Steve Zaccari was initially joking when he asked one of his high-school chemistry students to join his group The Hallertau Band.
In early 2007, guitarist and vocalist Zaccari started a new bluesy rock duo with longtime college friend and bassist Chuck Gutta. Taking their name from a hop used in beer brewing (Zaccari brews his own beer at home), the duo began playing smaller shows in the region. They might have remained a duo if not for John Drabik, then a 15-year-old junior in Zaccari’s chemistry class at Colonie Central High School.
“Most students have a hard time with chemistry, so we usually have quite a few kids staying after school,” Zaccari said, sitting with Gutta and Drabik at a coffee shop in Albany.
“John walks in one day with a guitar, and I always make musical quips while I’m teaching chemistry. John picked up on that, and he came over with his guitar and started playing some Stevie Ray Vaughn and all sorts of stuff.
Jaw hits the ground
“My jaw hit the ground, and I was just joking around with him, saying, ‘Boy, I’d love to have you in my band playing bars.’ The next thing I know, his mom called me up and restated what I had said, and actually she was supportive of him to do that.”
The Hallertau Band
with Gang of Thieves
Where: Bayou Cafe, 79 N. Pearl St., Albany
When: 9 p.m. Friday
How Much: $5
More Info: 462-9033, www.bayoucafe.com
Despite the generational divide, Drabik, now 20, clicked immediately with Zaccari, 45, and Gutta, 46, thanks to a mutual love of blues and classic rock such as The Allman Brothers, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King and, of course, Vaughn. The three-piece incarnation of The Hallertau Band began playing shows in the North Country area, at first avoiding the Albany region because of Zaccari and Drabik’s school affiliations. After a few years, Drabik’s longtime friend Blair Purdy, now also 20 years old, joined the group on drums.
“A lot of folks are surprised at the fact that two different generations of musicians can get along so well,” Zaccari said. “But we really do — we’re like a big happy family.”
That family just expanded with the addition of Hammond B-3 organist Tad Holtz, who will play his first show with the band at the Bayou Cafe in Albany on Friday night, with Vermont funk-rockers Gang of Thieves.
The show will also feature a bake sale to benefit efforts to create a memorial in Newtown, Conn., to commemorate the Sandy Hook shooting.
“It’s just every blues musician’s dream to have a Hammond organ behind them,” Drabik said. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.”
Holtz has already started contributing to the band’s songwriting process, and the group is looking ahead to recording new demos, following a three-song session as a four-piece the band previously released on its website, www.thehallertauband.com.
Reaching a new level
For Zaccari, a longtime proponent of Hammond B-3 organ, and the rest of the band, Holtz has been the missing piece to the band’s already eclectic sound.
“The group is really gelling very well,” Zaccari said. “For the longest time, we put a lot of emphasis — since John is such a wonderful guitar player — we put a lot on John to be like the frontman, the lead guy, and then I just pretty much play rhythm guitar. Now that we’ve got Tad going, now that we’ve got the addition of the Hammond B-3, it’s taken us totally to a new level. It’s so organic.”
Everyone in the band brings a different stylistic component when it comes to songwriting — Holtz has pushed the band further in a blues direction, while Purdy brings a jazz background to the band. Zaccari draws vocal influence from fellow baritones like Johnny Cash and The Doors’ Jim Morrison, both of whose songs the band has covered live.
“A lot of our songs, they come out of jams,” Gutta said. “Like, [Drabik] will start something, or Blair will, and then [Zaccari] will just kind of — Steve’s got this thing where he can come up with lyrics on the spot. Some people have to sit down and think about it.”
“These guys set the mood, they break out the canvas,” Zaccari added. “It just sets the whole feeling, and I’m like an antenna that just picks up whatever happens to be traveling through the room at the time.”
In addition to original material — enough for a full-length album already — the band will mix in covers depending on the show being played, but tries to stay away from obvious choices.
“As our keyboardist has said, there’s so much material out there that, why do what everybody else is doing?” Zaccari said.
“Why not be innovators? Why not play our own original twist on these songs? Which is nice, because the guys — I feel honored to play with these guys because they have such creativity that they can take a song and put a new dimension on it that I never would have thought could ever happen.”