Slick Zach

Zach Allen sings and plays his guitar at Sue's Coffee Roasting

Love of classic rock ‘n’ roll
– and immense talent – earn 9-year-old a spot in KFOX’s ‘Last
Band Standing’ competition
Gilroy – Zachary Allen knows his classic rock. “Credence Clearwater Revival is great. And the Who,” he said. “I like that kind of music.”

His penchant for old rock ‘n’ roll tunes has earned him a spot in KFOX’s annual “Last Band Standing” competition.

Zachary McMahel – Zachary Allen is his stage name – submitted a CD of classic rock covers Oct. 4 and he is one of eight people or groups still competing in the 18 and younger category.

At 9 years old, Zachary has been playing the guitar for only three years. When Zachary holds his Alvarez acoustic guitar, the instrument seems to overtake his small frame. If he held the guitar straight up, it would nearly stand as tall as the slight boy’s chin.

“It’s a folk guitar. It’s slightly smaller than a regular one,” said his mother, Tina McMahel. “We got it in March and he’s definitely going to grow into it.”

When Zachary starts to play the chords for “Down on the Corner” by Credence Clearwater Revival, it’s clear the boy knows how to handle the instrument. He plays the intro to the song without missing a chord and its only when he starts to sing the lyrics in his pint-sized voice that listeners are reminded that he’s just a kid. Without a microphone, his voice is small, but he hits every note and doesn’t miss a word. As he sings, he breaks into a big smile, the apples of his checks prominent under his wide, brown eyes.

“Daddy, I want to be doing that one day,” Zachary told his father one day when they were watching a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert on television when he had first started his lessons. Vaughan was playing to a packed stadium.

So far, young Zachary hasn’t played to an arena, but he does perform at open mic nights at Happy Dog Pizza and Sue’s Coffee Roasting Club, as well as local events and parties. He had one of his largest audiences this summer when he started off John Bisceglie’s musical “Totally Rockin’ Temple of Boom” with the Guns N’ Roses song “Paradise City.”

“I like playing in front of an audience,” he said, adding that he never gets nervous when performing.

Zachary got hooked on the idea of playing guitar after he watched a popular ’80s movie.

“I saw ‘Back to the Future’ and I saw Marty McFly play ‘Johnny B. Goode,'” Zachary said. “After that, I wanted to be a guitar player.”

Even before that, his parents knew he was much more attune to music than sports.

“We had him in tee-ball and the coach would tell me, ‘Your kid’s out there in center field tossing around his glove and singing,'” said his father, Cliff McMahel.

His parents signed him up for group lessons in Morgan Hill and soon he had moved on to private lessons with Steve Gorman at the Gilroy Guitar Gallery.

“There are a lot of people my age who would like to learn as fast as Zach does,” Gorman said. “I’ll go over things and show him [one week] and the following week, he will pretty much have it together.”

While Zachary is still learning music theory during his lessons, including how to read and write music, he has quite a few classic rock songs down pat. And anyone tuned into KFOX in the last week has probably heard his renditions of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” as part of the competition.

“It’s a little bizarre when we were in the car and one of the DJs played his song,” Tina said. “We’d heard his CD before, but now there’s Zach on the clock radio and on the car radio.”

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