Zanna's Musical Tapestry & Beyond
By Ravi V. Chhabra
It's not easy to profile and interview a musician-artist holding such diverse portfolio. Zanna Gregmar comes from a fine lineage of valued artists and musicians. Her mother, a classical ballerina, model and designer and her father an actor and dancer and a dance teacher.
Zanna started entertaining professionally as a young teenager in Sweden, working first as a troubadour singing folk music, then joining various show bands with emphasis on vocals and harmony work and touring extensively in Europe. In the mid 70's, she was signed to BUK records in London and during this time started collaborating with artists such as Tony Sheridan.
Zanna Gregmar was signed by EMI-Music Publishing in London in1976 and worked as a session singer and collaborated and recorded alongside many others, including Bernie Marsden, (Whitesnake), Raphael Ravenscroft (Gerry Rafferty) and Nicky Moore (Samson).
She recorded a single produced by Mike Hurst with a girl group ”Frankie and the Favourites” Zanna joined a Salsa band called Manana with Jorge Spiteri, Bill Lovelady and sometimes Aierto She played in various piano bars such as the Café in Kensington for a year and the Intercontinental Hotel in London for a year, and also the biggest piano bars in Sweden and Denmark. Back in Sweden she started the Heavy rock band “ZANNA” with her brother Bolle Gregmar on drums, Rolf Jonsson Guitar, ( later replaced with Patrick Ohlsson and Sune Martinell on Bass.
She joined Bill Lovelady’s band when he had a number 1 hit for 22 weeks in Sweden with ”One more Reggae for the Road”. After the tour she teamed up with British multi instrumentalist / guitar hero Ollie Halsall who joined ”ZANNA” the heavy rock band and toured Sweden. Zanna and Ollie joined Kevin Ayers Band in the early 80: s based in Spain, recorded for CBS in New York. Toured Spain. Zanna became known as the first female keyboard player in Rock to perform on Spanish stages. European tours followed as well as the recording of music for Kevin’s film ”Percussion”, and an album ”Jack of Diamonds and the Queen of Pain”. A TV special and some concerts with John Cale (Velvet Underground) and Andy Summers(Police) in Spain.
Zanna wrote music for three albums for Spanish Punk star RAMONCIN and also hit single”Sal de Naja” on Hispavox. She recorded an album for the film”Sal Gorda” (by Oscar winner Fernando Trueba) on Ariola featuring single ”Entra en mi Cuerpo – Sal de mi vida”. She also appeared in the film.
Zanna and Ollie teamed up with some Spanish top musicians, Javier de Juan and Manolo Diaz and formed group ”Cinemaspop”. Recorded two albums for WEA and had 4 top five hits, with ”Zorba the Greek”, ”We love you Marilyn”, ”Following the Blonde” and ”Let’s go to the movies”.
She collaborated with Top artists ”Mecano”, ”Azul y Negro” and Flamenco-Rock star Manzanita on record, TV and on stage.She did a multitude of different TV and radio shows as well as concerts. Zanna also gave private lessons in Singing and English.
In 1985 she moved to Hollywood, California where the career got temporarily interrupted because of the arrivals of Two Lovely Daughters and her decision to study psychology. She then proceeded to study Hypnosis with the thought of specialising in the creative and artistic field such as motivation, goal focus, concentration, creativity, positive thinking removing writers block, stage fright and other fears and phobias etc. and graduated as a clinical Hypnotherapist in 1994.
She continues to inspire as she writes and records music and collaborates on musical and myriad interests close to her heart.
fnbworld.com is privileged to get her views:
Ravi V. Chhabra: You have had a chequered musical life, not many can aspire to achieve. Can you tell me about the long musical journey from Sweden to US and UK?
Zanna Gregmar: When I was three-years, I told my mum that I was going to be a singer when I grow up and I never dithered. We always had music in my home. The radio played varied music, so I learned to like and differentiate between folk music from many countries, schlager music, other pop music etc. My Dad, a former actor (and dance teacher at Arthur Murray’s in Hollywood) was a great fan of jazz and swing and also Broadway musicals and had a huge record collection from which he played for hours every day. I quickly picked up all this stuff and sang along to everything. So I lay the foundation for understanding different types of rhythm, syncopations, phrasing and attitude. My mum, a former Classical Ballerina, sometimes played some classical music during the day as my dad found it a bit depressing! Hence, the sometimes classical influence in my song-writing.
