Zebra's Randy Jackson Tells the Secret to Keeping a Band Together for 40 Years

Zebra's Randy Jackson Tells the Secret to Keeping a Band Together for 40 Years
Robert Geiger

Must be something about bands that start with Z. After ZZ Top, the longest running professional band still playing with all its original members is Zebra. The band known for early MTV hits like "Tell Me What You Want" and "Who's Behind The Door" is currently touring, but on a night off, singer and guitarist Randy Jackson will play a solo acoustic show Friday night at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek.

His set will include, he says, "A lot of Zebra stuff along with other stuff I like, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles." Jackson's love for the the Fab Four shined in his most recent solo album, Empathy for the Walrus. It's comprised entirely of Beatles covers and every song was produced, engineered, sung and every instrument played by Jackson.

The singer spoke with New Times about growing up in New Orleans, seeing the Beatles live in concert, and the secret to Zebra's longevity.

New Times: How do you change the mindset between doing a solo show and performing with Zebra?

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Randy Jackson: It's certainly different. The acoustic show is more intimate and it's a little easier to get prepared since it's just the guitar and myself. We've got two Zebra shows, one the day before on Thursday and one the day after, so I'm really looking forward to the acoustic show as a break in-between.

Getting ready for a Zebra show takes a lot of effort. We have a soundcheck to make sure everyone can hear everything or at least try to.

Are your bandmates giving you a hard time for working so hard on the band's night off?

(Laughing) No, they don't give me a hard time at all. They're fine with it.

With your new album, Empathy for the Walrus, being all Beatles covers, how did you decide which songs would make the cut?

The label called, Red River, and they asked if I wanted to do it and the songs came to me in like three minutes. I have some personal favorites, and I wanted to make sure I covered a large spectrum right up to the end. I think I did that with this.

Do you have any memories of what made you first fall in love with The Beatles?

I saw them in '64. My parents took my brother and me to see them in New Orleans. They just had the 50th anniversary of the concert a week ago. September 16, 1964, it left a great impression on me. At the time growing up, I had no idea how unique they were. It turned out they were more than I imagined as a kid, and I thought they were great then.

I know Tom Petty had a similar story that when he saw Elvis as a kid was when he decided to be a rock star. Was seeing the Beatles the day you knew you had to be a rock star?

I was already playing guitar. I guess the reason I got into rock music was cause of the Beatles, but that definitely left an impression on me. It hung with me. I got a Beatles book and learned the chords. I was about nine years old and I guess I never looked back.

When you made it big with Zebra did you have any Beatlemania experiences?

I remember being on the road touring our first record and seeing ourselves on MTV. MTV was kind of new at that point, and that was where everyone was trying to be. We were fortunate to get a lot of airplay in 1983. It was cool. We went back to New Orleans and did a show with Journey and the mayor presented us with the key to the city. That was awesome too.

Did the music of New Orleans influence you while growing up there?

My parents had Al Hirt albums, and he happened to live not too far from where we were. Sometimes I'd be over at his house because his daughter was my age. Al Hirt, as much as he was known for jazz, he had some pretty good pop stuff too.

According to your band's Wikipedia page, Zebra is the longest running band still playing with its original line-up after ZZ Top.

I don't know where that came from, and I wouldn't know how to check it. Does it give a source? I'll have to check that out. It's possible. It will be 40 years together next year and that's certainly a long time.

What's the secret to you guys being able to stay together so long?

The time we were closest to breaking up was four years after the band got together. We were in New York. I don't remember what it was about. We were all living together so that might have something to do with it. Once we got through that and you stop expecting change, it's kind of like marriage. A lot of marriages don't work because people think the other person is going to change.

Once you accept who the other people are for what they are and what they bring to the table and don't expect any more, then you have less of a chance of being disappointed. A lot of bands, especially younger bands are looking over their shoulders to replace somebody, but at this point we're family.

Randy Jackson, 8 p.m., Friday, September 26, at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek, 5550 NW 40 St., Coconut Creek. Call 954.977.6700, or visit seminolecasinococonutcreek.com.

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