It's a Groove Thang

It's a Groove Thang

Buddy Zapata’s Junkshop Republic rocks the Armory during Friday’s ArtNight

By Bliss Bowen 10/09/2013

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Hang with Buddy Zapata, and you’ll hear stories about punk bands he saw in the 1980s in Hollywood dives, and shows he later opened for the Knitters and Peter Case. He’ll passionately champion undersung sidemen like guitarist Pedro Wyant and Johnny Boudreaux (about whom he wrote one of his best songs after hearing him play saxophone on an Old Pasadena corner). Jawbone about blues, and things get real interesting. Zapata loves to write grooves. His music’s an eclectic mash of blues, punk, jazz, Mexican and Armenian folk — thus his band’s name, Junkshop Republic — looped together by steady grooves. There’s no way you’re not going to groove when you’ve got two drum kits, two slide guitars, bass and a saxophone jamming.

That instrumental lineup dazzled ArtNight in March when Zapata’s Junkshop Republic performed at the Armory surrounded by a stunning, Colorado Bridge-inspired installation by artists Kathryn Roberts and Alicia Gorecki. The gallery buzzed with energy from an attentive audience, friends (including this writer) who sat in with the band, and the band’s elastic grooves. Roberts is again creating a backdrop for this Friday’s ArtNight, when Zapata returns (with bassist Gregory Boaz, drummers Phil Bloch and Steve Mugalian, and saxophonist Joe Sublett). According to Zapata, it will be his fifth or sixth ArtNight performance.

Zapata, who discovered punk through his brother’s Ramones and Sex Pistols albums, tripped over blues by accident. “My uncle hired us to go to this house where a tenant left behind all these LPs and 45s; the one that drew my attention was by Lightnin’ Hopkins, so I took it home. I started doing research; I went to the record store. Punk had energy and melody, and the blues just spoke to me.”

He moved to Pasadena in 1987. “I was awarded a scholarship to live at the Gamble House by the school of architecture at USC,” he explains. “I’d have these late-night parties; all these musicians would come over, mostly from the San Gabriel Valley. They respected the house and it made for cool parties. It was a fun place to play music. You know that movie ‘Auntie Mame’ with Rosalind Russell? One of her lines is, ‘You have to LIVE life!’ I almost failed school, but I lived life.”

After playing Old Town joints through the ’90s, he withdrew into semi-retirement around 2000. He returned after the birth of his first son and, in 2005, released his album “Turo.” These days, he plays “Zapata Lite” (his guitar-bass duo) at RedWhite+Bluezz and private parties, plus occasional band gigs — when he can pull his busy sidemen together — performing his own songs and covers like Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howling for My Baby.”

“I love Professor Longhair too,” he quips, “but you don’t hear that in my music. My music is influenced by good, cheap food. Tacos and curry.”  

Buddy Zapata’s Junkshop Republic plays ArtNight 7-10 p.m. Friday at Armory Center for the Arts, 145 N. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Free admission. For information, call (626) 792-5101.,


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