So in other words I was accustomed to and also always interested in a wide variety of musical styles and learned to understand them early on in life. My grandmother played the piano and sang some religious songs and I liked to join in. I had inherited her talent to play by ear and naturally pick up harmonies so as a five-year-old I’d harmonise with her. I have always had a special love for harmony singing and still do!
"I have taught myself to play piano and guitar and have also been seen playing bass, banjo and ukulele. I always found it quicker to teach myself than to take lessons, and I reluctantly read music. I like to teach techniques of honing musical aspects".
Ravi: Favourite music genre(s) why?
Zanna: Hard to say since I have favourites in every genre depending on the day, but I guess basically I am a Rocker at heart -Swing, 60’s and 70’s Rhythm’ n blues, 60’s 70’s and 80s Rock as well as the 60s pop stuff like The Beatles. I need to feel that the music has a strong heart and soul and a good melody, but most of all it has to be sincere...
"I Have performed and collaborated together with so many. Some big names would be Andy Summers from Police, John Cale from The Velvet underground, Kevin Ayers one of the originators of Psychedelic music in the UK. Ollie Halsall who has slowly grown into cult status in recent years for his unique approach to the guitar. Also Raphael Ravenscroft, the famous sax on Gerry Rafferty’s Baker St, Nicky Moore from Sampson, Gerry Marsden from Whitesnake. Jeff Lynne (ELO, Travelling Wilbury’s) really liked my song 'Living Alone' (Later recorded in Spain as “Alguien Que Vive Sola”) and wanted to produce it when I had a recording deal offered by Jet Records which fell through due to lawyers attitudes… “Close but no cigar.”
Ravi: Does the list go any further? (hahhaha).
Zanna: In Spain - 'Ramoncin' the first Spanish Punk artist, “Azul y Negro” techno duo, “Meccano’s” Nacho Cano, Flamenco rock artist “Manzanita” and more. In the US, I collaborated amongst others with Rockwell (Somebody’s watching me) whose real name is Kennedy Gordy, son of Berry Gordy, an Icon in Black music and a wonderful man whom Michael Jackson saw as his father. Berry personally showed me around the entire Jobete offices in Hollywood and very proudly with the joy of a little kid showed me the new studio which was still under construction.
I also collaborated with Maestro Alexander Gregory who claims to have invented both the 7 and 5 stringed guitars and also to be the incarnation of Paganini and Albrecht Dürer. Recently, I have been collaborating with my dear friend Morgan Fisher, known from “Love Affair”, “Mott the Hoople” and “Queen”.
Ravi: Apart from the very wonderful voices of singers what makes a particular musical instrument your favourite and reasons?
Zanna: The voice can be the most wonderful instrument when it’s used right, which sadly isn’t always the case! I love my piano, spreading the fingers, pressing down the keys and thinking with my fingers...Piano was the first instrument I taught myself to play and I always revert to that when I want to remember a song.
Guitar has been my chosen instrument for song-writing as it is more natural for rock. It’s easy to change key and groove and so easy to transport and was my steady mate when I went busking on Portobello Rd in the 70’s. Without a solid rhythm as foundation a band is not going to create much of a groove, so I love a solid drummer and bass.
My favourite solo instruments are guitar… I love a good guitar solo…. and I also love a raunchy sax solo.
Ravi: Do you get time after teaching for the very varied musical pursuit(s)?
Zanna: I did before but since the onset of Covid 19 it is but a distant memory, hopefully to be picked up again. I have left some half ready albums in a studio waiting for my return. I was also meant to start performing with a virtuoso guitar player, singer songwriter when Covid locked the UK last year.
Ravi: What's in the offing?
Zanna: I am going to attempt to finish my albums asap.
One album of 12 lullabies 'Suite Dreams' that I wrote and recorded in Hollywood in 1995 together with former Frank Zappa musicians; Tom Fowler on bass and violin and his brother Steve, rest his soul, on flutes and saxophone. I need some guitar and a few bits more to go on.
