Friday, September 28, 2007

Adieu to a great band; thanks for the jams

Last night, I said farewell to a great group of people I have had the pleasure of meeting this year, the members and entourage of the band Alowishious Farhatt. Hopefully, it's more of a "farewell for now" as they relocate from the busy D.C. area to the storied musical hotbed in Memphis, Tenn., which has called out to them. They're in search not necessarily of stardom but just appreciative audiences. "L.A.'s too far, and New York's too expensive," said Rick Patoray, founder of the group, last night.

The first time I saw his band was on April 14, a Saturday night out with some friends at a bar in Arlington, Va. We were seated in a booth, sipping down Red Bulls and vodka while munching on some quesadillas. We were trying to have a conversation when we all started to pay attention to the band performing on a tiny stage hidden behind some uninhabited tables.

Song after song, solo after solo, this classic rock cover band made our ears perk up. It wasn't just each member's abilities that made us take notice but also their song choices. For instance, they tore up the Rolling Stones' faux-disco radio staple "Miss You," and they strutted their way through a version of "Stray Cat Strut" that incorporated a small passage of Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" theme. What topped everything else was when, at my sarcastic "like-they'll-ever-be-able-to-play-this" request, these guys impressively launched into the entire medley on the B-side of the Beatles' Abbey Road, using only guitar, bass, drums and their own vocals. These were things I'd never heard a band do before. Holy crap, are these guys for real?

It was obvious to me that they really appreciated good music. That's why it struck me odd to find out, upon further investigation, that they were all under the age of 24. It was a pretty amazing respect for music they possessed, something I also had at that age although I was unable to find likeminded individuals who were willing or able to put it toward forming a band that would play out for the sake of having fun and making good music.

During a break between sets that night, I chatted with these three guys and described myself as a frustrated keyboard player who can jam with the best of them. Casually, they invited me to sit in with them the next time they were around. Were they sure they wanted to take my word for it and let me sit in next time without first hearing me? Wouldn't they want to invite me to a few rehearsals first just to get some kind of inkling of what kind of player I am or what songs I know? No, said Rick Patoray, the oldest member and who started the band six years ago. He told me they are playing over 100 shows a year and never rehearse. Or maybe he said each show is a rehearsal for the next.

Either way, they called me a few weeks later to tell me when I should be at their next show at the same bar. Friends and I arrived early, towing my keyboard and minimal necessary components and wondered whether they would really invite me to the stage at some point, for a couple of songs in their last set maybe. We got there about an hour before they did, and so I'm sure I looked pretty silly trotting in a single giant keyboard and not knowing exactly where to stash it in the meantime. Finally, when they arrived, they told me to get set up right there with them. They would have me play the first few songs, and if it was good, I could jam all night.

On guitar and vocals, Rick Patoray was capable of squelching out solos in the vein of Stevie Ray Vaughan or whichever guitarist was appropriate for each song. Bassist Zach Bossart provided smooth support for every tune, also doubling on backup vocals. On drums and vocals (alternating lead duties with Rick), Kenny Thomas banged out some masterful rhythms and fills. And in the middle of it all, I was there, telling them between songs whether or not I could play the suggestion they made. Most of the time, it was a yes, and we just jumped right into it so quickly that we didn't even discuss what key we would play it in. But we all came in together, and it all worked out fine -- so fine that they invited me back for each of their monthly gigs. I gladly participated in three of them, including last night, and they warmly accepted me into the fold each time, even giving me the spotlight for some of their famous organ solos, namely Del Shannon's "Runaway" and the Animals' "House of the Rising Sun."

Now they're heading off to Memphis, where they hope things will go better for them. They've been around Northern Virginia for long enough to see that audiences generally don't take too kindly to the noise they're making. Here in the D.C. area, bars are full of guys who just want to "mack on chicks," and a loud band playing "daddy's music" is bothersome. That's exactly what we saw last night in Arlington, Va.

Last night, we played: "One After 909" by the Beatles, "Pride and Joy" by Stevie Ray Vaughan, "Runaway" by Del Shannon, "Stray Cat Strut" by the Stray Cats, "I Shot the Sheriff" by either Bob Marley or Eric Clapton (our rendition was a mix of both), "Get Back" by the Beatles, "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" by Bob Dylan, "So Happy Together" by the Turtles, "Lady Madonna" by the Beatles, the traditional "Happy Birthday" for someone turning 21 followed by "Birthday" by the Beatles, "The Lemon Song" by Led Zeppelin (you bet!), and "Miss You" by the Rolling Stones.

For the beginning of set two, Rick handed off his guitar to Kenny and went over to play the drums. They trade instruments regularly for a few songs, and what's surprising is that Kenny has a fine command of guitar too! With this alternate lineup (shown in the photo at right), we played "Have a Cigar" by Pink Floyd, "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" by the Guess Who, "Karma Police" by Radiohead, "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, and finally some song by either 311 or Sublime that I didn't know apart from fudging my way through it at each of my previous three gigs with them.
Thanks to my buddy Ben for the photo above.
The rest of our second set, with the normal lineup back in position, continued as follows: "Say It Ain't So" by Weezer, the Abbey Road medley by the Beatles (including that "Her Majesty" bit after "The End"), an impromptu "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)" while Rick used the men's room, segueing nicely into "Don't Let Me Down" by the Beatles upon his return, and "Let It Be" by the Beatles. During that song, my note taker left, and all I can remember playing afterwards are "Up on Cripple Creek" by the Band, "My Name is Mud" by Primus (which I had never heard before and so I didn't play along until the second verse), "The Weight" by the Band, and we definitely closed with "Tomorrow" by Silverchair.

The audience reception last night to our sets was tepid and apathetic. A couple of dudes stood with their backs to the bartender to face us, applauded every tune as soon as they recognized it, and came up to us after each song to tell us how great it sounded. Other than these two guys, the place was packed with twentysomethings engrossed in conversations aimed at drowning out the band. One buxom blonde did approach me and asked if we could play requests, and I said yes, but there was no song title she particularly had in mind, so she went away and we didn't see her again.

This is typical for the area, Rick told me, adding that he hated that place in particular because the patrons there were always like that. Now he and his bandmates have themselves become jaded, apathetic and tired of the D.C. area, to the point that they would run through a song for the first time ever onstage, without any rehearsal other than telling each other what song they were about to attempt.

That's how our Guess Who cover came about. They said they'd heard it on the radio on the way to the gig and decided they wanted to try it out. It was the second song after the break. But the funny thing is that it actually comes off well whenever they try something new onstage. The reason is, Rick explained, that they've been together for so long -- six years -- that now they just instinctively follow each other.

