Thursday, December 23, 2004

Led Zeppelin members all working on solo albums

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

As announced in October, Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation will have a new album out in the new year. The title of the record to be released in or around March 2005 will be Another Tribe, according to an interview for Mojo magazine summarized by Siarl Davies for Tight But Loose [Update: This working title was subsequently changed to Mighty ReArranger].

Plant's eighth solo effort since the breakup of Led Zeppelin has been described as "a mixture of Delta blues and North African stuff, with a nice fireside lute-driven ballad too." These are the influences Plant spoke of in liner notes he wrote in August 2003 for Sixty Six to Timbuktu, a career-spanning double album.

The singer from the British Midlands expounded on his admiration for a lifetime of influences, stating: "I heard the voices of the high Atlas and pre-Saharan Morocco, the sound from the last juke-joints of south-side Chicago and the buzz of after-hours backstreet Bombay, performances so beautiful, remote and contrasting that I was never to recover."

In that message, Plant also stated that more creative output was on the way. "With abundant new material developing rapidly and connections in Morocco and West Africa moving at a pace unimagined back in '71, the future is ahead - bright ahead," he wrote. For that, he credits his diverse and powerful band, currently made up of Justin Adams and Liam "Skin" Tyson on guitars, Clive Deamer on drums, John Baggott on keyboards, and Billy Fuller on bass. "The musicians make this thing work," said Plant.

Also as recently announced, Robert Plant is not the only ex-member of Led Zeppelin hoping to release a new album in the new year. Both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones are said to be working on separate recording projects. A brief clip of a new Jones opus can be heard in the Flash intro to his Web site, www.johnpauljones.com, where a Nov. 7 posting updates his progress.

"I have now started to write and record for the new album," he said. "I'm sort of doing both things at the same time, a new approach that I am hoping will make for a more organic process." After detailing a mandolin festival he'd taken time out to attend and participate in, Jones concluded his message: "So, all of my instruments have been restrung, no small matter, and I am writing / playing / practising / listening / singing / recording / walking, anything and everything necessary to get the music flowing!"

Meanwhile, sources say Page's project will pit the guitarist alongside several guest musicians with a different guitar for every song.

So, my dear friends, if everything goes as planned, there will be three new albums from the ex-members of Led Zeppelin in 2005. [Update: Only Plant delivered a solo album in 2005.] Many years have passed since the days that group walked this earth, and their music has evolved with that time. It would be impossible for them at this stage to try to recreate their earlier moments. However, as Robert Plant would attest, it is great fun to look back at it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Tribute to John Peel

These comments originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

John Peel, the disc jockey at the British Broadcasting Corporation who gave Led Zeppelin possibly its biggest break in the U.K. media, has died.

Principals of the music industry and fellow media moguls are currently paying tribute to Peel, who has been on the radio since the 1960s, most famously leading Top Gear, a BBC Radio 1 program that since 1967 has explored the far reaches of music's most experimental acts.

Jimmy Page had some unkind things to say about the BBC in 1969 because the government-controlled corporation running the airwaves left little room for any unconventional acts. "The BBC have effectively killed the progress of 'underground' music," Page said. But in the same breath, he did praise two particular DJs by name. "It's only John Peel and that other guy, Pete Drummond, who can play any of the good stuff," the guitarist commented.

And so it was fitting that when Led Zeppelin first agreed to appear on BBC radio, the maiden voyage to Maida Vale Studios in London was for John Peel's Top Gear. The trip to the studio came on March 3, 1969, just two months after the release of the group's debut album. Recall that Led Zeppelin insisted on not releasing singles in the United Kingdom. While a single of "Good Times Bad Times" backed with "Communication Breakdown" was released in the United States, Led Zeppelin performed neither of these songs on its initial BBC session. Instead, the group chose the six-and-a-half-minute opus "Dazed and Confused," complete with an instrumental break during which Page attacked and ground his guitar with a violin bow, plus takes of the blues songs "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby." During the latter, Robert Plant sang a verse from Muddy Waters' tune, "19 Years Old." Peel aired the exclusive in-studio takes of these songs 20 days later on "Top Gear," and the tracks now grace the beginning of Led Zeppelin's 2-CD set, BBC Sessions, released in 1997.

