Monday, December 28, 2009

From 2000 to 2009, an indispensable decade in the Led Zeppelin story

A slightly amended version of the following piece originally appeared in an edition of the Enzepplozine electronic newsletter. For your free subscription, visit Enzepplopedia Publishing.

The presence of Led Zeppelin in the 21st century, so far, is definitely felt, despite the band having been largely absent in the most real sense since John Bonham's death in September 1980. The drummer would have turned 60 in May 2008. Meanwhile, his surviving band mates all surpassed this milestone age one after another: Jimmy Page in January 2004, John Paul Jones in January 2006 and, finally, Robert Plant in August 2008.

Page has adopted a new look, his silver hair now pulled back into a pony tail or, on occasion, dangling at shoulder length over a typically black ensemble. At the same time, he still has a youthful smile. Part of Plant's wrinkled face is now hidden behind a distinguished full beard and mustache. He now opts for boots and covers his chest a lot more than in previous decades, but his hair is still long and flowing, just as in days long gone. Jones, whose appearance changed often throughout the 1970s, has over the past 10 years settled on a short, trimmed haircut. With the publicity he is currently getting, his age-defying face is becoming more of a household icon than ever before.

The public appreciation for Led Zeppelin has significantly advanced over the past 10 years. For one thing, it is hard not to notice that Led Zeppelin shirts have been all the rage among teens. The steady flow of books dedicated to the band has given way to a tidal wave of them in the past three years, helped in part by the buzz accompanying official band activity in 2007 as well as the more recent 40th anniversaries of Led Zeppelin's formation and debut album.

Dave Lewis engages John Paul Jones in second artful interview of the year

As previously mentioned here, Dave Lewis conducted an interview on Dec. 1 with John Paul Jones. This was their second published Q&A session of 2009; the other occurred in April and contained a vague hint of the band that had already been in the formative stages over the past couple of months. There was a lot Jones knew about Them Crooked Vultures at the time but wasn't saying.

Ever since the cloak of secrecy regarding that project has been unveiled, he's been speaking much more freely in interviews. However, the demeanor Jones puts forth in some interviews ranges from very comfortable to slightly agitated. For the second Jones/Lewis encounter this year, out now in Issue 25 of Tight But Loose, the star feels right at home. This speaks to the efforts made by Lewis, who knows the subject like few others do.

Thanks to the generosity of that interviewer, can bring you a transcript of a portion of his conversation with Jones, which contains the following gem of a remark about Them Crooked Vultures:

"There is a second album planned. We are having such great fun onstage, nobody wants it to end yet."
--John Paul Jones, in TBL 25

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top stories of 2009 from

In a year that saw Jimmy Page hobnobbing on red carpet, Robert Plant cashing in at the Grammys, and John Paul Jones plotting and trotting with a so-called supergroup, there was no shortage of Led Zeppelin-related news to write about.

But what were the most popular news stories on the site this year as decided by readers? You might be surprised to learn that three of the top 10 attention-getters weren't even written this year!

With apologies to David Letterman, I present the top 10 most viewed articles on in 2009. Here we go:

10. "Jimmy Page's manager claims singer auditions failed, 'no plans' for tour," Jan. 7.
Two days short of Jimmy Page's 65th birthday, known in some parts of the world as retirement age, the guitarist's manager made his name known in two separate interviews saying two completely different things about his client. It was confusing at the time as to why these two statements contrasted so vastly, but it was later explained. In an interview with the BBC that was finally published several weeks after it was recorded, manager Peter Mensch said auditions for a singer in Page's new band were underway -- but not to bog him down with requests to audition. After this interview finally aired, MusicRadar called Mensch for comment, and he had a crucial update to the story: All plans were off, and he had no idea what Page was going to do instead. Especially for those who'd just finish taking in the previous comment about auditions being underway, this new interview was a jarring revelation. To worsen things, Mensch even said the following about his client, who was two days away from retirement age, when MusicRadar asked what plans the guitarist had for the future: "F--- if I know. I'm waiting to hear." So soon in 2009, this story did not mark such a great beginning to the year, but it definitely shaped things to come.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Jimmy Page's new projects all coming to fruition

Remember only four months ago, when Jimmy Page told Billboard magazine he had been working on several projects?

"This year I've had quite a lot of things going on," he said at the time, "sort of things relative to preparing for projects."

He even hinted at the timeline of releasing them: "There's a lot of groundwork that's been going into that so that I can be getting on with things next year. ... If you've got ambitious projects, they take time to put together if you're going to do them properly."

And there was an early version of his more recent promise to come out with guns blazing in 2010 and perform some new material live. He said at the time, "I really intend to be doing some playing and ... be seen, if you like."

Well, now as the year is ending, some of those projects are already out, and what others will be is emerging.

Custom guitar
Gibson released this week a limited edition Gibson Custom Jimmy Page Number Two Les Paul guitar modified by Page himself. Produced with two levels of aging, this guitar captures the look, feel, sound, and versatility of one of the greatest artist-owned Les Pauls of all time, and it is likely to disappear from authorized Gibson dealers in record time. This "Number Two" Les Paul was recreated with intense, inch-by-inch, inside-out examination of Page's own guitar, purchased in 1973. The process of getting it right involved the production of a number of hand-built prototypes, each of which was checked and critiqued in detail by Page himself. Approval of the final iteration was only offered after the legendary artist had intricately examined and extensively played this last prototype in his London home. Only 325 examples will be produced in total: The first 25 instruments are to be aged by vintage-reproduction master Tom Murphy, then inspected, played and hand signed and numbered by Page personally. An additional 100 guitars will be given the extensive aging treatment and 200 will be finished to Gibson's VOS specs.

Friday, December 18, 2009

If German broadcast doesn't impress, give up on Them Crooked Vultures

Led Zeppelin fan Wyatt Brake writes of the recent TV broadcast of a Them Crooked Vultures concert in Cologne, Germany, on Dec. 8, now available for viewing on YouTube as well as for download on some torrent sites:
"This is really great. I'll go out on a limb and say if [this] 90+ minute broadcast doesn't impress, then definitely give up on the band - I don't think you'll find a better performance. Very playful set, but very powerful.

