Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1985 / 2021
Images from the Internet unless indicated
Miki Zone Sings Gene Pitney
This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #13, dated 1985. It was written by Julia Masi.
The Fast essentially went through four phases, starting in the early 1970s and ending well into the 1980s. At the core of The Fast were three Brooklyn brothers: Armand “Mandy” Zone (keyboards, vocals), Miki Zone (guitar and vocals), and Paul Zone (vocals). The first phase was before Paul joined the band; I saw them play the bandshell in Prospect Park around 1973 or ’74. Next was the Fast’s golden era (in my opinion), when they were on the Live at Max’s Kansas City album, doing songs like “Kids Just Wanna Dance,” “Boys Will Be Boys,” and “It’s Like Love.” The third was after Mandy left to form his own band, Ozone, when the Fast became more metal and leather based. They did the same songs, but a lot stronger without Mandy’s pop synth. The last was when Miki and Paul became a Eurobeat twosome with a strong gay focus called Man 2 Man (though originally called Man’s Favorite Sport for a brief moment).
Through all this, Miki’s guitar was a fireball, as he mastered the craft and he became one of the most underrated guitarists on the New York scene. Not surprisingly, he became bored playing the same notes and the same songs, so he would improvise, such as using the eraser ends of pencils to play rather than a pick.
Miki also had some side gigs going on, with a solo project of singing the songs of the great Gene Pitney (d. 2006). Miki died in 1986, and Mandy in 1993. – RBF, 2021
|Miki Zone in The Fast (photo by Robert Barry Francos)|
In any medium, the most difficult part of performing is interpreting someone else’s material, so that it remains fresh and intact, while still allowing individuality and talent to surface. In an era when cover songs are the junk food of our musical menu and “incredible simulations” infest the stage and screen, it’s rare and refreshing to find a performer like Miki Zone, who honors his idols without imitating them.
Last Spring, Miki Zone’s Gene Pitney Review slipped into the New York club circuit without enough fanfare. It’s a short (approximately one hour) cabaret act that’s campy, classy and reveals another side of Miki: his voice!
It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Miki can sing. Nothing he does should surprise his fans after all the musical styles he adapted and discarded over the years, with his brother Paul, in The Fast. But throughout his career, he’s always been known as an instrumentalist and songwriter with a distinctive style. A style that, unfortunately, has yet to be rewarded in the mainstream markets.
Gene Pitney in his heyday, was very heavily absorbed into the mainstream. He is most often remembered for “Town Without Pity,” but he also wrote several dozen Top-40 tunes for himself and people like Roy Orbison, Rick Nelson, the Crystals, and Steve Lawrence. He had a country hit with George Jones, as well as numerous hits in foreign countries that he sang and recorded in almost every language.
|Mandy Zone, Paul Zone, Miki Zone|
According to the fact sheet that Miki graciously compiles for interviews, Pitney “played all his own instruments on his first single, “I Wanna Love My Life Away,” and would over-dub seven of his voices on the record.” The most interesting item on the list, however, claims that he was “an amateur taxidermist,” a hobby that probably fostered many weepy love songs. He dropped out of the public eye about a decade ago and, since then, there have been only vague rumors concerning his whereabouts or career. [Ed. Note: Pitney died after a performance in Wales, and is buried where he lived in Connecticut. – 2021]
“I don’t want to be a messenger to the masses,” explains Miki, “but it feels good to have people react to the things that they like.” Part of the reason why this act is entertaining is that you don’t have to be a die-hard Pitney fan to appreciate it. In fact, you don’t even have to know who he is to enjoy it. The set is filled with familiar, catchy pop ditties that have been nestled in the cobwebs of our brain for ages. And Miki is not a Gene Pitney clone. He may be able to croon in the same key as the eclipsed star, and dress in the elegant smoking jackets of that era, but only the blind could confuse their faces. Miki’s eyes are riveting. They’re like tiny, brown computer screens beaming with information until he hears a dumb question, then they abruptly shut down to an icy darkness. Luckily, a sincere inquiry – like why would a talented songwriter want to sing someone else’s lyrics – flicks their light switch back on.
“I’ve got a big romantic part of me which I’ve never brought out in the music, which I’m starting to do now. I’ve written a lot of things like that which I’ve never performed. I’ve never used them in any of my past groups.
“I always had an affection for… would you call it torch singing? Or crooning? Not crooning like Alfalfa, but like, crooning like the way Gene Pitney did it. He could sing a rock song like “I’m Gonna Love My Life Away,” or “Hello, Mary Lou,” and he would also sing a ballad like “Town Without Pity” or “Half Heaven, Half Heartache” and still make you wanna cry. Those emotions used to amaze me in any singer, even female singers like Dusty Springfield. People like that amaze me with the way they can milk all your emotions. I always felt that I could do that. Wanted to do that. And that’s what I’m doing. I used to try to emulate his voice. I used to be able to sing like that for years, but I never had a chance to sing in any of my rock bands. I never would sing. It was always up to my brothers (Paul and Armand) to sing.
“The reason I am doing Gene Pitney is it’s a tackling thing to do. He’s got an amazing voice. I’m not saying I can sing like him, but I hang in there with the notes, and I’m proud of that!
“There’s a lot of things in me that I don’t want to have to be Miki Zone to keep on changing them. I’ve changed many, many times over the years. I’ve put The Fast through heavy metal, through glitter rock, through pop, through punk, through many different things. What I did wrong, I’d say, is that it should have been a different group each time. That would have saved a lot of problem and a lot of egos, and a lot of people’s confusion. I should have called it something different every time I went in a different direction. I have a lot of those ambitions to do different kinds of music and I don’t want to be stuck under one name doing it. I’m not in the position of David Bowie, where I can do what I want and still be the chameleon. I have too many other things in my head that I want to do and be. I think I can do them under different titles, ‘cause none of them will step on each other.
“The Gene Pitney thing is just the beginning of the acts I’m gonna do. I think I’m gonna be doing a couple of other acts of different people’s materials; other singers, because I like to sing as much as I like to play an instrument. And I just want to get it out of me. It’s just satisfaction for me. Maybe it’s ego, too, to see people enjoying me doing things. I’ve got the best reactions, I think, ever in my career, since I’ve been doing the Gene Pitney thing, just through the response of people.
“I’d rather have different outlets for different things. And if one of them works out better than the others, I’ll follow that one up. But me and my brother will always work together.” Paul and Miki now have a band called Man’s Favorite Sport. Paul is very supportive of his brother’s solo endeavors, and usually helps out with the lights.
Although he’s trying to keep the identities of his other solo personas a secret, Miki has mentioned that one of them will be Bruno Beats, an original character who sings all of Miki’s “romantic, lush pop things. It’s going to be very pop, maybe ‘60s. All the things I wouldn’t use in the group.”