I also have one album of “ 70’s - 80’s Heavy Rock” which I wrote in Madrid and Hollywood that needs finishing. I have recorded the foundation for a more serious rock album in 2017 with my brother Bolle on drums and our old bass player friend from Sweden Björn “Gong” Wiktor and myself on piano. Songs I wrote in Madrid and Hollywood but some also from my London time. I need various more instruments on them such as guitar and synth.
There is one album ready to go called 'Shades of Rock' with various styles of rock that I recorded some years ago.
Ravi: Your favourite vocalists...baritone and soprano?
Zanna: Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt and for Christmas Johnny Mathis rules! Favourite rock singers (as I am a rocker) are Steve Walsh (Kansas, Steve Perry (Journey), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), Glen Hughes, Ian Gillan, and Joe Lynn Turner. They are/were all really skilled singers with wide ranges and warmth to their powerful voices. I got to know some of these chaps in Denmark Street which in the 60’s and 70’s was known as London’s Tin Pan Alley with all its many studios and music shops. My Publishers - EMI Music were around the corner on Charing Cross Rd, and Screen Gems had a studio in Denmark street where I did a lot of recordings both for myself and others.
Ravi: What made you return to the UK and how many years you lived in the US and where all?
Zanna: I was 16yrs, the first time I stepped into British soil in the 60’s and my deep felt reaction was that I had arrived home! I don’t know why. Most likely because of a previous life. I lived in London during the 70’s and left in Dec 79, temporarily I thought, only to be closer to my mum who was taken ill with cancer. During the years that followed in Sweden, 1 year during which time my Mum recovered then Spain for 4 successful years with many hit songs together with many different artists. Hollywood followed for 11 years and again Sweden 7 years, I had always wanted to return. After both my parents had died, I didn’t feel I had anything holding me there. My daughters were keen to come with me to experience new adventures in Yorkshire, where I had some musician friends and my previous management had been based, so we packed up our home and moved to Cottingham outside Hull in Yorkshire!
Ravi: Prospective visit planned for India?
Zanna: India has always been a dream both for its ancient culture, philosophies, and, of course, wonderful food and Ayurvedic, ancient medicine and yoga. We will have to see what the future brings after a possible culmination of Covid and depending on the political situation.
Ravi: Your leisure/pastime and hobbies?
Zanna: I am an avid reader of both fact and fiction. I also engage myself with most creative stuff, creating with my hands, I love to cook, sew, knit, paint a little, gardening, swimming, lazing in the sun. I have tried a bit of painting and pottery and hope to find time for more of that. And I love to laugh! And I love to go to Rock Concerts! And art exhibitions. And watching movies, plus I like to have sincere communications with a few selected friends on a variety of subjects. I am very interested in the healing arts, physical, mental and emotional.
Ravi: I noticed you sing in many languages...
Zanna: I am bilingual in English and Swedish and sing in both, I can speak fairly good Spanish and quite like to sing in it! I can speak a little Danish and understand it better and know a few Danish songs. I can speak a little German and sing in it.I can speak a bit of French and sing in it I know one song in Portuguese but don't speak the lingo. I know one song in Japanese and can say a few phrases...
Ravi: What's it that synergizes your yoga and hypnosis practice to the world to music?
Zanna: First of all, Yoga is fantastic for its breathing exercises, to help expand the lungs, increase control of the airflow and pacing yourself with the air you have in your lungs. This is the most fundamental part of good singing technique. I use special breathing exercises adapted from yoga for the singer and they are fantastic.
Second, yoga opens and expands not only the lungs but also the whole body and it's many voice resonators. Yoga increases knowledge of the muscles and teaches you to recognize any tension in the body as well as releasing a lot of that tension so the voice can be produced from an open relaxed base. Third; it calms the mind and sharpens the focus and ability to openly experience music at a more personal level and is a tremendous grounding for a singer.
Hypnosis: I trained to be a clinical hypnotherapist and also an NLP master (Neuro-linguistic Programming at the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana, California. I did this in order to be able to help students with various issues such as stage fright, writer's block and voice development through retraining your thoughts and attitudes to yourself and your voice, and audience. Calming the mind, creating a sharp focus and manifesting desired outcomes. You can improve your musical skills quite dramatically by incorporating these in your practices and help motivate any area of creativity, learning, practising and performing!
A third thing that is important is diet. To be kind to your gut and eat a plain healthy diet specially designed to avoid acidity and reflux - two major culprits in sore throat and various singing difficulties.