"I think it was previously mentioned (but bears repeating) that Jonesy has a tastefully rumbling little bass solo in 'Scumbag Blues.'"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Robert Plant's handwritten lyrics earn $2,225 for Americana Music Association

Congratulations to "jps," who placed a winning $2,225 bid on Robert Plant's handwritten lyrics with 12 minutes to spare before the auction closed minutes ago this afternoon. "jps" and 10 other bidders pushed the item's value upward over the course of two weeks.

Proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Americana Music Association.

So far, only one item in the association's auction has fetched a higher price than Plant's handwritten lyrics to "Please Read the Letter," and that was Willie Nelson's handwritten lyrics to "On the Road Again." That auction closed after 90 bids arrived at the final sale value of $3,510.

Of the 11 other items set to close today, only one exceeds $1,000 in price at the moment, and that's John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me." It is currently valued at $1,010 with less than an hour to go.

The 12 days of Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti retrospective DVD

On the eleventh day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
A Physical Graffiti retrospective DVD

At 90 minutes in length, the main feature on the DVD Physical Graffiti: A Classic Album Under Review outlasts Led Zeppelin's magnum opus itself. Along for the ride are some very credible experts; while the DVD includes the narration of the BBC's Nicky Horne, commentary from author Dave Lewis and insight from engineer Ron Nevison, perhaps the biggest insights come from Chris Dreja.

The man who was originally a rhythm guitarist with the Yardbirds but switched to bass so that Jimmy Page could take over all guitar duties, Dreja speaks from an insider point of view as someone who knew firsthand what Page's intentions were with forming Led Zeppelin. He was, after all, along for the ride. He opted out, pursuing photography, and John Paul Jones stepped into the role. But could Dreja have been a member of Led Zeppelin? He gives a resolute answer in the negative:
"The Yardbirds would've never been Led Zeppelin. ... What the Yardbirds were was a wonderful breeding ground of crazy ideas and free form, and of course Jimmy absorbed all that from us. I don't blame him for taking them into the Zeppelin and making them tight and rock and heavy. It was an obvious thing for him to do, and he was lucky enough to find one of those rare things in the world. It's like the Beatles. There are so few bands that have that mix of players that just feed off each other and create [such a] unique sound. It's really rare, and I think Jimmy really hit the jackpot there."
Also helping provide the context of the scene into which the album was released is a focus on the formation of Swan Song Records, on which the release of Physical Graffiti followed that of a disc by Bad Company. A live version of that band's title song included here rocks, and archival footage of live work from another Swan Song artist, Maggie Bell, shows how easily she could have been confused with Janis Joplin. Bell is also shown in modern day, speaking in her thick Scottish burr about her love of Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant.

Led Zeppelin's label was doing well despite the group being treated poorly by the British press, an idea expounded upon by author Rikky Rooksby. He explains this was not necessarily a bad thing but probably a "healthy" attribute:
"I think one of the greatest things about the British critics is that we're not exactly cynical, but we do tend to take the attitude -- well, you know -- 'That was your last record. What matters is whether the next one's any good.' We don't allow people to rest on their laurels. We treat our sportsmen in the same way as [we treat] our rock stars, in that respect."
The DVD then transitions into the analysis of all 15 songs in an order other than sequential but one that is logical to their presentation. Among the highlights to be found are the mentions of influences of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on "Down by the Seaside," Stevie Wonder on "Tramped Under Foot," and Bert Jansch on "White Summer" and, vicariously, "Kashmir." Each instance of an influence being mentioned gives way to an actual live performance of the material that inspired Led Zeppelin. While Lewis is praising "Sick Again" for its lyrical content, Nevison has a great revelation about a noise from which the song title is derived. Also featuring part of a performance of "Ten Years Gone" at the Knebworth Festival in 1979 that was left off of Led Zeppelin's official DVD in 2003, the enjoyable moments in this documentary are aplenty.

This disc, released in 2008, also includes a nice special feature with Nevison explaining how he came to work on the Who's Quadrophenia album and the Tommy movie soundtrack. Its inclusion here is due to connection between both the Who and Led Zeppelin using Ronnie Lane's mobile recording studio, which Nevison built and naturally engineered. Another special feature is a quiz based on material found on the DVD. I scored 22 out of 25 on my first try; can you beat me?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Exclusive interview: Myles Kennedy thrilled to have written with Zeppelin members

Photo credit: Albe Serra, Barcelona, Spain, June 2008

Singer Myles Kennedy has opened up to in an exclusive interview about his experiences writing music a year ago with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham. The interview, recorded for the producers of Carol Miller's "Get the Led Out" Led Zeppelin spotlight radio series, was conducted on Dec. 16 by

Kennedy, who sings and plays guitar with the band Alter Bridge, first confirmed in January 2009 reports that he had spent part of 2008 rehearsing for a new, unnamed band to be formed with three-fourths of the trio that had recently performed as Led Zeppelin for one night in London. By the time Kennedy spoke up, the project had only recently been called off. All he was comfortable saying about it at the time is that he was "very grateful" for having had the experience.

Now that a year has passed since the project fell by the wayside, Kennedy has thoroughly answered a set of specific questions provided exclusively by, seeking details about that collaboration.

The occasion for this interview was the release of the first live DVD from Alter Bridge. While unfinished business has prevented a deluxe edition of the Live from Amsterdam set from being released in stores so far, Kennedy says the fan reaction to a version being sold online has so far been positive, as was the fan reaction during the concert.

Filmed during a concert in Amsterdam on Dec. 7, 2008, the DVD shows the audience enthusiastically singing along to Alter Bridge's tunes. In the interview with, Kennedy attempts to put into words the kind of rush he gets from hearing an entire audience singing back to him lyrics and melodies that he helped to create. He also discusses the onstage experience of singing cover songs like Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" in a live setting.

As one can tell from viewing the DVD, Alter Bridge concerts provide a wide range of dynamics, from hard rock to solo acoustic material. Asked to name some of the musical influences on having such a diverse set, Kennedy signaled he and his bandmates are all influenced by Led Zeppelin, "the greatest of all time." A former session player who worked on heavy metal and hard rock in his earlier years, Kennedy said bands like Metallica, Slayer, Tesla and Journey have all impacted Alter Bridge songwriting.

