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DailyBoom Your Old School Music Authority

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Exclusive Interview: 'Zebra's' Randy Jackson Talks Touring, Symphonic Shows & The Depth of Those Treasured Lyrics


I was first introduced to Randy Jackson's work when I was still a little kid. In the 1970s my dad was music-obsessed and used his gigs in local radio to justify his growing vinyl collection. Growing just as quickly was his literal wall of stereo equipment. He would make several trips to a store called Stereo House before finally plunking down a wad of cash and walking out with a big box of something that he would spend the next several hours agonizing over. The sound had to be just right and once he nailed it there were a few albums that were spun religiously. Steely Dan, The Moody Blues, Foreigner, and Genesis gave way to a few up-and-coming, semi-local bands. One of those was Zebra, featuring Randy (Jackson)  lead vocalist, songwriter, and guitar master. Add in Guy Gelso on drums, percussion, and backing vocals, plus Felix Hanemann on keys, bass, and backing vocals as well, and what you get is a rock trio destined for success.

The band first formed in New Orleans in 1975 and to this day Randy, Felix, and Guy consistently tour not just the gulf coast, but all the way up and down the Eastern Seaboard.  True old-school rock fans know exactly who Zebra is and I was lucky enough to steal a bit of Randy Jackson's time ahead of the band's performance at the M3 Rock Festival at Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia, MD. 
Check it out below!

 Randy Jackson on how Zebra prepares for gigs now after 45 years together:

"I think it's different for each of us, but we really don't get together to rehearse as a band. The only time we've really done that in the last 20 years is when we were doing some shows down in Louisiana where we were going to be playing with the symphony. Then we had to change a lot of the ways that we were playing and we actually did songs we don't normally do, so we got together and we rehearsed for about a week back then. The only big difference with that was that there were a lot of guitar changes. I had like nine guitars on stage and usually, I only have one.  

We were just trying to do as much as we could to make it work with the symphony, but other than that, everybody just practices on their own. I know Felix practices a lot at home and goes over his parts, the keys, and his voice, and then Guy with his drums. The one thing I wish we did do more of is a vocal rehearsal between the three of us. I think that would help us, but we're always running out of time."

Randy on those powerhouse vocals:

"We haven't had to change keys at all on our songs and I've been very, very fortunate to have kept my range. I can do pretty much anything I did years ago.  I think my voice might have been a little stronger when I was younger, but the difference is not too noticeable to me. The range is still there, so we've been lucky as far as that goes, or I've been lucky. I haven't noticed any difference in Guy and Felix’s range either.  I went to a vocal coach in the eighties believe it or not after we did the first three Zebra records because I didn't like my pitch in the studio. It wasn't the way I sounded; it wasn't the tonality; it was just the pitch. He had me doing scales and stuff, and he also showed me techniques to keep me from losing my voice, by singing properly."

Randy on those incredible symphony shows:

"Well, it's always just as awesome as you can imagine. It's the real deal, yeah. When we started off with Zebra, you know, we were playing like Moody Blues or Zeppelin and trying to emulate a symphony with the keyboards, but you know, having the real thing there is just like nothing else. I kind of remember the first time I did “Rain Song” with the Atlanta symphony. It was the first time we performed it on stage and when the strings came in, I felt like I was kind of lifting off the ground, you know? It was unbelievable."

Randy on how Covid-19 affected the band:

"Well, when everything got shut down in March of 2020, I was down in New Orleans and we really didn't know how bad it was and how contagious it was going to be. Nobody really knew, right? Like, we knew things were shutting down, and fortunately, I had a place to stay down there. I decided just to stay in New Orleans and didn’t even try to fly back to New York where I live, for about five months. I set up a little live online show that I did every day, usually in the afternoons. I was on Facebook every afternoon performing, but it certainly wasn't the same as having the live crowd in front of you. But at the same time, I was getting feedback in real-time, you know, with the messages people were sending, asking for songs and stuff.  

I'm still set up to do them. I keep thinking every week I'm going to do one this week and yet all of a sudden it gets late and I'm tired. I certainly learned a lot because I was using a green screen and stuff like that and I had no experience with that when I first started. I'm always learning anyway. I mean, whether it was Covid-related or whatever, I try to learn as much as I can. 


