Rosie Vela

Band members                             Related acts

- Roseanne 'Rosie' Vela -- vocals, synthesizers


  supporting musicians:

- Walter Becker (RIP 2018) -- lead guitar

- Michael Been -- lead guitar

- Jim Bralower -- drums, percussion

- Rick Derringer -- lead guitar

- Donald Fagen -- synthesizers

- Jimmy Haslip -- bass

- Jim Keltner -- drums, percussion

- Neil Stubenhaus -- bass

- Aaron Zigman -- synthesizers




- none known





Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Zazu

Company: A&M

Catalog: SP 5016

Country/State: Galveston, Texas

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: promo stamp on back cover

Available: 3

Catalog ID: 5551

Price: $40.00


also available: 2 sealed copies $50.00 each


C'mon, how is it that the powers that be decide to gift some people with all sorts of talents while the bulk of us get short changed ...  Rosie Vela was clearly in the former category - fashion model, actress, songwriter, singer/recording artist ...  friend of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.  Doesn't seem fair does it ...


Drawn largely from her website (found at, here's an executive summary of Vela's life.  


- Born in Galveston, Texas December 18 1954.

- 1970 her family divorces and she moves to Little Rock, Arkansas with her father and brother.

- Attended University of Arkansas where she majored in art and music.

- Started her modeling career when a college friend took some photos of Vela that caught the attention of the Kim Dawson modeling agency.

- Married local musician Jimmy Roberts (member of the band Rayburn), who sadly died of cancer within a couple of months.

- 1974 quit school, relocated to New York and began working for the  Wilhelmina and then Ford modeling agencies which landed her on the cover of Vogue multiple times, as well as the Neiman Marcus catalog, Michelob, Maybelline, and Virginia Slims marketing campaign.



With her modeling career in high gear, in the mid-1980s Vela built a studio in the New York apartment she shared with artist Peter Max and started focusing on music.  She sent a demo to A&M President Jerry Moss and was quickly signed to a contract (being a model probably didn't hurt). 1986's "Zazu" teamed her with producer Gary Katz and attracted most of it's notoriety from the fact Walter Becker and Donald Fagen reunited for the first time since "Gaucho" to play on the album.  Perhaps nothing more than an urban legend, but supposedly Becker was looking for Katz when he stumbled into one of the recording sessions and was impressed enough to ask if he could provide support.  He then brought Fagen into the sessions.   To some extent the Steely Dan connection must have been both a blessing and a curse.  Overlooking Vela's obvious attractions, to my ears it's easy to see why Becker and Fagen wanted to work with Vela.  With Vela responsible for penning all nine album tracks, like Becker and Fagen, she  had a penchant for oddball, jazz-influenced melodies, coupled with dark, frequently idiosyncratic and deeply personal lyrics.  That also led to comparisons with Joni Mitchell, though I'd argue Kate Bush was a better baseline.  At least to my ears Vela's work was far more commercial than either Mitchell or Bush's catalogs.  I'm using the term 'commercial' loosely since with the possible exceptions of the ballad 'Sunday' and up-tempo '2nd Emotion; none of these songs had what you'd consider to be a top-40 hook.  That certainly didn't stop them from clawing their way into your head.  Vela's voice certainly had the power of Heart's Ann Wilson, coupled with a bit of the grity Stevie Nicks brought to her work.  On tracks like 'Magic Smile' and 'Interlude' the results were best described as a highly seductive smoky growl.  A minor complaint, but looking back at the set, some of  the songs sported a dated synthesizer and syndrum dominated mid-1980s sound (check out 'Tonto').  Whereas that makes lots of album virtually unlistenable, the quality of Vela's songwriter was such that you could overlook that particular shortcoming.  All told this is a fantastic album that should have found a major audience when releases.  Still, there was a clear Steely Dan feel to the material, which meant your opinions on the Steely Dan catalog were likely to have a major impact on what you thought of this album.  