A slightly earlier Alter Bridge concert date other than the Amsterdam show was originally planned to be the time and location for the DVD shoot, and that was on Nov. 8, 2008 in London. Kennedy says he recalls that show, held at the O2 Brixton Academy, as being a particularly thrilling night and one he wishes could have been documented on video. It was only after that concert that he learned Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were in attendance, obviously checking him out as their group with him was still under consideration at the time.

By the time Alter Bridge went on the tour that saw them play in England and mainland Europe last November and December, Kennedy had already been rehearsing for months with Page, Jones and plus Jason Bonham. He says he is grateful to the drummer, who was an acquaintance of his from years earlier, for calling him to England to take part in the rehearsals.

In helping to craft some new material with the trio, Kennedy contributed both lyrics and melody but not any guitar. It was his voice they wanted, and he says he wasn't even sure if they even knew at that point he could play guitar. Kennedy spoke about being in his comfort zone singing and not playing guitar while also being recognized as a guitarist, such as when his Alter Bridge bandmate Mark Tremonti asked him to contribute a guitar lesson to a DVD project of his.

Since plans for the prospective band joining Page, Jones and Bonham with him fell through by the end of 2008, Kennedy has remained positive about his experience and continued writing new material. He says he has finished work on a solo album and is considering releasing it independently next year.

Solo work is not all that's in his future. Now that the Creed reunion tour is complete and his Alter Bridge bandmates are once again freed up, they have been in Florida writing material they intend to begin recording in February. He says he was surprised whenever he hears it reported that his group had broken up, although he does believe hardcore Alter Bridge fans are aware the band has always intended to continue making new music following the Creed tour.

Early this year, Jones was secretly rehearsing and recording with a new band of his own, Them Crooked Vultures. Kennedy says he was already a fan of Dave Grohl's work with the Foo Fighters and Josh Homme's work with Queens of the Stone Age, so it made sense to him that their collaboration with Jones was going to be a good one. He says he received an e-mail from Jones inviting him to come see Them Crooked Vultures live, so he attended their Oct. 24 concert in Portland and enjoyed it immensely. Asked if Jones recycled any of the material from his rehearsal sessions with Page and Bonham, Kennedy says he doesn't recognize any of the material.

He is also highly complimentary of Page, adding that while he was at first nervous about being in the presence of such "genius," both Page and Jones were able to make him feel comfortable in their working environment.

When informed Kennedy during the interview that Page had just announced his intention to release some new music and play it live next year, he said he couldn't be more pleased that both Page and Jones would be giving fans the opportunity to "continue to feed off the masters." He says he looks forward to hearing Page's new work.

At the conclusion of the interview, Kennedy had kind parting words for the interviewer, Steve Sauer.

The 12 days of Zeppelin: Unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall

On the tenth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall

When Mick Wall's "When Giants Walked the Earth" was published in a hardcover edition last year for the U.K. market, it contained some timely commentary about their highly successful one-night show staged at the end of 2007. The author notes that Plant, who had been interested enough in the making of a re-released The Song Remains the Same movie and soundtrack that year to actually sit in, thought the Led Zeppelin reunion show ought to be a proper farewell from the band. Wall says Plant had a bigger say in what songs would and would not be included; gone were songs that were "too heavy metal," and he would do "Stairway to Heaven" but only buried in the middle of their two-hour set, not as a finale or an encore.

Of course, the others had learned by then to cater to his wishes; after all, the last time a Zeppelin reunion had been seriously considered with Plant going along with it had been back about 16 years earlier. He even cites a remark made in 1993 by Peter Grant to Dave Lewis: "You've got to realize Robert always wanted to be the boss of the band anyway. He finally got his own way." This appears to be Wall's thesis, that the band was, in essence, hijacked over the course of time by Robert Plant, stolen from the reins of founder Jimmy Page. To illustrate this concept, Wall starts by going to the very beginning of the story: Page as a child learning from the earliest rock 'n' roll in existence and wanting to be a part of it, and eventually wanting to do certain things with a band of his own. Wall, leaving no part of the story unturned, lists it all.

"When Giants Walked the Earth," now available in paperback and hardcover editions in the United States, is quite perhaps the most detailed a book has been in attempting to uncover the mindsets of the men behind Led Zeppelin. The most unique part of this book is one very irregular style of writing that helps the reader understand the bigger pictures as presented. Wall writes long odes to the characters of the story, as if somebody were speaking to them at a certain period of time but with knowledge of the future. This style of writing is definitely jarring at first, but once accustomed, the reader can learn the larger context of the story.

Wall, who was editor-in-chief of Classic Rock magazine, has been somewhat criticized for questionable sourcing of information in the book, but to his credit he has logged many hours with the Zeppelin members over the years. Further, he notes there are some sources who "for reasons of privacy do not wish to be named." Still, he says he has taken heat for the book; he wrote in August 2008: "I appear to have lost the 20-year friendship of Jimmy Page (how dare I try and write a better book than the bog-awful Hammer Of The Gods), Robert Plant (he'll change his mind when he sees it) and related friends like - apparently."

While some biographies of Led Zeppelin delve briefly into the topic of Jimmy Page's alleged interest in the occult and the works of Aleister Crowley, Wall devotes 28 entire pages to unravelling that mystery. In a manner that probably no other author has attempted, Wall goes long into details about precisely what teachings of Crowley's might have most appealed to Page. Here, Wall attempts to represent Crowley's teachings in a manner that separates the original intentions from the way they have been conveyed popularly. It's a lot of information, more than this particular reader enjoyed although other opinions and levels of interest may vary considerably. The author discusses the possibility of a curse alleged to have been placed on Page by filmmaker Kenneth Anger. Wall notes that the hardships Led Zeppelin experienced in the second half of the 1970s began around the time Anger was supposed to have made this curse.

