An Interview with Randy Jackson of Zebra

Feature image credit: Luciano J. Bilotti

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

While the members of veteran rock outfit, Zebra, might have roots in New Orleans, the relationship forged with the Long Island will forever bear significance in the band’s origin story.

From the ashes of Sheppards Bush, Randy Jackson (guitar and vocals) was joined by Felix Hanemann (bass guitar), and Guy Gelso (drums), forming Zebra’s powerful threesome which still stands tall to this day.

After a move up north to their new home on Long Island, NY, a feature amongst other local Long Island bands on WBAB’s Homegrown compilation followed, and soon, Zebra found themselves the apple of Atlantic Records’ eye. With major label support, coupled with a ravenous hard rock consumer base, Zebra hit the ground running, and their self-titled debut found nearly immediate critical and chart success.

Jackson’s songwriting prowess and the trio’s innate chemistry yielded two move efforts in No Tellin’ Lies, and 3.V, but an overcrowded scene, and shifting commercial tides left Zebra with declining fortunes, and as the decade came to a close, the band took a hiatus.

With Zebra on hold as a studio entity, the 90s saw Jackson try his hand at a solo career with China Rain, all the while Zebra raged on as an active touring unit, and with a full head of steam, Zebra pushed forward into the 2000s with the release of the long-awaited Zebra IV, and album which diehard fans of the band have come to know and love with the same regard as the band’s original 80s material.

These days, Zebra is still active on the touring circuit, and while there have been no new studio albums, Jackson and company are working behind the scenes to change that, and when the time is right, it appears a fifth Zebra album will come to fruition.

I recently sat down with one of Long Island’s favorite sons, Randy Jackson, for a career-spanning interview, where among other things, we dig into the past and present of Zebra, and Randy’s long career in music.

Andrew:
Randy, thank you for digging in with us. As a young musician, what first gravitated you toward the guitar?

Randy:
It had to be my discovering The Beatles in early 1964. I can remember my friend, Linda Rosenbaum, bringing the “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” single to me, and insisting that I listen. My parents got the family tickets to see The Beatles later that year at City Park Stadium in New Orleans.

Andrew:
Who were some of your early influences which first influenced your style?

Randy:
The Beatles, of course. My parents had a record of Les Paul and Mary Ford’s Greatest Hits, which I loved. 
I also listened to a lot of Grand Funk, Allman Brothers, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and Cream.

Andrew:
What were some of your early gigs where you first cut your teeth?

Randy:
My first “gig” was playing at my elementary school, Jean Gordon, with my brother Keven on guitar, and our friend, John Deters, on keyboards. I think we called ourselves either “The Starlighters,” or “The Renegades.” I was playing drums for that show. We played an original song and a Beatle’s song, “Boys,” in our set.

My first time on a real “stage” was for a talent show at my Junior High School, Gregory, when I was in seventh grade. My brother, Keven, John Deters, and I tried out for the talent show, but we picked a song to play that was pretty hard for us, “Valerie,” by The Monkees, and it has a complicated guitar solo intro that I had not mastered at that point. I knew we weren’t ready to play that song, but we all wanted that to play the song so badly that we did it anyway, and it was a complete disaster. We didn’t even pass the audition for the talent show. That was one lesson learned the hard way. Ultimately, I was asked to play some guitar chords while another student, Alan Levith, read poetry. That was my participation in the talent show. [Laughs].

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Take me through the formation of Sheppard’s Bush and how that eventually gave way to Zebra.

Randy:
Shepards Bush was a band formed by Felix Hanemann and Eldridge Madere. I was working nights at a New Orleans nightclub called The Library. Eldridge worked there as the daytime manager. He told me about his band and said they were looking for a lead guitarist. I met with Felix at his house, and we
started practicing. All the songs were written by Felix and Eldridge. We had Tony Kelsick on bass and Rusty Houser on drums. We played together for a little over a year before we broke up.

I met Guy through Keith Retells, the night manager at The Library, who also managed a French Quarter bar called Cosmos II. After meeting together at Cosmos II, Guy and I got together with my friend Tim Thorson on keyboards and rehearsed some covers of Yes and Jethro Tull. I asked Felix if he wanted to play bass with us, and we went on to play several gigs together under the name “Maelstrom.” We were getting asked to play dances and needed to learn more dance music. Tim wanted to strictly play progressive music and decided to leave the band. We re-grouped as a three-piece, and eventually, did our first gig for a sorority dance under our new name “Zebra”.

Andrew:
Zebra eventually signed with Atlantic Records. How did it go down?

Randy;
I remember being on the way from Long Island to New Orleans with my wife when we called her sister, Christine, and she told us, “Someone from Atlantic Records had called and they were interested in signing you to a recording contract.” It really came out of nowhere and was a real surprise. Our demos had been shopped to Atlantic three years earlier, and we were rejected, so I was both excited and curious as to what had happened to change their minds.

Andrew:
The members of Zebra have roots in New Orleans, but ultimately, Zebra ended up calling Long Island home. How did that happen?

