When you see Zach Holliday perform on stage or hear his work from a studio, it’s tough to begin describing just how imbued with music he is.
When you ask him to share his story, he’ll take a deep breath and respond with a whirlwind.
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, Penn., Holliday thrived in an artistic family. His mother, father and step-father are all musicians, visual artists and/or actors. They prompted him to explore his creativity.
“I was always encouraged at a young age to dabble in all of the arts,” he said.
The multi-instrumental maestro’s first language in melody came in fourth grade when he picked up his grandfather’s trumpet. It called to his genes. It also led to his first stringed instrumental muse.
“He used to play jazz standards on trumpet while my grandmother would play piano,” he said. “I gravitated towards the guitar after taking a classical guitar class in sixth grade.”
Holliday’s father followed by giving him his first bass guitar. That led to his first session work as a musician when, at 12, he recorded a song with his father. His mother’s hand would also add to stir the pot.
“I then started to pick around on my mom’s 1960s Kay Classical guitar which had a neck the size of a tree stump,” he said. “My mom finally got me guitar lessons after I would come home from school showing her how quickly I was picking it up.”
For a musician, those first influences can shape your later journey. Holliday said his first teacher was Michael Morrow, a known guitarist from the East Coast jam band scene. His mentorship, the first among others, opened up a kaleidoscope of sonic possibilities, he said.
“He taught me how to enjoy psychedelic, driving music, which I had no idea what that was at 13,” he said. “While I was in high school, I was performing around a lot of great musicians which helped push me to become better.”
The guidance of Mike Massimo helped create those cornerstones to becoming a better musician, according to Holliday.
“His music department has produced so many amazing musicians, including the drummer for Lake Street Dive,” he said.
From high school, Holliday went to West Chester University to focus on classical guitar. Then he focused on jazz guitar performance. He said he touched space with some greats. He also began to earn his own reputation.
“While in college, I studied with Philly jazz legends Jimmy Bruno, Steve Giordano, and Jon Swana,” he said. “I played in local original rock bands around Philly and West Chester.”
So, with all of that East Coast pedigree, how does Holliday end up becoming among the premiere Southwest Oklahoma musical talents around?
He joined the Army. Holliday doesn’t talk much about the decade he spent in service. But his performances with the 77th Army Band at Fort Sill are well known among local lay music fans. Many of you’ve heard him be amazing, you just may not have known his name.
Since getting out last year, Holliday said he’s living with a focus for how he wants to live his life and make music.
“Getting out of the Army, my mission was to have as much fun as possible and play music without people dictating who I play with or what I play,” he said.
For you aficionados, Holliday has been a known product for quite some time. Now, he’s pushing himself to be well known among all fans of the Americana music of Southwest Oklahoma.
In the past year, Holliday has laid down instrumentation, including his patented pedal-steel work, on new recordings from Ben Brock, James Cook and Cade Roth & The Black Sheep. He called it “a great experience.” That means music and so much more, he said.
“I have gotten to play with a lot of friends and make some new ones,” he said. “The Oklahomies are a very welcoming and uplifting community, and I think my best experience has been getting to play with as many different people as I can.”
Along with Brock, Cook and Cade Roth and company, Holliday has performed anywhere and everywhere he can with Jared Rosin, Jack Tidwell, Ryan Oldham, Blake Langford, Megan Marlene, Chance Anderson, Jason Scott, Zac Copeland, “and a bunch of other people.” He’s become a constant presence at venues throughout Oklahoma and Texas, a fixture of sorts at the legendary J.J.’s Alley in Oklahoma City.
Joining forces with Oldham, as well as Brad “Red” Wolf and Eric Hoffman to form RDO Smokewagon, Holliday saw an incredible reaction during the opening set of this year’s Medicine Park Roots Ball. He performed all three nights, joining Roth and company one night and closing out the fest, fittingly, with James Cook.
It’s called living the dream for a music man. Holliday credited the Oklahoma Film & Music office for helping him live it by hooking him up with the COVID-19 vaccine “way back in March so I could feel safe doing all these gigs.”
Holliday is also a key component of Jared Rosin & The Shuffle. After writing the column’s choice for songs of the year in 2019 and 2020, it’s only fitting you visit the online edition and click on the links to hear it for yourself:
•Jared Rosin & The Shuffle, “The Valley,” 2019: https://youtu.be/615gpMy8QHg.
•Jared Rosin & The Shuffle, “Little Crime on the Prairie,” 2020: https://youtu.be/7BqFVQ4DnvQ.
That second one is still my choice for best theme song, as it was written for Redder Dirt: An OK Crime Cast hosted by the columnist and Gary Reddin. They wrote and recorded it in a tornado’s spin and it still will tear up the countryside. I’m saying it’s good stuff. There’s good news if you’re a fan.
“We’ve been not trying to rush anything right now,” he said. “Slowly working on a record. Look for a new single to drop soon.”
Holliday’s been busy. In the last month, he’s been on the road a lot helping to promote James Cook’s new record “The Other Side of Hell” throughout Texas. He credits Ben Brock “for really getting me into the Oklahoma City scene.
“He’s introduced me to a lot of great musicians, and we’ve played a lot of great shows together,” he said.
This week is one of the few where Holliday’s been allowed to catch his breath and take a break. He’s been the metaphorical pretty girl at the dance and his card has been full. One week, he played eight gigs that included two days with dual gigs on the bill. The happy warrior, he troopered on.
“The month of May started out with me having like eight gigs booked, and I had just been building momentum and getting calls to play steel,” he said. “I started saying yes to everything. There was one date I had to turn down eight gig offers.”
Holliday said he’ll be back in the full swing of performances in July as he hits stages throughout Texas and Oklahoma. It closes with a Labor Day weekend booked full of shows in Austin, Texas. He’s living his best musical life on his terms.
“I’m going to continue not letting other people dictate how and when I play music,” he said.
Here’s a sneak peak to next week’s column when we catch up with Thanh Le. Here’s his latest single featuring Triple Eight with a candidate for song of the summer, ”I Don’t Know Why”: https://youtu.be/nvYPpnKacPk.
Soundemonium Musaic Lawton music archive homepage: Scott Rains — https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPw__GedGPOUD-wROFcuZ8w.