One bias of Wall's appears to be that the second half of Led Zeppelin's existence contained nothing but bad experiences, in sharp contrast to the mostly good experiences of the first half. He does go too far in dismissing the efforts on the albums Presence and In Through the Out Door, and his opinions of the judgment that guided Led Zeppelin in the later years are not high either. Taking these biases into consideration, the biography still does much to demystify the personalities behind Led Zeppelin as the years progressed. This is one biography that should not be overlooked.

A much more meticulous analysis of this book than mine can be found at the enlightening Peromyscus blog.

New music is ready for next year, Jimmy Page affirms

Sky News was taping an interview with Page and "It Might Get Loud" director Davis Guggenheim, discussing the movie for its London premiere yesterday, which saw Page making a rare public appearance.

It seems, from his comments, that such appearances are going to be much less rare for him beginning in the near future. During the interview, Page declared, with resolve, that he would be debuting some new music in the new year.

Confidently, he announced, "Next year, I have every intention of playing music live and making it -- manifesting it. I've got it. I've got it there. I've got the music waiting. It just needs to be done. So that's it. That's what I'll be doing."

His emphasis in that last sentence was on "I," to which Sky News showbiz correspondent Steve Hargrave replied, "You, singularly." The question had probably been about whether the future would hold any Led Zeppelin reunion activity.

Page referenced the time that has passed since the Led Zeppelin reunion concert at the O2 arena in London on Dec. 10, 2007. The second anniversary of that concert was one week ago tomorrow.

"It's been two years!" said Page. "Two years since the O2. It's time to do that," he said, referring to sharing the new music he has ready to be heard.

And with that, Page broke into a giant smile, the kind that will surely be seen again and again in the weeks and months ahead. has been covering Page's statements on new material not only throughout the current year but also, through its sister site, as far back as in 2004, when Page was first said to be working on a Santana-style album project.

This was Page's first, and most definitive, comment on new music of his for the past several months. His last hint of it was in August, during an interview with Billboard magazine. At that time, he addressed the subject of new material with less certainty, saying that "ambitious projects ... take time to put together if you're going to do them properly."

Page did say at the time that he wanted to "be seen" next year, and he also said in June that "It Might Get Loud" contains "little tastes and shades of" his new music.

Page's photographer, Ross Halfin, wrote in a Dec. 7 entry in his online diary that he's "been working on something with him [Page] for the past couple of years which will be out in February or March next year - I think."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jimmy Page calls his purported autograph on guitar a forgery; attorney dries up legitimacy of John Paul Jones's ink, too

An autograph of Jimmy Page's on a guitar that sold for $2,750 this year can now correctly be called a forgery, says his attorney.

Less than a week since a report on this autographed electric guitar aired on the ABC News program "20/20," the news outlet now provides the update from attorney George Fearon: Of the three signatures on the guitar, at least two are now being called into question. Page's signature isn't really his, and the one claimed to be from John Paul Jones may not be legit either.

The program had already called into question the authenticity of a photo of Robert Plant allegedly signing the guitar.

Now, the attorney representing Jones and Page says the bassist could not have signed the guitar, or other memorabilia, in the times and places a memorabilia company has claimed he did.

Bruce Hall, doing business as the California-based company Gallery of Dreams, is the supplier being sued by Florida memorabilia dealer American Royal Arts, the company that recently sold the Led Zeppelin guitar to a bartender in Charlotte, N.C.

American Royal Arts President Jerry Gladstone says it is when he was on the witness stand in an unrelated case that he learned of photographs, including the one of Plant, that appear to have been doctored. He filed suit against Hall and Gallery of Dreams within a week of that court appearance.

Other celebrity photos suspected of having been altered, as featured in the "20/20" report, include ones of members of the Eagles and U2, as well as pop starlet Miley Cyrus.

ABC says "the supplier had claimed to ARA that [Jones] signed the Led Zeppelin guitars in Asheville, N.C., on December 11, 2007." This would have been one day after Led Zeppelin's reunion concert in London, England, and Jones was not in Asheville then, says Fearon.

Asheville is the location of the annual Christmas Jam organized by Warren Haynes, guitarist for both the Allman Brothers Band and Gov't Mule. Jones sat in with both bands a year later, in December 2008.

"The supplier also claimed that Jones signed some [other] guitars at the Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles on February 10, 2008," ABC reports. "But, again according to the band attorney, Jones says, not only was he not at the Mondrian on that date, he's never been to that hotel."

The 12 days of Zeppelin: How-to guide to Led Zeppelin's complete existence

On the ninth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
A how-to guide to Led Zeppelin's complete existence
Have you ever wondered just how Led Zeppelin ever happened? Whether life is directed by free will, or by the determined hand of an interested higher power, or by a never-ending random collision of molecules, the four-man and one-time-only collaboration known as Led Zeppelin did take place. The group did what it did, achieved what it achieved, and essentially played no more since 1980. Even with the realization that the circumstances that allowed Led Zeppelin to flourish at the time it did can never be repeated as, simply, times have changed, there is a lot to be learned from everything this band did over time, everything the band was about.

Kevin Courtright is perhaps the first person ever to approach Led Zeppelin's achievements as a finite list of lessons that can be passed on to hopeful musicians of the present and future. If there was ever another publication that attempts what "Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music" accomplishes in about 400 pages, it hasn't landed on my shelf. This book isn't another unnecessary biography of the band. He leaves recasting the history to those who've already written it. What Courtright tells here, in a very logical and neatly structured organization of topics, is exactly what musicians can and should glean from knowing anything and everything about the band.

Led Zeppelin's story begins as two sets of virtuoso musicians who were strangers to one another met and promptly started checking things off the to-do list of the one who brought them together. Now already, I've hit upon several things that need to be analyzed further. Inherent within this statement are a lot of facts. The group consisted of four people; that's one. All four people were virtuoso musicians. Two knew each other, and two others knew each other, but neither half knew the other. One person, the founder, had preexisting notions of what could be achieved in this group setting. Only with the entire assemblage of all four could those things be tackled. And once that congregation was formed, their success in meeting or exceeding those goals was almost immediate.

