When Zack Walther went to college to major in music, he had to choose an “instrument of study.” And—no accident—he chose his own voice. As a child of the 1980s he sang in the school choir and learned to play songs by ear on his brother’s upright piano, “But it was mainly the white keys,” he recalls. Then, as an afterthought, he adds, “It still is.” That piano may have been the first musical instrument he ever touched, but it certainly wasn’t the last.
By the time the ’90s rolled around, he was a teenager immersed in rock and roll and already a developing musician. That’s when he found his father’s old nylon-string classical guitar, long forgotten and stashed in the family attic. When he was 13, his folks, aware of his interest, bought him a basic electric guitar and a little Crate amp. Two years later, they surprised him on Christmas with his first quality acoustic guitar. “I played all through Christmas day,” he says. “Playing songs, learning songs, country songs, rock songs, just basic chords.” Still, he knew he was destined to be a vocalist—first and foremost.
“Singing was a natural thing for me, and it always has been because I’ve gone through college and actually been classically trained to sing.” He picked up piano and guitar on his own, and though he’s had a few lessons, considers himself self-taught. “There was always interest early on, very early, playing music and singing. And because I was the vocalist of my friends, I’ve always been the lead singer,” he says. “I can remember, at 13, 14 years old having band practice in my best friend’s garage.” High school was a whirlwind, “a lot of guys and girls creating bands.” Over the 30-year span of his musical life, he’s been in and out of bands, including, fairly recently, Zack Walther and the Cronkites, a name familiar to many aficionados of Texas music. An album—Ambition—arose out of that collaboration. In his current iteration of band names, it’s back to basics: The Zack Walther Band, a three-piece ensemble with guitar, bass and drums.
Once the seeds were planted, Walther has just kept growing musically year after year, gaining experience, covering new songs and musical genres, until he evolved into the versatile performer that he is today. He’s able to deliver anything from the Beatles to Bruce Springsteen to Leonard Cohen to a whole catalog of originals, many of which make up the tracks on albums he’s recorded over the years. As a teenager, “The alternative rock scene was huge, and that’s what we listened to mostly. But I was also raised on my dad’s LPs, the Beatles. I had a huge, strong influence from Simon & Garfunkle. That was one of my favorites growing up. In fact, the first song I ever played in front of an audience was ‘Sound of Silence.’ And I still play it today.”
The versatility that defines his performances extends to a wide range of music that’s known by the vast majority of Americans regardless of background or regional differences. It’s a genre that’s come to be known as “Americana”—music that’s rooted in the heritage of the nation, from the English and Irish music of the earliest settlers’ to the blues and jazz of the old South and the R&B of Detroit. And Walther’s voice ranges as far and wide as his song choices. In his rendering of Leonard Cohen’s anthem-like “Hallelujah,” he can reach down deep in his throat to find a guttural howl and then soar up to highs that ring like a prayer. To watch him perform is to see a musician in his prime delivering straight from the heart.
And his growth as an artist never stops, as the Zack Walther Band expands its audience. A recent original, “Mustang Wine,” is, as he puts it, “a perfect example of the direction this band is headed.” Wherever Walther and his band are going, they’re doing it at breakneck speed, and for fans of that special kind of music you can only find in Texas, they can’t wait until he gets there. – G. C. Larson