After a tour of North America in the spring of 1969, Led Zeppelin returned to England in June and included on its itinerary another stop in London for John Peel's Top Gear, among other programs. The June 24 recording session for Top Gear resulted in versions of "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Communication Breakdown," "Whole Lotta Love" and Led Zeppelin's only performance of "Travelling Riverside Blues," which was rooted in the music of Robert Johnson, who was king of the delta blues. These versions, which aired only five days later, are also available on BBC Sessions.

After an absence of two years from BBC appearances, Led Zeppelin returned on another program of John Peel's, BBC Rock Hour. The group was completing a "Return to the Clubs" tour throughout the United Kingdom, restoring Zeppelin to some of the smaller venues it had played on earlier outings as well as other pubs and clubs. The final date of this tour (originally scheduled for March 25, 1971, but rescheduled for one week later because Plant had been experiencing voice problems) was April 1, 1971, at the Paris Theater in London. Peel hosted the evening's event, recording it for the episode of BBC Rock Hour airing three days later. This, too, is available today on the BBC Sessions album.

Of Led Zeppelin's performances for the BBC, nobody was there for more of them than John Peel. He appreciated the fine nuances that made great music just off-course, compared to your everyday pop sensations who fit the mold. During his career, Peel gave voice to more than a generation of burgeoning musical acts that otherwise may have slipped into obscurity without a nod of appreciation. Peel had an ear for these artists, and he made many of them what they are.

Friday, October 15, 2004

John Paul Jones working on projects including next solo album

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

This summer, I had the pleasure of once again meeting John Paul Jones. He was on tour with Mutual Admiration Society, as had been announced at his official Web site, www.johnpauljones.com. I met up with Jones for the last two shows of the tour and was happy to spend some time with him backstage. He remembered me clearly from our four-hour interview in 2001, and when somebody backstage mentioned my name, he asked for security to let me in!

The concerts I saw were sensational. For me, the highlight was not that the band played two familiar songs from Jones' past; it was the top-notch playing of all six musicians at each show, along with the obvious camaraderie they all have for each other. There truly is no better name for the group than Mutual Admiration Society.

Jones raved about the tour when he returned to England. "The whole experience has been immensely enjoyable and I have found myself inspired by the great musicianship (and energy!) of my fellow bandmates," he wrote on his Web site Aug. 25. "It is a pleasure to work with people who are not only extremely talented but who have a great enthusiasm for any and every kind of music, and they can play it!"

The six-member touring group was a conglomeration of all three members of the modern bluegrass band Nickel Creek, fronted by Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Campbell, plus Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, who played on all of Jones' solo albums and tours since 1999. In my opinion, the star of the band turned out to be Nickel Creek's mandolin player, Chris Thile, who told the audience that he wants to take lessons from John Paul Jones on how to rock. But Jones countered that he, himself, needs to take lessons from Chris Thile on playing mandolin.

Jones' Web posting also thanks all the fans who turned up to support Mutual Admiration Society. He wrote: "It was so nice to be appreciated by Zep, Toad, and NC fans, rock and bluegrass fans alike. Diversity and the crossing of borders has for me always been one of the most interesting aspects of making music, (something those that know me may have already guessed!) but we need a ready, willing and open-minded audience to complete the experience, thank you for being just that."

Jones then said something really juicy (and The Lemon likes juicy): "I hope now to spend the next few months writing and recording for my next solo album and attempt to turn all this inspiration into hard currency whilst the fingers are hot and the brain is buzzing."

Since 1999, Jones has released two self-produced, full-length solo albums, setting the tone of his performing career as a multi- instrumentalist dabbling in hard blues-based rock, down-home folk, and everything in between. The first of these albums, Zooma, was all instrumental, but Jones sang on four songs of his 2001 follow-up, The Thunderthief. There is no official word yet as to the direction Jones' new album will take.

Robert Plant and Strange Sensation preparing new album

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Robert Plant is said to be involved with his Strange Sensation backing band on a new album. It would be the follow-up to Plant's studio album Dreamland, released in June 2002. This June, the Web site of Strange Sensation member Justin Adams, www.justinadams.co.uk, hinted that the band had begun working on Plant's next album and that it could possibly be released in spring 2005.

On Dreamland, the singer covered seven songs that had haunted and inspired him for years. "I wanted to put myself and the musicianship of the people around me into these tunes and breathe some new life out of them," Plant said upon the album's release. The following August, he submitted eloquent words for liner notes in his career- spanning two-CD retrospective album, Sixty Six to Timbuktu. Expounding on his admiration for a lifetime of influences, he wrote: "I heard the voices of the high Atlas and pre-Saharan Morocco, the sound from the last juke-joints of south-side Chicago and the buzz of after-hours backstreet Bombay, performances so beautiful, remote and contrasting that I was never to recover."

