Interview published by RCF at www.rcf.it
Randy Jackson is one of the music icons in the AOR world. His contribution with Zebra, China Rain and the solo works are just outstanding. For many years Randy Jackson has been using RCF Sound Systems. At the interview Randy Jackson talks about highlights of his long and impressive career and his experience with the audio gear.
Randy Jackson – Live on Stage with RCF
Randy Jackson, lead singer and guitarist of the legendary band “Zebra” has been touring with RCF speakers systems for years. Since the mid-70’s Randy Jackson has been a major player on the American music scene. Today, he can be found performing with major symphony orchestras and as a solo acoustic artist while still maintaining a high profile with Zebra.
Randy Jackson takes us down memory lane and also updates us on what is currently going on with his musical career.
Zebra started out of New Orleans in the mid-70s, a rock trio with Randy Jackson as the lead singer and guitarist, Guy Gelso on drums and vocals and bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Felix Hanemann. The band became “local heroes” with a huge fan-base built by extensive touring in the region. In 1982 Atlantic Records signed Zebra. Their first album, “Zebra” was produced by Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon) and released in 1983.
With their huge fan base built from 8 years of touring in Louisiana and New York the album sold 75,000 copies the first 2 weeks and overnight Zebra became one of Atlantic Records most valuable bands, and had the fastest selling debut album in Atlantic Records history.
Strong melodic songs such as: “Who’s Behind The Door” and “Tell Me What You Want”, written by Jackson, received serious notice in the press, and helped to form legions of new Zebra fans.
RJ: “When I look back at my career with Zebra it has been quite a journey. I feel that we are really fortunate to have had a career spanning over 35 years. It is a great feeling to know that people still want to see us live and are still so interested in hearing new music from the band”.
The debut album went gold and certified Zebra’s great success.
RJ: “It was an amazing trip, going from performing on smaller local stages to suddenly sharing stages with groups like Aerosmith, Kiss, Queensrÿche, and Dream Theater and playing large arenas and stadiums”.
In 1984 Atlantic Records released the second album, “No Tellin´ Lies”. The album was well received in the press but never got the same attention at radio as the previously one. The third album, “3.V”, was released in 1986.
RJ: “We did three albums in less than 3 years and at the same time we were constantly touring, doing videos, promotional appearances, TV shows etc. I put a massive amount of time and efforts into recording the 3rd album “3.V”. It was our most ambitious production ever, and we were confident that the album would do well. We used the album to experiment with new instruments such as the Synclavier and the Fairlight. We also did a lot of midi “keyboard” sequencing with the Linn 9000”.
Unfortunately the “3.V” album didn’t get the reception the band had hoped for and Atlantic Records soon dropped Zebra.
RJ: “3.V” contains some of our best songs. As an “album”, it might be our best. It just seemed that we were always falling short on airplay. Bon Jovi had just released “Slippery When Wet” and I think our album just got lost at radio.”
Zebra scaled down and the individual band members started to focus on outside music projects.
RJ: “It was a big let down for the band, but our music and our fans kept us positive. I developed a huge interest for computers and started building my own recording studio at home. I was called to do several session recordings on guitar and met a lot of great people along the way. In 1989 I got a call to tour as keyboardist, guitarist and backing vocalist with the original Jefferson Airplane for their last tour together. It was an awesome experience!!”
In 1989 Randy Jackson was signed to Atlantic Records again to do a solo record, which was eventually called “China Rain”. This time his direction was aimed more at harder metal. During the production of the album Nirvana released their album, “Never Mind”, and Atlantic decided that “China Rain” had become unmarketable. In 1990 Zebra released a live album on Atlantic and the band received great reviews on the record. Soon afterward he started working on a live solo show incorporating a Macintosh computer to run the sound and lights. A year of programming resulted in a show that people still talk about today, which featured the best of Zebra along with many other classic rock favorites.
RJ: “Those were some very busy years and I started to developed some skills in computer programming while working with all kinds of music software. My interest and passion actually led to an offer to develop instruments and software for Lonestar Technologies in 1992”.
