Ted Z and the Wranglers.

Country rock has an undeniable feel-good vibe. When you encounter it in the right situation—driving home from a long trip as the sun is setting, or simply sitting on your porch and watching life go by—it can help one appreciate the little things in life.

This brings us to Ted Z and the Wranglers. I’ve been stomping along to their brand of “outlaw country-charged rock”—and the Americana lyrics, backed by acoustic rhythms and the occasional minimalistic-yet-oh-so-great guitar solos, have made me an instant fan. Check out their Jam in the Van performance of “Rambler” to see exactly what I mean—or see the group in person on Friday, Jan. 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s.

The Wranglers are Collin Mclean on bass; Jackson Leverone playing lead/slide guitar and providing background vocals; and Jordan Lipp on drums, with Ted Z being the leader, on acoustic guitar and vocals. I got to talk to Ted Z, aka Ted Zakka, about his upbringing and the history of the Wranglers.

“When I was a kid, my mom and dad used to spin a lot of cool stuff at the house,” Zakka said. “I grew up listening to Elvis and The Beatles. It just all started as a child, listening to these iconic musicians that I still really love today.”

It’s easy to hear some of these influences in his songs. Take “Ball and Chain” for example, as Zakka’s screaming and stuttering vocal lines rival Elvis’ “Heartbreak Hotel” phrasing, while the instruments provide a dance-y sound in a style that reminds of early Beatles tracks like “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Zakka talked about how his love for music turned into a love for playing music.

“I picked up a guitar at 16, and started playing in bands,” Zakka said. “When I first started, I was figuring out a lot of punk-rock stuff, just things that were easy to play. I actually started off playing bass for those first few bands. Then I transferred over to the acoustic guitar, and started writing songs about 12 years ago.”

Another distinguishing thing about the group is just how gosh-darn cool the name is.

“The Wranglers have come and gone since the group was started,” Zakka said. “Jackson is the one who’s been around the longest, but none of the guys in the band now were in the original lineup. The name kind of started as a joke. I wasn’t sure what to call anything, and I thought that ‘Ted Z and the Wranglers’ was kind of funny, and kind of cool. And it stuck!”

The Wranglers have been releasing music now for nearly seven years.

“The first thing we ever put out was called My Blood’s Still Red, in 2013,” he said. “After that, we did an EP called Afraid of Dying, then we did Ghost Train in 2015, but that’s the first thing we have on Spotify. We have the older two on sites like ReverbNation and BandCamp.”

Listening to Ted Z and the Wranglers improve with each album—becoming more confident and popular—is a wonderful experience. The most recent album is Southland, released last October.

“The new one is awesome,” Zakka said about Southland. “It turned out spectacular, and sounds really clean and big. We recorded this one in our home studio in Costa Mesa, rather than going back to Texas where we recorded Ghost Train. It came out the way we wanted it to; we self-produced it and made our own decisions on the sound. We had a lot more fun on this record.”

Some of the Wranglers’ best online videos were recorded during Jam in the Van performances. Jam in the Van is pretty self-explanatory: It’s an entity that invites bands to come and, well, jam in a van. Jam in the Van records high-quality video and audio, and releases it on YouTube to more than 312,000 subscribers.

“That was really fun. It was so cool to play live and have it be recorded so well,” Zakka said. “They do a pretty good job of capturing the realness of the songs. I had been wanting to do that for so long, and it was cool to finally make it happen.”

Ted Z and the Wranglers’ venture into Pioneertown is one of only a handful of shows the band currently has scheduled—but that shall soon change.

“We’re doing some work as a unit, and trying to tighten up and get three hours of original stuff to go out and tour,” he said. “… And then I’m gonna start booking us more and more!”

Ted Z and the Wranglers will perform at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24, at Pappy and Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace, 53688 Pioneertown Road, in Pioneertown. Admission is free. For more information, call 760-365-5956, or visit pappyandharriets.com.

Matt King is a freelance writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. A creative at heart, his love for music thrust him into the world of journalism at 17 years old, and he hasn't looked back. Before...