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Tucson rocker Johnny Zapp is playing his first headlining gig

Musician and producer Johnny Zapp gestures to drummer Bruce Halper as the two work on a percussion track for a Loren Dircks album, in Zapp’s home studio. Zapp’s own album comes out on Friday.

Guitar player Johnny Zapp has spent most of his career making other people’s music.

On Friday, Sept. 16, he will show his adopted hometown of Tucson his own music when he plays a concert to celebrate the release of his months-old solo album “More Rock & Roll Less A**holes” at Club Congress.

“It’s a clean album lyrically, but that title,” Zapp said during an interview in August, explaining that the title reflects his frustration at what has happened since the pandemic started in 2020. “Why can’t we all just get along and love one another and listen to some music and be cool? Stop being jerks to everybody.”

Zapp, who has played with members of some of Tempe’s biggest 1990s bands, including the Gin Blossoms and the Pistoleros, converted a spare bedroom of his Tucson home into a home studio and spent most of the pandemic working on the album. He recorded bass, drums and guitar on the album, and brought in a few friends to help flesh out the rest.

“I have this beautiful rolodex of amazing musician friends” he said, including the Nashville soul/rock band Them Vibes, longtime Iggy Pop lead guitarist Whitey Kirst and guitarist Daniel Henzerling, who played with the Gin Blossoms and the Gin Blossoms follow-up project Gas Giants.

Zapp, who grew up in Huntington Beach, California, and moved to Tempe when he was 19, learned to play the guitar when he was in elementary school. By age 12, he and some friends formed his first band, which played at schools and neighborhood parties.

When his family moved to Maricopa in 1996, he stayed behind in California working a steady job. But before long, he moved to Tempe and was immediately sucked into the burgeoning music scene of the mid-1990s.

He took a day job in a carpet store alongside Henzerling and a guy named Russel who played with the Tempe alt-country band Grievous Angels.

“Right away these guys were like, ‘Oh, you’re a musician. let’s hang out’,” Zapp recalled.

Hanging out turned into sitting in with a variety of bands when they were short a player doing gigs at Tempe’s hot clubs, including Bash on Ash.

“They would say, ‘Hey, our bass player didn’t show up. Can you sit in?’ Before I know it, I would show up at gigs and see who didn’t show up,” recalled Zapp, who moved to Tucson with his wife in 2016.

With all his music contacts, the 45-year-old father of one started curating all-star lineups for mostly for benefit shows and produced music for television and film, including for MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” and ESPN’s golf coverage.

Early in 2020, Zapp was itching to get back on stage. Then the pandemic hit and shut down live entertainment.

“That was kind of a nice wakeup call for me,” he said.

His album has a throwback sound that beckons pure 1990s rock with crunchy guitars and gut-wrenching licks. He released the album in May as a physical CD and digital download.

His gig on Saturday, with a backing band that includes Scott Andrews and Mark Riggs from the Pistoleros, Zapp’s longtime writing and recording partner Matt Lubben and the Gas Giants’ Henzerling, starts at 7 p.m. at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. Tickets are $5 at hotelcongress.com or at the door.

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch


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