Zach Parrish is an asshole. That’s the ugly end of the Zach Parrish Gossip Rainbow. It begins at “determined—he just knows what he wants” and encompasses any imaginable variation, with “egomaniac” thrown in for good measure. So, as the guitarist lowers his tall frame onto a beat-up sectional sofa and takes a pull from a seductively perspiring bottle of MGD, the question is posed: Is Zach Parrish an asshole?
Pausing as one does when the past rises to gnaw at one’s posterior, Parrish answers resignedly. “Maybe I used to be when I was younger. A lot of that probably comes from the Burt’s [Tiki Lounge] days, not so much because it’s true, but because I never quite fit in there.” Still, slowly shaking his head, he confesses to some nonspecific past transgressions, and says he understands how people might draw the conclusion. And, of course, he’s heard it all. “In Salt Lake, everything comes back in the wash. But I’m 30 now … a lot more mellow.”
Mellow, at least, offstage. Onstage, Parrish is an animated, wide-eyed, rubber-faced spectacle as he invokes a host of dead and breathing blues greats on his Gibson 335. And at around six-foot-three, he’s as intimidating as he is entertaining, which, he speculates, might contribute to the rumors. He sums it up with the kind of sage wisdom a guy picks up over 22 years as a musician. “I’m not full of myself onstage, but you have to pretend you are. You have to kinda get a hard-on.”
Parrish has said he thinks the blues chose him and, while that might be the chant of every bluesman, it resonates truthful in his music. Every shuffle and lick drips with soul and Parrish’s mighty pipes are remarkably unencumbered by white-guy treble. Given a chance to second the assessment, the erstwhile A-hole is modest. “When I first started, I sucked bad. I remember [my voice] used to be pretty harsh. It’s more of a technique and control issue … I don’t have a big range. And I’m not a hotshot guitar player.”
Says him. No one, regardless of their personal feelings about the guy, can deny being wowed. His press kit is full of raves from almost every local publication and even esteemed national blues mag Blue Revue which called Parrish’s debut demo CD “cool and classy.” He’s been a popular draw locally and has played a combined 500-600 shows since. This month will see the release of Parrish’s official, self-titled debut on his brand-new label, Serapis Records. Says a lot for a guy from West Valley, doesn’t it?
“Everybody always thinks it’s funny, that this kid from West Valley City, Utah, is playin’ the blues,” he laughs, before taking a stab at his native town’s own notoriety, “But I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more!” He’s quick to add, though, that there have been and are great blues musicians in the state, singing the praises of the recently relocated Tempo Timers guitarist-vocalist Rick Welter who played with Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop, defunct trio House of Cards and current artists like harpsman Harry Lee.
But that pesky ol’ Utah stigma—which has made it tough for him to get gigs outside our borders—is still pretty powerful. After his Salt Lake CD release shows are finished, Parrish will pack up the RV and head for more fertile territory: Austin, Texas. And although that might seem like a self-centered move congruent with his rep, it’s actually a compromise.
“I wanted to go to New Orleans, but my girlfriend wants to go to law school at University of Texas in Austin. It’s a nice town, though, and it’s gonna work out well for me since it’s just a day’s drive to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. There are thousands of venues within a day’s drive.”
See, now? He’s all right.