Q&A with Ohio guitarist Zayne Harshaw - specializes in blistering blues from a variety of Rock influences

"Music is a force that can bring people together. Blues music can uniquely cross racial barriers, socio-cultural boundaries, and other hindrances that work to keep people separate because quite simply, anybody can have the blues."

Zayne Harshaw: Blue(s) Spectrum

Guitarist and singer, Zayne Alexander Harshaw specializes in blistering blues from a variety of influences. Start with Jimi Hendrix, add some Yngwie Malmsteen and Tom Morello, with a dash of Slash and a little bit of Kiss and you have the multitalented blues guitarist, Zayne Harshaw. Ripping out slabs of blues-drenched guitar solos that Buddy Guy or Jimmy Page would be proud of, Harshaw puts his own take on the music he loves. He also plays with the Blues n' Rock band, Blues Spectrum. Blue Spectrum is comprised of young people who share a passion for creating and playing wonderful music. Their love of performing is not the only commonality they share...they are also members of the special needs community. These young champions serve as inspirations and prove that life is not to be viewed through the single lens of a diagnosis but to be lived through the Spectrum of potential, promise and purpose. The band are: Zayne Harshaw on guitar and vocals; Amelia Walsh on keyboards; and rhythm section by Clarence Bowles and Alan Jefferson.

Zayne asked for a guitar when he was 12; he became interested in the instrument through the video game "Guitar Hero." His parents thought it might be a phase, but Zayne delved into music. He formed a band called Blue Spectrum with other young people with autism. In 2014, Zayne's life changed when he attended CAMP Blues with the Jazz Arts Group. He gained a new appreciation for the blues and met the musicians who would become his mentors. Zayne attends weekly jam sessions, performs at venues around Ohio and was selected to perform at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in the IBC Youth Showcase. Against all odds and the expectations of his parents, medical care givers and others, Zayne took to it and stuck with it. While he hasn’t been playing seriously for all that long, he made fabulous progress and his now a regular at concerts and gigs in the Columbus area.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Gwendolyn Harshaw

What do you learn about yourself from the blues music and culture?

Zayne: My grandfather passed away when I was four years old. He loved blues music. Educating himself about the music, the artists, the culture and what made the blues special. My playing of blues music has developed a greater appreciation for my grandfather within me. I understand his love for it. It is almost like I can hear him talking to me whenever I play. 

What does the blues mean to you?

Zayne: Blues is freedom to express feelings, no matter what they are. I like the honesty of the blues. As an autistic individual, emotional expression can be very difficult for me but blues music helps so much. I love being able to express myself in my solos.

How do you describe Blue Spectrum / Blues Horizon sound and songbook?

Zayne: Blue Spectrum plays a broad spectrum of music: Jazz, Blues, R&B, funk, and Bock. Blues Horizon plays strictly blues.

Ohio Blues n’ Rock band of Blue Spectrum is comprised of young people who share a passion for creating and playing wonderful music. Band are: Zayne Harshaw on guitar, vocals; Amelia Walsh on keyboards; and rhythm section by Clarence Bowles and Alan Jefferson.

What characterize band’s philosophy?     

Zayne: Blue Spectrum started off as a band comprised of teens on the Autism Spectrum. The motto of our band is: "Life is not to be viewed through the single lens of a diagnosis but to be lived through the Spectrum of potential, promise and purpose". Blues Horizon represents young people who are the next generation of musicians who respect and love playing the blues. They are on the horizon of the blues scene carrying the music into the future. Our philosophy is based on continuing to learn this music and the artists of the past while still developing and adding in our own style.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Zayne: Meeting Sean Carney exposed me to blues music and has changed my life. It has enhanced by guitar playing, broadened my musical understanding and given me greater confidence on stage. I cannot believe that I will soon get the opportunity to play on a blues stage on Beale Street. Absolutely life-changing.

What is the best advice has given you?

Zayne: My introduction to the blue music came in the summer of 2014 at the Blues Camp hosted by Blues musician, Sean Carney. Before then I was strictly into classic rock and heavily influenced by guitarists known for shredding or playing extremely fast. As I was learning various blues techniques and styles, my solos kept reflecting shredding techniques. Someone told me to "give the notes some air". It means that it is okay to use pauses in the midst of the solo for added effect. It changed my soloing for the better.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams with Blue Spectrum and Blues Horizon which you’d like to share with us?

Zayne: One of my favorite memories is when Blues Horizon played publicly for the first time. We played for the crowd at the Columbus Blues Challenge held by the Columbus Blues Alliance (CBA). That performance led to us being chosen to represent Columbus in the Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.

"Blues is freedom to express feelings, no matter what they are. I like the honesty of the blues. As an autistic individual, emotional expression can be very difficult for me but blues music helps so much. I love being able to express myself in my solos." (Photo by Kelly Thornton)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Zayne: It seems as if the emphasis and importance are more about individual solo artists as opposed to the musicianship of the entire band itself.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Zayne: My hope is that blues music finds a greater audience in America. But I fear that one day the blues will be a forgotten genre of music.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Zayne: Blues Festivals would be world-wide televised events.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Zayne: Music is a force that can bring people together. Blues music can uniquely cross racial barriers, socio-cultural boundaries, and other hindrances that work to keep people separate because quite simply, anybody can have the blues. It is a human condition which knows no bounds.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Zayne: I would want to have been at Woodstock to hear Jimi Hendrix play the Star Spangled Banner.

Photo by Annika Berke

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