Rob Zuzin: Many Styles and Influences
If you’ve heard Rob Zuzin perform live over the years, you might have noticed that his playlist spans over eight decades. His original compositions reflect this diversity: rock and roll tempered with country picking and classical arpeggios mixed with blues and swing. “I’ve been writing music all my life. Somewhere in my house, I might still have a couple pages titled Symphony #1 that I started when I was seven.” Rob’s catalog of pop, rock, and blues compositions is now in the hundreds. Only a few dozen have ever been released, but all were written for the joy of writing music and sharing with others. “Most of my early music was released locally or just circulated on cassettes among friends."
Beneath a lot of rock music, you will find the blues. “The blues is very important, especially for guitarists. The instrument lends itself so easily to the progressions, scales, and rhythms of the blues. The first song I learned on the guitar was a riff on that 12 bar progression. I call it the Pawnshop Blues. Back in the ‘60s my dad bought a guitar at a pawnshop. As he walked home with it, a stranger stopped him and said, ‘Let me show you something.’ It was the 12-bar blues.”
Rob Zuzin’s performances, while rooted in rock and blues, are pretty eclectic. “I really got hooked on a wide variety of music when I was young. But most guitarists are an eclectic bunch, aren’t they? I think for some, the genre they love comes first, then the instrument. But a lot are like me. The instrument comes first: ‘Yeah, I really like this one style, but I want to try this other thing too.’ The next step is to start mixing things together. That is what I do.”
Rob started playing the guitar at twelve. “We always seemed to have a few second-hand guitars around the house when I was young. I was playing clarinet in school, so when I did start to give the guitar some serious thought, I was able to teach myself to read the music and pick things out by ear pretty quickly.” The classical sheet music available at the library and his father’s record collection that included all the classic rock staples of the 60s and 70s (as well as everything else from Beethoven to Ray Charles) was the foundation of an open minded approach to an open minded instrument. “My dad liked anything that was good, and though we’d disagree sometimes on what was good, I was the same way. I got that from him. I didn’t need to check to see if it was OK to like something. If I liked it, I liked it.”
After spending a few years after high school performing near and around his hometown just outside of Baltimore, Rob completed a degree in music composition. “I was on the ‘ten year plan,’ we would joke, even if it was mostly because I started going to college a few years later than usual. It was a great experience to spend my days talking with people who were so passionate about music.”
About this same time, Rob began teaching guitar. Though he had taught in the past, it was now on a more consistent basis. This experience, along with teaching guitar classes at the local community college, led him to the publication of a method book for the guitar. It was also about this time that he began to perform at more solo engagements. “I just went through a period where it was really hard to keep a group together, so I was trying to take as many gigs as I could just doing the one-man-band thing. That really pushed my style of playing into new directions. I worked on hybrid picking [a combination of playing with a pick and fingers] to fill things out a little more than you get by simply strumming. I started incorporating jazz harmonies to beef up the blues and swing tunes that I would do. In addition to these rhythmic and harmonic elements, I began exploring melodic lines that went beyond simply shredding during a guitar solo. But, it is still fun to tear up some hot-rodded blues licks!”
Rob’s upcoming release is a full length album of instrumental guitar music. The new album, Platforms, features nine original compositions that highlight the driving, fun-loving side of the acoustic guitar.