Ted Brainard, David Z, Greg Wieland and Patrick Lombardi. photo provided
Ted Brainard, David Z, Greg Wieland and Patrick Lombardi. photo provided
Back in 1967 - the Summer of Love - a young David Zandonatti worked the legendary music halls of San Francisco with his band, Tripsichord Music Box.

A few years later, he teamed up with another young and hungry musician named Dennis McGregor to form the band Natty Bumppo. The band played the Troubador and other Los Angeles hot spots, chasing after the brass ring of a record deal.

Times changed and rock-and-roll dreams morphed into real jobs and growing families and life in Central Oregon, far from the music meccas of California.

But the music is still there, still a driving force, a well-spring of creativity, a source of joy.

Forty years after Tripsichord Music Box, Zandonatti is celebrating the release of his first solo CD - "What's That Stuff."

His current nom de guerre is David Z, though he's probably best known as Johnny Smorgasbord, a name he picked up with Natty Bumppo in the early '70s. The name was a play on the then-barely-known Jimmy Buffett for whom Natty Bumppo opened a show. Zandonatti revived the name when he reunited with McGregor to form The Blue D'Arts, a band that helped to establish a real music scene in Sisters in the '90s.

Zandonatti has always written songs for his various bands, but in recent years he has focused more intensively on his individual songwriting voice. His work has landed him twice in the finals of the Sisters Folk Festival Dave Carter Memorial Songwriting Contest.

"The writing itself is more a 'going within' kind of thing," David Z said of his more recent work.

The creativity has been flowing. He often wakes at night with a melody wafting through his head, forcing him to get up and get it down.

"I'll just hum a melody and come back in the morning and work (on it)," he said. "The basic thing is there in those few seconds that it runs through your head. The hard part is to spend the time working everything out."

The music could be loosely categorized as "folk," but there's a definite blues edge to Zandonatti's vocals. The lyrics are deceptively simple - with a lot going on between the lines, rewarding multiple listens.

"I don't do it deliberately," Zandonatti said of his lyric approach. "The way things come out is just my own quirky thought process."

Inspiration comes around at odd times. Zandonatti recently caught an idea while driving along Highway 20 for the 10,000th time, looking at the Three Sisters. He realized that, even after living in Central Oregon for the best part of two decades, he still doesn't feel entirely like a native.

The result was a song called "He's Not From Here."

It took most of a year to record "What's That Stuff," recording a couple of hours at a time at Mallen Music Ranch near Sisters.

Phillippe Mallen contributed backing vocals on the record and a roster of Sisters area musicians pitched in with vocals and instrumental backing. Somewhere in the process, Zandonatti discovered that he had a band.

"I asked some musicians to come and play on the songs," he said. "Then we started to play other songs just for fun. Pretty soon we realized we were a band."

The Rockin' Folkers are Patrick Lombardi on guitar; Ted Brainard on bass and guitar; Greg Wieland on drums and percussion; with David Z on guitar and vocals.

The band played at Angeline's Bakery & Café last month and will be playing a roots music festival in Bend in September. Zandonatti plans to book more gigs, because playing his songs live ... "that's the payoff."

In many ways pursuing music purely for pleasure is more satisfying for the veteran musician than the good old days of scuffling with hundreds of other bands for a shot at the big time. Nowadays, its about nothing but the pure joy of creation.

"I just love the music," Zandonatti said. "I just love playing with the guys. Music is attractive to me. Music is my joy."

"What's That Stuff" is available at Paulina Springs Books in Sisters and at Ranch Records and Boomtown in Bend.