Spotlight on Michael Zaret, Czar of Guitar

The Czar of Guitar Spills Secrets From The Bottomless Well
Michael Zaret is a guitarist and composer from Riverside, California. He is also a professional recording engineer who got his start during the switch from vinyl to digital a while back, so he’s seen and heard a thing or two. He is currently enjoying a surge of interest in his music on the ReverbNation platform. We sat down for a chat to get to know him better and find out what he’s up to.

Tell us a little about yourself, your background and musical influences.
I became obsessed with music beginning around 10 years old. I would stay awake all night hiding under my sheets and blankets with a battery operated AM radio tuned to XERB out of Tijuana Mexico broadcasting the Wolfman Jack show. He played what they called "Soul Music" back then exclusively. I was into Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Eddie Floyd, The Temptations, The Supremes, Booker T and the MGs and many more.

When I was 7 years old I asked my dad if I could take drum lessons. He said it would bother the neighbors and gave me a dented bugle instead. I was fascinated by anything rhythmic and at 10 I started Tap Dancing. After 1 year of lessons I became the assistant instructor of the 3rd year class. I quit tap dancing when I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. It was then that I decided to learn guitar. After I had been playing for about 3 years Riverside was going through a Blues craze and all of the local bands were playing the Blues. I started a band that played Blues but we also had a horn section and played Soul Music tunes we liked.  

After high school I tried college first at San Bernardino State for a couple of years and then Sonoma State University, but there were no good guitar programs in the State College system. I quit and went back to Riverside and joined a 50's show band called Sterno and the Flames. We had huge pompadour wigs and costumes, and we did a fully choreographed show with skits between songs. We toured the Western US and Canada. We all got tired of doing those old 50's songs and wanted to play our own compositions so the band broke up and a few of us started a band we called "Neophonics"

A 16 channel studio had opened up not far from my neighborhood. This was before digital and 16 tracks was considered advanced and professional. I went in and asked the owner if I could audition to play on his projects. He said “No, I'll call you some night and you'll come in and either you'll cut it or not.” A few nights later he called me and I went in and after the session he hired me to play on his projects. He also said that for every hour I worked for him, I could have 1 free hour of recording time to record my band, or any groups I cared to bring in and record. So in addition to playing guitar, I began learning how to record professionally.

In those days it was customary for bands to record in 16 track analog and then take the tapes to L.A. to have them mastered and then pressed into an album or an E.P. There are things that need to be avoided while mixing a multi-track recording that can cause problems in mastering and I wanted to learn all about it. I had met and befriended a record mastering engineer at a facility I used and he offered me the chance to come in one night a week and learn from him. I learned how to operate a Neumann cutting lathe and I wound up working at the mastering studio for around 1 year before they closed due to being unable to compete with the new CD mastering studios.

About a year after that I answered an ad for Recording Engineer Wanted at Riverside's First 24 Track Recording Studio. I interviewed and was told to come back in a week with 3 jingles in 3 styles for a client who owned an auto dealership. So, I wrote one jingle in a Country style, one in a Funk style, and one in a Rock style, and came back in a week and got the gig.  After 1 year one of the owner's fathers died and he inherited enough money that literally overnight the place went 24 track ADAT digital with a significant amount of outboard gear, microphones, monitors, and computer sequencing and digital editing. I was told either I could come down to the studio on all of my off-hours and learn quickly how to operate everything, or they would go to Los Angeles and find an engineer and bring him in to take my job. So, for 11 months I worked and learned without a single day off.

Word spread quickly that there was now a state of the art studio in Riverside with an engineer (me) who would play guitar for free on tracks if needed. Soon I was recording almost all of the Rap groups and several Rock bands, as well as solo artists in the Inland Empire and playing guitar on many of their projects. Then one seemingly normal morning I went to work and got robbed at gunpoint, and every single piece of equipment was taken/stolen from the studio while I was tied up and blindfolded and thrown into a vocal booth. And that was the end of that.

Yikes! … How did you recover from that? and what are you doing now?
My band "Neophonics" was getting popular and building a following playing at places like The Barn at UCR, Madame Wongs, Cuckoo's Nest, Club 88 and other well-known places. I also started composing a lot of material, mainly grooves to play along with while I practiced improvising. Over a period of time I added parts and expanded the tunes to the point that they began to resemble songs with melodies, and a recognizable form. Before I realized it, I had accumulated approximately 100 of these pieces.

At first I had nowhere to post them and no good way of letting people hear them, but then I discovered ReverbNation. I created an account (Michael Zaret czar of guitar) and posted about 30 pieces at first and got very little reaction. I slowly added more over time and then for reasons I don't fully understand, on May 12 of this year (2019) my music started getting a lot of attention. I went from 6th place with fewer than 120 fans to over 1,000 fans and became #1 in my category. I’ve been at that position for several months now. I’ve since created a second account (Testikoff the Czar) for compositions which don't feature my guitar playing. I’m currently #2 with that account so now I'm #1 and #2 in the "Instrumental" category for Riverside, CA and surrounding cities. I want to thank all of the good people who’ve become my fans for being the reason I’ve done well in the chart rankings. (Thank you all)

Between the 2 sites I have posted around 59 compositions, but I’ve written much more and plan to post new pieces as time goes by. One recent piece that I hope people will listen to is a collaboration with the artist "Rolan" who is a talented musician, lyricist, and vocalist and more. We connected through ReverbNation. He put vocals and lyrics to one of my songs called "Moody December 22" and did an amazing job. We are collaborating on new things and will soon post the results at our ReverbNation sites.

In addition to that collaboration I am also working with a talented keyboardist/singer/songwriter Grindl J. She is truly excellent at what she does and I am anxious to be able to post some of our collaborative works.

My compositions reflect, I believe, my wide variety of influences including 60’s Soul Music, Funk, Fusion, Rock, and Indian Classical music. I’m a big fan of Tuvan Throat singing, Qawwali music, and Bluegrass to name a few others. I admire almost every style of music that includes improvisation. Improvising on guitar has always been my focus and forte. In terms of composing, I am still a frustrated drummer and I sequence all of my drum parts for each song one voice at a time, never using any patterns or preset loops. I have unintentionally developed a style of composing which features two or more bass lines with each bass part having its own sound and pattern, but played simultaneously with the other bass parts.

I firmly believe that all inspiration and creative endeavor comes from a Universal source that's in the air at all times and can be accessed by all artists with a proper motivation, dedication, discipline and a good heart. I call this source The Bottomless Well of Creativity, a phrase I picked up from my friendGreg Welchel who is an incredible keyboard player/composer/recordist and teacher. There’s a small handful of friends and collaborators who have consistently encouraged me to continue writing and playing for a very long time now. They know who they are and I love them and thank them all.  My goals are to keep writing and playing, and learning, and I may be starting a band in late September to do covers and original tunes with a couple of good friends and good musicians, JP Casler, David Mahi, and Grindl J. I am kept busy also by responding to various requests from my ReverbNation followers and from other Social Media sites.

I would love to make a living solely from doing music. It’s hard. I’m not much at ease in the typical business world. So I’ll continue to play and write and post, and hope. Just like Rolan sings about in Moody December 22.
Although he was featured in recently released Lifoti's September 2019 issue 09, you can check it from below link's for your country:

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