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Local artist touring with Jimmie Van Zant Band

by Darlene J. Taylor

LIFESTYLES WRITER

Shawn Marra knew he wanted to be a drummer when he was three years old.

Twenty-four years later, he's fulfilling that dream in a big way.

The Shinnston resident was chosen by Jimmie Van Zant to be the drummer in the band that carries the famed Southern rocker's namesake.

"I destroyed quite a few drum sets as a child. My mom would get me a new one every year. I always had toy guitars and drums. Now I have the real thing," said Marra, who left last week to tour with The Jimmie Van Zant Band.

Their first gig was in Florida and from there the group will travel throughout the Midwest, up the New England coast and make a stop in Virginia for a show at BT's in Fredericksburg.

Jimmie Van Zant is first cousin to the Van Zant brothers -- the late legendary Ronnie Van Zant, original lead vocalist for "Lynyrd Skynyrd," current lead vocalist Johnnie Van Zant and Donnie Van Zant, founder of southern rock band ".38 Special."

No stranger to the local music scene, Marra began playing with area bands after winning first place in a Bandland drum competition in 1992, outplaying more than 40 drummers from all over the state.

"We took third place in a Battle of the Bands in Morgantown when I was playing with Wicked Gypsy. I also played with Hexen with John Messenger and Call Me Sanford that included former members of Amici," said the Lincoln High School graduate who has taught drums in the area.

Jessie Williams of Liberty Addition is familiar with Marra's talents.

"He used to play in my brother-in-law's band, Call Me Sanford. His name has been around a long time. I think he has what it takes to make it," said Williams, former original bass player of Three-Wheel Drive with Ray Carder and Terry Paletta.

That's exactly how Marra met Van Zant, paying his dues working the North Central West Virginia area. He was playing with Wicked Gypsy when the band got the opportunity to open for The Jimmie Van Zant Band in 1992.

Van Zant must have liked what he heard, because when his band was in need of a drummer a few months ago, he called Marra.

"I've been on tour with them for two months on the west coast and we've got about four more months to go," said the 27-year-old musician. "We're promoting the album, 'Southern Comfort.'"

THE CD is available at Camelot and NRM and licensed under J. Bird Records.

According to Marra, a Jimmie Van Zant Band concert lasts about an hour and 45 minutes and includes a complete Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute show in addition to songs from their own album.

"In one showpiece kind of thing on stage, it is just me and Jimmie on stage. I play acoustic with him," he said.

And, Shawn knows how to grab an audience, according to his father John, a retired coal mine boss who still resides in Shinnston.

"He's a real entertainer. He can bring people to their feet and really light up a crowd. I've seen him do it," said the elder Marra. "I didn't realize how much that noise meant when he beat on the drums as a child. But my wife always told me he was talented. She always encouraged and inspired him," he said of his late wife.

But the younger Marra wasn't just waiting around for his big break. When he accepted the drummer spot with Van Zant, he was heading his own band, Mother Load.

"I'm working on a CD with fellow members, Roy Moore on lead and rhythm guitar, and Bob Jackson on bass. In the studio, I do the drum and guitar tracks as well as the vocals. When we tour I'll have a different drummer," said Marra, who also wrote the music on their album, along with Moore and Jackson.

He did have to push back the album release date from mid-fall to the first of next year due to the Van Zant tour.

"I'm very anxious to get back on the road and get these shows under my belt. I'm from the hills and want to get home and work on my own album.

"I definitely miss West Virginia when I'm on the road," said Marra, alluding to one of his singles "I'm from the Hills," that just may turn out to be the name of their debut release.

For more concert information log on to www.pollstar.com.

Lifestyles writer Darlene Taylor can be reached at 626-1442 or dtaylor@exponent-telegram.com.

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