|“I hope I don’t get banned from performing here after I play this next song,” says Zane Carney, “but there’s a sign in the dressing room that says, ‘No “Hallelujah.”’ I’m going to risk it and do the song anyway, though, because someone requested it. Also, maybe I can get away with it because my brother is playing Jeff Buckley in an upcoming movie.”
With that, Carney grabs his go-to Fender Telecaster (a modded, royal blue late-’90s Jerry Donahue model), plugs it into a wide palette of pedals at his feet that are feeding a Siegmund head and cabinet behind him, and begins playing a captivating guitar-and-voice rendition of the oft-covered Leonard Cohen-penned, Buckley-approved classic.
Immediately, any set list infractions are forgiven. This isn’t an out-of-tune kid in the music store on Saturday morning violating the “No Stairway to Heaven” rule. The ethereal sound emanating forth is hypnotic enough that even the hard-to-impress bartenders and servers seem entranced by what they’re hearing, and the entire crowd goes pin-drop silent under Carney’s spell.
It’s just another Monday night at Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe for Carney.
“I’m here every Monday through November, maybe longer,” Carney tells the audience. The club—a renowned showcase venue for LA’s more promising up-and-coming singer/songwriters—is starting to seem like Carney’s home away from home when he’s not on tour accompanying the arena-packing king of blues pop, John Mayer.
“Honestly, this residency isn’t about me,” Carney tells the audience. “It’s about me bringing some of my favorite musicians to the stage so you can check them out.”
Tonight’s guests will include both singer Grace Weber and the New West Guitar Group, featuring three dynamic jazz guitarists Carney studied with back in 2003 and 2004 at USC’s Thornton School of Music: John Storie, Perry Smith, and Jeff Stein. “You’re going to love these guys,” says Carney as he invites the trio on stage to back him on a stellar arrangement of “My Ship” courtesy of Smith. With its nice swing, compelling guitar harmonies, and vocal part from Carney, the song is a hit with the crowd. Interestingly, according to Carney, it marks the first time he has put down the guitar on stage to assume the role of lead singer sans guitar. But Carney can’t stay guitar-less for long. For the very next tune, Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” Carney grabs a Gibson ES-335 (blue, of course), and the agenda is an up-tempo four-guitar adrenaline rush.
After the show, Carney discusses his other job—playing, as he puts it, “lead rhythm guitar” for John Mayer. “John is really supportive of me. He probably gives me, on average, between two and four solos per night, sometimes more. That is so awesome, but, honestly, I also have just as much fun playing rhythm guitar behind his solos, because he’s so melodic. That melodicism gives me a lot of room to support him as a rhythm guitarist.”
The surreal aspect of Carney’s gig with Mayer is that he doesn’t have a clue as to how he got it. Perhaps Mayer had seen Carney in the pit band for the Broadway musical Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark (which starred Carney’s brother Reeve); seen him in Carney, the band featuring both brothers; or seen him on YouTube, but whatever the case, Mayer’s camp got Zane’s attention with a vague but intriguing email.
“It just stated that it was regarding ‘work,’” says Carney. “There was no audition. I called back, talked with everyone that night, and flew out to L.A. a few weeks later to play the Ellen show with John. All I know is that I got on John’s radar through some mutual friends, and the rest is, as they say, history. I am so very grateful he found out about me.”
For his Hotel Cafe solo shows, Carney has been using a Pedaltrain Fly ’board loaded with a JHS Mini Foot fuzz, JHS SuperBolt and Morning Glory overdrives, a HAO Rumble MOD overdrive, an Electro-harmonix POG 2 polyphonic octaver, a Maxon AD-999 analog delay, an Electro-Harmonix Cathedral reverb, an Ernie Ball Volume Pedal Junior, a Strymon Flint tremolo/reverb, a Catalinbread Echorec delay, a NosePedal custom A/B/Y box, and a T.C. Electronic Polytune mini tuner fed by the volume pedal’s Tuner out jack. (See photo in Slide Show.)
And that’s Carney’s small ’board.
“I use two massive Pedaltrain Pro’s on tour with John Mayer,” says Carney, “but I’m not singing at those shows, so I can easily navigate the wide array of stompboxes.”
With Mayer, Carney runs two Siegmund Midnight Blues amps in stereo through cabinets loaded with Tone Tubby Hempcone neodymium speakers. “I actually own six Siegmund amps,” says the guitarist. “I love imperfect, yet creamy midrange, and Chris Siegmund’s amps give me that. They’re so sturdy and reliable, but they give me a really exciting sense of unpredictability, because they’re such musical amplifiers. They really respond to whatever I give them. With the two Midnight Blues amps on stage with all those pedals, I can do a lot. I like having lots of sounds available with John for when we learn new songs while on tour. I always want to be prepared.”