The above paragraph is only my crude way of pinpointing some of the important lessons that can be observed without overlooking a single intertwined detail. Courtright's technique, which is much better undertaken than mine, is to dissect every aspect of the Led Zeppelin story in a unique and sensible format. The topics of his 32 distinct chapters spanning about 400 pages range from the band's collective and individual musical diversity, the art of improvisation, their use of dynamics, their use of tempos, and other areas not about the music but the presentation of it.

Lest we believe there is little to be learned from the procedure of titling an album, Courtright begs us to think again. He explains how the look of the albums resulted from a concerted focus on symbolism and mysterious imagery, preferred over group photos; how the creation of demand came about as a combination of perfectly timed tours and rare media interaction; the contributing ingredients to Led Zeppelin's success in the music business; and just why the band's influence is so lasting.

For each one of the 32 subject areas covered in this book, Courtright details Led Zeppelin's methods, what their achievements meant to him as an impressionable youth first turned on to their music, and how this can -- or in some instances cannot -- relate to any budding musical career in today's climate. I say "cannot" because, as Courtright allows: "[J]ust know that the tactics used by [Peter] Grant and Zeppelin are innovative and successful for them in that time, and any lack of compatibility with today is only indicative of how corrupt, controlled and crushing the industry has become. However, I maintain that with a 'grass-roots' movement of like-minded musicians, utilizing today's technology which does in fact afford some level of autonomy, the trend can potentially be turned back to an at least reasonably equitable state for today's artists."

This book is not a template for success in the music world. Billy Squier, Whitesnake, Kingdom Come and Bonham may have all had their time on the charts, but none was able to do what Led Zeppelin did or enjoy anything close to that kind of lasting power. It simply cannot be repeated intentionally. Still, if the idea that the band's existence can be summed up in a logical way across 400 pages appeals to the aspiring young musician you just know could be the next Jimmy Page, this is the right book for that person. This book will ensure that person seeks out the next Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.

Basically, if you learned something from reading last month's Web gem of eight lessons in creativity and productivity as gleaned from Led Zeppelin, you ain't seen nothing yet. Kevin Courtright is gonna send you back to schoolin'.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 12 days of Zeppelin: A book with reproduced memorabilia

On the eighth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
A book with memorabilia reproductions
In "Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller than Our Souls -- The Albums, Concerts, Memorabilia, and Biography of the Gods of Rock," rock critic Charles R. Cross attempts to summarize the nine albums of studio work produced by Led Zeppelin. For the most part, he does a good job of explaining the conditions under which Led Zeppelin's catalog was written and recorded, along with the humbling reception given those albums upon their release. The fact that the manuscript contains quite a few errors at first does not detract from its overall intent, which is to pay tribute to the group that formed in 1968 and ended in 1980. However, some of his expressed opinions do eventually detract from an otherwise positive reading experience.

The continuous narrative spread across 96 pages might at first glance appear to be the book's focus, but the highlight is actually what can literally be pulled off the pages. This isn't quite a pop-up book; it's better than that. In several instances, the turn of a page reveals a brilliantly reproduced piece of memorabilia waiting to be examined. The replicas are of concert tickets and programs, vinyl discs, newspaper clippings, press kits and more, straight from the collections of Hugh Jones and Alberto Lo Giudice. Having handled a few originals myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of the look of these quality reproductions.

These hidden treasures, more than anything else in the book, make leafing through it a pleasure. The experience is much like discovering the customizable cover art of the Physical Graffiti and Led Zeppelin III album packaging, the Aleister Crowley-inspired inscriptions on the Led Zeppelin III vinyl or the watercolor portion enclosed with In Through the Out Door. That's exactly the kind of reaction Cross says he wanted to inspire. In his preface, the author invites readers to play each album while reading the corresponding chapter. "If you own the original vinyls, inhale the musty smell of the jackets with their telltale ring wear," he writes. "If you must listen to Led Zeppelin on CD, make sure you get the version that Page remastered, since early pressings left off the studio chatter that can be heard with a focused listen."

One part of the package that's especially revealing is a CD that contains 53 minutes' worth of the six-plus hours of recorded conversation between Jimmy Page and Dave Schulps, who was senior editor for the Trouser Press, a homegrown underground publication about rock music. The portions included on this disc refer to the seven studio albums that had been released by the time of the interviews, which were taped over the span of four days in June 1977. The disc kicks off with Schulps and his tentative voice, announcing that he wants "to start out, um, talking about ambitions, like, before we get into all that kind of stuff." Before he even concludes his initial question, Page eagerly jumps in to set the pace of the interview: "It's in stages, isn't it?" The guitarist intends to go bit by bit and take it slowly, which he does, almost frustratingly at some points. But with headphones on and limited distractions, following along with three pages of transcriptions in the book makes for an overall enjoyable experience and an enlightening one.

What I haven't mentioned thus far is another of the most attractive aspects of the book, its photographic journey from the studio floor to the concert stage and beyond. The band's photogenic streak began prior to its formation -- just look at Robert Plant's sideways gaze in a promotional photograph with John Bonham and the rest of the Band of Joy; Cross marvelously notes that "Plant was already dressing and pouting like a character out of a Jane Austen novel."

As mentioned, the text of "Shadows Taller than Our Souls" is not without its faults. Cross discredits himself as an expert on Led Zeppelin's influences in the chapter on Led Zeppelin II with his pedestrian interpretation of the Willie Dixon track "Back Door Man" as being a song about sodomy; as any novice blues appreciation student is capable of pointing out, the song is about adulterous married woman whose male daytime lovers slip out the back door daily upon the husband's return. Cross could have picked up on that meaning from listening to "Since I've Been Loving You," with its mention of a "newfangled back door" that must open and close itself because his woman would certainly not allow any other man to creep through his home. Instead, the only thing Cross can muster to write about "Since I've Been Loving You," apart from a plaudit for the band's musicianship, is an exaggeration of the debt owed to Moby Grape's "Never": "The band's borrowing here is as egregious as their previous remakings of Willie Dixon songs, yet few pundits noticed the parallels, and no lawsuits resulted." You'd expect such a dismissal from Will Shade, but Will Shade he is not, for Cross can't even assemble three paragraphs about the Yardbirds without providing two errors and also later giving an incorrect title for the Jake Holmes song from which "Dazed and Confused" almost certainly derived; it was not called "I'm Confused" but -- get this -- "Dazed and Confused."

