Thursday, January 22, 2009

'Surreal' intoned second time in a week to describe Zeppelin close encounters

Is it a common word where some people are from? Some people, two this week in fact, have described their recent meetings with Led Zeppelin rock stars by using the word "surreal."

The first, we saw Tuesday when a member of rock band Alter Bridge confirmed reports that he had been under consideration to sing for Led Zeppelin or some offshoot band. He described his opportunity to play with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones (plus Jason Bonham, has anybody confirmed?) as "a good experience" and -- this part's important -- "surreal."

Keep that word in mind. It's been used again. A blogger has just labeled "surreal" his change bumping into Robert Plant in public the other day.

The second time in a week! Dare I say that coincidence is ... surreal?

Well, it's true. The second mention is in a blog describing an encounter with Robert Plant in Nashville as "surreal."

As a reminder, Plant's been spotted in Nashville a few times this month, as he's in a studio with Alison Krauss and singing under the tutelage of producer T Bone Burnett, an artist with a creative and directive vision. One woman ran into him in a mall, and he consented to a quick snapshot.

Wonder which mall they were at. I spent some time last summer playing expensive mandolins inside the Gibson guitar showcase/factory at the Opry Mills mall. Same place I had beers with a bartender from Ohio before my afternoon showing of The Dark Knight in IMAX.

Now that was surreal.

I digress. I was talking about why Plant was in Nashville.

He's just gotten a mysterious song list from Burnett, back around the holidays, announcing the songs that will glitter his next album with Alison Krauss. She got the list too. Both singers were allowed to pitch in some songs too, but no more than three each. The album, this one the follow-up to a critically acclaimed collaboration of 2007, is really the brainchild of T Bone.

Plant's probably playing CDs of these recordings in his car. And he's heading out every day, just being a normal person. Rock star? No way. This is Robert. Just some guy named R. A. Plant. And tries not to answer to the name "Percy" when strangers recognize him.

But folks do encounter him. Is it "surreal" though?

Someone thinks so.

Anybody heard of Daniel Tashian? Member of the Silver Seas. If you don't know it, I don't either.

Well, anyway, this guy runs into Plant. Plant doesn't know him either. Guy recognizes him. Plant says hello.

They're at the Mirror. Tapas menu. Good wine selection. Not exceedingly pricey.

Plant's sitting there by himself. Dude goes over. Conjuring their connection in T Bone Burnett, the dude starts to announce he'd done a record with T Bone.

Plant nods. Sure. Hell, half the country has.

No reason for the conversation to continue. That's it, by all rights. No more. You had your chance to talk to Plant. You bombed, Tashian. Now go home.

Dude speaks up again though. He's coming back for more. How's Robert gonna react?

Dude's lucky. He's got an ace up his sleeve. He knows how to connect with Robert. What makes him unique? Or if not unique, at least a rare commodity. Connect to Plant on a familial level.

"My dad was in the Remains."

Good thinking. He actually recalled that Plant was a fan of the Remains, his dad's old band. And given Plant's mental jukebox, you know his record collection is not only a collection but a cherished possession. He plays his vinyl often still. The same format that gave Plant his initial connection with Jimmy Page a hair over 40 years ago, vinyl is still within Plant's reach at all times.

At the mention of that name, Plant instantly recalls the Remains, and he samples some of their 1966 single "Don't Look Back." Sure, from the Nuggets collection!

Holy hell. Does anybody remember ... vinyl? Well, maybe the guy knew Plant had released his own cover of "Don't Look Back" on a maxi-single in 1990, which was re-released on Plant's Nine Lives box set in November 2006 and then as a Manic Nirvana bonus track on pressings released from March 2007 on.

Point is, the dude has succeeded in connecting with Plant. And in the process he deems this brush with stardom "surreal."

Maybe it is surreal. I sometimes look back on my arranged interview of John Paul Jones as something some other person must have done. I look back on the portions of my transcript that made it onto the Internet courtesy of a newsletter I used to write, and I reread them as if I had just reread the Trouser Press interview, which was conducted two years before my birth. But I know I did it because stumbling upon a certain word, phrase or sentence will transport me back to the Grand Hyatt at Penn's Landing, when John Paul Jones last stayed in Philadelphia on tour opening for King Crimson in December 2001.

I remember Jonesy being under the impression that his show at the Tower Theater was that night. But I had to correct him and tell him he had the day off between the previous night's New Haven show and the show in Upper Darby. I knew his itinerary better than he did! And when I informed him that his calendar was open for the rest of the day, he slunk back on a couch and allowed me to question him for four hours straight.

Now that's surreal.

