John “JZ” Zaskoda has been one of Fort Worth’s more renowned guitar players for more than 20 years. Whether touring with professional country acts or flashing tasty pentatonic runs at local blues jams, he’s been an ever-present fixture in the city’s more guitar-centric music scenes for decades. He’s best known for applying his signature Mark Knopfler-style pick-free playing while fronting the blues-rock outfit Dirty Pool since 2005. While sharing stages with his personal guitar heroes like Larry McCray and local blues legend Buddy Whittington — or with keyboardist Justin Pate, bassist John Shook Jr., and drummer Brandon Wallace as Dirty Pool for so long — has certainly been fulfilling, he felt like there was always something missing. Though Dirty Pool had tracked a demoa that circulated the scene some years ago, the band had never tried to record a “proper” album until now.
“It was a moment for me last year where I looked at my life,” Zaskoda said. “I’m closer to 50 than I am to 40, and when it’s all said and done, I looked at where I’ve had successes and where I had deficits. One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was to do this record, so after a little bit of hustle, I got the cash together and surprised the guys and said, ‘We’re going into the studio. It’s now or never.’ ”
After culling through 16 years’ worth of material, the group went into 7013 Sound, studio of engineer Grant Jackson Wilburn (Ryan Bingham, Red Shahan), to track the eight songs that make up the appropriately titled Late Bloomer, due out next month.
“Everything came together very quickly,” Zaskoda said of the recording experience. “I’m excited for everything to finally come to light. All this time we’ve spent playing together, to have an original project — not only is everyone excited, but it’s a huge relief, and everyone is really happy with how it’s turned out.”
To promote the highly anticipated debut, Dirty Pool has released a pair of singles: the tender, smoky blues ballad “Dangerous Frequency” and, out just this past Friday, “Head Start,” a blazing ZZ Top-esque rocker featuring the aforementioned Whittington on guitar. Though Zaskoda said he’ll take credit for the songwriting and that to alleviate confusion with other artists named Dirty Pool on streaming platforms, he reluctantly allowed the group to be listed as “JZ & Dirty Pool,” he said it’s the contributions from the players, the guys in the band, as well as guests like Whittington, that really make Late Bloomer what it is.
“I originally went into it like, ‘I just want to record these songs really quick so I have them and because I’ve been saying I’m going to do it,’ ” he said. “And then all these people came in, and it just changed the entire landscape of what I wanted to do. All these people who were invested because they knew our history, how it had been forever. Really, it’s the players that make this album what it is. If it wasn’t for them, it’d be nothing.”
In addition to Whittington, the record features contributions from the likes of Squeezebox Bandits’ Abel Casillas on accordion, renowned harmonica player Gary Grammer, keyboards from Retrophonics’ Chris Watson, and additional vocals from fellow blues rocker-turned-country crooner Josh Weathers.
“We’ve just been fortunate to have been around for so long that we have all these great relationships with so many great players,” Zaskoda said about the band’s ability to recruit so many recognized outside contributors. “Buddy [Whittington] said, ‘Hell, I’d be offended if you hadn’t asked me.’ ”
Though the blues certainly forms the bones of the tracks on Late Bloomer, the band stretches that foundation into other sounds. “Heartbreak Avenue” and the album’s title track could easily be at home on 95.9-FM The Ranch, while the white hot “VooDoo Mama” and “Bonecrusher” could liven any biker rally with their heavier buzzsaw sonics.
“Calling something ‘blues-rock’ is sort of a fatal stab,” Zaskoda said about the niche quality to the genre, “but if you listen to the record, there’s no way someone could call it a blues record.”
Along with a string of singles — the third, “Breakdown,” premieres April 22 — the band is generating interest in the LP with a series of documentary videos. The fifth installment to the series, Formerly Unknown, was posted to YouTube last Friday. The sixth and final episode will coincide with the next single. Through recording footage, interviews, and old videos of live performances, the series, written and created by Zaskoda, brings the viewer along Dirty Pool’s endearing 16-year journey, one that, in a way, might really just be beginning.
“It’s long overdue,” Zaskoda said. “It’s probably cliche to say things work out the way they’re supposed to, but, to me, it’s true with this. The four guys in this band deserved a great record, and I feel like we’ve got one. I hope people listen to it and like it. If nothing else, maybe it inspires others to try to do something worthwhile, even if it’s very, very late.”