While the Houses of the Holy and Presence chapters are especially besmirched with the opinions only a rock critic would proffer -- notably that "The Crunge" and "D'yer Mak'er" were failures, and that "Candy Store Rock" was too heavily produced -- the Physical Graffiti chapter in between refreshingly offers beautiful insight on Page's expertise as a producer. However, no mention of "In the Light" is anywhere to be found.

Gladly, an anecdote conveyed much earlier deals with an in-studio dispute between Page and John Bonham, settled quickly by Peter Grant's determined reprimand for the drummer to listen to Page, who was his producer. Appropriately, Cross provides not only this insight into a feeling of deference to Page but also the ways in which various couplings of the band members would work together to create the Led Zeppelin sound.

The Led Zeppelin that Cross presents is a band that was always teetering on the edge of breaking up. Right from the aftermath of the widely panned Led Zeppelin III, Cross cites a quotation from John Bonham questioning whether poor record sales might mean he would find himself back in construction work in another year.

This foreshadows the later threat of John Paul Jones wanting to depart from the band in 1974. Whereas some authors report this matter skeptically and others discount Jones's desire to leave as a joke (which, I must add, is the way Jones himself presented it during my interview with him in 2001), Cross insists not only that it was true but also that Peter "Grant, with his gangsterlike demeanor, assuaged Jones and brought him back into the fold." Where Cross gets that detail from is uncertain, but it's rare to hear about Led Zeppelin's manager using his gangsterlike demeanor against members of the band.

Obviously, the tragedies of 1975 and 1977 made for a dodgy period for the future of the band, as Cross recounts, and he even cites a remark from Plant to Chris Welch saying that he believes he "left Zeppelin completely" after his son died while he was on tour half a world away. It took press interviews from Page to deny reports that the band had splintered, Cross notes, also admitting to the agenda of the rock press, that both the breakup rumor and the subsequent official denial made good ink.

That bias is reflected in his own writing. For Cross, the possibility of a breakup also recurs through the rehearsals, recording sessions and post-production of In Through the Out Door as Jones and Plant believed they were too sober for the others, while Jones was too dissatisfied with the lack of a production credit for him on the album. Again, it's not a detail that is reported often, if accurate at all. Cross later hypothesizes, "If it hadn't been for that initial American success, Led Zeppelin surely would have broken up long before 'Stairway to Heaven' was written in front of a fire at Headley Grange." Sure, presenting an alternate reality is one way to avoid being told you're wrong. Rock journalists spent the '70s constantly predicting the breakup of Led Zeppelin, but for one to assert breakups retroactively when they never happened in reality is odd.

If I understand Cross correctly, even Page himself was mulling over leaving Led Zeppelin in 1978, the reason being that Jones had usurped even the most ultimate power any group musician could seek: to change the key of a song. According to Cross, it would not be unthinkable this was the second time Page considered packing it in, the first being when the 1976 Melody Maker reader's poll named Steve Howe of Yes, and not Page, the favorite guitarist of the year. How fitting it is to assign this much influence to a single periodical is debatable.

His final chapter brings the story up to date from the band's breakup to the lingering possibility of a reunion; it lingers, he says, because the singer secretly longs for nostalgia, as evidenced by his recent and mostly unreported visit to Page's Pangbourne boathouse, where Led Zeppelin was essentially formed. That being said, Cross avoids major flaws during this period in the chronology, except for the occasional gaffe:
  • He gives 1990 as the year in which Plant finally started singing Led Zeppelin songs in his solo concerts; it was 1987. Eh, but that's understandable as Cameron Crowe once said Live Aid was in 1987, not 1985, and that was in the liner notes of an official Led Zeppelin box set.
  • Cross calls the John Paul Jones solo album The Thunderchief instead of its proper name, The Thunderthief. Such mistakes seem inescapable; I've also seen Ritchie Yorke refer to Walking into Scarsdale when, we hope, he meant Walking into Clarksdale.
  • Cross gets the name Walking into Clarksdale right but forgets "Please Read the Letter" had been on that Page/Plant album. In noting that Plant won a Grammy in February 2009 for a version of that song recorded with Alison Krauss, he says it is "a song that Plant had cowritten with Jimmy Page post-Zeppelin but had not released previously." Oops, except for that one time, he meant.
  • Cross gives 1990 as the year in which Stephen Davis's Hammer of the Gods was published; it was 1985. Ironically, Cross makes mention of that book's reputation as being "error-ridden." Pot, meet kettle.
Like I said, the memorabilia replicas and the photographs are great! It's a really enjoyable book!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 12 days of Zeppelin: How the Americas were won

On the seventh day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
Frank Reddon's hardcover and electronic books
Most people who recognize the name J.J. Jackson can tell you he was one of the original MTV hosts, or veejays. Folks in Los Angeles might remember he was a radio personality in their neck of the woods. Bostonians a few years older might remember him from their radio airwaves too. Led Zeppelin fans may recall hearing an often-shared recording of J.J. Jackson's 1979 interview with Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. But how many people know the full story of how J.J. Jackson supported Led Zeppelin in the band's early days and helped to establish them in Boston?

You can read all about it in two publications by author Frank Reddon, who has made the radio personality turned TV star the subject of his e-book, "J.J. Jackson Remembers Led Zeppelin: The Music and the Guys Who Made It." This publication, which emerged only in September, includes complete transcripts of Reddon's interviews with Jackson as he elegantly takes the reader through the local music scene and how Led Zeppelin was able to create such a splash there in a matter of only days. It isn't hard to credit Jackson's on-air promotion of the group, especially since he was playing their music on the air, having received a promo copy of the band's first album before it was released.

What's particularly thrilling to read in the e-book is how Jackson relives those experiences. To help jog his memory, Reddon supplies some bootleg recordings to Jackson and then interviews him again after listening. The second time around, Jackson is probably just as awestruck with Led Zeppelin's live performances as he had been decades earlier. This is the highlight of the book, and it's something Reddon saved from revealing in his 2007 publication, the immense hardcover "Sonic Boom: The Impact of Led Zeppelin, Volume 1 -- Break & Enter."