That was me, asking the questions. Asking things I had come up with on my own -- a ton of them, believe me -- and also questions I had gleaned from readers of my newsletter, and some people who were on an online forum who were probably somewhat familiar with my newsletter at the time. It's the newsletter that lent me, a college student at the time, the credibility to sit for any length of time with Led Zeppelin's unsung hero on bass and, like me, keyboards.

I guess the point where I connected with Jones was that. We both play keys. And I wanted to learn how to play pedal steel like he does. We talked briefly about his track called "Chilli Sauce," included on the Scream for Help soundtrack. A rare memory. He remembered.

Once I complimented his handling of the melody on that synth-heavy track, he smiled and said, "Yeah, that was good, wasn't it?" It would have been against my best journalistic ethics to have acquired his autograph on that CD insert I brought.

It was obvious he hadn't thought of this album in a long time. He hesitated and studied the packaging, saying he was unaware of it having been released on CD. I said yeah, it was, and I had to import it from Japan. I had the OBI strip at home.

The disc is red and green, with the same Atlantic logo that comes on my remastered Yes CDs. And, come to think of it, Jon Anderson adds guest vocals to two of the tracks and is listed on the front cover.

Yes gave us some fodder in our four-hour conversation/interview, some of which was taped and half of which was not. Which led him to speak totally off the record on some occasions. Since he was on a support tour and was trying to save money, he had no roadies and as such carried his own instruments, in their cases, into the hotel so he could check himself in under his own legally adopted pseudonym, John Paul Jones (not birth name John Baldwin, which he confirmed does not have a middle name). With these instruments at his disposal, he played anything I wanted.

He busted out a mandolin and played his part in "Going to California." Which I soon wrongly attributed to Jimmy Page in a newsletter, causing him to e-mail me his own objection and correction. I took it more as a compliment that now he was reading and monitoring and reacting and participating.

Interacting with John Paul Jones! Surreal!

That's like playing Peter Frampton's talk box!

I did play the bass lap steel on Jonesy's counter while he wasn't looking. He had stepped away for a minute, leaving me unaccompanied in the presence of his entire touring rig. Of course I went straight for the tone bar and placed it gently on his bass lap steel -- an invention of his own! -- and ran it across the strings. Sounded cool.

I put it away. Still, that crap was just plain damn surreal.

My first-ever interaction with Jones was in downtown Philadelphia, two years and two months earlier, when Jones was on his Zooma tour and headlined at a small venue. The type of venue I could play with my band! But haven't.

And here's John Paul Jones up on stage with two other people in his band. One guy on the "stick," an electronic stringed instrument with synthesizer capabilities as versatile as a Major League utility player. This guy was Nick Beggs from Kajagoogoo. And the other's on drums. Can't remember today if it was Terl Bryant or Pete Thomas. Both drummers were on that album though. (Update: It was Terl Bryant.)

Since I was reading show reviews of this Zooma concert series from Jones online at TBL/Web, I knew it had already become a nightly custom for some informed fan at each show to invoke the line from children's literature John Paul Jones happened to be reading to his children in a scene in The Song Remains the Same.

"Fe fi fo fum."

So I said it. I was that guy. And I turned myself in, guilty as charged, the next day, upon submitting my roundup of the evening's happenings to TBL/Web for publication before the world.

"Fe fi fo fum!" I shouted to Jonesy between numbers.

In the 1976 movie, the next line -- also Jones's -- is "I smell the blood of an Englishman."

So Jonesy plays on that line. "Do you smell blood?"

Oh, he's got a stand-up act and everything! Surreal!

But we were talking about Yes. It came up during our interview that Jimmy Page was once rumored to have had rehearsal sessions with Alan White and Chris Squire, both designated at the time as ex-members of Yes. It was 1981, and Page had likewise been newly christened in some circles as an ex-member of Zeppelin, only because of the de facto dissolution of that band following John Bonham's unexpected and untimely drinking-binge death.

So did these so-called XYZ sessions, long rumored in the lore of both Yes and Zeppelin fans, really take place or not? Jonesy told me no.

But I think he's uninformed. How would he know? He wasn't there!

I have, through a colleague, a supposedly "exclusive" recording of bassist Chris Squire explaining in plain English that he and drummer Alan White had gotten together with Page, and played a few songs of Squire's. Stuff he hadn't used yet. But stuff he was ultimately gonna use with Yes. All except for one track, which he said Jimmy misappropriated half a decade later as the first track on The Firm's second album. Squire says he never sued Jimmy over it, though, because why bother? He would have been owed such an insignificant pittance since Mean Business album sales left something to be desired. Not even worth it to him to think about going after Jimmy.

