If you were one of the 9.6 million people who tuned into NBC on Easter night to watch “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the first person you saw was not John Legend or Alice Cooper or Sara Bareilles. It wasn’t the scene-stealing Brandon Victor Dixon as Judas. It was a plucky 15-year-old guitarist, kicking off the show solo, playing ominous guitar riffs before being joined by other cast musicians.
Brandon “Taz” Neiderauer, who has been welcomed with open arms by his favorite guitarists, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring, starred on Broadway as Zack in “School of Rock” and plays Virgil Overstreet in the Spike Lee series “She’s Gotta Have It,” wasn’t exactly saved from obscurity for the “Jesus Christ Superstar” role. But the enormity of the moment was not lost on the Long Island teenager.
“The day of the show we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed even more, and then there was press events, Instagram takeovers and all this cool stuff,” he recalls. “Then, I mean, I was so delighted that Andrew Lloyd Webber decided that I would open the show with a guitar part. It was so crazy, because as I was playing I was thinking of [9.6] million people tuning in seeing me there. What a crazy thing to be doing, 15 years old, opening up a show on national television.”
Taz, who spoke to us after a blistering sit-in with Tedeschi Trucks Band at the Sweetwater 420 Festival in Atlanta on the Allman Brothers classic “Statesboro Blues,” has had the unique opportunity to play with the musicians that inspired him to play in the first place and appear in a production based on the movie that got it all started for him.
“My dad and my mom were always playing records around the house and I was immediately satisfied by the Allman Brothers especially, and one day my parents decided to show me the movie ‘School of Rock’ with Jack Black,” he says. “I saw the movie, and I immediately fell in love with the idea of the guitar and everything about it, and how a kid was doing it. So I picked that as an example, and then I asked my dad for a guitar and he said yes. First it started as a hobby, and I was loving every minute of it, and I was progressing really fast and getting over the learning curve. He wanted to see me play live, so he put me in a band with some kids and he put me in a program to play with other kids, and I realized how deeply in love I was with the guitar and rock n roll and I’ve just been going at it ever since.”
Taz describes many of the moments in his career thus far as “surreal” — including landing a starring role in the “School of Rock” play.
“Doing musicals was something new for me, because I never acted, I never really sang to a point where it was really important,” he shares. “But I learned how to sing, I learned how to dance, I learned how to act. From the opening performance on, I loved every minute of it and it was such a fun thing and such an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.”
Sitting in with other people’s bands means Taz has to find room to play with another guitarist, or sometimes two, when joining with a band like Tedeschi Trucks. While his chops are undeniable, there’s a certain subtlety required to make those performances work.
“Whether it’s just a guy that you don’t know or it’s your favorite guitar player in the world — which I’m so happy to have done with Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Jimmy Herring — it’s just like, you can’t be too loud, you just have to feel it out and listen to what they’re doing and complement what they’re doing,” says Taz. “There are so many aspects that go into being a great rhythm guitar player, which makes rhythm even harder than soloing in a sense. You have to lock in with every one of the instruments, and if there’s another guitar player it just makes it that more complicated.”
Taz, who was thrilled to sit in with hero Herring and Widespread Panic at last year’s Peach Festival, will return to the annual, multi-day event on Montage Mountain in Scranton, Pa., this weekend, both with his own band and as an “artist in residence,” adding his guitar stylings to other performers’ sets.
Last year’s Peach fest, he says, was “absolutely crazy fun.”
“There’s all these people having a good time whether it’s raining, whether there’s thunder or it’s bright and sunny. Everybody’s out there to hear the music and not worry about anything else. There’s zip lines and water slides and fun stuff to do. It’s a great place to have it, and all the bands they book are so amazing, and I’m so glad to have played with some of them.
“They have some of my favorite bands playing last year and this year as well, and I can’t wait to go back and show everybody what I’ve done in the past year and new songs I’ve written and everything that we’re going to debut there and I just can’t wait to play there.”
Main photo: Craig Baird/ Home Team Photography