Their overall notion for their shows in Northern Virginia has been that there's barely anybody who will be impressed. That also accounts for why they didn't bat an eyelash in telling me to come and jam with them at a gig, and then having me back month after month. Basically, they had nothing to lose when it came to these gigs. They were already assured of a testy reaction, so what would be so bad if they made a mistake in playing an unrehearsed song or inviting a total stranger to sit in?

As with their successful performances of unrehearsed songs (seven last night were things they never played together before), their decision to let me tag along was the right one. They said having me there broke up the monotony of those 100 similar shows a year. For instance, on the Beatles medley, Rick could sit back a little knowing I would play all the keyboard parts, whereas normally he would overextend himself to pick at them on the guitar. It also meant Rick could hand off solos to someone who wasn't playing bass or drums, and that he and I could do some back-and-forth interplay. We were doing this right from that first night I jammed with them.

With the lethargy of their listeners having grated on them long enough, now Alowishious Farhatt is actually doing something about it. Memphis, to them, represents greener pastures, where they're told nice folks go out to a bar with the specific intention of watching a band. And because alcohol is there, they drink too. The group may not make it big-time, but they are optimistic in believing there are more pleasant experiences to be had.

Farewell for now! I'll see you guys in Memphis someday.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Latest Led Zeppelin repackaging unnecessary for most fans

The Mothership is coming! But who cares?

There has long been a trend among corporate giants to release countless duplicative compilations of musical artists' best work. Be it the result of capitalism or something else, it happens a lot. I don't particularly understand the market. Why would there be a demand for another rehashing of the same material that's previously available? If they're selling, that's fine.

Whether or not to buy a newly released Led Zeppelin compilation was for many years something consumers never had to contemplate. But now, the band's creative handiwork will soon re-enter stores with the new name of Mothership. It is described in a promotional statement as "a 24-track, two-CD comprehensive collection that spans their illustrious career." However, this aim has already been achieved -- not once but twice in Led Zeppelin's past. As a result, fans must examine this third two-CD collection of essential material and judge for themselves whether the new release itself ought to become an indispensable addition to their collection.

The Original Compilations (1990–1998)

Two-thirds of the band's studio output easily fit onto four compact discs when first attempted in 1990 on a box set simply titled Led Zeppelin. Each of the four discs loosely concentrated on a general time period in the group's studio output, although strict adherence to that rule was abandoned in favor of a flow between songs. Jimmy Page said the running order presented the old picture in a new frame and was something fans would come to appreciate.

Another strong point of this original repackaging was that the selected tracks were drawn not only from the original eight studio albums but also the only posthumous release out by that time, Coda. The image of a mesmerizing and mysterious crop circle emblazoned the LP-sized cover. Also, its liner notes incorporated a history of the band including the accounts of journalists who supported the group throughout its career. All in all, the four-CD Led Zeppelin was for many reasons the most vital assortment of the group's studio work released to date.

Quickly following its release was Remasters, the first two-disc examination of the band's most essential studio work. Its 26 songs drew mainly from the same pool of songs as was included on the four-CD set, with the notable exception that Remasters altogether ignored that posthumous release, Coda.

The supplement to the original Led Zeppelin box set was released in 1993 with the name Box Set 2. Contained in a small package with art based on the same crop circles concept, it was comprised exclusively of only those studio tracks that were excluded from the four-CD box. Some people have chosen to nickname this tiny collection "the rest of the best," which presupposes that Led Zeppelin's entire catalog is all "the best."

If that is the case, then the definitive collection of the group's studio output can be only Complete Studio Recordings, the exhaustive 10-CD box set also issued in 1993. It contained all nine studio albums, including Coda, in their entirety with their original running orders intact. The set's Coda disc was also expanded to include the few tracks that had been previously unavailable on CD prior to the box sets. Even with its high pricetag, Complete Studio Recordings was a critical grab for many ardent Led Zeppelin fans.

For nearly the rest of the decade, these four collections were the only sets consumers had to mull over purchasing. Of them, the only one that attempted to package only two discs' worth of the very most fundamental work was Remasters.

This period also saw the release of the two-CD BBC Sessions. None of the material on this set has been reissued since.

A Presence in the 21st Century (1999–2006)

In 1999, Led Zeppelin released the first half of a two-volume set of CDs officially released as a best-of compilation. This first installation was called Early Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume One, and its follow-up the following year was Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volume Two. These presented a near-identical repeat of the tracks found on Remasters (more on this later), although the sets took advantage of new technology available when they arrived in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Each included enhanced content that paired previously unseen live footage of the group performing a Led Zeppelin song with the audio of its standard studio rendition.

The familiar track listing was not the only point of contention among fans. Many viewed the cover art of each as abominable. They feature the band members sporting astronaut uniforms. However, the booklets accompanying Early Days and Latter Days were showered with newly prepared liner notes as well as rare and previously unseen photographs. All things considered, the strong points of these releases made them palatable overall, and the powers that be were excused for releasing sets that were practically carbon copies of the two CDs in Remasters.

The Early Days and Latter Days sets were combined in 2002 as a single two-CD purchase, making them more attractive as one-stop shopping for casual fans.

Likewise, Remasters was repackaged in 2003 to fit into a standard-size CD jewel case, thus making it an even more attractive purchase than it already had been.

This period also saw the releases of Led Zeppelin's DVD and the three-CD live release How the West Was Won, both in 2003.

Mothership: Not Much of a New Frame

Only a few years after these commercial releases, the band is already at it again. This November, Led Zeppelin will saturate the market with a third two-disc set repetitively containing virtually the same predictable track listing. Mothership will boast of new liner notes from rock music journalist David Fricke, but that is about all its standard release has to offer that is both new and positive. For example, its new cover art is a downright deplorable cartoon rendition of a blimp (or is it a spaceship?) with two-dimensional lettering. As far as capturing the mystique of the group as did the crop circles, this putrid image misses the boat entirely. (This eyesore of an album cover is included on this page for educational purposes only and not because it brings beauty to the words.)

Only the collectors' editions seem especially appealing as they are said to contain shirts and reproductions of rare memorabilia. In addition, a limited collectors' edition of Mothership will incorporate a single-DVD summary of the same footage used on Led Zeppelin's 2003 DVD. However, these expensive limited editions are not intended for the same type of widespread consumption as the attractively repackaged Early Days & Latter Days: The Best of Led Zeppelin Volumes One and Two and Remasters. The cost associated with the memorabilia-enhanced limited editions of Mothership will surely keep casual fans away.

The Song Remains Repetitive: Find the Differences

Taken for the music only, each of the three similar two-disc collections -- Remasters, Early Days & Latter Days, and Mothership -- sorts the band's studio output into one of two categories: release dates that are pre-1972 and post-1972, or material from the first four and the last four studio albums. The overlap between Remasters and Early Days & Latter Days, between it and Mothership, and in fact between Remasters and Mothership, is significant.

