When I first started Midwest Revue back in 1986, it was extremely difficult to have enough “good” music to play on the air each week. In the beginning the radio show was a half hour long. With help from some great Midwestern people the show flourished and became two hours long, featuring great music for more than twenty five years. In Iowa the most valuable connection I had, that helped me fill the airwaves with fabulous music was David Zollo. Zollo was the owner and operator of an incredible independent roots based label called Trailer Records. Zollo built a fantastic roster. Trailer Records released music by Bo Ramsey, Joe Price, BeJae Fleming, Pieta Brown, The Pines, Brother Trucker, Kelly Pardakooper, Greg Brown and many others.
David Zollo burst on the music scene in 1992 with the Iowa City band High and Lonesome. There was some major label interest in the band, but Zollo and the other members were not interested in any label that would change their sound into something that they could force down the throats of a music thirsty world. That band recorded three LPs, Alackaday, Livefromgabes, and For Sale or Rent. Zollo co-produced those LPs with Iowa legend Bo Ramsey and also wrote the songs. High and Lonesome was on the fast track, but the band was de-railed in late 1994 when Zollo was diagnosed with pre-cancerous tumors in his vocal chords. After reconstructive surgery Zollo waited impatiently for his singing voice to recover. During this recovery process Zollo started and established Trailer Records. In 1996 Zollo moved to Nashville to join the band of country-folk rocker Todd Snider. Snider downsized his band in 1997, and Zollo followed his heart back to the Midwest and his hometown of Iowa City. Back in Iowa City he rejoined mentors Bo Ramsey and Greg Brown, further growing Trailer Records. By 2005, Zollo’s vocal chords had fully recovered. With the live music circuit calling and the label always in need of more financing Zollo decided to shut the doors of Trailer Records, and devote all of his time and money touring and recording his own music. Zollo has done just about everything you can do in the rock and roll business. His work includes being a singer/songwriter/keyboardist with his own bands; and as a sideman for an incredible collection of roots music talent (Todd Snider, William Elliot Whitmore, Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, and The Pines); the founder/owner/operator of the legendary label, Trailer Records as well as producer to up-and comers (The Pines, Brother Trucker). Throughout the years, Zollo has written and produced music that has consistently won critical and popular support. Zollo has produced six records of his own material, including the three afore mentioned High and Lonesome LPs and his solo albums The Morning is a Long Way From Home, Uneasy Street, and The Big Night. He also has one album in the can called For Hire. David Zollo probably feels most at home on the stage. At least it seems that way from the audience point of view. His performances are fun! Zollo makes you smile and dance as he romps through his growing list of original songs. If you get the chance to see a David Zollo live show, solo, or with his band The Body Electric don’t pass up. It may be “available for a limited time only”. Later this year David Zollo will join forces with another Iowa legend in a brand new band. The band is to be called Middle Western and will feature David Zollo and William Elliott Whitmore.
Billy Rose: Hey Dave, how are you today.
Dave Zollo: Good, good.
Billy Rose: Could you tell me how you first got started in music. And a little bit about your background, family life, etc.
Dave Zollo: My Grandpa was a Jazz pianist in New York. So my mom set both me and my brother down at the piano to see if either one of us kind of took to it, and I did. I was about four then. I started doing lessons off and on. When I was about seven or eight I started attending a school of music in Iowa City. There was always that connection, with my grandpa. He was a pretty well-known Jazz pianist. Based in New York. Thirties through the fifties was his heyday.
Billy Rose: Have you ever heard any of your grandpa’s work?
Dave Zollo: I’ve heard him on recordings. I never got to hear him play in person. He had a stroke shortly
after I was born.
Billy Rose: What were your influences when you started playing music?
Dave Zollo: Well obviously there was the early Stones stuff and the seventies stuff they put out. The Faces, Rod Stewart’s early stuff and early Springsteen and early Van Morrison. Also the local music community was a big influence on me. Because my dad was close to those guys and also just because they were here. I was around them all the time. Pat Hazell’s son is one of my best friends. With those guys around, that really showed me that it was possible. To see that people here were doing that to make a living. It’s not just people in New York and LA. This is a vocation and a craft that you can work. It can be something you can do to earn a living. I think The Pines and Will Whitmore would say the same thing. Seeing guys like me or some of the older guys that I worked with were a big influence on him. It got him started thinking he could do it. You know you don’t have to go somewhere else. That to me is the great legacy of Trailer Records. We were fortunate to get a lot of good press. They, the press were good to us in Iowa. I think it showed younger musicians that it was possible, a possible thing to pursue. Things like what you were doing with the radio show and Sandy Dyas taking all the photographs for Trailer, the Record stores, the clubs all of these things were necessary to create a scene, to create a culture that would make young people think, I could do that. I was distinctly aware of that while I was doing it, even though I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I was aware of the fact that it was an essential part of creating a music scene.
