In addition to being one of the best young pitchers in baseball today, 24-year-old A.L. Cy Young Award winner Barry Zito of the Oakland A’s is also a real music lover who spends much of his down-time writing songs, working on his guitar skills, and playing with his sister Sally’s band at such Hollywood hot spots as Club Lingerie and Highland Grounds.
WC: So tell me a little bit about your family’s background in the music business.
BZ: Well, my Dad started out composing and arranging. He was writing a lot of stuff, but he was a conductor, and he composed and arranged for Nat King Cole. And then he did a lot of arrangements for the Buffalo Symphony, which is one of the best symphonies in the country. I think they were a 104-piece symphony, which is about as big as it gets. And he worked with a lot of people. I don’t know how much work he did with guys like Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington, but I know that they were all friends and he knew all the greats and hung out with all those people.
WC: So growing up, you had quality music around you from as far back as you can remember.
BZ: Yeah, I mean I was a little too young to know a lot of those people he hung out with because I came along in ’78. And that was a little beyond when he was doing all that big stuff with those people. But I grew up in Vegas until I was 7, and that’s a huge music town, as far as show tunes and lounge acts and all that stuff.
WC: So I guess we’re lucky you’re not doing a lounge act today!
BZ: Yeah, exactly!
WC: So growing up, what’s the first band you remember really being into?
BZ: Well I was really into Led Zeppelin as a kid. But when I first started listening to music, I was really into hip-hop, rap, and all that stuff. Some of it’s good, but some stuff is a little less than good.
WC: Do you remember the first album or CD you ever bought?
BZ: It’d have to be “Physical Graffiti” by Led Zeppelin.
WC: I guess that’s the first album teenagers have been buying for nearly 30 years now!
BZ: Yeah, I know. But it’s such a great album. It’s two CDs. “Ten Years Gone” was probably my favorite song. But once I came out of the rap thing, I really got into classic rock–Led Zeppelin, Boston, Starship, the Doobie Brothers.
WC: You should have been born 10 years earlier. That’s what was on the radio when I was growing up!
BZ: I know, man!
WC: Do you remember the first concert you ever went to?
BZ: Yeah, my sister Sally dragged me out to see Aerosmith when I was like 7 or 8. This was in the ’80s, and she and her friend had their big teased hair and everything. I’m this little 8-year-old, and they dressed me up in slacks and a jacket. And they’re all rockin’ out! It was at the Sports Arena in San Diego, I remember that!
WC: So they were these big-haired southern California rock chicks?
BZ: Yeah, there was a big ’80s thing workin’ there!
WC: So what’s the best live show you’ve ever been to?
BZ: Wow, I’d say one of the best shows I’ve ever seen was when I saw Ben Folds in New York. And it was his first-ever solo show, just him and a piano. He had always gone out and played encores with a piano without the rest of the band. But this was his first time doing it just completely solo. I mean that was just a moving experience! My sister got completely inspired by that. I flew her to New York with me and we got a hotel and everything. And it was such a big hit for him that he’s doing a tour now, just Ben Folds and a piano.
WC: I heard you were just hanging out with him recently.
BZ: Yeah, that was great. I got a chance to meet him when we were in New York. And then I’ve been e-mailing his tour manager–he’s a baseball fan. I just sat down with Ben for like a half-hour and shot the shit for a little while. It’s great. He’s just a normal guy. He lives in Australia. Just a down-home North Carolina guy, but with this unbelievable musical talent. And then the other show that I really loved was probably the only time I’ve ever seen Dave Matthews, which was at something in San Francisco called the Bridge School Benefit.
WC: The Neil Young thing?
BZ: Yeah, and everyone does it for free. And it was so moving because Dave came on stage, and I wasn’t really even that into him at this point. But it was an all-acoustic concert, so his band wasn’t even there. He just came on stage with his guitar, and he only played 5 or 6 songs, just him and his guitar. And that really just kind of launched me into Dave Matthews. And since then, I’ve bought every guitar book on him, and every CD, and every live bootleg I can find.
WC: Obviously, somewhere along the line you decided that baseball was going to be your major focus even though most everyone in your family had pretty much gone in a musical direction. When did you later decide that you really were interested in music too and wanted to get serious about getting into it?
BZ: Well, I played piano when I was young. When I was 12 years old, I picked up this Mozart piece and learned it from front to back just on a whim. I spent a week and learned it just because I wanted to. And I played it great! And after that, I always thought ‘Okay, if I want to go that route, I can.’ But I never touched the piano again. And then in 2000, during my first spring training here, I started playing guitar because I knew the road trips and all that stuff were going to get a little monotonous. So this is a nice break from all the pressure and strain of playing baseball in front of 50,000 people.
WC: And it gives you something constructive to do with all that free time.
BZ: Yeah, instead of just sitting around playing video games like a lot of people.
WC: Or getting into trouble!
BZ: Well, I save some time for that too!
WC: There’s always a little time for that!
BZ: Yeah, exactly! But I mean, I always knew I was musically inclined. The question was just when I was going to get in touch with it. And now I feel like I have.
WC: So I guess you’ve been spending a lot of time working on your guitar-playing lately.
BZ: Yeah, I’ve had a Taylor, which is just the most amazing guitar ever. Actually, I was trying to find out what kind of guitar Dave Matthews plays. It turns out he plays a Martin, but I’ve heard that he’s been playing Taylors too. Taylors are actually local, they’re from San Diego. But God, those are just unreal. I’m probably going to get a lot of those in my day!
WC: Your team’s general manager, Billy Beane, is a big music fan. Have you ever talked to him about music?
BZ: Yeah, he actually recommended the Strokes to me, and I got into them in the off-season. They’re pretty sweet. I had tickets to go see them in San Diego, but I had to fly to Alabama at the last minute. But the girl I was dating at the time went to see them, and she said the band got so wasted the night before that after the third song, the guy couldn’t even sing anymore!
WC: Well, sometimes that happens?that’s rock & roll!
BZ: Yep, that’s rock & roll!