20 Under 25: Zack Biss

Singer/guitarist, 14, St. Petersburg

click to enlarge Zack Biss with the guitar he and his father made together. - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
Zack Biss with the guitar he and his father made together.

Ya gotta admire a kid who makes his own guitar: He and his father put it together from Fender parts, then hung it from a tree in their backyard and spray-painted it with nitro-cellulose lacquer in retro hues of aqua and gold.

Not to mention a kid who's way under the drinking age, yet plays regularly at local bars: Soft-spoken and cherubic on first impression, the Canterbury School freshman is a surprise on stage, not least to club owners when he packs the joint. Working the crowds with aplomb, singing in a bluesy baritone and playing a confident guitar, he teams with guitarist Dave Bearce, 37, in an acoustic duo at clubs like Green Iguana, Ringside Cafe and World of Beer. (He's played five out of 14 WOBs, says his dad, Jerry. "He wants to play 'em all.")

It all began with Rock Band two years ago: "I got cocky with playing the toy guitar," he says, and then his father challenged him, saying, "You can't play a real guitar." Zack replied, "Watch me."

Why did he get kicked out of his first band? "He wanted to play," says his father of the band, which was comprised of Zack and three girls. "They just wanted to talk."

He rocked the Ritz: He placed second in Tech Jam at the Ritz Ybor last week, playing with his band of fellow wunderkind musicians, Out By Nine (named for the rock-club rule — often violated by Zack — that kids have to be out of the club by 9 p.m.).

And he just released his first solo EP: It's called Barking Up My Tree. "The lyrics [of the title song] are basically kind of like, if I had a girlfriend and she's kind of flaky and stuff like that, this is what I'd say."

Another song responds to R.E.M.: It's called "End of the World (And I'm freaking out)."

Will he make music his career? "I can't see myself doing anything else as of right now."

Next gig with Dave Bearce: Green Iguana Westshore, Saturday Aug. 27.

Next gig with Out By Nine: Dogs 4 Dogs fundraiser, Oct. 22, Gordon Food Service, St. Petersburg.

Listen to his music here: www.cdbaby.com/cd/zackbiss

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