in our friends recording studio, checking out the songs, recording them, trying different stuff, then went to the mail studio with my co-producer engineer, a guy named Dezzle and spent a month recording it. It was the best record I've done in a long time. It's getting great response and so this is the exact way I will be recording the next one as well.

Alan:   Some music styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?

Zach:  Well its because, as I said before, blues are the facts of life and people want to be around others that understand them, that have had similar bad times and good times. We all want that. Since blues tells stories everyone can relate to it will be around as long as people are.

Alan:   How do you see the future of blues music?

Zach:  Very bright I would say. As long as people are around, like I said, so will the blues be.. lol. It will change some as always. It was different from Robert Johnson and Leadbelly to Wolf and Muddy to Albert King Freddy and B.B. till now, cause the blues are alive not a dead king we keep to look at, but they will be here for us.

Alan:   What are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums?

Zach:  Next for us… were in the process now of putting together the U.K. tour and the States for 2010. Its coming together really well so look for us in your'e town then. Peace.

Alan:  Thank you so much  Zach, I really appreciate your time.

Zach:  yea….We all have the blues sometimes and when we do we love to know it can all turn out ok that’s what the blues does for you, it’s a friend. Thank god for people like Alan who help to keep the Blues alive, You're helping make the world a better place my man, keep it up and keep it real. Peace.

Alan White  -  earlyblues.com


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