Words and Photos by Chris F. Williams
In life, some things are given to you. But for the most part, the good things are earned. On Saturday night, Zach Deputy headlined a rowdy upstairs crowd at The Red & Black on H Street in the Atlas District. The ironic thing is that the two opening acts were three and four piece bands; Zach Deputy is only one man (albeit one that delivers a full sound). For the past few years, Deputy has been touring relentlessly doing 250-300 shows a year on the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. In the process, he has honed his natural musical abilities and perfected his live one-man performance thus earning the right to pack-out smaller yet well known venues as the headlining act. Since I moved up to DC from the South a few years ago, I’ve been patiently waiting for Deputy, a South Carolina native, to book a gig in the DC metropolitan area. This was his first show in DC. From the reception he received, I don’t think it will be his last.
I first saw Zach Deputy at a football tailgate in Clemson, SC. I remember hearing this funky acoustic sound and wondering where the band was in the crowd. I was blown away when I realized there was no band. It was just one dude. Using a custom guitar, looping pedals, and programmable percussion pads and buttons, Deputy layered beat-boxing, guitar riffs, and on the spot engineered sounds to create songs. Five years, countless shows, and two studio albums later, Zach Deputy showed up to H Street and laid down the same infectious Caribbean rhythms, hip-hop rhymes, and R&B ballads I had heard years before.
It’s difficult to categorize Zach Deputy’s music. I would say his music is a blend of funk, soul, hip-hop, and Caribbean music. Looking around at the crowd, I believe Deputy caught some of the audience off-guard with his approach to live music. It is a unique experience to watch Zach Deputy create a song. He usually starts with a guitar riff and/or voice-made beat. Once Deputy has a rhythm, he’ll use the loop pedals at his feet to record and loop it. Next, he’ll add some bass, percussion, and sound elements using his programmed pads and buttons. This gets layered on top of what’s already been recorded. Once the beat suits his taste, the song actually begins with Deputy laying down his versatile and soulful vocals over a full-band sound.
Deputy started off the night with “Into the Morning, into the Night”, a song incorporating Latin guitar rhythms, beat boxing, and reggae-style vocals. This got the crowd moving and I found myself grooving to the music, too. With the A/C pretty much non-existent at The Red & Black, it didn’t take long for the crowd to glisten with a thin layer of sweat. Deputy was working with a one-hour time slot so he played virtually non-stop. Fortunately, he transitioned smoothly; everything he needed to create a song was conveniently located within arm or foot’s reach. Two standout tracks from Deputy’s second album Sunshine, “Sunshine” and “Real”, were performed back-to-back and really allowed Deputy to flex his vocal pipes. Midway through, Zach Deputy performed, “Chicken Pot Pie”, a crowd favorite that got everyone in a giddy move. One thing I noticed watching Zach Deputy: he’s an extremely charismatic and upbeat guy. You can’t help but smile when you’re vibing to his music. Deputy ended the night with “Twisty Twisty”, another Caribbean/Latin infused track that had the whole crowd shaking their hips.
Zach Deputy, when asked how to explain his music in an interview by © Leeway’s Home Grown Music Network, has been quoted as saying, “…imagine James Brown and Michael Jackson and Ray Charles had an illegitimate child that grew up in the Virgin Islands. That’s kinda what I do.” I certainly agree. Zach Deputy’s music has many influences and will please music lovers with eclectic tastes. Deputy’s latest album, Sunshine, has a song for everyone: from Gospel tunes to Ska/Reggae numbers and even a Michael Jackson inspired R&B track. After hearing both, his studio albums are not as exciting as his live performances but just as impressive. My advice: go see him live next time he rolls through town. He’ll be back in DC with another tour. After all, he has earned it.