Overall, Remasters contained the largest selection of Led Zeppelin's material. No less than 15 tracks culled from the first four albums appeared on its first disc, whereas both Early Days and Mothership have just 13 each. The treatment of the group's final four studio albums was the lightest on Latter Days, with only 10 audio tracks compared to the 11 on both Remasters and Mothership.

These sheer numbers do not convey the actual duplicity as much as does a thorough rundown of the precise song selections. Nineteen standouts from the band's catalog have remained constant top choices throughout each reappraisal of the material. Yes, that's correct: Remasters, Early Days & Latter Days and Mothership all have 19 tracks in common! That means 82.6 percent of the last two compilations match each other and Remasters! For instance, "Stairway to Heaven" has always ended the collections spanning the band's pre-1972 output, and "The Song Remains the Same" has kicked off every post-1972 disc. There's little variation anywhere except when it comes to the treatment of Led Zeppelin's fifth album, the 1973 Houses of the Holy.

The only selections from the debut Led Zeppelin album to make any of these collections are "Good Times Bad Times," "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," "Dazed and Confused" and "Communication Breakdown," and the same four have appeared on all three collections. They were presented in a different order each time, and Early Days was the only one to present them in the same sequence as on Led Zeppelin's debut.

"Whole Lotta Love" is the only Led Zeppelin II track to have been included on all three, coincidentally the fifth track of each. "Heartbreaker" and "Ramble On" were chosen for both Remasters and Mothership, whereas Early Days preferred only one track from Led Zeppelin II -- "What Is and What Should Never Be," which was seen on neither of the other two collections.

From Led Zeppelin III, the two most recent collections have embraced only "Immigrant Song" and "Since I've Been Loving You." Remasters opted to sandwich another Led Zeppelin III track between those two, "Celebration Day."

Five songs from the band's untitled fourth album were selected to close out the running order on the first disc of Remasters. Of these, the triumvirate of "Black Dog," "Rock and Roll" and "Stairway to Heaven" has made it to the all three collections. "The Battle of Evermore" made the transition from Remasters to Early Days but not to Mothership. "Misty Mountain Hop" was dropped from both two-CD collections following Remasters, exchanged instead for "When the Levee Breaks."

The post-1972 discs vary less, mostly because the band seems to have agreed over the years that only two songs from each of its last two albums are worthwhile inclusions. These are "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "Achilles Last Stand" from Presence, and "All My Love" and "In the Evening" from In Through the Out Door. Likewise, only three songs from the double album Physical Graffiti showed up on all three compilations: "Houses of the Holy," "Kashmir" and "Trampled Underfoot." Another Physical Graffiti track, "Ten Years Gone," was chosen for Latter Days, but the album's remaining 11 songs were not chosen for any of the three compilations.

As previously stated, the album whose representation varies the most, by a hair, on these sets is Houses of the Holy. In addition to the ever-present "The Song Remains the Same" at track one, "No Quarter" has made the final cut for all three releases. Whereas this pair of Houses of the Holy songs was deemed a sufficient showing for Latter Days, the band also selected "D'yer Mak'er" as track three on both Remasters and Mothership. Wildcard songs from this album were additionally included on those two collections: "The Rain Song" on Remasters and "Over the Hills and Far Away" on Mothership.

Early Days and Latter Days were the only of these compilations' standard editions to contain live footage of the group, albeit mimed to the studio releases. (Sticklers point out that while the visuals of "Kashmir" being performed at Earl's Court in 1975 is synched to the audio from the studio version, the audio does not fade out as it does on the studio version; that is because the ending from the live performance was introduced seamlessly into the audio.)


What's the point in reissuing the same music over and over again with little exclusive goodies to offer? Tell you what: You write the conclusion! Let's get this comments section buzzing! Go ahead and take the devil's advocate and defend this Mothership release as vital to any music collection. If you can explain how it presents anything new, then you are a great persuader.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Raising Sand musician Mike Seeger cherishes traditional sounds

Bob Dylan's is one of those names many musicians drop when asked to identify their largest influences. But dig deeper and ask Bob Dylan who influenced him, and you're likely to hear a name like Mike Seeger's.

Now aged 74 and still very much active, this authority on most string instruments has had a very important musical career dating back to the 1940s. An inspiring band of Seeger's, called the New Lost City Ramblers, is currently celebrating its 50th year of existence. The lesser known younger brother of folk singer Pete Seeger, he continues to perform regularly in live settings and often lends his creative hand to compilations of previously undiscovered folk music. His solo albums -- including one released earlier this year and another on the way shortly -- reflect his deep fascination with ranges of traditional styles whose diverse origins span the globe.

Mike Seeger is also one of a select few who joined Robert Plant and Alison Krauss in Nashville last year when they were recording the album that will be released next month as Raising Sand. When Seeger received my request for an interview, he wasn't quite sure why I would want to ask him about his involvement with the album. After all, he reasoned, his contribution was very minor -- limited to playing music on only one song. Besides that, unlike me, he hadn't heard the finished product yet.

To top it all off, he said he couldn't offer much insight as to the profoundness of the alliance of the former Led Zeppelin front man with the bluegrass vixen. Seeger sounded apologetic on the phone today when he confessed:
"I don't know if I should really make my ignorance known, but I didn't know who Robert Plant was. I've heard of Led Zeppelin, but I'm so engrossed in traditional music including bluegrass and country-western that I don't know other kinds of music much."
While he might not be able to distinguish Plant from, say, Ian Anderson or David Coverdale, much less Ric Ocasek, Seeger says he was familiar enough with some of the other personnel on the Plant/Krauss project to agree to contribute to it when asked. Basically, he took their word for it. "I did know Alison Krauss," he offered. "Alison is a wonderful singer and fiddler and bandleader … and on the strength of her music, and with T Bone [Burnett] producing it, I thought I could help some."

The project gave Seeger opportunities to partner again with Norman Blake, a traditional guitarist and Dobro player he admires, and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Seeger said he was most familiar with those musicians, although he did also recall having worked with Burnett and upright bassist Dennis Crouch in recording an album for dear friend Ralph Stanley, released last May.

Seeger's sole contribution to Raising Sand is on its closing track, "Your Long Journey." With its lyrics about the imminent passing of a loved one, it is credited to the husband-and-wife duo of Doc and Rosa Lee Watson, who originally recorded it for the 1963 LP Doc Watson & Family (available on CD since 1993 as The Watson Family).

Seeger, who played a prominent autoharp on the new version for Plant and Krauss, proclaimed the track to be "one of the most beautiful songs in the genre." Asked why he might have been selected to contribute to the album, Seeger speculated, "Well, I think it was that I play a fairly traditional-sounding autoharp style, and it fits with the older songs."