Dreamland also included two new band compositions (the U.K. version also included a third), each of which is credited to Robert Plant and band. He has alluded to other songs having been written two years ago but not included on Dreamland. He also speaks proudly and extensively about the way Strange Sensation writes fresh material. "The musicians make this thing work," he said. His diverse and powerful band is currently made up of Justin Adams and Liam "Skin" Tyson on guitars, Clive Deamer on drums, John Baggott on keyboards, and Billy Fuller on bass.

In a message penned in August 2003 and included in the liner notes of Sixty Six to Timbuktu, Plant states bluntly that more creative output is on the way: "With abundant new material developing rapidly and connections in Morocco and West Africa moving at a pace unimagined back in '71, the future is ahead - bright ahead."

Reports: Jimmy Page to release Santana-style album

This news originally appeared at the Web site for the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

There is chatter that Jimmy Page currently has a new solo album in the works. This would be his first since the 1988 release of Outrider, which contained several original rock instrumentals, one new collaboration with Robert Plant, and the single "Wasting My Time."

The U.K. newspaper The Independent reported Aug. 27, 2004, that Page "is currently planning an album with guest musicians, along the lines of the recent Santana albums."

A blurb in a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine provides further insight, stating that "each track would feature him playing a different, rare guitar" and that one ax rumored to have been owned by Chuck Berry has been provided by singer-songwriter Dan Hicks.

More details on Page's new project will be provided as they become available.

Since touring in 1988 for Outrider, Page teamed up with Whitesnake singer David Coverdale to write and record an album of new material, Coverdale/Page. This led to his highly successful 1994-1998 reunion with Robert Plant, including the Unledded album and video (finally being released on DVD this month), multiple large-scale tours, and 1998's Walking into Clarksdale, Page and Plant's first collaborative album of all-new material since Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door in 1979. In 1999 and 2000, Page toured extensively with the Black Crowes, releasing Live at the Greek, a two-CD live set of their concert material.

While a back injury has hindered Page's concert appearances since 2000, the guitarist has continued to make in-person appearances and work on various Led Zeppelin projects. These included the production of the Led Zeppelin live sets How the West Was Won and DVD, released simultaneously in May 2003.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Page-Plant concert movie playing one day this month; Reunion's 10th anniversary heralded with 'Unledded' in theaters Oct. 26

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the television premiere of Unledded, MTV's special reuniting Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The 1994 show contained musical segments filmed two months earlier in England, Wales and Morocco, with Eastern-influenced remakes of Led Zeppelin songs such as "No Quarter" and "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Page and Plant enjoyed additional support from four musicians from Marrakech, an Egyptian ensemble and the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

Home video and CD releases captured their performances, but Unledded has never been released on DVD or screened inside a movie theater. All that changes this month to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's reunion. The Unledded DVD was released earlier this week in the United Kingdom. The U.S. release will be Tuesday, Oct. 26, along with a reissue of the No Quarter album including songs previously not included on CD.

But the big news is the theatrical premiere of Unledded in 44 selected cities across the United States that day. According to promotional material, "These original performances have now been personally re-mixed by Jimmy Page and are brought to you -- one night only -- in 5.1 surround audio." Click here to purchase tickets online for admission at the theater nearest you.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Led Zepland, you got the chops

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

One of Jimmy Page's first actions after turning 60 years old last month was to sit in an audience to see a replica of his younger self in action. The news that Page went to see a Led Zeppelin tribute band came to me during a recent visit to TBL/Web.

A link from that site took me to a group photo with their special guest. At right, the group's drummer has the look to play John Bonham. At left, the group's John Paul Jones reminds me more of Mick Fleetwood. And in the center, the real Page wraps his arms around the two others -- the singer, an accurate Robert Plant look-alike from Ireland, and the guitarist. Aside from the black dragon outfit that clearly screams out Page, I'd say this guy resembles the offspring of Queen guitarist Brian May and saxophonist Kenny G. Led Zepagain is a hodgepodge from a visual standpoint, but Jimmy was reportedly impressed with the music in their backstage meet that night.