Billy Rose: How or when did you become friends with Bo Ramsey?
Dave Zollo: My dad knew Bo when I was growing up. He was also friends with Pat Hazell and Joe Price. So those guys were over at my house a lot when I was a kid. I knew Bo through that group of people. I didn’t know Bo as well as Pat and Joe. They were closer friends with my dad. Dad was taking the writers workshop at the university. So I had known Bo as a kid, and I kind of slipped him a demo tape of High and Lonesome and he offered to produce our first record.
Billy Rose: Wow that sounds like a good deal to me. I think it’s great that you hooked up with Bo Ramsey for your first album.
Dave Zollo: Yeah! It was great. That was before his career had taken off. He benefitted from the energy that High and Lonesome had going. And we benefitted from the amazing wisdom and experience that he brought to the table. Then, it wasn’t like it is for him now. He was just kind of working Dubuque, Cascade and Iowa City. Greg’s (Brown) career hadn’t really blown up yet. High and Lonesome was a phenomena around southeast Iowa. So it worked out good. It was mutually beneficial.
Billy Rose: How did you form High and Lonesome?
Dave Zollo: Well, I started playing around as a solo act and, it’s funny, I had this friend from college named Lola Fatura, and she had a friend. She told me, “This guy, he’s driving me crazy, calling me up all the time and following me around. He wants to meet you. He plays guitar, I need to introduce you to him to get him off my back”. It turned out to be Ruairi Fennssy. Me, Dustin Conner and Ruairi started playing together and formed High and Lonesome. We brought Darren Matthews in shortly after that.
Billy Rose: So you put out three albums as High and Lonesome?
Dave Zollo: Yeah, three Alackaday; Livefromgabes; and For Sale or Rent. The last one I really have a hard time listening to that record. It was done shortly after I had throat surgery. Well, really all of them I have a hard time listening to them. That band was a live band. That’s where it was at its best.
Billy Rose: Let’s talk a little bit about Trailer Records. You had a good roster.
Dave Zollo: Yeah, we really did. For however badly it ended, it’s something I’ll always be proud of, the records we put out and that line-up. BeJae Fleming, Brother Trucker, Joe Price and Greg and myself. Yeah it was a pretty amazing little label while it lasted. Then The Pines and Pieta (Brown) came along at the end.
Billy Rose: A very good line-up, and just thinking, they were all pretty much local.
Dave Zollo: Yeah! That was pretty much the idea behind it. To be like a family thing, to be devoted to Iowa. I wish I had more time. I was never able to do the label justice because I was on the road. It was a miracle that I kept it going for as long as I did.
Billy Rose: You can only stretch yourself so far Dave.
Dave Zollo: Oh yeah, I was stretched too thin. And you know it got expensive there at the end.
Billy Rose: Do you know when For Hire is going to drop?
Dave Zollo: For Hire is currently available through the internet and at shows. I hope to tour in the spring and hire a publicist and basically do a national “release” whatever that means anymore!
Billy Rose: How did you meet William Whitmore?
Dave Zollo: I’ve known Will since he moved to Iowa City. He had come up through the punk rock thing. I would have put him on Trailer otherwise. He had given me a demo tape when he was eighteen, and we have been friends ever since, I’ve always admired his work. So he has always asked me to play on his records. He’s obviously a great talent too, and a great guy. Will is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.
Billy Rose: So I heard that the two of you may be getting together and forming a band. Can you elaborate on that?
Dave Zollo: Will and I have talked about doing a band together (and with this rhythm section) for a few years now. The timing finally seemed to work out. The band is going to be called Middle Western and will feature David Zollo (keyboards and vocals), William Elliott Whitmore (guitar and vocals), Stephen “The Kid” Howard (electric guitar, bass guitar), Stevie Doyle (electric guitar, bass guitar) and Brian Cooper (drums, percussion). We did a few shows together over the last couple years and finally decided to do something official. And yes, we plan on recording together under this name for sure!