He deserves credit for being awfully open-minded. "I'm interested in a lot of sounds," said Seeger. He was raised on a steady regimen of recordings his parents often carried back from trips to the Library Congress. "I was reared on those field recordings and my parents' singing to us and my brother's music." (Mike Seeger was still in his teens when his brother Pete formed his first band.)

As far as not being versed at all in Led Zeppelin's music, it's forgivable in Seeger's case. He does seem interested, though. After learning where his preferences lie, I laid out for him the bit of Led Zeppelin history that was most relevant to him: John Paul Jones, on his recorded cover of "Down to the River to Play" available on his 2002 album The Thunderthief, employs an electronic technology called Kyma to layer musical lines played on the tripleneck mandolin; it is also a process that can be duplicated live. Seeger said he would be very interested to hear that and asked me to send him a copy. On that note, I plan to oblige.

Remembering Bonzo

Twenty-seven years ago today, the members of Led Zeppelin were staying at Jimmy Page's house after an upbeat rehearsal in the area the previous day. They had been in good spirits and, in between bouts of laughter, even began working up a live rendition of "Carouselambra" -- the longest track from their most recent album and perhaps the most intricately complicated song the group had ever considered. It had been two months since they had last played a concert, and they were preparing to take on the rest of the world. Advertising for their North American tour campaign was already underway with a slogan, "Led Zeppelin: The Eighties, Part One." Tentative plans for the following year included return trips to distant places like Japan and new destinations in South America.

That all changed when one of them didn't wake up. It was jarring when John "Bonzo" Bonham, a fun-loving 32-year-old family man, was found dead. He had been drinking large quantities of vodka all day and, in his sleep, choked on his vomit.

He was loved dearly by his friends, family and neighbors. Robert Plant said in 2003, "Well, it's tough because he and I came from the same area. I still live there. [His wife] Pat still lives there. [His son] Jason still lives there. Everybody's around, and it's a bit like waiting for Ulysses to come home."

On the 25th anniversary of Bonham's death, Pat wrote a message for her dear husband in a guest book at his grave. According to an article by Mike Nolan of the Worcester News, her note reads: "I miss you more each day my love will never die. Your loving wife Pat."

It's a great tribute to him that one of his children, Jason Bonham, will fill in for him on drums at the upcoming Led Zeppelin reunion concert. Jason learned from the best.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fats Domino tribute released with two Robert Plant tracks

On a new two-CD collection produced both as a tribute to 79-year-old singer/songwriter Fats Domino and also to benefit the music culture in New Orleans, Robert Plant lends his vocals to two cover songs.

Domino, a New Orleans native who lost his home to Hurricane Katrina two years ago, has been recording since the late 1940s. He earned his first pop hit in the United States and England in 1955 with "Ain't That a Shame." John Lennon's cover version of the song, originally released 20 years later, now exists as the appropriate choice to open the tribute album released tomorrow in the United States.

As for Plant's involvement in the project, New York Times reporter Nate Chinen tells the story in an article published on Saturday: Plant had first agreed to contribute only one song for the compilation, a version of Domino's 1961 single "It Keeps Rainin'." However, one was not enough; he chose to record another, engaging in an impromptu recording session with a large vocal ensemble dropping in from another continent.

In April recording sessions attended in person by Domino, Plant committed both songs to tape during a three-day visit to New Orleans. For "It Keeps Rainin'," he was assisted by the Cajun sounds of the accordion-wielding Lil' Band O' Gold, a swamp-pop group from the southern Louisiana town of Lafayette. Plant and the band laid down their rendition on Thursday, April 19, according to Scott Jordan in a blurb for Lafayette's Independent Weekly and Keith Spera in a blog entry for The Times-Picayune.

Spera adds that following the recording session, Plant stopped by three New Orleans concert venues to take in some live performances. One of the acts he watched was Lil' Band O' Gold member Steve Riley's other band, the Mamou Playboys, performing at the Mid-City Lanes Rock 'n Bowl. Plant also listened to local mainstays The Trio at the Maple Leaf.

At Tipitina's, the top-billed act was not an area group but the 26-member Soweto Gospel Choir from South Africa. During their stay, they were ushered into a recording studio with Plant to record an impromptu cover of "Valley of Tears." In the original version, released 1957, Fats Domino was assisted by a pop choir and saxophone solo. However, the only musical accompaniment in the new recording of that song comes from some light percussion. Plant provides two verses of restrained vocals in this track, which stretches just barely over two minutes in length.

While it might be construed as an atypical combination of forces to outsiders, at least one person familiar with the New Orleans music scene was quoted in the New York Times piece as declaring Plant's recording session with the Soweto Gospel Choir was commonplace. “So you have the Led Zeppelin guy with a South African gospel choir doing a Fats Domino song,” said Bill Taylor, executive director of the Tipitina's Foundation and executive producer of the double album. “It’s an example of what happens here musically every day.”

Plant and Domino met again in the afternoon on Saturday, April 21, before the British singer joined the Lil' Band of Gold onstage for a half hour at Tipitina's. They were reported to have played both "It Keeps Rainin'" and "Valley of Tears," in addition to a few Elvis Presley songs, the blues song "Hoochie Coochie Man" made famous by Muddy Waters, and snippets of Led Zeppelin songs.

Led Zeppelin fans may best know Domino as the author of the song "Blueberry Hill," famous for a performance as an encore at a single Zep show 37 years ago this month. An unsanctioned recording of the concert by an audience member was released in the 1970s without authorization of the band, making it one of the very earliest bootlegs of a rock concert ever produced.

The double album, Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino, is to be released Sept. 25 by Vanguard Records. It is not the first musical release for which proceeds benefit the Tipitina's Foundation. It is preceded by Domino's independently released 2006 album, Alive and Kickin'.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thumb-twiddling Led Zeppelin fans do the limbo and wait for possible notification

There's a lottery going on. More than a million entered. Upwards of 18,000 will win.

This makes for the odds of winning a little better than in most lotteries.

But it's a little unnerving to consider that winners will simply be notified somehow of their win, rather than being provided a method that would allow them to verify independently that they have won. Because in this lottery, it's not like you can check your numbers against some published winning numbers. It's not a raffle.

I'm speaking, of course, about the drawing for tickets at the upcoming Led Zeppelin reunion concert. Registration closed at noon today in London time, and an announcement now places the number of successful registrants in the past week at over 1 million.

Of these registrants, 982,000 will not hear anything official about the show at all. The others, that vast minority, will hear from a third-party vendor by e-mail between today and the end of the month.

For one thing, it would be nice to know exactly what to be watching for. Will I be able to recognize it if I see it? From what e-mail address will this be sent? What will the subject line say?

Like many Internet users, I have a spam filter in my e-mail account that sends anything suspicious to a folder where I can retrieve it. I check this folder quite often, usually sentencing all of its contents to Internet oblivion.