Upon learning of Page's guilty pleasures, I thought to myself: If a man of Jimmy's wise, old age is "Going to California" (pardon the pun) to watch a Led Zeppelin tribute band, then why shouldn't Steve "The Lemon" Sauer have a similar experience? I was flying to Orange County on business in a few days, and I'd heard of another tribute band in the area that had a buzz following it, Led Zepland. I decided that while I was in the area, I'd check out the tribute action to see what the hubbub was all about.

A few days in advance, I told guitarist Gary "London" Lohre that I was on my way. Now, truly, I know I am just a news reporter and student of journalism who honed his skills early with a specialized newsletter dedicated to Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham. I'm no god. I'm not even Cameron Crowe. But for some reason, when I met Gary and the rest of the band, I received celebrity treatment. The drummer offered to be my chauffeur, just like Bonham who offered to be Led Zeppelin's official driver for a few extra quid. The tribute band took me out with them between sets to a pub down the street, and the drinks were on them.

All four guys were eager to know how I thought they measured up, and I was happy to report to each one: "You got the chops." This was especially welcome news for vocalist Shawn Kelly, a tall specimen with all of Plant's classic onstage moves in full effect. As Shawn downed a single shot of J├Ągermeister next to me, he said it was one of a few good treatments he knew to keep his high voice in shape for the second set. (I was quizzed as to what happened on that late January day in Led Zeppelin history; I said I didn't remember exactly but was pretty sure every day that week had something to do with Plant getting the flu, sounding awful and canceling some tour dates.) We discussed Plant's Achilles heel, so to speak, which was belting out high-intensity, high-range chestnuts night after night for years straight. Shawn assured me he knew how to save himself from the fate Plant suffered in the mid '70s when his voice could no longer match that of earlier in the decade.

Two seats from me, drummer Scott Misner was also pleased to learn I was impressed by his playing. (Or was he more relieved than pleased?) Although a veteran drummer, as the newest member of Led Zepland, he said he was just starting to gel with the band. Scott also told me it was the first time he was in a band where he'd have to specialize in playing the licks of one particular drummer. It sounded to me as if he'd been playing that way his whole life. Scott said his pre-school-aged daughter already has a mini drum set and would hopefully learn from her father. Yes, he knew that's what John Bonham did for his son Jason by bestowing upon the boy a scaled-down version of his own kit.

Out and about elsewhere, the bass and keyboards player came by the pub for a drink and then probably spent the rest of the 15- minute break scouting for another party, or for his beloved lady. How eerily it was like John Paul Jones had told me in Philadelphia back in 2001: He partied just as much as the other guys in the group, but the reason he wasn't spotted as much was because he'd be off somewhere else doing the partying. I suppose that's what the story is with John Baxter, a multi-instrumentalist who later that night showed himself versatile enough to play bass on "Thank You" for the first time ever, allowing yours truly to edge in on one of his two Kawai keyboards.

If I were limited to naming one musical highlight of the evening, doing so would be neglecting dozens of moments that, to me as a Led Zeppelin fan, were indispensable. As I said, they all have the chops. Recalling each individual, I can think of at least one personal highlight: John Baxter's nimble bass playing on "What Is and What Should Never Be," Shawn Kelly's groovy Valhalla wail and tambourine shaking on "Immigrant Song," and Scott Misner's impromptu drum solo bridge connecting "How Many More Times" into "Out on the Tiles" just before the end of the first set.

For me, the real treat was seen standing on stage left, dressed in a black shirt with yellow stars alongside the collar, and playing a guitar. Man, does Gary "London" Lohre ever have the chops! He clearly demonstrated this over and over that night, but especially during a vicious run-through of "Dazed and Confused" for which he played the second half with a broken string dangling from his ax. Gary also treated us to a markedly crowd-pleasing "Heartbreaker" solo. The guy's amazing.

After an encore, the band members disappeared and then quickly reassembled in their street clothes, without their wigs and gimmicks to make them appear the part. The only ones I could easily recognize was Shawn, who really is a smiling, tall blond guy in his natural state, and Gary, who makes no apologies for not looking like the guitar hero, standing at a monstrous height with blond hair hanging below his shoulders. John and Scott, though, would be hard to pick in a lineup.

On the way home, chauffeur Scott told me he's already ordered a custom Bonham mustache made by a former FBI employee who'd worked in making false facial hair and wardrobes for undercover agents. Plus, the band has been working on adding some new material to the set lists -- that is, "new" as in "When the Levee Breaks" and a few others from the Zeppelin catalog. After all these years, it looks like the boys truly were right: "The Song Remains the Same." Visit Led Zepland, the ultimate tribute, on the Web here.