That book covers the perfect storm that was the environment into which Led Zeppelin arrived in late 1968 and early 1969, on the occasion of the band's first trip to America. Many of the metropolitan areas Led Zeppelin hit during that initial North American tour had a different music scene that was, for its own reasons, ready and willing, or even pleading, to accept something new. For many cities, Led Zeppelin filled that void with onstage theatrics and genuine musicianship. The best sources for this are the firsthand accounts of the people who were drawn to Led Zeppelin in those days for their own personal reasons. Some just happened to be men with gray ponytails whom Reddon walked up to on the street to ask, "Have you ever seen Led Zeppelin in concert?" Some others interviewed in the book are qualified authors, while at least one perhaps questionable interviewee wasn't even a year old by the time John Bonham died (Disclosure: Let the record show that I'm referring to myself there).

There's so much to be consumed in this book, including an array of pictures on almost every page, that it keeps on giving every time it is opened and something on one of the 736 static pages pops out anew, be it a piece of artwork or a little-known factual detail.

One current offer from Enzepplopedia Publishing includes free shipping on the hardcover and a $9.95 discount when both books are purchased together.

Reddon says further volumes in the "Sonic Boom" set are to follow, but now he's concentrating on selling his inventory of the first volume as well as publishing a few e-books. Another published e-book of his, "Led Zeppelin's Music: True Blues & Beyond: Dig Down Deep into Zeppelin's Roots," is offered as a free bonus to those who sign up for his electronic newsletter, the Enzepplozine.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 12 days of Zeppelin: The band in pictures

On the sixth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
"Good Times Bad Times: A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band" by Ralph Hulett and Jerry Prochnicky

There's been no shortage of photo books documenting the run of Led Zeppelin from 1968 to 1980, but one of the new entries in that category may just be an essential addition to the genre. That's the 216-page "Good Times Bad Times: A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band," which assembles about 200 stills from about 64 different photographers delivering every side of the band: their onstage presence, their home lives and their homes away from home.

Certainly with Led Zeppelin, their image is central to the appeal of the band. No matter if Led Zeppelin was performing in a small club or a large outdoor festival, the visions of Robert Plant preening with a microphone and Jimmy Page marching with his guitar captivate an audience just as much as does the music.

So wrongly called "the quiet one," John Paul Jones livens up the book as he plays mandolin in a particularly memorable shot with his wife and daughters at home in England.

John Bonham's appearance is never better typified than when he is seen wearing a Snoopy shirt with the words, "I wish I could bite somebody ... I need a release from my inner tensions!"

Samples from the book:

Led Zeppelin explored Japan's culture with great enthusiasm. All the members bought cameras and had a field day with them. Here, Page and Plant are totally engrossed in the task at hand. "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music Archives

May 12, 1969. When he heard Led Zeppelin play for the first time in California, photographer Robert Knight was blown away and quickly helped them secure a gig in Hawaii. When the band got off the plane in Honolulu, Knight took pictures of them clutching reel-to-reel boxes that no doubt contained the works-in-progress that would become Led Zeppelin II. Knight recalled, "I met the band at the airport, with a VW and camera bag. I got some terrific shots of them at the house they rented at Diamond Head -- learning to surf, strolling the beach, and other very mad behavior." "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Robert M. Knight

Photographer Ron Raffaelli worked with Led Zeppelin mostly in 1969, accompanying the band on several European and U.S. tours and documenting sessions for Led Zeppelin II at Quantum Recording Studios in Los Angeles. Primarily, though, he's known for his striking images of Zeppelin taken at his Hollywood studio. Here, he was able to bring out the spontaneous individuality of the band members while also illustrating the group's unity. "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Ron Raffaelli /

Check out this full review of "Good Times Bad Times: A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band" as posted on prior to the book's publication in October.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The 12 days of Zeppelin: Fictional explanation of Led Zeppelin's $203,000 blunder

Also on the fifth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
A novel centering on the robbery of Led Zeppelin's money in 1973

Jason Buhrmester swears his story is fiction, but O.J. says his book is hypothetical too. Encounters with the Led Zeppelin entourage back in 1973 described in the novel "Black Dogs: The Possibly True Story of Classic Rock's Greatest Robbery" come across as likely interactions. However, Buhrmester has a good alibi: He was too young to have committed the crimes in his book. The protagonist of his story isn't.

"Black Dogs" is a fiction based on the mysterious robbery of $203,000 from Led Zeppelin at the Drake Hotel in New York at the end of the band's North American tour in July 1973. To answer the question of how this robbery might have been conducted, Buhrmester introduces us to a fictional group of bumbling criminals led by one slightly more thoughtful mastermind. This ragtag group swindles its way near Led Zeppelin on two occasions in pursuit of treasure. In doing so, they are caught up with several other circles with their own goals and their own self interest. It's a funny and clever story about a bunch of people you hope you'll never meet -- except, of course, for Jimmy Page, who's in the book.

Shortly after the April release of his book by Three Rivers Press, author Jason Buhrmester spoke with about his inspirations in writing it.

The 12 days of Zeppelin: Atlantic Records 'Time Capsule' contains two Zep songs, one from Plant solo

On the fifth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:

Atlantic Records 'Time Capsule' box set

Here's an important compilation for music historians and a unique artifact for collectors. The Time Capsule is a box set that, between a sensible assemblage of essential music and a new 140-page book, tells a near complete story of the Atlantic Records label from 1947 through today.

A 45 rpm single included with the box set shows where it all begins. It's a reissue of "Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee" by Stick McGhee & His Buddies. Aided by the promotion of Atlantic Records, this A-side went to No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart during the fledgling record company's first year. It has tons of edge. Here was a controlled voice singing about his predilection for the heavy consumption of wine and tendency toward the after-effects, namely dancing, being unabashedly sloppy and carelessly ruining property. In one sense, McGhee's version released on the Atlantic label was sanitized from earlier versions. "Spo-dee-o-dee" was four syllables of nonsense intended only to replace one choice four-syllable obscenity that nowadays does make it onto records with a parental advisory sticker. Another singer's "Mah-mah" is a two-syllable substitution for a profanity of the same length. These terms may have simply been nonsense to Atlantic's mass audience in 1947, but those in the know realized what they were getting away with.

