Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sad news: Drummer Michael Lee has died

I've just learned of the unexpected passing of drummer Michael Lee, who collaborated with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on tour and in the studio for several years.

Michael drummed for Robert Plant beginning with the recording of his 1993 album Fate of Nations. He can be heard on that album's "Memory Song (Hello Hello)" and "Network News."

Robert Plant asked him to go on tour as the drummer for his tour, and he gladly accepted. They spent some time opening for Lenny Kravitz on that tour. Led Zeppelin's singer was closing his sets with "Whole Lotta Love," and Michael Lee was a major part of it all.

A keen sense of timing is one thing a good drummer should have. Michael's was great since Robert Plant's next career move was to reteam with Jimmy Page. Half of Led Zeppelin was playing regularly for the first time in 15 years and, Michael was along for the ride. He drummed for the Unledded sessions and promoted the No Quarter album release with Page and Plant.

As Page and Plant then took their band on tour for the next year, Lee may have been the world's most-watched drummer. They trotted across the globe and packed houses while they put a new twist on Led Zeppelin's music with local orchestras and an assembly of Lebanese, Egyptian and Moroccan musicians. But when they were just a fourpiece playing Led Zeppelin songs, they were very much like Led Zeppelin.



Whoever filmed this rare live rendition of "Achilles Last Stand" played in Atlanta in 1995 liked getting shots of Michael Lee's rat-a-tat-tat.


The one thing Page and Plant hadn't done with their new group that whole time was write some new material. Finally, Michael got the chance to participate in some songwriting sessions in 1997. As a result, he and bassist Charlie Jones are credited alongside Page and Plant as co-writing every song on Walking into Clarksdale. The scaled-down fourpiece band embarked on a tour in 1998 to support this album.

The two times I saw Michael Lee play live were during this tour, on July 7 and 10. Thanks to some videos, I've also been able to enjoyed several other shows with Michael Lee on drums. My favorite memory of his drumming is how he threw himself into the quick drum solo at the end of "Rock and Roll" so much that he once accidentally hit his forehead with a drum stick. Then he was joking about it before the next show to fans, and he jokingly compared the lump on his head to the ones Bugs Bunny would get in the cartoons.

It was just before some 1999 tour dates that Robert Plant slipped away from Page and took Charlie Jones with him. Michael Lee evidently stayed with Jimmy Page, as Lee was there for the very next live appearance with Page, which took place in October 1999 at Net Aid. They unveiled a new instrumental at that show, "Domino," and to this date, it stands as the only original number Page has released since Walking into Clarksdale. Since Michael Lee was there for that too, it's pretty clear how important he was in the ongoing story of Led Zeppelin's former members in the 1990s.

Michael Lee, also known as Michael Gary Pearson, will be missed.

12 comments:

  1. Just a small correction, Steve -

    The Achilles performance is from Atlanta (February 28, 1995) - the second and final time that Page and Plant played that particular epic together post-Zeppelin.

    The Tea For One video is from Japan - February xx, 1996.

    Nice write-up though - it's very sad news. My problems were mostly with Charlie Jones's bass playing on the Page & Plant shows. I thought Lee was pretty good for the most part. As you said - he had his own style and was not trying to replicate John Bonham (which would have been impossible).

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  2. This is terrible news but a great post. Thanks for writing it. Michael was one of my favourite drummers, and I've linked to your post on my blog. http://iheartguitar.blogspot.com/

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    1. I liked his drumming in thank you. every bit as intense as Bonham. old bonzo would have been proud! r.i.p. and "thank you"

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  3. My wife and I were watching the Unledded DVD the other night and being a musician my whole life I tend to notice great drummers.They played Gallows Pole and I was blown away by this guy. He played with such intensity.I mean to have to try to live up to Bonham is hard enough.May you rest in peace brother, your life was too short but you kicked ass while you were here.Thank you from a fan.

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  4. chrisrockerald@cox.netNovember 25, 2008 at 8:29 PM

    michael lee rocked.never saw him with page&plant but with thin lizzy and he was awesome.his drumming performance was the closest thing to brian downey that i have ever seen.you will be missed.r.i.p. michael

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  5. Any body remember 4 sticks?that version that Michael lee did on the unleded mtv version would be the last time you're ever to likely to seeing done properly .He did the song real justice.

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  6. This is really sad...I remember seeing him in his Little Angels days!

    Another great musician up in heaven - rock in peace, fella :-(

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  7. Oh I just cant believe he's gone. Your right Deborah one of my favorite performances was the four sticks, personaly I liked just the way he played. Such sad sad news. R.I.P. Michael. Does anyone know what happened? Doesnt really matter, just wondering.

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  8. I'm sorry to have to post this, but I was mostly unimpressed with Michael Lee. Most of Clarksdale is forgettable (save Most High, or as I refer to it Kashmir II), and I'm sure he had little to do with that album. He was playing zeppelin tunes and should have tried to emulate Bonham as best he could. I saw P&P in Detroit, and the drumming was perhaps my least favorite part of the ensemble. I've got nothing against Michael Lee, just that I don't believe he was as good a fit as Jason is now. JMHO, DC4

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  9. rip uncle michael

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  10. Alex from Bulgaria...
    I've just understood about his passage :(. Almost 2 years later. He was great musician and i am fortunate that i had the please to see his with Page & Plant on 2nd of march in 1998:))). He had the Led Zep feeling, that powerful drumming, the timing, the accents...
    Rest in peace!

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  11. Drum solo on rock n roll was no Bonham...

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