It is quite a scary thought to realize that I might accidentally blow my one and only chance ever to see Led Zeppelin in concert during my lifetime by glossing over it when I delete bulk collections of offers for Rolex watches and cheap medication.

Also, I'd really like to know the name of the third-party vendor that will be contacting fans. What is the process I will be instructed to complete? Will I be told to visit a certain Web site to purchase my tickets, and if so, what is it?

The reason this is important is fraud. My e-mail address is out there already, and plenty of people would correctly assume I've registered my name and e-mail address in this lottery. So, if I receive an offer telling me to go to some Web site and enter my credit card information to buy the tickets, how would I be assured that the e-mail I'm receiving is legitimate? Might it really be somebody who's just trying to rip me off?

Not only is it time for more than a million Led Zeppelin fans to twiddle their thumbs. It's also time for the organizers to get serious about this reunion. Give us a hint as to what to expect so that we can be assured we've been notified of our win.

In the event that further instructions aren't publicized ahead of time, I beseech you fans to let me know -- by e-mail at ledzeppelinhistory-owner [at] yahoogroups [dot] com -- what kinds of instructions you're receiving over the remaining 11 days of this month. Please describe your notification e-mails in great detail or, if you don't mind, forward the actual correspondence. Anything received here, unless marked confidential, will be shared with the rest of the world.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Uncle Earl, John Paul Jones protegees, enthusiastic in Virginia

Uncle Earl put on a great performance Sunday at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va., a place they proclaimed as one of their favorite venues in the country. It's a place they attested they wouldn't miss their show, no matter how much trouble they had getting there, as they hilariously described for the audience between songs.

The all-female string band's set list was comprised of songs from the members' side projects and their two collaborative albums, the second of which was produced by John Paul Jones and also includes the Led Zeppelin musician on mandola, bass, piano, Papoose, wobbleboard, and a fair amount of background hollering.

What's really wonderful about this band is their versatility. Each g'Earl is proficient at her instruments -- Rayna Gellert on fiddle, Abigail Washburn on banjo, Kristin Andreassen on guitar, fiddle, harmonica, banjo and ukulele, and KC Groves on mandolin, guitar and mandola -- and each can sing. They trade off lead vocals from song to song, and their other individual talents, including Kristin's dancing and Abigail's keen sense of fashion, are all highlighted eventually. Onstage, they obviously displayed the same "enthusiasm, willingness and fine musicianship" to which Jones alludes in the liner notes to their March release, Waterloo, Tennessee.

At the Birchmere, Uncle Earl was joined onstage by the six-member King Wilkie, which Kristin proclaimed to be the object of her affection. Both groups are signed to Rounder Records. Several members made cameo appearances throughout Uncle Earl's set, and touring addition Laura Cortese played upright bass throughout it all.

One unexpected treat was a cover of the Police's "Canary in a Coalmine" in a nifty arrangement that could have been made by Rolf Harris. Another standout number can be found on Kristin's solo effort, Kiss Me Hello: "Crayola Doesn't Make a Color for Your Eyes." It's a children's song she cowrote and for which she won a songwriting contest earlier in the year. Immediately at the chorus, many audience members let out a noise that signalled either they had just recognized the song ("ahhhhh") or they thought its lyrics and harmonies were absolutely charming and angelic ("awwwww"). The song also benefited from Kristin's playful pattycake with Rayna, four-part harmony from the g'Earls, and a toy piano solo from King Wilkie's Reid Burgess. Uncle Earl's set concluded with an ensemble jam on the g'Earls' arrangement of the traditional "Black-eyed Susie."

After the show, I asked the gorgeous Rayna whether her group has taken a cue from Jones and enlisted Andy Manson in England to make them any acoustic stringed instruments. Rolling her eyes, she said, "I wish!" His equipment is a little pricey for the group, she suggested. One of Jones's instruments, a mandocello, is so large that she calls it the "water buffalo," she said, and it makes her jealous.

Then she really made me jealous. Kristin and Rayna said they have one more show in the United States this road trip and that Uncle Earl will be touring England this November. Their tour dates will end in time for the Led Zeppelin reunion concert in London on the 26th. Any plans to attend? First, Kristin stroked her chin and teased, "We'll see." Separately, Rayna's answer, however, was more direct. Maybe she doesn't have a water buffalo she can call her own, but she confirmed that indeed all of her band would be special guests of John Paul Jones at the Led Zeppelin show. Now who's jealous?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

November reunion, outlasting previous ones six times over, needs to be preserved

It appears some real advance planning has accompanied the announcement of this upcoming concert performance by the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, scheduled to take place two months into the future.

When I speak of advance planning, certainly I am not referring to the lack of foresight that meant the announcement of a ticket registration process was uprooted by excessive demand within minutes. (After all, who could have predicted so many people would want to go to a little Led Zeppelin show in 2007? What does the proverb say absence does? Hmmmm.)

The advance planning that is becoming clearer has to do with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham. For one thing, they told event promoter Harvey Goldsmith they were going to play for two hours, instead of the 30 minutes he asked for. There is no doubt in my mind that, unlike before the previous handful of reunion shows, they have been extensively talking over set list ideas and rehearsing material. By all accounts, this won't be another trouncing through 20 minutes' worth of songs with minimal prep time; instead, this is going to be something to do justice to the group.

A revelation in the Exeter Express & Echo lets slip that Led Zeppelin has had a "secret rehearsal venue in London." The article also quotes Hugh Manson, longtime manufacturer of electric basses for John Paul Jones and who is building new gear customized for the November reunion. "It is going to be absolutely fantastic," said Manson. "Rehearsals have been hard work but great fun. I have just finished making one new guitar for the concert and am now working on another, which will be a spare. It is a four-string bass which is extra long - at least that is the best way to describe it."

Manson -- who was my interview subject in the April 28, 2003, edition of "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History" -- proceeds to hint that some songs have already been determined, with rehearsals having dictated new keys and, therefore, new instruments. He tells the Express & Echo, "Some of the songs will be in a lower key than usual and, while you can tune a guitar to accommodate almost any note, the best way is to make an instrument to do the job - and that's what this is. In fact, all the basses used by the band in the concert will be ours."

Some fans have interpreted this quote to mean that Jones will not be the only member on bass. Specifically, they think Jimmy Page might play bass for a song like "When the Levee Breaks," allowing Jones to play the lead on his lap steel guitar as he has done in solo outings and other live ventures throughout this decade.

One as-yet unconfirmed rumor suggests that Page has been readying himself since April to play a live version of "Dazed and Confused," complete with a violin bow solo. He sped through a violin bow solo during a live performance of the song on Feb. 9, 2002 – one of only two times he attempted "Dazed" in the past 10 years. The alleged reading of the song this November might be more like the old days when Page thoughtfully prepared for his moment in the spotlight, center-stage.

