If you never cranked the hit “Who’s Behind the Door” loud enough to shake the windows, then you were doing the 80’s wrong. Zebra had one of the fastest selling debuts ever at Atlantic records, and several songs received widespread radio and video success, including “Tell Me What You Want”, and “Bears”. The band has remained active, getting together every so often to perform. Lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter Randy Jackson has stayed especially busy over the years. He has constantly had a hand in songwriting and collaborations, solo tours, and even helping design a guitar like multi-synthesizer called “The Key”.
Despite his hectic schedule, Randy was nice enough to take some time to discuss with me my random assortment of queries in this installment of “10 Questions with…”.
This interview took place over the phone, where Randy was calling from the airport. This is a faithful attempt to represent his exact words, and not the various passers by in the background!
Hi Randy, thanks so much for taking some time out of your schedule.
I’ve read Zebra initially did Yes, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin covers, but your 2014 album “Empathy for the Walrus” shows you to be a big Beatles fan also. Were you a bigger fan of their progressive later material, or the earlier pop stuff?
Randy: Well, I loved all of it. The early stuff was just so strong. I mean it hooked everyone into it. Later on they just kept evolving, it kept me interested. You know funny enough, at the time, I was a kid and The White Album came out and it was to me the least interesting of all their records. Now it’s one of my favorites.
Randy: Yeah, when it came out.
Do you still own any of the Lonestar Technologies “Keys”?
Randy: Yes, I do still have some.
Do you ever experiment with them at all?
Randy: I haven’t in awhile. I used to take them out occasionally and show people, but I haven’t done anything with them recently.
The song “Your Mind’s Open” I have always thought of as having a “vocal guitar solo”. Is that how you thought of that section, or was it just a vocal breakdown of the melody?
Randy: I was kind of singing along to the horns. If you listen there’s a horn track. You know when I was doing the vocal it just sounded cool, singing along with it so we put it in there.
I always thought that was great, you follow that section, and break off from the melody a little bit. It’s such an obvious place where you expect a guitar solo to come in, but you did something different.
Why was the song “Bears” not included on the Zebra debut? Was it just a matter of space or formatting?
Randy: Yeah, it was written before we were signed. I just think (producer) Jack Douglas might have had more to do with that than anything else. I can’t remember an exact “why” it ended up on the second record instead of the first.
What was the extent of Mark Slaughter’s involvement on the “China Rain” album?
Randy: Well, Mark and I co-wrote a couple songs, and one of them ended up on the record. Dana Strum and Mark produced the songs. Well they produced the one Mark and I wrote together. You know, flew out, did a couple days. We did it at their label, Chrysalis Records. It was great working with them, really cool.
Frontiers Records has had a lot of success lately with side project bands made up of musicians of several bands teaming up for a few albums. You were an early example of this with “The Sign”. Did you guys ever tour behind those albums? How did you find working with Billy Greer and Terry Brock?
Randy: Yeah, there were two Signs records. I wasn’t involved as much with the second one. I had…I think I co-wrote one of the songs. It was really Mark Mangold’s project. I was really involved in the first one.
The first one is the one I’m more familiar with, did you ever tour behind that album?
Randy: We did a couple shows in Europe, did some festivals. One or two shows here in the States.
I would have liked to seen that. I’ve met Billy Greer, he’s a nice guy.
Randy: Billy’s awesome!
Who were some of your early guitar heroes?
Randy: um, obviously The Beatles. I listened to the Allman Brothers, Mark Farner, and you know, Hendrix. The early, early, Clapton and Cream. Also Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page.
Who were your vocalist inspirations?
Randy: I think it’s a combination of all that music I listened to. The Beatles, The Moody Blues, Yes. You know if you listen to the harmonies and know all that music, you can hear elements of that in Zebra.
Sure. You know what I always kind of heard in your voice? At least in your falsetto was a kind of a Frankie Valli thing.
Randy: Oh Yeah? (Laughs)
Obviously you started performing in the seventies, but by the time the Zebra albums were recorded you had a very modern, “eighties ” lead sound. Did your playing evolve throughout the seventies as more effects became common and players such as Van Halen hit the scene?
Randy: You mean through the seventies and early eighties? Yeah, I was always trying to do some new stuff. I guess the whole growing period was from 75 to 85. You know, those ten years playing guitar. I could have done more, but I just haven’t. I was more focused on just writing, producing, and doing projects like “The Key”. Stuff like that.
I always thought you were a good mix of technical proficiency and songwriting. Some guys are monster players but don’t write memorable songs, and the song is what stands the test of time.
Randy: Yeah, you gotta work at songwriting. Not everybody is a John Lennon or Paul McCartney you know? That was magic. I had to work, you know? I wrote a lot of songs that never saw the light of day. It’s a lot of work.
What new projects can we look forward to from you in the future?
Randy: Immediate future, I’d like to get another Zebra record done, but I’ve been saying that for the last five years. I get caught between the live performances, my kids are in the middle of writing songs, and I’m helping them. Kind of engineering for them right now.
I’m enjoying doing that, but I’d like to get another Zebra record done and play out a little bit more. It would be cool to have a new record.
One thing I’ve always liked about Zebra is that it’s been you, Guy, and Felix the whole time. I’ve always thought what kills a group is when the second album comes out and it’s a new singer, or every album has different members. It kills the chemistry.
Randy: Yeah I think so too. I always tell people who are putting a band together “Stay together”. If you get along that’s 90% of the battle. Getting a person who’s a little bit better at their instrument than the last person is not going to make or break the band. The bands that we grew up with stay together. It makes a big difference.
Yeah, for me having a band keep all the same members becomes almost like rooting for a home team.
Randy: Yeah, especially when you become almost like a nostalgic band.
Well this has been great, and I’ll be interested to hear some new stuff from Zebra!
Randy: Well thanks, Peter.
I should stress that Zebra has long been a band that I especially liked. Being able to have this conversation with Randy was indeed an honor and my thanks to Mr. Jackson as well as the Zebra band’s webmaster for making it happen. To get the latest be sure to check out the band’s website: http://www.thedoor.com/