Not many musicians start their career by first performing in a show near the Strip, and not many are hired while they’re still in high school. Both are true for Alec Zeilon, 18.
Zeilon had to miss his graduation from Faith Lutheran High School, 2015 S. Hualapai Way, in June because he is one of the newest members of the band for Frankie Moreno’s show at the Stratosphere and was on stage performing at the time of the ceremony.
Before graduation, his classmates understood he was in a band but perhaps did not fully grasp the significance of that band’s caliber.
“It’s not a big deal to (them),” Zeilon said. “I’ll tell them, ‘I’m in Frankie Moreno’s band,’ and a lot of kids don’t know what that is. Then, a bunch of kids came to see the show, and then they were like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome.’ It’s not like we’re playing at some fair or something.”
Zeilon grew up in Southern California and said he’s had a guitar in hand since age 2, when his parents bought him a child-size one.
“They just thought it would be a cool toy for me to have,” he said. “I’d just mess around with it. … I always had that fantasy of being someone who plays a guitar on stage every night.”
He began taking lessons at 11, the same time he got his first electric guitar. After about five years, he became self-taught and added other instruments — piano, ukulele, bass guitar, harmonica and drums. Singing came naturally. The family moved to Las Vegas a little more than three years ago, and Zeilon joined the jazz band in high school, adding choir his senior year.
The gig at the Stratosphere came about through Moreno’s music education songwriting outreach program. Moreno visited Las Vegas Academy, where he discovered Tommy Ward, who had a band named Swayd. He asked Ward to bring his band to the Stratosphere and open his show for him. Zeilon was Swayd’s guitarist. That gig lasted about three months.
But by then, Moreno said, Zeilon had impressed him.
“He looked to me like he legitimately enjoyed what he was doing,” Moreno said. “I saw that, and my first instinct was to talk to him about (it), find out why he enjoys music. His level of playing is as good as anyone I’ve ever worked with. He was ‘green,’ as we call it, not having played on a stage like this … but there were all these little things he would do (on the guitar) that caused me to go up to him and say, ‘Hey, do this, do that, do more of this,’ and so he was already kind of seasoned before he came (aboard).”
When a band member couldn’t make it one night, Zeilon received a call from Moreno, asking him to fill in.
“The first time, he came in and just nailed it,” Moreno said.
Beginning March 11, Zeilon was hired full time. The decision did not come without heart-to-heart talks with his parents, Robert Zeilon and Karen McCue.
“My parents wanted to make sure I kept up with my grades, which I did,” he said.
They also made sure he signed up for college. He’s set to enter UNLV in the fall for a music business degree.
Being the youngest in the band, he said he’s taken his share of ribbing, such as being called Justin Bieber, but, he said, “They treat me like one of their own.”
Zeilon and the band have traveled to Washington, D.C., and Mexico City to perform before roughly 1,200 people. If that happens while he’s at UNLV, he said he plans to use the Internet to keep up with classes and turn in assignments.
The band’s other members are in their 20s and 30s. Zeilon said they’ve taken him under their collective wing.
Drummer Matthew Belote, aka Peanut Butter, said Zeilon understands how awesome it is to have your first job as a performer near the Strip. He said Zeilon’s age works in his favor.
“He brings a whole new energy to the show, energy that’s contagious,” Belote said. “It makes you appreciate what you’re doing. When I was that age, I couldn’t do what he’s doing … In 10 years, he’ll be the best guitar player in this town.”
Zeilon has the band’s main 12 songs memorized, but every once in a while, he said Moreno will start singing an unfamiliar song.
“He won’t (announce) a certain song,” Zeilon said. “He’ll just go into it. At that point, we pretty much catch on to what’s the deal.”
Zeilon, who also writes music, said he’d like to learn how to produce and record so he can do studio work, but right now, he’s enjoying playing with Moreno’s band.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2949.