If you're a follower of the midwestern indie music world (or of American
roots music generally) you might be forgiven for thinking David Zollo has
been around forever. The truth is, it just seems that way.
Since bursting on the scene as a baby-faced 21-year-old with Iowa City's
white-hot, road-chewing pub-rockers, High and Lonesome in 1992, Zollo
has done just about everything you can do in the rock and roll business.
Whether as a singer/songwriter/keyboardist with his own bands; as a
sideman for an incredible array of roots music talent (Todd Snider, William
Elliot Whitmore, Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, The Pines); as founder/owner/
operator of legendary underground label,Trailer Records; or producer to
up-and comers (The Pines, Brother Trucker) Zollo always maintained a
ridiculously frenetic schedule, logging thousands of miles and 200+ gigs a
year, doing all of these things at an incredibly high level.
He has paid dues that any bluesman or honkey-tonker (both titles apply to
Zollo) would envy. High and Lonesome's meteoric rise was
halted in late-1994 by the discovery of pre-cancerous tumors in his vocal
cords; reconstructive surgery followed. While waiting impatiently for his
singing voice to recover, Zollo started and established Trailer Records,
then joined the band of critically-acclaimed country-folk rocker Todd
Snider in 1996, moving to Nashville. After Snider downsized his band in
1997, Zollo followed his heart back to the midwest and his hometown of
Iowa City. There he rejoined mentors Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown, further
growing Trailer Records and creating an atmosphere of music-as-family,
that saw the entire label roster playing on stage together; on record; and,
judging by the sounds of things, in each other's living rooms.
It was around this time that demand started growing for Zollo's services as
a producer. Throughout it all, Zollo continued to write music that consistently
won critical and popular support for its power, honesty, and intelligence. By
2002 he had produced six records of his own material; Alackaday (1992);
Livefromgabes (1994); and For Sale or Rent with High and Lonesome, and
The Morning is a Long Way From Home (1995); Uneasy Street (1999); and
The Big Night (2002) under his own name.
Of the many things that David Zollo does and does well, it is on stage that
he seems most comfortable and happy. Long known as an exuberant,
passionate performer, it is clear that at present, Zollo is relishing the
opportunity to do what he does best: make music. If you haven't had the
pleasure, try to catch him while you can; solo, or with his band The
Body Electric. Either way, you'll get a chance to experience the timeless
power of a voice that seems to have been with us forever.
The Pulse of The Twin Cities, Feb., 2002
"Whiskey and piano keys are the fuel behind the honky-tonk-meets-root-rocks tour de force that follows Dave Zollo and the BOdy Electric wherever they roam. From the cornfields of Iowa City to erudite poet laureate digs in Europe, Mr. Zollo's just about done it all. He's released a handful of recrods with High and Lonesome (who were country rock before Ryan Adams even learned to play guitar), worked with Bo Ramsey, started Trailer Records and toured the states and a good chunk of Europe. And if that wasn't enough....Zollo's about to release a new album in conjunction with The Knitting Factory in New York."
7 Days, Burlington, Vt., May 1, 2002
David Zollo is practically the patron saint of the roots-music ounderground. As front man for Midwestern alt-country forebears High and Lonesome, and founder of the innovative Iowa City-based Trailer Records, Zollo is a DIY maverick. While the indie label has grown to harbor artists such as Greg Brown and Bo Ramsey, Zollo has also taken time to develop his own musical career and has become one of the Midwest's top session players. Tireless and inspired, Zollo and his band have toured in support of bands like The Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo. However, after three albums and lots of electrifying live shows with High and Lonesome, Zollo struck out on his own.
The Big Night, his third solo release, is a melting pot of country tears and sawdust-floored bar rockers. Friends and former bandmates, including drummer Brad Engeldinger, bassist Steven(sic) Howard and guitarists Eric Straumanis and Chris Winters, provide high-octane intensity and an instinctual sense of interplay the complements Zollo's solid compositions. The reference points on TBN are immediately obvious: Gram Parsons, Neil Young and Exile-era Stones all float through the tunes. Still, Zollo is able to utilize the most searing and tender aspects of these legends while avoiding rote revivalism. Unlike musically schizophrenic country-rock throwbacks like Ryan Adams, Zollo's work feels solidified in both personality and sound.
Blues-thick guitars slide into the opening of "While You Undress," as Zollo's vocal swagger and barroom sneer taunt with Jagger-ish sexuality. "Eye of the Needle" is redemptive and raw-think Jay Farrar with more heart. Following suit is the muddy, rocking lament, "Why Don't You Stop Me Now."
TBN doesn't attempt to create a new sound. Zollo and mates exhibit surgical exactitude through the album's genre-hopping compositions. Half-way through "Get Away," a searing guitar solo splits the tune to shreds, virtually bleeding with intensity and soul. "You're Gonna Get What You Wanted" is a straight-forward, vintage country-rocker that conjures images of Hank Williams surrounded by Marshall stacks.
The Big Night also has its share of tear-jerker ballads. The morbid gospel of "Take Me Away" particularly channels the spirit of Parsons, drowning in desperation and the whine of steel guitar.
Aside from his dedication to independent music, David Zollo deserves to be regarded as one of the most significant young modern songwriters. The Big Night is both a nearly flawless production by a musician of immense talent and an introduction to the Trailer Records catalog.