The last time I ran into Zach Deputy, it was four o’clock in the morning in the middle of a huge Tennessee farm field. The typical Bonnaroo day of music, 90-degree heat, and porta-potty trauma had me on the edge of exhaustion. I was ready for a $1 garlic grilled cheese sandwich and some serious sleep—until I found myself in the middle of the intense dance party that is a Zach Deputy show.
It turns out I’m not the only one with fond memories of that weekend. It was one of the biggest in Deputy’s career and helped launch him from relative obscurity to a recognized name on the festival circuit throughout the country.
When those tent-city shows are brought up, Deputy sounds elated and worn out at the same time. “That was intense. We played something like 24 sets that weekend. People would come back to their tent and think, ‘Does he ever stop playing?’ That was a pinnacle for me and the crew.”
One has to wonder about the motivation behind an artist playing so much. It’s not work for Deputy. He’s having a grand old time up there. “I wanted to crash a big party and play music nonstop,” he explains, concerning the inspiration behind the undertaking.
The fact that so many people will allow him to keep on playing, without regard to the time of night, is a testament to the infectious spirit of his music. “I only had problems with one guy the entire weekend, and that was as we were setting up our equipment. Once we started playing, he was cool with us.”
Deputy’s sound has influences from around the world. He grew up in South Carolina listening to Motown classics and James Brown. His Caribbean grandmother introduced him to authentic island music and calypso—something he holds dear and incorporates into his shows on a nightly basis.
Once he started going to school and getting into music on his own, alternative rock was his beacon. “I even got into hip-hop for a while, before my brain came together,” he says of his high school years. From there, jazz, blues, funk and soul really stuck with him.
This combination of sounds and styles would be difficult for a five-piece band to pull off, but Deputy does it all on his own. His one-man band looping setup was born more out of necessity than anything else.
“The whole thing was entirely unplanned. My bass player was intoxicated and couldn’t make it to the show. I had a looper, but at the time just used it as a delay pedal, and never in the live format. I didn’t want to cancel the show so I just went in there and did the looping thing. It was completely and utterly by accident,” he says of what became his M.O.
Although it seems like it could easily be overwhelming with so much happening onstage, Deputy revels in the responsibility.
“There’s a pace I’m able to put into it and a comfort in knowing that it’s all me. Whether I do great or awful, it’s all on me. I don’t stress on things, but from my experience, band members do. When a night didn’t go well, it was everybody pointing fingers, but with me, I don’t care. I just laugh it off. It’s all part of the game.”
Deputy’s abilities and good nature have earned him the respect of fellow musicians across the country. During the most recent annual Jam Cruise event, he played with heavy hitters such as George Porter Jr. of the Funky Meters and Grateful Dead drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
In the end, Deputy is simply looking for a good time. “I love life. Playing music is always a blast, and I want to share that feeling with as many people as I can.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to wrap your head around how a sound so complex could be coming from one person alone, but that’s all it is—Zach Deputy and his fans in a unique give-and-take that could only happen at one of his shows.
Photo: Zach Deputy Official