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Zager, Michael (3 January 1943–Present)

Arranger, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer from Passaic, New Jersey, who began his musical adventure on the violin when he was only in the third grade.  While still in school, he learned bass, clarinet, and sax.  Eventually he gravitated to the keyboards and settled on them.  As a teenager, he performed at bar mitzvahs and weddings.  He also took part in various school bands throughout junior high school and university.

The first university he attended was the University of Miami, from whence he graduated with a B.A.  He went on to acquire a degree in composition at the Mannes College of Music.  Not content to end his formal education there, he matriculated to the Julliard School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, studying arranging, composition, conducting, and orchestration.  He spent some time in the army and it was here that he began writing songs.

In 1968, he co-founded Ten Wheel Drive with Aram Schefrin.  They added singer GenyaRavan to their ranks plus seven others to round out the ten.  Their personnel was a revolving door of musicians, but the aforementioned threesome comprised the core of the group.  Michael wrote the music, Aram wrote lyrics, and the two of them co-arranged, with Genya pitching in the odd song and taking care of lead vocals.  They released their debut LP, Construction #1, in 1969.  This was followed up by Brief Replies and Peculiar Friends, released in 1970 and 1971, respectively.  After Polydor refused to let them record their rock opera, Little Big Horn, Genya became disillusioned and quit the band.  The trio reunited in 1972 to work on Genya’s solo debut, with Aram and Michael handling production duties.  Ten Wheel Drive released an eponymous album on Capitol Records in 1974, but Aram decided to leave the band and become a lawyer.

Michael got into film and television, composing music for commercials, movies, and TV shows.  He had some top-shelf clients including Budweiser, Buick, Burger King, IBM, Kodak, Maxwell House Coffee, MCI, and Volvo.  Neither was his in-studio talent of the garden variety:  He persuaded acts such as The Chi-Lites, Kool & The Gang and The Spinners to come in and sing the voice tracks.  Raquel Welch even did one of his ads for Crystal Light.  In 1975, he got a taste of chart success with “Life and Death in G&A” on the Roulette label, with Love Childs Afro-Cuban Blues Band.

Michael teamed up with Jerry Love, ex-A&R man at A&M, to form Love-ZagerProductions.  Under this umbrella, they issued a single entitled “Do it with Feeling”, which was alternately credited to Michael Zager & The Moon Band and Michael Zager’s Moon Band.  A singer by the name of Peabo Bryson had been smart enough to place himself inside the studio and was plucked to sing lead vocals.  The song went to #3 on the disco chart and #15 on Club Play.  Simplifying their name to The Michael Zager Band, which was essentially a group of session musicians, the bandmaster released his magnum opus in 1977, a song called “Let’s All Chant”.  It topped the charts in the States and the U.K. as well as other countries around the world.  An album of the same name was released in 1978.

In the meantime, Love Childs Afro-Cuban Blues Band was catching fire and reached #13 on the disco chart with the title track from SpanDisco.  They dropped Love Childs from their name and scored a hit with another title track, “Rhythm of Life”, this time on the Arista.  The band followed this up with another chart-climber, “Have a Real Good Time”, in 1979.  In spite of these successes, Arista wasted little time promoting them, and Michael decided to pick up his toys and go home.

With one less band to worry about, he focused his attention on The Michael Zager Band and their next enterprise, Life’s a Party.  The album features a 14-year-old Whitney Houston singing vocals on “You Don’t Know a Good Thing”.

He also arranged, conducted, co-wrote and produced the music on The Spinners album,Dancin’ and Lovin’.  The tracks include “Disco Ride”, penned by Michael and JolyonSkinner and Eltesa Weathersby, and “Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl”, the second song of which was penned by Michael alone.  The combination would work again in on “Cupid/I’ve Loved You for a Long Time”, with Michael again writing the back half of the medley.

In 1980, The Michael Zager Band issued the simply titled Zager, featuring guest vocalists Luther Vandross and Deniece Williams, who lent her vocals to “Time Heals Every Wound”.  Time had run out on the disco era, however, and the days of disco-themed hits were finite.  Ironically, Michael’s music is included in the motion picture, The Last Days of Disco.

Recently, he re-emerged with another band, Moving Images, who recorded the smooth-jazz CD, South Beach Wind.

Michael has also been active in the realm of music education.  His publications include Music Production and Writing Music for Television and Radio Commercials (A Manual for Composers and Students).  In addition to teaching at his former school, Mannes College of Music, he is a music professor at Boca Raton’s Florida Atlantic University, where he also boasts the prestigious title, Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in Performing Arts.

The Spinners recordings
Disco Ride (Jolyon Skinner/Eltesa Weathersby/Michael Zager)
Working My Way Back to You/Forgive Me Girl (Sandy Linzer/Denny Rondell/Michael Zager)