In fact, prior to Led Zeppelin's shows at Knebworth in 1979 where Page played a violin bow solo to introduce "Achilles Last Stand," the guitarist jotted down stage notes on how he wanted the laser lights and smoke behind him to function during that moment. Those visual and musical cues for effects to be triggered by crew and by fiberoptic cable attached to his violin bow demonstrate how interested and involved Page has been in defining his own image.

Certainly, he has been the primary gatekeeper when it comes to controlling the group's image, given his direct involvement in the behind-the-scenes work of preserving Led Zeppelin. He has coordinated posthumous releases from 1982's Coda on through this November's reissue of The Song Remains the Same, with remastered CDs and box sets as well as live discs and BBC performances. During the band's existence, he labored at length to have great input in the Led Zeppelin film and several studio albums.

This leads me to another point: the documentation of this seemingly well-planned reunion concert. As of now, no plans have been announced to film this sole representation of live Led Zeppelin in the 21st century. If it comes off as well as is hoped, and indeed especially if this one-off show is all that is being considered, then it would be a horrible shame if the unique spectacle can be viewed only by the 18,000 ticketholders and special guests and is not captured on video.

Think of the possibilities: It could result in a massive television extravaganza. Proceeds from sales of a commercial release could be earmarked to benefit the Ahmet Ertegün Education Fund, the charity sowing the benefits of the concert ticket themselves. All this is achievable just by allowing the event to be shared with the millions of fans all around the world.

This is the subject of an online petition now circulating. If you feel the same way, you are urged to sign the letter. The wonderful and historically unique occasion of Led Zeppelin's November 2007 reunion must somehow make it to the masses, and fans must not sit back quietly while such an oversight takes place. Led Zeppelin is a band for the ages, and this should be a reunion for the ages -- not just for two hours on Nov. 26.

That all being said, it is possible that recording the show could be accomplished even as an afterthought. Those who learn from history know that this is how the last three nights of Led Zeppelin's North American tour of 1973 was filmed and came to be included in both The Song Remains the Same and the 2003 DVD. It's also how the last two nights of a 1999 mini-tour of Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes ended up being recorded and subsequently released via computer downloads and on a live album.

The latter circumstance is detailed on the Web site of Kevin Shirley's Cameman Productions; Shirley was the sound engineer for Led Zeppelin's DVD, and he produced, engineered and mixed Live at the Greek for Page and the Black Crowes. Page, who said their performance at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles was "one of those nights where everything just gelled beautifully -- one of those magical nights, so it was just tremendous," was reminded backstage after the show that Shirley had recorded it. "Yeah, that's right, we did record it," Page is quoted as saying. "Thank goodness."

Some history is meant to be repeated.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Why only 18,000 tickets to rock's biggest reunion ever?

As soon as the era of Led Zeppelin concluded in 1980 due to circumstances beyond any earthling's control, persistent outside speculation began that the group's three survivors would carry on together in one form or another. This assumption has not become reality, except with the understanding that today, as they prepare to unleash a set lasting two hours, the three carry on as friends.

The fact is that since their breakup, the amount of time they have carried on together publicly in a musical fashion has amounted to approximately an hour: 20 minutes in 1985, another 20 in 1988, and 15 minutes in 1995. Not even a full hour of new moments in Led Zeppelin concert history has existed in the presence of public audiences.

We have learned many stated reasons for the scarcity of collaborations involving all three: It wouldn't be the same. The expectations would be too great. The associated travel would be too much. They have their own careers now. There was some rift among the three. They've already accomplished everything possible. There's something despicable about enormous shows.

The live tribute to Ahmet Ertegün announced yesterday does not negate or dismiss those reasons. In fact, a single concert date in England means no real need for travel. It's been a long time since they rock 'n' rolled – such a long time, in fact, that they have already adequately established themselves as career musicians outside of the context of their collective group. Wounds have healed, and they have nothing to prove. Although John Bonham will never be back, they have obtained the first in the direct familial line of succession to the drum stool throne. And, like it or not, the show they're playing is not going to be in front of an enormous crowd.

Perhaps the limited seating capacity of the venue chosen is the one attribute to this upcoming reunion that most upsets fans who have been persistent in their hopes that someday they would be able to see the Zeppelin once again take flight. A reunion is taking place, and the total number of randomly selected attendees from all over the world will be no more than 18,000 in a world inhabited by 6.6 billion people, of whom an estimated 20 million found themselves vying for the opportunity to register for tickets at a Web site that crashed within minutes of the official announcement. Eighteen thousand seems like a drop in the bucket, particularly when one considers that we're talking about the same band that broke its own records for highest paying concert attendance for a single act.

However, it's an appropriate number when you recall Robert Plant's disdain for "enormous shows," a term he used in an interview for the BBC yesterday. He resists playing them because, he says, "Once you get that big and you start playing those kind of shows, you lose the reins of what you're trying to do." Keep in mind that this is a guy who has played in the middle of the Sahara desert, with street musicians in Marrakech, and at a zoo a short commute from his home town – not exactly Rock in Rio. Robert prefers smaller, more intimate audiences, and he's going to get his wish as the first staged Led Zeppelin reunion concert in a dozen years takes place on Nov. 26.

If you've registered for the concert lottery, don't worry: You have as fair a chance in attending as anybody else does. You could jeopardize that chance by registering more than once. If you successfully register, you will receive a confirmation by e-mail although not immediately. Please be satisfied if the Web site itself displays a confirmation. It will instruct you to be patient. Only the luckiest fans, randomly selected, will be contacted by a third-party vendor by Oct. 1 to give them a 72-hour window to pony up the money for one or two tickets, after which the opportunity is gone. These are the terms for rock's biggest reunion ever, and true fans will respect and abide by them just as they respect the musicians and their reasons for finally making a dream come true.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Official: Led Zeppelin to reunite, Nov. 26 concert confirmed

The three surviving members of Led Zeppelin will reunite this November for a single show in London, according to an official announcement made today.

As promoter Harvey Goldsmith stated at a London press conference in their absence, the group's performance Nov. 26 at the city's O2 arena will be at a concert that will also include Pete Townshend of the Who and Bill Wyman of the Rolling Stones.

There was no mention of whether Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones would consider playing another gig together after the tribute concert to Ahmet Ertegün, the Atlantic Records cofounder and close personal friend to Led Zeppelin.

"During the Zeppelin years, Ahmet Ertegün was a major foundation of solidarity and accord," Plant said in a press release. "For us, he was Atlantic Records and remained a close friend and conspirator. this performance stands aloneas our tribute to the work and the life of our long standing friend."

The reunited Led Zeppelin will also include drummer Jason Bonham sitting in to fill the seat left by his father, John Bonham, whose death on Sept. 25, 1980, caused the band to announce its retirement later that year.

