TO THE THIRD POWER
Zebra has earned their stripes as one of the elite power trios to span over four decades with all original members.Yet today, Randy Jackson continues to impress fans with his dynamic vocal range apportioned over melodic rock compositions. Cathy learns where the band's name originated and how Randy keeps his chops in the review and interview below.
by Cathy Rankin
February 16, 2018
“Once you see a Zebra show in person, you’ll be a fan for life.” Over and over this is what I read and heard in my research leading up to my interview with Randy Jackson, lead singer and guitarist for Zebra.Now, I've always liked Zebra’s music – I have a bit of a thing for power trios and prog rock (anyone who knows me will tell you about my obsession with RUSH), so Zebra had all the qualities of my type of music. I remember their commercial hits (“Who’s Behind the Door” and “Tell Me What you Want” were fan faves) being played on MTV and marveling at the high vocals of Randy and the versatility of all three band members, and I particularly loved their third album, 3.V, which wasn’t their biggest selling one, but to me had some of their best stuff.
However, I had never seen them in a live performance. So, as I approached this interview, I thought it would be a nice show for a Sunday night at BLK Live, but I’ll admit, I was a little tired from a long work week and thought maybe I’d just catch some of the first set to get the overall idea of their stage show and then head out early for some much needed rest. Yeah right, that did NOT happen!
You see, as soon as the band hit the stage, from the very first song, I knew that there was no way I was leaving early. This band is THAT good. Instantly, I could see why so many people said you have to see them perform live and then you’ll get it. Well, I got it, that’s for sure. These guys were unbelievable. Bass player, Felix Hanemann, is so fun to watch because he effortlessly switches from his badass bass lines to his unmistakable keyboards, which add so much layering to the songs, all while singing leads on some songs, to powerful harmonies both low and high, on others, and I loved how he was rocking out and having fun while he was doing it! Then there’s Gus Gelso, who definitely isn’t just sitting in the background, he lends powerful drumming that reminds me a bit of Steve Smith and rips off a mean mid-set solo with such passion and precision that it makes you realize these guys each have an irreplaceable role in this band, much like my idols, Geddy, Alex and Neil. And then there’s Randy Jackson. Randy comes out, and you think maybe he’ll drop the key a little – there’s no way someone is going to sing the same falsetto and high notes as they did at the start of their 40 year career, right? WRONG. I’m pretty sure that Randy was signing in the same key as the original songs, and WOW it was impressive! As a singer myself, I was marveling at his vocal technique, because I could actually see from the stage how he was using certain specific techniques with tongue placement and breath that clearly enable him to not only hit those notes, but to have the stamina to get through many long and complex songs, not just show after show, but decade after decade. And yes, there’s definitely a lot of Robert Plant in his sound, and I swear I heard a little bit of Geddy Lee in there, too J
And speaking of Robert Plant – after the first half of their own hits and some deep cuts that made the loyal Zebra fans jump up and down like giddy little kids, the band went right into a full set of Led Zeppelin tunes. It takes guts to tackle those songs and then play them in a way that Zep fans can accept, but not only did people accept them, they were going nuts over them. From Whole Lotta Love to a killer rendition of Kasmir, Randy’s guitar playing was mind-blowing, especially considering how he’s singing the whole time. If you closed your eyes you would swear you were listening to Mr. Plant himself. There was no way I was leaving this show until the very last second. Not only was I completely mesmerized at this point, but now I was one of those “fans for life,” too. I left thinking I have to go revisit all the albums after seeing them live to fully appreciate this power trio that seems to be one of those best kept music secrets.
The icing on the cake was that I got to sit down with Randy himself before the show and talk about not only his vocals, but the 40 years of music this band has been creating. He told me the greatest story about how they came up with the name Zebra, which I had never heard before, and then shared some really thoughtful insight about what makes this band tick. But as we talked, I noticed he listened very carefully as much as he spoke. In fact, he paid such close attention that during the show, I was completely caught off guard when I all of a sudden heard my name from the stage as Randy dedicated a song from the 3.V album to me, simply because he remembered that I mentioned it was my favorite album. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He was humble, warm and open with not only me, but the fans who showed up at sound check to meet him and take pictures. What was so interesting was how soft spoken and laid back he seemed during our interview because as soon as he got onstage, he was a completely different personality, attacking the songs with an intensity that I just didn’t expect after meeting him. All in all, I left the show happily singing Zebra and Zep on my way home, with no regrets about not getting to bed early. I’ll catch up on my sleep another time…..
Note: Make sure you catch a Zebra show if you can, they don’t play a lot of dates because all three players have so many other projects, and you will want to see this band at least once. Also, Randy travels around the country doing a really cool rock show backed by local symphonies/orchestras, and he told me about it off camera – I’ve heard it is incredible, so you might want to check that out if you miss seeing Zebra this tour. Randy has a Phoenix date coming up soon and there’s no way I’m missing it – for more info visit Zebra’s official website at www.thedoor.com