Lonestar Technologies was based in Hicksville, New York. The company was developing a new instrument called “The Key”, a guitar-like synthesizer that was ground breaking in its diversity.
RJ: “What an amazing project. It was a big change for me, going from being a full time musician to doing development for such an innovative company. “The Key” had a very futuristic design and by itself is a guitar-like synthesizer, where the “frets” are like keys on a keyboard and the “strings” are made up of synthetic “veins” attached to the body. “The Key” could be used as a stand-alone MIDI controller and had it’s own internal sound engine. Chords are formed by pressing different combinations of keys while strumming the “veins”. “The Key” could also be used as a video “reader” that would allow the user to play along with music videos on encoded video tapes. We also developed cartridges called “Song Pacs” that could be plugged into a slot in the instrument and used to accompany the player. The “Song Pac” cartridges included midi versions of licensed songs and allowed the user to play an album’s worth of songs on each cartridge. I liked to describe “The Key” as an electronic Autoharp. We got Jon Anderson from Yes to try out the instrument and he ended up writing a bunch of songs using “The Key”. “The Key” was pretty expensive when it was released and only a few could afford it. “The Key” was a very ambitious project and may have been a little ahead of its time”.
In 1996 Randy got an offer to sing the music of Led Zeppelin at a show with the Virginia Symphony.
RJ: “I did that first show with Brent Havens (Windborne Symphony) conducting and we have been doing them ever since. It is a full rock band performing the music of Led Zeppelin with a full symphony orchestra. It is a really big production and we have played all over the U.S. with a few shows in Canada as well. We have added some different shows over the years (music of The Doors, Pink Floyd and The Eagles) which helps keep me busy year round. It is such a great thrill to perform the music of my youth with such high caliber musicians in a symphonic environment”.
To round out his schedule Randy started to work on a solo acoustic show.
RJ: “I met a musical instrument distributor who highly recommended RCF and said he would help me check out what speaker systems that would be good for me to use for my solo acoustic shows. My main specification was that the system be portable but very powerful the system by myself. I wanted to be able to get it all into my Ford Expedition. I knew I had to be my own tour manager, stage crew and sound engineer for most of my shows. I invested in two systems, one for New York shows and one system to use in Louisiana for my gigs there. My audio system is based on the 4Pro Series using a combination of 6001 model speakers and a mix of 8001 and 8002 subwoofers”.
So with two new speaker systems Randy Jackson started to promote his “Solo Acoustic” shows.
RJ: “It was amazing to see how huge an interest there was for booking my new acoustic shows. One of my first gigs with my new RCF system was actually at the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix. At first I thought it would be a real challenge to perform at this type of event since the room was large with a lot of people but I was blown away by the performance I got out of my RCF system. The sound coming from the speakers is truly amazing, whether it is acoustic music or hard rock, you immediately hear the incredible quality, the sound is clear, each instrument is perfectly defined and the vocal clarity is second to none”.
In 2003, Zebra made a deal with the Italian label, Frontiers Records, to release their new album, “Zebra IV”.
RJ: “We worked on the new CD until we felt it was really ready for release. The album did really well for us and helped us cultivate a new generation of fans. We will be working on a new studio album for next year. With more and more Zebra gigs in the works I am simply doubling my RCF system to give us the headroom to do larger venues. I just added 4 NX series wedges to my system and I’m looking into the TT+ touring products for the larger shows I do with Zebra or the Windborne Symphony. The support I have gotten from RCF U.S. is just awesome. I couldn’t ask for more from a company or their product”
And the reaction to RCF from his fans?
RJ: “The compliments I get on my live sound just keep on coming. I get inquiries about my RCF system at just about every gig I do and a lot of people have said it is the best they have ever heard!”
1984 No Tellin´ Lies
1986 3 V
1998 The Best of Zebra in Black and White
1999 King Bisquit Live
2001 No Tellin´Lies/3 V
2003 Zebra IV
2004 Slow Down
2007 Zebra – The DVD