Lenny Zakatek’s soulful singing is a special part of the Alan Parsons Project


By Steve Newton

“One day I got this call around ten at night, saying ‘Come on down and sing this track. If you make it, fine–if you don’t there’s a little change in it for you.’

“So I went over, went straight in and he said, ‘We’ve got to do it tonight because they’ve got to mix it by the end of the week.’

“I didn’t know much about the Alan Parsons Project, because I hadn’t actually heard Tales of Mystery then. But in some ways that was good, because I just went in there and had a blow. And I think that reflects the performance. It was about four takes–they just took bits and pieces of the best–and ‘I Wouldn’t Want to be LIke You’ was born.”

The speaker is Lenny Zakatek, singer of such classy Alan Parsons Project tunes as “Damned If I Do”, “Games People Play”, “You’re Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned”, and the aforementioned “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You”. He’s sung on every Project record from 1977’s breakthrough I Robot right on up to the most recent Eye in the Sky, lending his vocals to two tracks per album.

“I’ve done ten songs now,” says Lenny, “so I’ve got an album full of songs myself.”

The Alan Parsons Project, in case you aren’t aware, is a studio project developed by sound engineering wizard Alan Parsons–famous for his work on the Beatles’ Abbey Road and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon LPs–and executive producer Eric Woolfson. Parsons and Woolfson co-write all of the Project material, and Woolfson sings on some of it–most notably tunes like “Time” from The Turn of a Friendly Card and “Eye in the Sky” from the album of the same name.

Zakatek first became involved with the Project while singing in a 13-piece band called Gonzalez, which had a disco hit in England at the time. Woolfson had recommended him to a lot of people in the music biz, and Zakatek–basically a live performer–jumped at the chance of proving himself in the studio The project’s habit of recruiting individual singers for particular songs proved a fine vehicle for Lenny, who has just finished laying down vocal tracks for their next album, which is currently being mixed and is expected to be out by the end of March. He sings on two cuts, Colin Blunstone (“Old and Wise” from Eye in the Sky) sings on one, and Woolfson does the honours on there.

“He’s edging me on this one,” laugh Zakatek. “I think we’re going to have to slap him down.”

The Alan Parsons Project has cut down its roster of singers over the years, so Lenny doesn’t really have to worry about getting edged out of vocal assignments. There were eleven singers on the Project’s first album, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and only six on their last. The next one will feature four vocalists.

“In the early stages they were using a lot more vocalists,” concedes Zakatek, “but now as far as the public goes, they expect to hear a certain kind of voice on a certain kind of track. The melodic, rock-oriented sort of live performances tend to be me, and Eric tends to sing the smoother songs. We keep telling him he gets all the hits [laughs], but as he co-writes them, I guess he’s got to keep the best ones for himself [laughs again].

Parsons worked with Zakatek on his self-titled solo album, an ill-fated release that came out in the U.S. but didn’t surface anywhere else.

“I got signed at a bad time,” recalls Lenny, “because I was signed to A&M and they had the Police and Joe Jackson just breaking–and my album was mainly aimed at an AOR American audience.

“And I sweated tears over that one. I mean, I spent six, seven months putting it together and had some really nice players–friends of mine. Jon Giblin, who is with Brand X and Phil Collins, Max Middleton on keyboards [Jeff Beck], and two guys from the Project, Ian Bairnson on guitar and Stuart Elliot on drums.”

Zakatek hasn’t given up on solo ventures, though. He has plans to do another album in the new year. And when he isn’t singing for the Alan Parsons Project, he keeps busy producing and advising bands in Britain. Two groups he’s involved with at the moment are Playthings, who have “a new English sound” and Seventh Heaven–“West Indians guys that are excellent singers.”

When asked which of the Alan Parsons Project albums is his personal favourite, Lenny is thoughtfully silent. Then after careful consideration he responds.

“I guess I Robot, because it had a kind of rawness to it. It was also the first one I did, so it has special memory for me. As far as my track on that particular album, I was listening to it just this week off the greatest hits album and I find that it still stands up. It’s been so well received that I don’t think it will ever date. Not to mention the vocal performance of course [laughs].

And how does he feel about the other Project records?

“After the first couple of albums, everybody went through knocking Eve for a while. Some people were saying there was a lack of direction. But I think with Turn of a Friendly Card and certainly Eye in the Sky we were back on the ball again.

“I mean Pyramid, certainly as a concept album, was closest to the early Project stuff. I didn’t do the best song on Pyramid, but as far as an album, it was rock solid. It did very well in the States and Canada and Germany.”

Although some people have knocked Eve, it did contain a hit single on which Zakatek really performed.

“I did enjoy ‘Damned If I Do’ a lot,” admits Lenny, “because it was with full orchestra, and the feeling of having all those strings and horns behind you is a one-of situation. I think the London Philharmonic was used on that one. It was tremendous.”

And while Zakatek says he’d “love the Project to go on the road”–and their millions of fans worldwide would probably agree–the prospect of taking a complete orchestra on tour to recreate the symphonic Parsons sound is not viable.

“It wouldn’t be fair to have everything synthesized and programmed,” says Lenny, “so the idea was that we would take everybody on the road with us. And you’re talking about probably 120 people. We’d have to hire the whole Hilton Hotel!”


To hear the audio of my 1983 interview with Lenny Zakatek subscribe to my Patreon page, where you can eavesdrop on over 275 of my uncut, one-on-one conversations with:

Marc Storace of Krokus, 1983
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Buddy Cage of New Riders of the Purple Sage, 2006
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Simon Townshend, 1983
John Bush of Anthrax, 1993
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John Mellencamp, 1999
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Kenny Aronoff, 1999
Jon Bon Jovi, 1986
Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1992
Little Steven, 1987
Stevie Salas, 1990
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Joe Bonamassa, 2011
John Petrucci of Dream Theater, 2010
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Eric Johnson, 2001
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Gene Simmons of Kiss, 1992
Ace Frehley from Kiss, 2008
David Lee Roth, 1994
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Tony Iommi of Heaven and Hell, 2007
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Rick Richards of the Georgia Satellites, 1988
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Steve Morse, 1991
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Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers, 1991
Jake E. Lee of Badlands, 1992
Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1997
John Fogerty, 1997
Joe Perry of Aerosmith, 1987
Rick Derringer, 1999
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Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, 1994
Mick Ronson, 1988
Geddy Lee of Rush, 2002
Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, 1997
Michael Schenker, 1992
Vince Neil of Motley Crue, 1991
Vinnie Paul of Pantera, 1992
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Bill Henderson of Chilliwack, 1999
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Guthrie Govan of the Aristocrats, 2015
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…with hundreds more to come


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