Each month in 2021, we will be featuring a member of the worldwide Gretsch community as our spotlight “featured player” of the month!
Our featured guitar player for October is . . . Johnny Zapp!
Huntington Beach native Johnny Zapp made his way on the Tempe, Arizona music scene in the late 1990s. As the go-to guy on guitars, bass, and drums, Johnny was playing with many of the valley’s national acts as well as curating celebrity all-star bands with revolving line-ups for national shows, fundraisers, and celebrity events.
In 2007, Johnny began a lucrative career writing, recording, and publishing rock music for film and television. His music is organic rock ‘n’ roll deeply rooted in the 1970s; real guitars, real amps, and real drums played by a living, breathing musician–almost always Zapp himself.
With music airing in over 48 countries, some of Johnny’s television credits include Pimp My Ride; MTV 10 on Top, ESPN Coverage of the PGA Tour, various Red Bull promos and the Nat Geo travel/marine-life smash, Into The Drink.
FM rock radio in major cities such as Phoenix, Los Angeles, Orange County, Philly, and all over Europe also picked up a handful of Zapp’s singles. Additionally, he received honors across the 16th, 17th, and 18th annual Billboard Magazine Songwriting contests for the singles “Alone Again,” “Poor Pitiful You,” “Want You Need You,” and “Dirty Good Time,” and most recently, from the Songwriter’s Association of Washington for his single “Run Away” featuring The Darts’ frontwoman, Nicole Laurenne on vocals.
Now relocated to the foothills of Tucson, Johnny Zapp can be found playing guitar, bass, or drums as a hired gun for bands all over the U.S.
We asked Johnny . . .
How old were you when you knew you were interested in becoming a musician?
My father and his brothers were all musicians, so from birth I was surrounded by music, guitars, and mandolins and from before school age even, they’d pull me in to play with them. I can’t remember ever wanting to do anything else.
Why did you choose Gretsch?
I’ve always thought a guitar should look as sexy as it sounds. Being a kid in the ’80s and seeing the Stray Cats’ videos, I thought Setzer’s 6120 was the coolest and I had to have one. Of course, it’d be years later before that happened. Then I saw George Michael with his Synchromatic 400 in the “Faith” video and I thought, damn; classic vibe, it fit his rockabilly aesthetic at that time, I have to have one of those too! Twenty-five years later, that happened! Gretsch’s are like classic Cadillacs. They look incredible, they’re smooth and debonaire.
What Gretsch gear do you currently use?
I have a few that all get frequent use, be it in the studio or on the stage. I have my very first Gretsch, a 1998 6120TM that I ordered custom from Gretsch, a 1995 6129TL Pearl Jet, a 1996 6136 White Falcon, a 2012 Synchromatic 400, a 2014 Electromatic G5442 bass, and a 2015 Jim Dandy that I had a pickup installed in. I throw this one on my back, hop on my ’64 Harley and do acoustic gigs out of state. It’s got thousands of miles on it! I also have a 1959 Gretsch 6161 amp that I use in my studio quite often.
Which musicians were the biggest influence on you and why?
Elvis Presley, first, from a really young age. People don’t ever talk about what a great guitar player he was. Just watch the ’68 Comeback Special. He was a true player with conviction and passion. Then from when I was about 9 years old, Tom Petersson. This guy is the epitome of rockstar. He has always played the coolest basses, he’s got great style, and his playing is incredible. We’re talking about completely serving the song, rocking out, and creating atmosphere. And you know what? A true gentleman, which is more rockstar than anything else.
How did you adjust and stay musical during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Being a hired-gun, I am constantly learning, studying, and performing other artists’ music, which occupies my whole brain and takes me away from my own music. The initial onset of the pandemic was like hitting Control+Alt+Delete on my brain, or shaking the Etch-A-Sketch and wiping the slate clean. I started churning out new music consistently. I’ve got a full-length album in the can, and a few other songs in the hopper for the follow up.