By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
Hard rock trio, ZEBRA, will be playing at the Rock Junction in Coventry, R.I., on Oct. 26th at 8 p.m. for a special show by Limelight Magazine publisher JKB Booking. Joined by local rockers Fall and Bounce, who will be opening the evening, ZEBRA will perform hits from their own catalog, plus a one-hour Led Zeppelin encore set. It will be their only New England appearance.
“We don’t play up there a lot to begin with – maybe once every couple years, but we do have a history in Rhode Island,” said vocalist and guitarist Randy Jackson. “We used to play at the Living Room in Providence a lot. That used to be a steady gig for us in the 80s and early 90s. We have a pretty good fan base there, so it’s always good to come down.”
Jackson, who formed ZEBRA in the mid-1970s with bassist Felix Hanemann and drummer Guy Gelso, said fans should expect to hear popular ZEBRA tracks, as well as Zeppelin classics, such as “Heartbreaker,” “The Immigrant Song,” and “Kashmir.”
“We used to do a lot of Led Zeppelin back when we first started in 1975 to 1979, so we have a pretty big repertoire to choose from,” Jackson said.
Since they’re performing music they’ve been playing for more than 35 years, they don’t rehearse often. That comes in handy, said Jackson, as the members of the band don’t live in the same state.
“Guy is back in New Orleans now, and Felix and I both live in Long Island,” he said. “If we rehearse at all it’s just at sound check because we’ve only been doing 10 to 20 shows a year.”
But that might change in the near future. In between gigs, the band is in the process of arranging new material, which they’d like to record soon.
“We hope to have it out if not this year, sometime next year,” he said. “I’ve got so many songs written and I want it to be different from everything we’ve done.”
Also, on Oct. 18th they will be inducted to the Long Island Music Hall of Fame. While they originated in New Orleans, Louisiana, and were inducted to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010, Long Island is honoring them, too.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s nice that Long Island made an exception for us.”
Despite a brief hiatus in the early 1990s, the band has been together for 37 years. The “roughest” part, Jackson said, was the first five years.
“We were really active playing at clubs and partying too much, but it was a time when we probably would have broken up if we were going to,” he said. “We got through that and it’s been relatively smooth sailing for us. We’re all family and we’ve accepted everybody for who they are. Carrying on like that keeps any organization together and I think it’s really important for the fans to have the original band.”
Jackson mentioned that the members shared many of the same interests in music when they first formed and were heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin, Rush, The Moody Blues and YES. The Beatles are also high on the list.
“I’m a big Beatles fan, and Felix is too, but he’s also a huge Rolling Stones fan,” said Jackson. “I like the Stones, but I wasn’t as familiar with them as Felix was. When Journey came out, Guy was a big fan; I was not. There are certainly differences among us, but enough similarities that are a big part of why we are still together after all this time.”
In addition to playing with ZEBRA, Jackson often performs solo acoustic gigs, as well as shows with symphony orchestras throughout the United States, doing arrangements of music by Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Pink Floyd and The Eagles, to name a few.
He began teaming up with the orchestras in 1996, when his now-late agent Jim McGinnis contacted and informed him that an East Coast promoter started a company that combined classic rock with an orchestra. The concept was to perform the music of one group at each show.
“They did a trial run of the show in Virginia Beach and wanted a different singer,” Jackson said. “I flew down to Virginia, met Brent Havens, the conductor, and we’ve been doing shows ever since.”
As noted, Jackson is a fan of The Beatles, and in the liner notes of the ZEBRA’s best of CD, he mentions that the first concert he ever saw was The Beatles at City Park Stadium in New Orleans in 1964. He was just nine-years-old at the time.
“It was like Christmas and Mardi Gras all rolled into one,” he said. “I love the music and I was so young that I didn’t really understand – I just knew it was exciting. It made a big impression on me.”
Jackson said that his neighborhood friend wanted to go to the show, too, but his parents didn’t take him to the show because they didn’t approve of The Beatles. Little did they know the band would be one of the most successful and influential acts of all time.
“I remember his mother saying years later, ‘That was one thing I’ll always regret,’” he said. “But that’s the kind of time it was. Like all other musical groups, parents are a little leery of them when they first come out.”
Speaking of The Beatles, Jackson played John Lennon’s Mellotron, an electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard, for the ZEBRA song, “Who’s Behind the Door.” Jackson got the opportunity thanks to producer Jack Douglas, who produced ZEBRA’s first album, as well as Lennon’s final album, “Double Fantasy.”
“We were up at the record plant in New York where Lennon recorded the album and the Mellotron was still there,” Jackson said. “Jack brought it in and told me it was John’s, so sitting there planning Lennon’s Mellotron was kind of surreal for me. That’s what was great about recording with Jack. I got to hear a lot about my idols and people I looked up to from a guy who experienced it first hand.”
For tickets to the Oct. 26th show at The Rock Junction, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/239202. Tickets are $25 in advance and $27 the day of the event.
For more information about ZEBRA, visit their website thedoor.com.