The younger Bonham has been drumming in recent months for classic rock group Foreigner, which has also been booked to perform at the Nov. 26 concert.

Concert proceeds are to benefit the Ahmet Ertegün Education Fund, set up to "provide students with annual scholarships to universities in the UK, USA and Turkey," according to an official press release. "In addition, a music scholarship open to all will beestablished at Ravensbourne College in the UK."

Tickets to the event, priced at 125 British pounds ($254), are available exclusively from a random drawing at

Aside from three one-off performances in 1985, 1988 and 1995, and two jams at family members' weddings, Led Zeppelin has not reunited for a tour.

While the Led Zeppelin members are rumored to have been rehearsing together over the past month, the concert in November would be their first public appearance together since May 22, 2006, when they were awarded the Polar Music Prize at a ceremony in Stockholm.

The most recent performance by all three former members coincided with their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on Jan. 12, 1995. At the time, Page and Plant were toward the start of a mini-reunion of their own that, by the end of 1998, had resulted in two full-length albums as well as a home video and television special heralding their work together.

Led Zeppelin's much-anticipated performance is set to take place during a rare month of new releases from the band showcasing live and studio material recorded mostly during the band's 1970s heyday. A plethora of new releases are to hit stores on two consecutive Mondays, with the performance taking place on the Monday of the following week.

Rhino Records, in conjunction with Atlantic, will release a new greatest-hits collection called Mothership with a U.K. release date of Nov. 12, followed one week later with Atlantic's upgraded reissue of the soundtrack to Zep's 1976 film, The Song Remains the Same, as well as Warner's reissue of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray with additional footage.

Ertegün's surviving wife, Mica Ertegün, stated in a press release that her late husband "would be very proud that Led Zeppelin have chosen to reunite and headline a benefit concert in his name featuring so many of his friends. I would like to thank all of the artists for their generous contribution to help make Ahmet’s vision a reality."

Singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini will also appear at the concert on Nov. 26, and Wyman will perform with the Rhythm Kings.

Initial reports from the press conference:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The correct bassline that inspired "Black Dog"

John Paul Jones has claimed numerous times through the years that he was inspired to write the bassline that became the backbone of "Black Dog" after listening to Electric Mud, the psychedelic album by Muddy Waters.

One of these instances was in a lesson for Guitar World Online in about 2001 that included a transcription of the bassline live Zep recording seekers recognize from the intro of 1969 versions of Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor."

Guitar World also featured the bassline from "Black Dog" with accompanying text about how the one bassline inspired the other (and, subsequently, how "Black Dog" riff evolved in its development).

The original URL of that feature was here, although it's no longer online; however, one can retrieve the text of this feature via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. I copied the relevant portions here though, and Jonesy's discussion begins as follows:

Let's begin this first lesson by talking about what I've often heard people refer to as the classic Led Zeppelin "stomp groove." A prime example of this can be found in the song "Black Dog," from our fourth album.

As you probably already know, Led Zeppelin was heavily influenced by blues music-Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Muddy Waters, B.B. King and many others.

At this point, the Guitar World Online page included the sheet music, seen here, and a WAVE audio file for the riff we recognize as the intro to Zep's live versions of "Killing Floor." For Mac users (like Jonesy himself), it also included an AIFF file. Alas, these files are no longer retrievable. Jonesy continued:
I was inspired to write the "Black Dog" riff after learning this old blues riff in E (see Figure 1) from the Muddy Waters album Electric Mud (Cadet, 1968). It's a swampy, circular, single-note riff and Jimmy Page and I used to love to play it forever! I wanted to write an original riff that had that same type of busy, yet plodding, feel.

His use of "single-note" means no more than one note is played at a time, rather than that the riff is composed entirely of a drone or repeated note of one pitch. At any rate, there you have it: the claim that it's from Electric Mud.

However, that's a whole album, not a song. So, it must be on one of the tracks, right? Well, if so, you should be able to go back to that album and listen for that precise riff. You can do that until the cows come home, and you'll never find it anywhere on that album.

It is, however, on the track "Smokestack Lightning" from the Howlin' Wolf LP in 1969, recorded with the same intentions as Electric Mud: to make a bluesman look silly doing some psychedelic music that, who knows, might actually earn some younger-generation fans who'd previously overlooked him.

So, what happened? It's my contention that -- gasp! -- Jonesy make a mistake. (Hell, he called me out on a mistake in my newsletter once, so I'm just repaying him the favor.) The two albums are similar in spirit, so he just got them confused.

But that's not the only instance of him citing Electric Mud as the source, is it? No, it's not. He certainly goofed up a number of times!

You know how you learn something wrong, and you can never get it right? Especially if you are never told that it is wrong?

Then we all started reciting it as fact. If Jonesy said it, it must be true. And if Jonesy said it five gazillion times, it must be really, really true! So, we learned it wrong, and he kept saying it wrong year after year, interview after interview. Until somebody stopped him. And that somebody was yours truly.

On Dec. 10, 2001, I interviewed John Paul Jones for four hours. At one point, he and I sang the riff together, and I asked him where it was from. He said Electric Mud. I told him I had that album on CD and I couldn't find the riff anywhere. He said he could be wrong but didn't suggest any alternative. And life moved on for both of us.

The following April was when I discovered where it was really from. I bought the Howlin' Wolf LP from 1969 on eBay and played it for the first time on April 26, 2002, on the 33rd anniversary of the third of four San Francisco shows that week at which Led Zeppelin played that very riff. In my April 27, 2002, edition of "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History," I wrote that the correct source of that bassline is Howlin' Wolf's LP. But he didn't necessarily read that newsletter, did he? Good thing my story doesn't end here!

Two years later, on Aug. 19, 2004, I greeted John Paul Jones on the closing night of his tour with Mutual Admiration Society. I held up the 1969 Howlin' Wolf LP cover to him, which reads, "This is Howlin' Wolf's new album. He doesn't like it. He didn't like his electric guitar at first either." Jonesy saw me and knew exactly what I wanted to talk to him about. While he was signing items for other fans, he talked to me, and I told him this album's third track was the source of that riff. Taking my word for it, he admitted that he'd been wrong all those times in the press when quoted on Electric Mud. I offered Jonesy to take the LP back home to England with him for old time's sake. Instead, he let me keep it -- but now with his autograph scrawled on the front.

If I wasn't entirely sold on the album by then, I like it just fine now.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Extended clips of Robert Plant/Alison Krauss album

Rounder Records has posted long clips of the 13 tracks of Raising Sand, the forthcoming album from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The album hits the streets Oct. 23.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Considerations about a Led Zeppelin reunion

Probably many folks are already convinced that a Led Zeppelin reunion is imminent, particularly with the disclosure that there will be a press conference this Wednesday, Sept. 12. Now before you go getting too used to the idea that the guys are going to hit the road once again after taking the stage, there are a few very important things you should bear in mind.

