The ballad of Zachariah Malachai

Photo by Larry Caruso.

Homegrown musician recording solo album in Nashville

Paula Neuman
– Wyandotte Warrior

Nashville’s calling and Zachary Welch of Wyandotte is picking up the phone.

And the guitar.

And the microphone.

Under his stage name — Zachariah Malachai, something his dad used to call him — with his backing band The Hillbilly Executives, 30-year-old Welch has been performing all over the area, including recently opening for Patti Smith at the Royal Oak Music Theatre.

Wyandotte native and Roosevelt grad Zachary Welch aka Zachariah Malachai and his band, the Hillbilly Executives, will headline The Ark in Ann Arbor On Dec 17.

But the biggest news just might be that he recently had a recording session in Nashville for a solo album under the wings of legendary record producer Jimmy Capps, who’s been a member of the Grand Ole Opry staff band for the last 60 years and played guitar on a lot of country mega-hits, including Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler,” Ronnie Milsap’s “Smoky Mountain Rain” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”

That opportunity came about when Welch was performing at John A’s bar in Nashville. Gus Arrendale, president of Springer Mountain Farms, a company known for its support of traditional country artists, heard Welch perform, and liked what he heard.

“He plays a huge role in country music in Nashville,” Welch said. “He agreed to finance my record, and he’s also one of the main sponsors of the Grand Ole Opry and the radio station it’s on. He does this a lot, but with mostly known artists. I think I’m the only unknown he’s ever done. He got me in touch with Jimmy Capps. We started the first recording session Oct. 29 and 30 at a studio in Nashville. It was awesome – all these guys in the studio working on my stuff. It’s just insane!”

And it truly is his own “stuff.”

The days of performing covers of other people’s music are over. Welch writes and performs his own songs, which resonate as traditional, old-time country music.

“Most of the time, a song kind of comes on, almost like a possession,” he said. “The last song I wrote — I woke up at 4 in the morning and I had a line going through my head. I ended up writing the whole song in about five minutes. Hank Williams said that God wrote the song and he was the one who held the pen. That’s kind of how it is with me. It’s just a weird phenomenon. I get a basic idea for a melody; most of the time it comes with a chorus, the hook, that’s what usually comes first. After that, I build on the chorus and then the verses.”

Welch has a humorous take on songwriting.

“Musicians tend to cause a lot of their own problems,” he said. “What I mean by that is if songwriters get bored, they don’t have a lot to write about. They get themselves into a predicament so they have something to write about. That’s why they’re all so wacky. The best songwriters always die early or have these relationships that break off. They butcher everything good that comes their way.  You get too comfortable and then you can’t write.

“So the basis of my life is: Butcher the good thing you have going so you can write.”

He laughed. Does his girlfriend, who has her own country music roots and performing ability, know about this philosophy? He said maybe not, but his ex-girlfriends surely do. And he laughed again.

Photo by Larry Caruso

Welch is serious when he talks about the musical connections that have come into his life, including his girlfriend and her family, and his Hillbilly Executives lead guitarist, Jackson Smith of Royal Oak, and his family.

Smith is the son of the late Fred “Sonic” Smith of the MC5 and punk rock poet and performer Patti Smith.

“Patti Smith has been a blessing and a half,” Welch said. “She has been so encouraging about my music and Jackson’s involvement in it.”

Jackson Smith and singer/songwriter Nicole Atkins are producing records in New York City now. And they’re working on a solo album — separate from the Nashville record — featuring Welch.

“The Nashville one probably will be considered my debut record,” Welch said. “I’ve been blessed to have a lot of my superiors reaching down to help. It’s humbling.”

So he’s working a day job for now, flying and driving to Nashville and New York often and following his musical dream. And he’s never been happier.

“It’s so strange,” Welch said. “In Michigan, you’re raised with the notion that you need to get into industry and go to college. In Nashville, music and art is taken more seriously. I tried two or three careers to make a life for myself, and when I decided it has to be music, everything fell into place. All the stars are aligning the way they were supposed to. And all the people in my life who have come along — I’m just astonished.”

Besides Jackson Smith, his other bandmates in the Hillbilly Executives are bass play James MacPhee of Royal Oak, well-known fiddler Aaron Jonah Lewis of Detroit and drummer Todd Glass of Royal Oak.  It all started with an online advertisement.

“I inquired about an ad on Craig’s List that James put up looking for people to start a honky-tonk band,” Welch said. “The band name has probably changed three times. We slowly shifted from covers to my original songs. Then Jackson said I should put my name in front of the band.”

Welch grew up in Wyandotte, spend his summers with grandparents in Tennessee, and graduated from Roosevelt High School.

“I was this oddball kid that loved old music,” he said. “I didn’t really fit into a mold.”

His musical icons include Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Faron Young — honky-tonk musicians Welch’s dad loved and that Welch grew up listening to. His own songs and musical style reflect that style of traditional country, and are getting attention. Welch plans to move to Nashville at some point to pursue his dream.

“I get up every morning and tell myself I’m going to play the Grand Ole Opry some day,” he said.

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