SAFETY HARBOR — Drawing from a mix of personally penned tunes and covers that included Oasis and Coldplay, prodigious singer Robin Taylor regaled the small but engaged audience at Brady's Backyard BBQ with an effortless voice and remarkable expertise on the piano and guitar.
On one particular song, the folks sitting in the back of the room heard a soft, harmonious vocal underneath his singing. For a moment, they thought Taylor had recorded a faint backing track to support his vocals.
But as he crooned the chorus from one of his own songs — I was looking for the answer, trying to find the perfect melody — it became apparent the harmony came not from a track, but from the pride emanating from a father's heart.
As snapshots of how his son first embraced music flipped through his mind, Cheap Trick lead singer and rhythm guitarist Robin Zander couldn't help but sing along with his son, albeit ever so softly.
"I remember him as a 3-year-old playing on his first drum kit," Zander said after his son completed a two-hour set with barely a break between songs. "I remember when we were in Hawaii watching the Chicago Bears on TV and he started playing a little Hawaiian guitar and singing I Want You To Want Me."
The next snapshot may feature Taylor on a much larger stage, backed by a national recording contract.
Taylor (he uses his middle name to distinguish from his more famous father) took a major step towards a professional career when he flew to Nashville recently to meet with music producers. Zander explained recently that during his heyday, new artists often signed a three-album contract and record companies helped them develop into stars.
But the music business has changed all these years later, with a greater emphasis on more immediate success. Now, artists shop a demo tape of four to six songs to record companies and the company will focus on developing those songs.
"He has to make an impression with his demo stuff and then they will take it to the next level," Zander said. "It's fresh, new and very positive. I hope it happens, but if it doesn't happen, he'll just have to go back to the drawing board.
"Failure is a part of success. God knows it was with Cheap Trick."
For now, the intimate concert represented just another chapter in the budding promise Taylor has displayed since his earliest years. Make that earliest months. Pam Zander says her son displayed an interest before he could even talk. They never forced music on him. He just took to it with inherent skill and interest.
"It's hard to explain," Pam said. "He just has a raw, real natural ability. It's imbedded in him and he wants to share it."
In every song, Taylor exuded not only talent, but a musical passion. It comes as no surprise that he practices constantly — no 21-year-old could exhibit such mastery without dedication — but it's all wrapped in a genuine enthusiasm and what fellow musicians call an innate ability.
"When I get up, I start playing music and I do it all day," Taylor said. "If you want to get better, you have to be committed to it."
Taylor taught himself how to play drums, guitar and piano. Sure, being the son of a rocker who rose to international stardom in the late 1970s meant he lived in a musical house and had access to instruments. But his pursuit of music is about following a passion, not following in his father's footsteps.
He has attended prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, Florida State University and Full Sail University in Orlando, but the desire to devote all his energy to his music and a career have led him here.
While his song choices at Brady's fit the venue, don't be deceived. Taylor lists the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Beatles among his influences and says he's quite capable of rocking out in a band. With his musical skills, vocal range and a catalog of songs, Taylor believes his time has arrived.
"I know what to expect and I know failure is a possibility," Taylor said as he prepared for the Nashville trip. "I know I may not get a deal right away but I'm excited to have the opportunity to present my music.
"I'm nervous, but I'm confident."
For Zander, it's an experience that in some ways seems to leave him more awed than the 20,000 screaming Budokan fans that helped propel Cheap Trick to superstardom.
"The emotion? It's being proud, it's being his dad," Zander said. "I see him up there and I can't believe it. I know I wasn't doing that when I was 21."
The group in Brady's seemingly wanted Zander on stage — not so much to perform with Taylor but to watch him beam every time his son went through a flawless chord procession or hit the high D note on a cover of Cheap Trick's Voices. They constantly looked back to gauge his reactions, especially when his 13-year-old daughter sang Coldplay's Fix You with Taylor backing her on the piano.
Yes, there's another Zander with musical skills. Before it's all over, we may be hearing music from Robin Taylor and singing from Robin Sailor-Zander. Today he's rock legend. Tomorrow, he might just be lesser-known father of rock stars.
Something tells me that's a label he would proudly accept.
That's all I'm saying.