Plant has been a solo star for 25 years, and he likes his independence. He is free to do whatever he wants, something that has been particularly obvious since he liberated himself from nightly Zeppelin-heavy set lists with Jimmy Page in 1998. Read the liner notes he prepared for his own compilation Sixty-Six to Timbuktu for his own most earnest thoughts on collaborating with all sorts of folks throughout his career as a singer.

He loved collaborating in Led Zeppelin for so long because the personalities involved meshed so well together. Take away any one element, and it is incomplete. He moved on to do things so unlike Led Zeppelin after John Bonham was taken away. Despite the loss of his friend, Plant was eventually able to enjoy making music again. He even came to terms with the music of Led Zeppelin and performed many of those classic tunes again, exploring and reintrepreting the songs always with the intent of keeping it interesting.

Further, it could be argued that the present day is another creative peak in his career. He is on a Fats Domino tribute album with a gospel choir. He has an album coming out with Alison Krauss and will probably tour with her to support it. After that, he and the Strange Sensation will have another album of their own to release and to promote. Plus, he must have other things in the pipeline. So many different projects all from one man at age 59; that is commendable. His passion for music is clear.

John Paul Jones, as discussed earlier, is doing a lot of different things, including a little overlap in musical tastes with Robert Plant. Jones has been fine-tuning his acoustic side and playing many stringed instruments with a number of different bands who know who he is and respect that and pay homage to him. To Jones, however, every assembly of music is -- as the name of a touring outfit that involved him a few years ago suggested -- a mutual admiration society. With him, too, a passion for music is obvious.

At this point in their careers, would Plant and Jones ever give that freedom up permanently? No. They enjoy their respective freedoms too much. So, the point I am trying to make here is this: If there is a Led Zeppelin press conference on Wednesday, prepare yourself for the eventuality that it could mean a brief reunion. However, do not kid yourself by thinking it will outlast its expiration time of one single concert. The shelf life of any reunion coming up is very limited. They don't call it "one night only" for nothing!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Led Zeppelin press conference? Sounds fishy

The reunion rumors just get larger and larger.

The latest report is now from Billboard, saying a press conference will be held Wednesday that ought to shed some light on everything.

OK, when was the last time there was ever a Led Zeppelin press conference? Was it 1970 in New York, the clip included on Led Zeppelin DVD as a bonus feature? Does the Drake Hotel robbery aftermath in 1973 with Peter Grant giving the middle finger count?

Anyway, the thought of Led Zeppelin having a press conference is very foreign to me. It's rather unprecedented in the post-Zep era. The suggestion that there will be one sounds a bit fishy to me -- just when everything else was pointing to the reunion rumors being right.

I'll believe it when I see an official word. And if that happens Wednesday, Sept. 12, great. And if not, well, I'll just keep on being joyful that the band was as great as it was during its years of performing, which did begin 39 years ago today lest we forget.

John Paul Jones' busy year

John Paul Jones has had an active year. Having produced the album Waterloo, Tennessee for Uncle Earl, he began the year with several appearances with the group. In London, he appeared on BBC Radio 2's "Bob Harris Country" show alongside Uncle Earl and accompanied them onstage on Jan. 27 at their premiere London performance. Jones and his wife, Mo, allowed them to stay at their home while they were in town. The "g'Earls" were also able to meet all three daughters of Mo and John Paul Jones.

Waterloo, Tennessee was released March 13 while the group was in the middle of a U.S. tour. Jones flew from London to New York to join Uncle Earl onstage on March 14. They caught up again at the end of the following month at the Merlefest bluegrass festival in Wilkesboro, N.C. Throughout the four-day festival held April 26-29, Jones sat in with several acts: Uncle Earl, the Duhks (Video of their "Whole Lotta Love" cover on April 28 can be seen here and here, and audio of the entire set can be purchased here), Donna the Buffalo and the John Cowan Band. Audio of a four-song set he played on April 28 with Uncle Earl's Rayna Gellert can be found online here.

Jones' first billed appearance of the year was in June at the Bonnaroo festival in Manchester, Tenn. There, his name was included as part of the scheduled SuperJam alongside solo star Ben Harper and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots. Jones commented in a videotaped interview a few hours before going onstage for the SuperJam that he had not yet met either performer – much less discussed what material they would play or rehearsed anything. It was truly to be an impromptu jam session. In the meantime, however, Bonnaroo held plenty of other activity for Jones, including two sets on the afternoon of June 15. He sat in with Uncle Earl during their 12:30 p.m. spot and with Gillian Welch during her 3:45 p.m. spot (A 10-minute video can be seen here).
Jones then played Bonnaroo's SuperJam set beginning at midnight. As Uncle Earl explained in a newsletter in July:

Well, the truth is, if we went to festivals like Bonnaroo every weekend, we just might be in danger of trying to be actual rock stars. We saw The Police, and Sting took off his shirt at the end of their set. But even better, we got to see our dear John Paul Jones there in his truly native element, rocking out in a midnight "superjam" with Questlove and Ben Harper. The crowd went wild. John took a full ten minutes to walk across the stage and pick up his bass, and he needed that much time for the applause to chill out enough so the band could play music. It was intense and very humbling. To think we had been playing Cluck Old Hen with the man just hours before!!
A one-minute video capturing the beginning of "Good Times Bad Times" can be seen here, although a much better-sounding clip contains the middle of the song including a fine guitar solo from Harper. Michael Ward joined on bass to allow Jones to play lap steel for "When the Levee Breaks," video of which can be seen here. Ten minutes toward the end of "Dazed and Confused" can be seen here while another source captures it all in parts one and two. Ben Harper was interviewed afterward, commenting that he was "dazed and confused" to find himself playing onstage with Jones.

For good measure, Jones also sat in at Bonnaroo with Gov't Mule the following night for the tail end of a set that ended up heavy on Led Zeppelin numbers. (Videos show their set list as including "Moby Dick" riffs at the end of a drum solo before settling into "Livin' Lovin' Maid (She's Just a Woman)" – which can be seen both here and here – followed by "Since I've Been Loving You" and, finally, "No Quarter" – the beginning of this song is here, and more toward the end is here.)

During the week that overlapped July and August, Jones made no less than three concert appearances with Robyn Hitchcock and his band, which also includes Peter Buck of R.E.M. The first two took place in Italy on Monday, July 30 (footage of this show can be seen here and also here), and Wednesday, Aug. 1. The third was at the Down on the Farm festival in Halden, Norway, where – in addition to the Campfire Stage set with Robyn Hitchcock – Jones also played a set on the Main Stage with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings.

This busy year of jamming continues next week as Jones is set to perform again with Robyn Hitchcock on Sept. 14 at the End of the Road festival in Dorset, England.