Boy and guitar. The romance of musical discovery at a young age has captured the imagination and passion in local musician, Todd Haaby, from the tender age of four sitting around the piano with his family, to 15 when he received his first guitar. The path music has presented to Haaby has remained a constant; his many adventures and experiences serving to fuel each note and melody he writes. Story by Renee Patrick
“The most important thing for me [and my music] is playing live. It takes me away and I love to see it start to take the crowd away. When they are humming the melody you are playing, it moves me; I love the whole synergy behind a live performance.” – Todd Haaby
This self-taught musician emerged from many generations of accomplished musicians before him. When he received the desired guitar at his 15th birthday, Haaby couldn’t put it down. “I was at it for eight hours a day,” he said. “It came to me quickly and it was my goal to be a lead guitarist for a group.”
Not one to idly set goals, he started a rock and roll group and was playing clubs in Northern California within six months, headlining just a couple of years later. By 18 he had tired of the scene and decided to start a career in business, going to work for a distribution center of True Value Hardware. “I wanted to work my way up the corporate world, so I made business a priority, but never put the guitar down,” he said.
Working his way up the ladder allowed Haaby to buy a mini recording studio for his house, beginning his foray into blues, jazz and all the varieties of music he could find. At 24, a serendipitous meeting with Ken Buchannan, who sold him a keyboard, suggested he check out the group The Gypsy Kings. His introduction to The Gypsy King’s rumba flamenco style with pop influences fueled the fire for Haaby’s musical interests, a fire that burns hot to this day.
Buchannan became a close friend following a trip the two took to Lake Tahoe to hear the Gypsy Kings play. “I realized it was the style of music I was more drawn to than any other. The Spanish guitar was very challenging, but I loved it, loved the passion behind it and wanted to make my own sound with it.”
Haaby’s transition from Rock n’ Roll to the sounds of Spanish flamenco created a style uniquely his own. He became dedicated to the Spanish guitar, practicing for several years before starting to write his own music.
His devotion and skill playing the guitar was primarily due to his incredible determination to be self-taught. “I didn’t really want to learn from someone, I wanted to figure it out myself. I read books and learned the skills and theory and was completely self taught from day one. I hear every melody in my head: the base line, the keyboards, drums; when I write [music], so it becomes, I can tell a story that way.”
Skill was one thing, but it was emotion, Haaby learned, which gave his music the depth and power to connect to his audience. Buchannan had become a close friend when he was admitted to the hospital for open heart surgery. “That day it was raining… it was a haunting rain that was almost soothing,” Haaby said. He sat down and wrote Tears in the Rain and Pearls on the Web. “Both those songs meant so much to me and still do; they are still the most popular and downloaded of my work because it was the situation and emotion that came out in those songs.”
He jumped into the unknown a year later when a Japanese modeling agency offered him a contract in the high fashion modeling industry. During his stay he graced billboards, posters and magazine covers all across the country. “But what was really good for me was the downtime in Japan, I was able to write song after song,” he explained. “I spent three years in Japan and came back with a lot of music.”
Investments in Bend real estate eventually brought Haaby to Central Oregon about eleven years ago, and shortly after he formed his group, Sola Via. Their first CD was released in 2004, with the official album, Sola Via, released in 2007. The group has continued to gain popularity all around the world and released Into the Night in 2010 and their newest album, Nu Tierra, late last year.
Sola Via was formed around a core group of musicians including Haaby’s brother Bobby, another talented artist on the bass, who has been playing with his brother on and off since he was 18.
On rhythm guitar is Milo Estrada, one of the first musicians Haaby met when he moved to Bend. Estrada learned the classical guitar at an early age, but found it was Haaby’s song Rattlesnake that inspired him to learn more of the flamenco guitar. “We have been playing together now for eleven years, and we have such a telepathy; he knows where I am going with every song, there is this back and forth and the comradery between us,” Haaby said.
George Boehey is on the keyboard, and his incredible solos in the recording studio make him an integral part of the group. “Surprisingly not only is he incredible on the piano, but is great on percussion and drums when we play live,” Haaby said. “We have only tapped into that this last year; he really knows how to play.”
Michael Summers is Sola Via’s drummer. “He is one of the best drummers I have every played with,” Haaby said. “He just gets it, everything is so precise and he is a human metronome in the studio.”
Rounding out the group is bass player Warren Zaiger who fills in for Bobby from time to time.
Haaby’s unique talents particularly come into play when composing a new song, as he is able to imagine the completed composition in his mind. “The music in my head keeps coming,” he said. “I could write a song a day, and I seem to write songs in my sleep.”
Upon entering the studio, he plays the rhythm guitar according to the tune in his head, then lays down the melody over the top of that track, building the layers of sound piece by piece. “I bring in the musicians to play their parts, and if I don’t write it down, I’ll hum or play it on the guitar. However I am able to bring up the melody for them to grab it and layer upon layer we record it. I love it when the musicians improvise and when they add their personality to the song. They are all so proficient; I just let them run with it. I give them the gist of what I have in my head and they run with it.”
Sola Via’s tour schedule has been steadily building steam, and Haaby is thrilled at the prospect of even more travel as his goal is to perform globally. “I love the travel; living in Japan geared me up for it. I was going all over and living like a gypsy out of my suitcase. I don’t think it’s grueling, it’s fun! I’m looking forward to being busier and traveling the world,” he commented. “I want to share my music around the world…going global is a quest.
“It’s hard to say where my music will go…the biggest things [I’ve learned influences my music] are the experiences I’ve had in my life: the good, bad and the ugly. I will continue to write my songs around what I have experienced and what I am feeling.”
Haaby and Sola Via continue to pull in sold-out crowds to their performances with their spicy Nuevo flamenco music. “To be sold out is such a complement, it makes you want to deliver,” Haaby finished.
Todd Haaby is nominated for an Independent Music Award this year and is building his winter and spring tour schedule. Look for details of future performances at www.toddhaaby.com.