Zeb Snyder: A Prodigy Making Good
Zeb Snyder emerged as a fresh guitar talent about a decade ago playing with the Snyder Family Band, consisting of his younger sister Samantha on fiddle, and his father, Bud, playing bass. I first remember seeing him at a now-defunct autumn festival on the Shepherd Farm in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, where he and his sister played as the Snyder Family Band and then in a pickup band that included the Kruger Brothers, Adam Steffey, and what looked to me like Ron Shuffler on bass. While Zeb was young and precocious, it was easy to see promise emerging. Now, with Zeb’s graduation from High Point University (a liberal arts college in High Point, North Carolina, ranked #1 in U.S. News and World Reports’ Regional Colleges South), where he majored in mathematical economics and graduated with honors, it’s time to take a closer look at him. Here’s the very young Snyder Family Band playing “Sally Goodin” on Song of the Mountains.
Several years ago, I wrote about my concerns with home schooling and the number of family bands I saw playing at bluegrass festivals, deeply involved in religious education and playing music at a variety of levels. Zeb Snyder responded to it politely and firmly, expressing his opinion that both his schooling and the family’s commitment to traveling together as a band was good for them all, a fine choice. Nevertheless, I continue to be reluctant to jump on the bandwagon of adulation surrounding spectacular young musicians early in their nascent careers. I keep an eye on them as best I can, watching their development, trying to assess their inner motivation, and seeking not to contribute to waves of adulation that can make drive come from outside forces, instead of a musician’s own passion. Now, I see a number of these young musicians, young people like Molly Tuttle, A.J. Lee, the Price Sisters, Nathan Aldridge, and, of course, the Snyders, emerging into young adulthood, where their music must stand on its own.
The Snyder family has lived in the Lexington, North Carolina, area for generations. Bud Snyder, Zeb and Samantha’s father, majored in accounting in college, pursuing that profession for most of his life, while their mother, Laine, is a stay-at-home mom. A younger sibling, Owen, is just emerging as a talented banjo player. As home-schoolers, the Snyders, long-time music lovers, decided that music should be a central part of Zeb and Samantha’s curriculum. In addition, their love of music was nurtured through listening and attending concerts. They also enrolled in a Suzuki program, where Samantha emerged as what Zeb describes as “an extremely natural musician, beginning at age three.” Meanwhile, he was studying Suzuki classical guitar, but his nascent talent arose a little later, when he discovered flat-picking guitar. Loving it more than classical approaches, he says he “became very obsessive and self-motivated.”
The Snyders began performing in churches and community activities before they became interested in bluegrass. As they discovered bluegrass, Zeb began playing flat-pick guitar and, according to him, the family felt the need for a bass fiddle player to help fill out the sound. As a surprise, they bought Bud a bass for his birthday, with Zeb teaching him how to play it. The Snyder Family Band has never played full-time, but have been provided with “many opportunities and experiences in the music business.” Zeb attributes touring to helping them to develop a broader view of the world. He says, “touring all over the country and seeing where people live and work in so many different areas has made me love this country even more. I try to get a sense of the culture everywhere I go, and I generally come away understanding people on a deeper level because of that.” At a festival in Ohio, Samantha once described to us her job as navigator for the trip. She talked about researching not only the route, but the towns they were driving past, the history of the region, and the importance of people who had come from there. Here’s the Snyder Family Band with a 2016 performance during IBMA’s Wide Open Bluegrass.
When Zeb recounts his musical influences, he starts at the same place every other bluegrass flat-picker does, Tony Rice, whose stylings in bluegrass, newgrass, and flattop acoustic jazz have influenced every contemporary guitarist. But he doesn’t stop there, mentioning especially Bryan Sutton, 10-time IBMA guitar player of the year, as well as Jerry Reed, who is more associated with country music. His list then names luminaries from country music, as well as from rock, Southern rock, and all across the entire spectrum of contemporary music. He says, “I truly see music as a wide-open creative landscape, rather than defined by genres. Many of the greatest musicians of all time speak the same way.” Both his interests and, perhaps, his ambition are apparent. Here’s the Snyder Family Band playing at the Doyle Lawson Festival in Denton, North Carolina, last spring.
Zeb sees his faith, his family, the Snyder Family Band, his education, and his guitar playing as being inseparable from one another. At present, he teaches guitar and mandolin lessons on Skype (email@example.com) and imagines himself pursuing music full-time. His musical interests are comprehensive. He says, “My particular interests involve a large amount of music from the South or with rural roots, like country, blues, Southern rock, outlaw country, and basically anything that’s gritty and honest. I also like improvisation-heavy music, such as the jamband genre, jazz-rock fusion, and jazz from the bebop period and the explorations that followed closely on the heels of bebop.” Here’s a free sample of a Zeb Snyder Skype lesson:
Snyder, looking at his future, says, “What the Snyder Family Band does now, and what I will continue to do in the future, is to create music that is grown from our bluegrass roots, but incorporates anything else that we’re interested in, including completely original sounds.” Here’s a sample suggesting some of the directions he might be heading, a cover of a song by the influential rock band Toto.
… and from a recent Snyder Family Band performance in Raleigh.