Sunday, November 28, 2010

ZC30: 30 Years of Live Zak

December 8, 2010 will mark my 30 year anniversary of performing live music. To commemorate this milestone, I'll be doing a special performance simulcast in both Second Life and on Facebook via StreamJam. The amazing multi-instrumentalist Bunny Knutson will be playing along with me for this show... more details on that coming soon.

For the time being, I thought you might like to know a little about my history of live shows, since it's been a pretty interesting journey. Well, for me, anyway.

Show Number One: December 8, 1980
Before you start thinking that I must be 73 years old, let me tell you that I started on piano at age three, and guitar at age seven. In December 1980, I was an intermediate-level musician, but I was still only 11 years old (making me 41 now, for those of you who don't like math). That show left a mark; I found I really liked playing and singing in front of a crowd. I performed two songs that night: "Honesty" by Billy Joel, and "Spooky" by the Atlanta Rhythm Section, both current hits of the day. As you may also be aware, that date is infamous in rock history; while we drove home from my successful performance, we heard on the radio that John Lennon had been killed in New York City. It was an emotional rollercoaster, as I'm sure you'd imagine, but it added an element of unforgettability to the date. I've been aware of it every year since.

That's me on the night of my first show (December 8, 1980). I'm the kid in the middle with the big hair and the fake Les Paul guitar.

1981-1983: Learning to Rock
I had a couple of friends who played guitar and bass respectively. We would get together in our bedrooms and living rooms after school and on weekends, set up our amps, and make cacophony that occasionally resembled music. I can't say we did any gigs; it wasn't until 1983 that a drummer moved into the neighborhood to add a little rhythm to our unique brand of proto-rock.

1984-1986: High School Rock Stars
By the time I was in 10th grade or so, I was pretty immersed in music, and my local chums had progressed to the point where we were good enough to set up our gear at some backyard parties. I became known as a musician around my school, and everyone who was in my circle of close friends were also involved in music. As we grew older, the parties grew bigger. While at first we were playing to a group of 10 stoned guys in a garage, we eventually found ourselves at keg parties with hundreds of kids shouting our names. The peak of this experience was probably when, in Spring 1986, we performed during lunchtime at our high school, and damn near every one of the 1,500 students stayed on campus to rock with us. Needless to say, it fed our collective egos, and we were sure we were headed for bigger and better things.

The stick figure playing the Stratocaster is me, circa 1984.

Rocking my high school, Spring 1986.

1987-1992: A Lesson in Reality
I spent much of this time frame in college, and since I was working my way through school, it wasn't easy to be a wanna-be rock star. I did, however, spend every single weekend during the summer of 1987 playing local shows with my band at the time. My main musical activity through this time frame was learning to compose and record music, so even when I wasn't playing shows, I had a guitar (or bass or keyboard) in my hands for most of the day, every day. But the real lesson from this time period was that once you look beyond your local bubble, the competition for getting serious gigs was very high, especially in my hometown in the Los Angeles area.

By 1989, I was playing at parties, clubs, and various events pretty much every weekend.

I did lots of gigging as a bass player over the years. Here I am in 1991.

1993-1998: Hello Job, Goodbye Bands
While I was never completely absent from the world of live performance, this time frame had me doing the least amount of playing out. I was in my mid-20s, and my career was taking off at the time. I continued to write and record, but the time commitment to play in a band was difficult for me to juggle along with the demands of a real job.

One of the few shots you'll see of me playing live in this time period. Winter 1994.

Just because I wasn't gigging for big audiences didn't mean I wasn't still jamming. Live in the studio, 1995.

1999-2005: Getting Back Into It
During this time frame, I played in a couple of bands that were very busy on the club and bar circuit. It was one of the only times that I was involved in serious working bands, where we played more for money than for fun. However, like any other live performance situation, the fun was there, and the musicians I played with at that time were outstanding. I played dozens and dozens of venues around LA, from Hollywood through the South Bay, Orange County, and more.

Playing bass and singing, Fall 2004.

2006-2010: Going Solo into a Brave New World
In 2006, my ladyfriend Kat and I discovered Second Life, and quickly found out about live performance there. It couldn't have come at a better time for me; my schedule was way too intense to consider being in a band, but the ability to do live performances without having to get a bunch of people together and traveling all over hell and back was much more possible. Over the last four years, I've probably played more live shows for more people around the Earth than I did in all the previous years combined.

