The Sydney musician started playing electric guitar at just nine but also studied classical guitar and has made a name for himself with his virtuoso talent and ability to switch between genres and styles.
Part of the line-up announced on the weekend for the 2016 Adelaide Guitar Festival in August, Banks will take to the stage first playing lead guitar with his swingin’ band the Cruisin Deuces, which is riding the wave of a rockabilly revival thanks partly to hipster culture.
“We play American music from the ’40s through to the early ’60s and we focus on honkytonk, which is traditional electric country music,” says Banks.
“We play blues, electric blues, rockabilly, rock ’n’ roll and western swing.”
The group, which includes Banks’ brother playing pedal steel, is heavily into vintage culture – including cars and clothing – and influenced by artists such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, Johnny Burnette, and Bill Haley and the Comets.
Honkytonk certainly has its diehard fans, but Banks says the music will be familiar to many people and has broad appeal.
“Often what we’ve found at our concerts is that this kind of music appeals to people who aren’t into the sub-culture, because it has such a strong beat.
“It’s music that doesn’t exclude anybody. It’s very inclusive; it’s not offensive … it’s the classic American songbook.”
Banks’ music tastes and talent have been influenced and nurtured by his parents – both music teachers – who could see the young Zane was serious about the electric guitar from a young age but encouraged him to also learn classical guitar, believing it would offer a path to tertiary study.
He went on to attend the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where he caught the attention of Sydney Symphony composer George Lentz, who was looking for an accomplished electric guitarist who could read music fluently to premiere an hour-long solo work he had created called Ingwe.
“That put me on the map in the contemporary classical world and made me the go-to electric guitar guy, at least in the Southern Hemisphere,” says Banks.
Now passionate about promoting the electric guitar as a concert hall instrument (he dedicated his phD thesis to the subject), the musician says he finds it easy to switch between different genres and styles of playing.
Just a day after the Cruisin Deuces gig at the Guitar Festival, he will perform with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra in the Symphony Gala, playing the premiere of a new concerto, Raga, composed by Andrew Ford.
Although he has performed at numerous guitar festivals, Banks says it will be the first time he has performed a concerto for orchestra and electric guitar at such an event.
“What’s really great about the Adelaide Guitar Festival is that it’s not just a festival that’s focused on rock guitar playing.
“They have a very solid acoustic classical guitar component; there’s the rock thing, the jazz thing, and there’s obviously the classical electric guitar, which I think will become a bigger feature of international guitar festivals.
“Adelaide is definitely championing the cause and really breaking new territory.”
More than 300 artists will perform at this year’s Guitar Festival, including bluegrass kings the Punch Brothers, folk musicians Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Spanish guitarists Ricardo Gallén and Francisco Bernier, jazz group Wolfgang Muthspiel Trio, Australian blues and roots musician Genevieve Chadwick, flamenco ensemble Bandaluzia, ARIA-winning band The Panics, and the Australian String Quartet.
Under the artistic direction of Slava Grigoryan, the 2016 festival will also feature a number of new programs, including “Guitars in Bars and Other Places”, which will involve gigs in different SA pubs and clubs, and “Resonance”, which will present performances in hospital wards and homes for the elderly.
The 2016 Adelaide Guitar Festival will run from August 11-14. The Cruisin Deuces will play at the Space Theatre on August 12, and Banks will play at the Symphony Gala at the Adelaide Town Hall on August 13.
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