The main thing was that our income was just zero, you know, we weren't making any money. The real source of income for Zebra has been live performances. I mean, we've sold a lot of records, but that income has amounted to not nearly enough to support us, you know? So, everybody adjusted to in a different way. Felix played, he has a Zeppelin tribute band he plays in and they started playing gigs in late 2020, I think. They were kind of out there before other bands were. That was his call. Guy, he has had cancer twice in the past so his immune system isn't the greatest. He chose to just really box himself in and now he's okay. We all got ourselves through it."

Randy on creating lyrics that make people think:

"Who's Behind the Door. When I think about where the inspiration came from for that song I think it’s mainly from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. I was a big science fiction reader when I was a teenager and I was into physics actually, physics was my second major in college. 2001, that movie leaves you with more questions, than answers.  That's what I was trying to do lyrically with it, you know, it's not necessarily about extraterrestrials. It could be if you read into it that way, or it could be religious, you know?  

It could be because there are references to spiritual stuff too. It’s kind of the way I am with everything in my life, I don't like to take the easy way.  Yes or no, or black or white doesn't work for me because there is always a gray area to every question or every situation.  I usually try to take the time to explore the gray area because it makes things more interesting to me.

When I was first writing the songs I made a lot of lyrics asking a lot of questions about subjects just to get people thinking and wondering. I hope that they've helped encourage people to ask questions of their own. I also think the songs hold up lyrically and that's such a good thing."


Randy on new music coming:

"We're always threatening to do a new record (laughing). I’ve been saying that for so long now it's ridiculous. But, eventually, I'm sure we'll, at least do a couple songs, you know? It used to be all work and as you get older then there are other things, and so now it's grandkids. When the kids are young, you’ll never get that time with them back so you’ve got to make it a priority". 

Randy on how the Zebra fanbase has grown and changed:

"Grandkids are now the kids in the audience and a lot of them are even in their twenties now- it's pretty amazing. They come out and are Zebra fans, you know, and they all have the same kind of story, either their dad introduced them to the band or their grandfather was into the band. It's cool, I mean, we're fortunate that people are listening to our music at all, let alone for 40 years. That’s a pretty long time!"  

Randy on a few of Zebra's most memorable moments:

"One moment that has always stuck out in my mind was when we were on the road with Sammy Hagar in 1984. as the opening act for his, I Can't Drive 55 tour. We were out on the road and when we started the tour everything ran smooth and we were getting a good soundcheck for the shows. Then as the tour kind of went on his crew was just getting later and later until finally, we were barely getting a line check before we went on. He got wind of it somehow and he showed up unexpectedly when they were starting to load in one night and he chewed the whole crew out right there and said,

you know, what do you think these guys are here for? They're supposed to warm up the crowd. If they sound crappy it reflects on all of us.’  

After that, we got a soundcheck every night and I was impressed by that.

There have been lots of little moments, along the way. One of the biggest crowds we played in front of when we first started was at a place in New Orleans. I don't remember the name of it, but it was a two-story building and they had a wet t-shirt contest going on (laughing). They had like five bands playing, three of them were inside the building and two of them were outside. We were an outside band. Nobody knew who in the world we were, it was maybe in 1975, I think. It was the first time a lot of people had seen us and it was great for us. You know, we got a lot of good exposure. People liked the band and the owner said he really liked us and invited us to come back the next week on the big stage inside. We were all excited about it and so, we came back the next week kind of expecting the same thing that happened the week before. We moved all the equipment upstairs and it's a gloomy day. It's raining and it's definitely not going to be as nice of a day. Then we found out about halfway through setting up that it's not a wet t-shirt contest with women. It's a men's wet t-shirt contest! (Laughing) Not the most brilliant idea but we still get a good laugh out of it."

Randy on what he wants Zebra fans to know:

"I think we're just so fortunate that the music has held up. I mean, we're not 20 years old anymore and I think when people come to see us now, they're certainly coming to see us more for the music than anything else (laughing). That's a big compliment too. I mean, just the fact that we're still doing this and that people are still coming is wonderful. The band has transcended generations and we are so grateful."

Check out Zebra's official site for upcoming gigs and more right HERE.