Still playing at a few real life shows. Summer 2006.

Jumping onstage with an old friend, Summer 2009.

Performing at my album release party, December 2009.

Still enjoying playing live in 2010... a rare shot of me on piano at a private party.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Report: Zak Live on StreamJam ep. XI (11.24.10)

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone.

I kicked off the Days of Gluttony 2010 by doing my Wednesday evening show on StreamJam, the live music application for Facebook. But well before I got the show started, things got very interesting... as in the Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times."

StreamJam works by picking up a feed from Ustream, a free online live video streaming service. On a side note, you can see a bunch of my previous performances on my Ustream channel... most of them are archived there. Anyway, Ustream must have recently made some changes, because after months and months of trouble-free use, it suddenly wasn't recognizing my Mac's camera. Great! So, with about a half hour until show time, here I was, frantically clearing cache, updating Flash, looking for files to uninstall, and so on. I usually like to spend that time warming up my guitar and voice, but that wasn't to be. Coming close to the point of having to cancel the show, I remembered that I had another software client that could access Ustream, and it worked... but then, I couldn't get the audio to come through. I briefly considered doing my show as a mime, or perhaps trying an hour of interpretive dance, but I eventually got the audio rolling with three minutes to spare. Whew.

Anyway, despite all those technical shenanigans, the show itself was fine. Took me a couple of songs to get into it (as mentioned above, I prefer to spend the time before a show preparing my music rather than troubleshooting my computer), but as the show rolled on, I had a good time and my little crowd did as well. I also just realized I did 11 songs at my 11th show. I really do go to 11, it seems.

SJ 11 Set List
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
†Black Phoebe (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Amelia (Joni MItchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)

†"Black Phoebe" is now the name of my new previously-untitled instrumental. This was the first show I played it as a titled song.
*This was the first time I played "Amelia" live.

IMPORTANT NOTE... my next StreamJam show will be held on December 8, 2010... which is the 30-year anniversary of my very first live show (on December 8, 1980, when I was 11 years old). As many of you recall, it was also the night that John Lennon was killed; a very mixed emotional day, as you can imagine! PLease make a note to come to this show, since I'll be sure to make it a special one.

And, as always , thanks to everyone who came to see me! See you next time!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Delinda Dyrssen (1977-2010)

Beautiful Denise, aka Delinda.

These are my least favorite kinds of blog posts, and the less often I have to make them, the better off I am.

Delinda isn't my first Second Life friend who passed away, nor will she be the last. But there was something very special about her, and it's obvious that I wasn't the only person who recognized it. In fact, the outpouring of memories via people from all over the virtual world is astonishing. Delinda made friends in the worlds of music, of art, of sailing, and just about any other aspect of SL that she touched. Who can say what it was about her that made her a person who seemed to grab you like a magnet and draw you in? I can tell you a few things: first and foremost, she was funny. You had no choice but to laugh at her antics. Second, she was warm-hearted. You could spend just a few minutes chatting with Delinda, and you'd feel like you'd discovered a long-lost friend.

Perhaps beyond those things, though, was that the more you got to know Delinda Dyrssen, known in real life as Denise Williams, the more you'd be amazed by what she'd been through, and yet managed to stay a strong person. I won't rehash everything here; her close family friend Dan wrote a remarkable eulogy that's well worth a read... check it out here. As you can tell, this was a lady who endured a lot of hardship, and yet still remained a person who -- instead of being consumed by self pity -- was an inspiration for others, many of whom hadn't had a life nearly as difficult as her own.

I first met Delinda back in 2008. She popped up at one of my live shows in SL, and from the very start, had me laughing while I was onstage trying to sing and play guitar. She'd get so excited about a certain song or something going on, or just from seeing her friends teleporting into a venue. It was completely infectious, and when she was at a show, it meant everyone else was having a great time as well. I won't claim we were best pals, but in the small world of the Second Life music scene, Delinda was a constant presence, and we did get to know each other as time went by. I found out that she lived not very far from me here in Southern California, and we actually spoke about getting together to have lunch along with my ladyfriend Kat so we could chat about some thoughts in regard to the SL music scene.

Delinda in SL as most of us knew her.