I asked Jonesy about the whole plagiarism thing in the context of Led Zeppelin. The band is often criticized for similarities between its recordings and ones that preceded it. Jonesy said sometimes the accusers were familiar to them and other times they were not. But most of the time, the band would just settle out-of-court for convenience's sake, whether or not the claim held any credence. They worked off of the assumption of guilt and dished away crazy amounts of payoff money, leaving most claims unverified by anyone.

So as for specifics, like Jake Holmes having performed "Dazed and Confused" as a song of his in a setting that would have been seen by Jimmy Page as a Yardbirds member in 1967, Jonesy doesn't know. All he knows is Jimmy brought the song into Zeppelin and managed to list himself legally as the song's sole composer. More recent reissues have also credited Plant for lyrics. But never credited was Jake Holmes.

Just heard Holmes on the radio the other week. He spoke on a New York show that's being syndicated soon, called Get the Led Out XL. The pilot episode included a pretty good portion of his "Dazed and Confused" from his 1967 solo album The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes. He said Jimmy got away with nicking the title and the descending bass line but that was all. No complaint from Holmes.

That, too, is surreal!

Come to think of it, another close encounter is going to happen this summer. Page will be in a movie showing off the inside of Headley Grange, where Zeppelin recorded parts of some albums. To read about the microphone setup for the drums on "When the Levee Breaks" is one thing. But to see and hear Jimmy Page reflecting on that firsthand experience 37 years later? Surreal.

So I guess there's a lot of it going around. People are running into these guys every day and having surreal encounters with them. Just so glad to be lucky enough to remember some from my own experience.

Thanks, Jonesy.


  1. What is the point of this self indulgent article?

  2. Plant is not hanging out at Opry Mills. All the Plant sightings are at Green Hills. The tourists would mob him at Opry Mills.

  3. Now everyone is going to flock to Green Hills.

    Hmmm. What's the point of what I wrote? I don't know any better than I know your name, you leaver of an anonymous comment!

    Welcome to

    If anybody else has had a surreal experience, feel free to post it here.

  4. I for one thoroughly enjoy reading in html the minds eye viewpoint of, quite enjoyable. Being a devoted LZ follower for 34+ years I still find myself searching the web for info and waiting for JP to do something "new". Is it just my ears listening to the Jake Holmes version of D&C, I swear I heard elements of "Friends" from Zep 3 in the middle break part.

  5. Hey Steve,
    you finally gave kudos’ to JPJ. I think I'm gonna faint.

    Also, you mentioned in another story that "Beck and Clapton have announced their solo shows in Japan this coming March will converge with two one-off shows"

    You can't have a “one-off show” if there are 2 shown. That would be a “two-off show”.

    By the way, what is a "one-off" show anyway? Are we sure that is the right term?

    I believe the correct term is a "one-of" show, as in "One of a kind".

    Any English teachers out there?


  6. Hahaha, thanks for the comments, Stryder and Nuvo.

    Hope your fainting spell is over, Nuvo. I uploaded some old things I wrote about JPJ to the blog. Look under the archives for things from 2002. Among them are an overview of The Thunderthief and a little thing about his view of a Zeppelin reunion at the time of our interview on Dec. 10, 2001.

    Meanwhile, you bring up a good point about "one-off." I think you're right it can't be two one-off shows on consecutive nights. If they're doing a benefit for one charity, skip a few months and play another benefit for another charity, would they both be one-offs? Probably, I'd say. And I understand your problem with the term in general and your preference for "one-of." I can't say I heard "one-off" used before the press started describing the Zeppelin show as that. I wonder if that's where it started and, furthermore, if it was a misuse of "one-of." I do like the term though, so I think I'll keep using it. But more properly! Not to describe a multiple-night affair.

  7. I found this post quite interesting - and I'll leave my name! Lots to comment on, but it's late, I'm on my way to bed, so all I will say is that if I was ever so lucky as to meet any of the Led Zeppelin members, esp. Robert Plant, I'm sure I would pee my pants. That WOULD be surreal (and embarrassing).

  8. As a Nashville resident that has met him more than once, I assure you that you would not pee your pants. He is very down to earth and I have see this happen personally, watching others: start fawning and treat him like a Golden God and talking about Led Zeppelin, he shuts down and implements his exit strategy. Talk to him like you would a neighbor you see out somewhere, you get decent conversation.

  9. And for Steve Sauer: I do enjoy your website and blog, and your enthusiastic support for the three LZ members. However, Robert is contractually bound to Rounder Records and Rounder Records is milking him for all he is worth. I predict that another year will see him getting out of Nashville and crawling back to Jimmy Page, begging to work with him again. Just my opinion. His romanticized view of Alison/Nashville/Americana is on a collision course with reality.


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