Friday, January 20, 2012

Who's Behind the Door

I was home from school faking an illness the day John Bonham died. As I recall it, the radio that afternoon was abuzz with a forthcoming tour announcement for the newly released In Through the Out Door LP when the news hit. The death (September 25, 1980, wikipedia says) would spell the end of Led Zeppelin and tear a giant hole in rock radio from which, for better or worse, it never recovered. It certainly hastened the end of the 70s, and provided a boost to the Punk & New Wavers coming from behind.

Then there were the bands who took up the flag for those who refused to move on. Zebra formed in New Orleans in the 70s but for a short period in the early 80s were H-U-G-E local heroes on Long Island, thanks largely to WBAB, which picked up on their Zepplinesque sound and advertised their constant Island gigging. Seemingly modeling every song after Stairway to Heaven's gentle acoustic start and jamming climax, Zebra also called to mind other trios like Rush (for the Plant-ish falsettos) and Emerson Lake and Palmer (for proggy synth flourishes and lengthy jams).

Back then, seemed to me as though there were Zebra fans, and there was anyone who'd heard Elvis Costello, and those groups rarely hung out together. I was solidly with the latter crowd and still think of Zebra with a little sense of slummy, douchey bemusement. I kinda like them but still have trouble admitting it. The band's 1983 "major label" debut album, which thanks to WBAB every kid on the Island knew by heart for years already, was reportedly the fastest-selling debut in Atlantic records history, but likely as a result of the changing times and a lack of variety, it never hit big nationally. Their second and third records seemed simply to rework their formula from the first, and that was that. Vocalist/guitarist Randy Jackson does the National Anthem at Mets games sometimes and some of their fans still haven't moved on, providing Zebra an open invitation to outdoor jams in Patchougue and reunion gigs at the Salty Dog for as long as they live, probably.

Here's 'Bears' from Zebra's second album, No Tellin Lies.

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