In August of this year, I started trying out a new way of doing remote/virtual music performances, via StreamJam on Facebook. At one of my first shows, Delinda popped up front and center, and got everyone to turn around to take the picture below. That pic ended up being used by the makers of StreamJam (with Delinda's permission -- she was happy to give it) to put out as a press release which you can see here. Having Delinda in my crowd was like having hired the world's best promoter/cheerleader; everyone had fun when she was around, and my job as a musician got a million times easier, since people were already having a great time due to her mere presence.

The picture that Delinda took at my StreamJam show in August ended up being used for the press release. There she is, front and center.

In September, after she saw me playing one day, she asked if I could play at The Pocket for one of her famous Friday night extravaganzas. I was happy to do so, and it ended up being a terrific show for me. Delinda was delighted by the fact that I took a couple of minutes and made a little promo video for the show. It was completely within her nature to point out to everyone that I (and subsequently Pato Milo) did our silly videos for a show, and to spread the enjoyment around. That's just the type of person she was.

I was already a little concerned about Delinda around that time... she seemed to be burning through energy so fast, it was exhausting just to try and keep up with her. Then, I was amazed when I found out that she was leaving for a trip around the world with her brother. I made her promise to send us regular updates as to where she was and how she was doing, which she certainly did. I found myself looking forward to her Twitter updates.

I think we all know what happened next: on Friday 11/19, we found out the terrible news that her body began to reject her transplanted kidney. I, along with everyone, assumed that if anyone could fight past this setback, it would be Delinda. I'd hoped to wake up Saturday morning and find out that she was okay. That was not to be. Her passing was devastating. Kat and I spent a good portion of the day at her beloved venue The Pocket, where we hung out with a group of Delinda's friends... there are many of them. We talked about what made her such an amazing person, and what a huge loss her passing has been.

It's not easy to honor the legacy of a person like Delinda. She set a high standard for everyone else to try and live up to. But the least I can do at this moment is to make sure you're aware of a cause she passionately supported: paired kidney donation. I highly encourage you to click the link below and get information on how compatible kidney donors and recipients can find one another:

In Second Life, a group of Delinda's friends and admirers are putting together a memorial event that will also be a fundraiser for kidney disease treatment and awareness. I can't speak for Delinda, but if just one life is saved as a result of her mission to spread the word about this cause, it would have brought a huge smile to her face. And smiling is what I do when I think of Delinda. I know I'm not alone in that regard. Rest well, Delinda; you earned it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Notes Shack (11.14.11)

Whoops, heh heh. I'm normally really good about doing little blog posts directly after my shows. It's been a very busy time here in Zakland lately, and I honestly thought I'd already written this post, only to glance at Ye Olde Blogge today and see that it wasn't there. So, I either dreamed that I already wrote this, or I've gone insane, or (the likeliest candidate) both.

For the 743,975th time (or so), I performed at the Notes Shack on Sunday, November 14. The Notes Shack is an interesting place in Second Life in that it's the only venue I play regularly that's moved at least five times to different locations on the grid. Why? I don't know. You'd need to ask its proprietor, Krakov Letov, who is a super nice guy and really digs music. On a few occasions, other musicians have said to me, "You're playing the Notes Shack again? Why do you keep playing there?", and the answer is easy: because it's fun.

My latest show there continued the fun streak. I decided to spice things up a little by doing a show where I'd throw in some TV theme songs, and it was a refreshing new way to bring silliness to the Zak Show. We got decent-sized crowd and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Notes Shack Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*Theme from "Friends" (The Rembrandts)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
*Theme from Mary Tyler Moore (Paul Williams)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
*Theme from "Good Times" (Dave Grusin / Alan & Marilyn Bergman)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
*Theme from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Charles Erickson and Joel Hodgson)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
*Theme from "The Greatest American Hero" (Mike Post)
*Theme from "Scooby-Doo" (David Mook & Ben Raleigh)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*Theme from "Cheers" (Gary Portnoy & Judy Hart Angelo)

*Indicates the first time i've performed this song in SL.

Thanks to everyone who came out and supported the show!
Horizon Darkstone, Lars Neiro, Kat Claxton, Juliette Venom, and the happy host Krakov Letov!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Report: Zak Live on StreamJam ep. X (11.10.10)


When I scheduled last night's show on StreamJam, I didn't know a few things. First, I didn't know that I'd end up breaking a tooth, requiring a series of hellish dental work. Second, I didn't know that the dental appointment I had for that morning would leave me in a position where it would be all but impossible to sing. Third, I didn't know (due to other factors that shall remain nameless) that I'd end up having one of my worst days in recent memory.