The song kicked off a tradition for Atlantic, that no matter what kinds of artists were going to be signed, or what genres their music would fall into, Atlantic would always be breaking new ground. And the label would refuse to go unnoticed. With names like Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin passing through Atlantic's artists ranks in the '50s and '60s, those tradition carried on. It was 22 whole years from Atlantic's founding before a young virtuoso guitarist by the name of Jimmy Page was forming a new band. When word reached Jerry Wexler, remarkably, that Page's new group was not going to settle for a contract with the Yardbirds' record label, Wexler jumped at the opportunity to sign Page without hearing a single note of material. The conditions of his agreement with manager Peter Grant allowed the group to retain all rights to its own image, recordings, releases -- everything. Wexler, having negotiated the deal and landed the band an immense deposit, passed on the duties of corresponding with this new group, Led Zeppelin, to Ahmet Ertegun.

Perhaps the least dispensable name in Atlantic's history, Ertegun was crucial to Led Zeppelin's success in that he could be a friend and a professional coach while also possessing the restraint to respect off-the-wall decisions being made by band members who might have been under questionable influence from time to time. Included as part of The Time Capsule is the DVD titled Atlantic Records: The House that Ahmet Built, released in 2007 as a tribute to him shortly after his death. Many portions were filmed with Ertegun participating while artists owe up to their debts to his professional judgment. For Led Zeppelin fans, two such moments in particular stand out from the DVD. One shows Jimmy Page facing Ertegun, telling him:
"Good for you to have, for sort of, letting us get away with certain things, and I'll give you a good example with the fourth album. Because, by that time, we were getting so much bad press over here and, you know, they were saying it's a hype and it's this and it's that because they didn't understand, for one moment, what we were doing. And so the reviews were crap, and so by the time it came to the fourth album, we said, 'Right. OK. This is what's gonna happen here. We'll put out an album with no name of the band on it, no nothing,' and just say, 'Here you are, take it or leave it.' Well, of course, it was the biggest album we ever had up to that point. But, you know, it could have been one of those things that was drawn out, 'No, the name's got to be on there, no.' But in the end, you did. 'OK, let's give it a shot.' And it was brilliant, you know. Thank you for that. It was good."
In another scene, Ertegun does some of the talking with Robert Plant, discussing the blues influence on Led Zeppelin. While Plant interjects a "yeah" several times, Ertegun tells him, "When you heard the black music on the radio, it got you. It not only got you, but you went into more depth of study. And it wasn't a study for you. That was fun." Plant adds, "It's an obsession for me. I love it so much, yeah." Ertegun says, "That's right. So, when you heard it, you became part of it, and it became part of you." Then Plant takes over: "We all were basing most of our skills on American musicians, and I was listening to your man, Ray Charles."

There are 168 tracks spread across nine CDs, and just like the label itself there is no one genre associated with this box set. Basically, if Atlantic released it, it's on here. There are recordings from all of the artists you would expect to see.
  1. Ruth Brown features twice on the first disc, as does Ray Charles. Jazz men John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus are included along with the Coasters, Professor Longhair and Big Joe Turner. And that's just disc one!
  2. The second disc goes on to feature Ben E. King, Booker T. & the MGs, the Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Sam & Dave, Albert King and Aretha Franklin, but in the same breath begins to bring in white artists such as Sonny & Cher, the Young Rascals, Buffalo Springfield, the Bee Gees and the Vanilla Fudge.
  3. The full force of the British invasion on Atlantic Records is felt with the opening notes of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" as Disc 3 begins. Then it's back to a still-vibrant Otis Redding before, a few songs later, tracks by the Iron Butterfly and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown display Atlantic's acceptance of psychedelic music as an art form. Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" is the final track before, finally, the entrance of Led Zeppelin takes place. This is represented by no better than album one, side one, track one, "Good Times Bad Times." Now, the bar is set awfully high, but classic tracks by Blind Faith, Thunderclap Newman, Crosby Stills & Nash, the Allman Brothers Band, and jazz men Les McCann & Eddie Harris follow it up rather nicely.
  4. There are more discoveries to come on the fourth disc, including the addition of Neil Young to the Crosby-Stills-Nash lineup for "Ohio," the Velvet Underground on the heavily layered "Sweet Jane," yet another Eric Clapton band, ELP, Yes, the Stones, Genesis, Bette Midler ...
  5. What's this? Another Led Zeppelin song? "Kashmir" becomes the second Led Zeppelin track selected for The Time Capsule. There are also tracks from Abba, the Trammps and Foreigner.
  6. After the era of disco has passed, tangentially mentioned here by the inclusion of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Chic's "Le Freak," the Blues Brothers show up with their recording of "Soul Man." After this, the era of former group members going solo is ushered in, big-time. One minute, it's Pete Townshend with "Let My Love Open the Door," next it's "In the Air Tonight" with Phil Collins and "Edge of Seventeen" with Stevie Nicks. Then, before you know it, a post-Zeppelin Robert Plant is in with "Big Log."
  7. Disc 7 has "Rockin' at Midnight" by the Honeydrippers, which features Plant on vocals and Jimmy Page on guitar. The disc closes with a track that once drove Robert Plant wild, "Black Velvet" by Alannah Myles.
And so end the tracks of special interest to Led Zeppelin fans, although the chronological story continues with big hits by En Vogue, Marc Cohn, Mr. Big, Hootie & the Blowfish, Jewel, Brandy & Monica, Gnarls Barkley, T.I., Estelle featuring Kanye West, and Jason Mraz. The story hasn't ended either, which prompts curiosity as to why arbitrarily make this compilation after 62 years. But why wonder? Just experience it. Atlantic has given plenty of examples over the years of music worth hearing and enjoying, and this box set is the best and most complete testament to it yet to emerge.