"Zazu" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Fool's Paradise  (Rosie Vela) - 4:00   rating: ** stars


Vela certainly had an impressive voice; deep and slightly rugged, but no matter her good her voice, the stereo-typed '80s production effects on this one - syndrums, synthesizer washes, Toto-styled lead guitar, coupled with her arched delivery made 'Fool's Paradise' sound like an outtake from a Miami Vice episode.   The track was tapped as a British single:


1986's 'Fools Paradise' b/w 'Tonto' (A&M catalog number AM-396) 





2.) Magic Smile  (Rosie Vela) - 4:24   rating: **** stars

To my ears 'Easy Smile' always had a Steely Dan vibe.  Slinky and slightly ominous, the sound was perfect for Vela's sultry voice.  The track was also released as the leadoff US single:

- 1986's 'Magic Smile' b/w 'Second Emotion' (A&M catalog number AM-2856)   YouTube has the accompanying promotional video at:   YoutUbe also has a clip of her performing the song for an October, 2016 appearance on the David Letterman Show.  The hair was pretty big and she sounded a little flat, but it was still an interesting performance.  She got the gig when Bob Seger cancelled at the last minute.  Letterman was apparently pretty steamed with his no-show: 
3.) Interlude  (Rosie Vela) - 3:55  
rating: *** stars

The opening synthesizer squalls certainly had a Donald Fagen feel.  After that 'Interlude' settled down into a decent, slightly jazz-tinged, mid-tempo ballad.  Imagine Stevie Nicks without some of the needless drama.  Pretty tune that avoided some of the '80s excesses that plagued other tracks on the album, but I can't say I found it to be particularly commercial.  That didn't stop A&M from releasing it as a single:

- 1986's 'Interlude' b/w 'Taxi' (A&M catalog number AM-2886)  They also released a promotion video for the tune: 
4.) Tonto  (Rosie Vela) - 5:38  
rating: **** stars

Vela and Steely Dan decide to get down and funky; well in a jazzy Steely Dan style.  It took awhile for the song to kick into gear, but when it finally did the results were quite impressive.

(side 2)
1.) Sunday  (Rosie Vela) - 4:31
   rating: **** stars

Vela certainly had an interesting voice and she seldom sounded as good as on the ballad 'Sunday'.   Imagine a cross between Ann Wilson and Stevie Nicks and you'll get a feel for what this one sounded like.  This was the tune I would have tapped as a single.
2.) Taxi  (Rosie Vela ) - 3:25  
rating: ** stars

Welcome to the '80s.  The album's first real disappointment, 'Taxi' was all hyper sensitivity and shadows. You kept waiting for the song to go somewhere and it never did.
3.) 2nd Emotion   (Rosie Vela - F. Doddy, and J. Guthrie) - 4:46  
rating: **** stars

Opening up with some awesome lead guitar (Walter Becker?), '2nd Emotion' made it clear Vela could handle a more up-tempo song.  Another one that would have been a better choice for a single than those A&M marketing selected.  The multi-tracked harmonies were sweet.   
4.) Boxs  (Rosie Vela) - 3:52  
rating: *** stars

Okay ballad ...  the song's highlight came via the guitar solo was quite impressive..
5.) Zazu  (Rosie Vela ) - 4:46  
rating: **** stars

The title track served as the album's jazziest undertaking (which probably thrilled Becker and Fagen).  Me, not so much.  Actually, like a good Steely Dan tune, the lyrics were abstract and mysterious; subject to all sorts of interpretation.  In spite of the abstract lyrics, I'll admit this one grew on me.   



Coupled with a video that saw some action on MTV, the singles generate a little bit of airplay, but in spite of Vela also hitting the road in opening for The Fixx and a solo Andy Summers, the album did little on the US market.  In contrast, in the UK 'Magic Smile' went top-30, while the LP hit # 18.



Following the album's release Vela returned to modeling and sessions as a backup singer  She appeared in the film "Inside Edge" (which I think went straight to video release ), and began writing music for soundtracks, including co-writing a track from the British flick "Still Crazy".  

There are actually two more Vela albums.   Four years after releasing "Zazu" she returned to the studio recording a collection that was tentatively titled "Sun Across the Alter".   Unfortunately, just as the album was being finished, A&M was bought out by Polydor Records.  Polydor executives were unhappy with the results and pushed her to rerecord the album with a metal-orientation.  She refused and subsequently split with the company.  Almost two decades later the project remains shelved.


In 1994 Vela started recording a third album with help from longtime friend Jeff Lynne.  A car accident saw the project go into hiatus.  Sessions started again, but were then put on hold when Vela started working with Lynne on various Electric Light Orchestra projects, including helping to compile and remaster the 3 CD retrospective "Flashback".  She also worked with Lynne on the 2001 ELO reunion set "Zoom".