But when it came time to do the show, while a lot of other people would have probably canceled it, I felt that performing was probably the best thing I could do to get myself -- mentally and emotionally -- back on track. While singing was out of the question (since I could barely open my mouth at the time), I'm not just a singer; I'm a musician who (in the words of Pink Floyd) plays a mean guitar. So that's what I did: played guitar for an hour, though I did manage to mumble my way through one tune. Some stuff was purely improvisational; others were songs that I've written recently that I performed without singing; still others were renditions of my well-known tunes that I simply did without singing. One thing that I did quite purposefully: I didn't make any big announcement of the show, since I knew I wouldn't be able to deliver my usual kind of zany fun, and didn't want anyone to come who would think this was my typical performance.

But all in all, it was actually pretty interesting, and was definitely a change of pace for both myself and the few people who were there.

StreamJam #10 Set List...
Improv in G (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon - Instrumental (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud - Instrumental (Zak Claxton)
Triana - Instrumental (Zak Claxton)
Waxing Gibbous (Zak Claxton)
Desert Song - Instrumental (Zak Claxton)
New Song in D Modal - Instrumental (Zak Claxton)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
DADGAD Improvisation (Zak Claxton)
Mood for a Day (Yes)

Thanks to all who helped support my show and cheered me up at the same time!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Mansion (11.04.10)

For the second time in two days, I played at a Second Life venue where I'd never played before, this time at the Mansion. I'd been contacted by the owner, Terrell Merryman, who seemed like a nice guy, and as I've mentioned many times before, I like playing at new places since that's one of the only ways to meet new fans and give them a chance to get into my tunes.

I remember when I first started doing shows in SL (going on four years ago), I'd freak out if the show began and I had almost no one in the audience. I learned over the years that it's not like a real life gig in that respect; five minutes later, you can have a ton of people teleporting in and everything is cool. So, we started out the show with literally the host and one fan in the crowd (thanks Alexis!). But as usual, a short while later, people started popping up and by the end, we had a nice-sized crowd who seemed to be enjoying themselves.

A side note: we had a freak November heat wave here in the Los Angeles area for the past couple of days, and let me tell you: doing a high-energy show in a room that's over 90 degrees is an interesting experience, to put it mildly. But I wasn't about to let a little warmth stop me from rocking. The set went well, and I'm glad to have braved the heat to do the show.

Set List at The Mansion
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
She's Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Huge thanks to everyone who helped support my show at The Mansion!
Charriol Ansar, Atrum Slade, Shugar Rebane, Kat Claxton, Altonia Jewell, point Coage, Mystique Ryerley, Alexis Fairlady, Efrantirise Morane, Locky Jarman, Daisy Silverweb, and the Mansion owner and host, Terrell Merryman!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lamella (11.03.10)

Today was my first time performing at Lamella, a nice mall sim in Second Life. Pretty simple place, really; a small stage and dance floor set outside among your typical batch of clothing, animation, and other SL stores. Owner Ymer Alsop turned out to be a nice guy, and set up a giant backdrop of my happy face behind me as I performed.

The show was unusual in that they asked for (and I agreed) a 90-minute show, instead of my usual 1-hour event. That would have been fine, were it not a freakishly hot 90ยบ day here in the LA area in November. I was hot and sweaty before I'd strummed a note, and it didn't get better from there. Furthermore, the heat was wreaking havoc with my normally reliable guitar tuning. Yikes!

Despite that, it was a fun show with a nice-sized crowd. I decided to debut my new arrangement of the traditional blues gospel song "In My Time of Dying", and it went really well despite my having forgotten to put on the harmonica before I started. the whole set seemed well received.

Set List at Lamella
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
*In My Time of Dying (Traditional)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Beatles)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)

*Indicates first time I've performed this song in SL

Thanks to all the cool people who helped support my show!
Xerxes Ninetails, maddy Fierenza, Horizon Darkstone, Taunter Goodnight, henny Kuhn, Rena Lopez, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, Thera Taurog, Alexis Fairlady, Aurelie Chenaux, hostess Francesca Caeran, and Lamella owner Ymer Alsop!