Randy:
Felix and I grew up in New Orleans. Guy moved to New Orleans from Sacramento in his early twenties around 1973. Zebra started performing live in the Louisiana/Gulf Coast area, and once we started doing well, our focus shifted towards getting a record deal. We had watched many great local New Orleans rock bands in the 60s and 70s play the local circuit, and release records on locally distributed labels. We thought the stigma of a rock band in New Orleans wasn’t helping our situation at the time since New Orleans was mainly known for Jazz and R&B at the time. We had some friends in New Orleans, Larry Mancini and Richie Mancini, whose family had come from New York, and owned Sunbeam Bread in New Orleans. They had a connection to a club owner, Lee Feldman, in Long Island, NY and we eventually got a gig on Long Island on Jan 31, 1976 opening up for Rat Race Choir.

After several months establishing ourselves, we were able to move to Long Island, and make enough money to stay if we wanted. We made many trips back to Louisiana to perform over the next few years, but our base of operations was certainly Long Island by that point. Felix and I still live on Long Island, and Guy lives in Covington, LA, right outside of New Orleans. I would call Long Island our second home. New Orleans will always be our first home.

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Zebra was featured on WBAB’s Homegrown album. During Zebra’s early years, how important was WBAB to the promotion of the band and its fortunes?

Randy:
Bob Buchmann at WBAB had a lot to do with us eventually getting signed to Atlantic Records. Bob took our demos and put them into regular rotation at the station, and when they had become some of the most requested songs at the station, he showed the request list to Jason Flom from Atlantic Records, and the band was signed soon afterward.

Andrew:
Take me through the recording of Zebra’s debut, which was produced by Jack Douglass. How important was Jack to the recording process?

Randy:
Jack brought in an incredible team of engineers including Rod O’Brien and John Agnello. Jack is a great musician and engineer, so he covers all the bases as a producer. We were excited when he agreed to produce the first album. He had a lot of great ideas for the music. Jack was great to work with and has an awesome sense of humor.

Andrew:
Zebra followed up its debut with Tellin’ Lies, and 3.V. What do you recall regarding the writing, recording, and reception of those albums?

Randy:
I wish I had written more while we were on the road promoting the first album. When it came time for the second album, No Tellin’ Lies, I arranged a bunch of song bits I had worked on over the years. The only song I wrote from scratch between the first and second album was “Lullaby.”

We had some complaints on the radio that the vocal on our first single from No Tellin’ Lies, “Wait Until The Summer’s Gone,” wasn’t loud enough. We went back into the studio and rushed out another version, but I think we had lost a lot of steam at that point.

I did write a lot of songs for 3.V. We decided to tour on our own for that record, and in hindsight, that may have been a mistake. I thought 3.V works the best out of all our records as a collection of songs, and I hear a consistent thread musically, and lyrically throughout the album. 

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Andrew:
In a scene awash with bands, what was it like navigating that scene as oversaturation gave way to a volatile 90s rock scene?

Randy:
By the 90s, we had been out of the picture for four years, so there wasn’t much to navigate. We still had our strong core following, and we continued to perform live throughout the 90s, and every year since 1975.

Andrew:
What led to Atlantic Records dropping Zebra in the late 80s? 

Randy:
I think we were dropped in 1987 due to a lack of sales of the second and third records. After that, we still continued performing live. Atlantic came back to me in 1989 and asked if I would be interested in a solo record, China Rain. During that time, Zebra did a live record for Atlantic that was released in 1990.

Andrew;
After so many years with Zebra, what were the dynamics like with China Rain in comparison?

Randy:
When China Rain was complete in 1992, Atlantic decided to not release the record. We never toured with China Rain, and the China Rain band didn’t do anything after recording the record. Eventually, the record was released on Beyond Records in the US, and Dig It records internationally in 1993.

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Zebra didn’t release new music until 2003, with the release of Zebra IV. Why the long lag? How do you feel the record compares to the band’s classic era?

Randy:
We didn’t have a record label during that time, so there was no urgency. We took our time to get the right collection of songs for the record. I am proud of Zebra IV. There were a lot of great newer songs on the record along with a couple of oldies from the mid-70s. The reaction from the fans was all positive. The record certainly held up to the first three. Some of our most requested songs these days are from Zebra IV.

Andrew:
In the ensuing years, Zebra has been a steady presence on the live scene, but you’ve been dormant as a studio band. What’s gone into that decision?

Randy:
I think it all comes down to whether you feel you have something worth recording. Although I have written quite a bit since Zebra IV, the songs haven’t touched me in a way that makes recording them such a priority. Hopefully, that will change!

Andrew:
Zebra was inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2012. How meaningful was that to the band given its history as a local band?

Randy:
The Long Island Music Hall of Fame made an exception for Zebra. None of us were born on Long Island, but the Long Island Music Hall of Fame decided to make an exception, and induct us anyway. We were certainly flattered that we were considered for induction. I guess we had paid our Long Island dues!

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Andrew:
It’s been previously reported that Zebra is working on new material for a long-awaited fifth album. What more can you tell us about that?

Randy:
I can tell you it has been long-awaited! We are starting the recording process on a couple of songs. Hopefully, we will get a good sound, and get into a swing to finish off a bunch. The interesting thing now is how we recorded each record. The process is so different since they have been decades apart. Technology rolls on!

Andrew:
Last one. What’s next for both yourself and Zebra, Randy?

Randy:
Musically, it’s certainly continuing the live performances. We’ve got some shows with Angel coming up. Right now, for me personally, it’s our grandkids. We are all getting older, and I think it is safe to say we want to really enjoy our families while we have the chance!

Images courtesy of Zebra Facebook (official)

Interested in learning more about Zebra? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
Happy
Happy
100 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

2 thoughts on “An Interview with Randy Jackson of Zebra

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: