Monday, February 28, 2011

John Paul Jones-composed opera to be produced in 2013

By Brian Gardiner
Hot off an on-stage part in the Royal Opera's "Anna Nicole: The Party Always Ends," John Paul Jones is set to compose an opera himself. Jones has been involved in work to compose an opera based on the Isabel Allende short story, "The Judge's Wife."

Jones's opera composition is set for a fall 2013 production. It is to feature a libretto by Amanda Holden and direction from Gerald Thomas. Stuart Stratford has been pegged as conductor.

In December, Jones and Thomas met at the Hoxton Hotel in London to discuss the opera project. Their meeting appears on YouTube.

Thomas's current play, "Throats," features a piano composition by Jones. It is currently playing at the Pleasence Theatre in London through March 27.

"Anna Nicole" has two more performances at the Royal Opera House: on Tuesday, March 1, and Friday, March 4.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Well-tuned Band of Joy to appear on PBS

Fresh on the heels of Robert Plant's last televised in-concert special, PBS announced it would be featuring Plant and the Band of Joy on an upcoming episode of the series "Live from the Artists Den."

PBS cameras filmed the group's second concert in Nashville earlier this month as Plant and the Band of Joy went on a two-month break before further U.S. dates resume. No airdate has been announced for the episode, but it will be one of the episodes in the third season of the "Artists Den" series, kicking off this April. Update: The episode premieres April 22. For more audio and photographs from the concert, click here.

Incidentally, Band of Joy singer/guitarist Patty Griffin performed a solo concert for the first season of "Artists Den." The third season is set to get underway in April with a performance from Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, which features T Bone Burnett, who produced 2007's Raising Sand for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss before accompanying them on their 2008 tour.

The current six-member Band of Joy began touring in July 2010, in advance of Plant's Band of Joy CD release in September. As the tour progressed, so did the interplay among band members. A London gig of theirs shot last September aired this past weekend on the cable network HDNet.

It's safe to say an even more captivating performance can be expected out of Nashville, which is home for most of the Band of Joy musicians. The aptly nicknamed "Music City" was also the location of their recordings beginning in December 2009 and last summer's tour rehearsals.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Robert Plant unsure of Led Zeppelin reunion odds; singer tells BBC, 'I don't bet'

By Brian Gardiner

Robert Plant spent an hour sitting in with Chris Evans on the "Chris Evans Breakfast Show" on BBC Radio this morning. The singer is in London between legs of his American tour -- a schedule that is dictated by the Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. You have to "plan your career, set our priorities right," Plant quipped.

Led Zeppelin was, Plant also offered, a lot like the Wolves: really good some nights, really bad others.

In good spirits, Plant even pontificated on that question he hates answering. The Led Zeppelin reunion:
"All those big guys saw it as being the next big roll out. Led Zeppelin was worth far more than that ... it was great to do it once properly."
And then, unprompted, he went further:
"What happens in the future really is based on kinship, camaraderie. Whether or not there's life in the old beast."
If you're a betting man? Evans asked. "I don't bet," Plant answered.

Evans also asked Plant to pick the better guitarist: Jimmy Page or David Gilmour?
"Listen to Pagey. Jimbob. He's wild. He's brilliant."
It was, no contest, Plant said. He also suggested he talked to Jimmy Page yesterday, and would see him again Wednesday.

He has been accused recently of not getting along with the other members of Led Zeppelin, so it's good to hear he's on terms with Jimmy Page, even if they won't be working together soon.

About the Band of Joy, Plant said he was pleased for Patty Griffin winning a Grammy. But:
"You gotta be sharp with this lot, because they do soundchecks, which I never knew about. Then they go and eat broccoli."
And while it occurred to Plant a person had to look after themselves, he still likes a drink, which is OK because "a lot of musicians are drinking again."

For an early morning radio show Plant sounded in good form, and offered quips about many people. Paul McCartney, for instance, was the first person to hug him after his Grammy winning night for Raising Sand. And who gave him the shortest hug? Alison Krauss.

Listen to the show here.

Is 'Black Country Communion II' smokin’ hot?

By Brian Gardiner

Glenn Hughes was heading this week to producer Kevin "The Caveman" Shirley's studio to record vocals for the last two songs of Black Country Communion's second album. Upon arriving at "The Cave," Shirley discovered a fire.

He writes:
"I opened up to thick acrid smoke and a sideboard aflame. Miraculously, there were no guitars lost, no masters affected, and the studio is smelly but otherwise OK."
Hughes finished his vocals, reporting via Facebook, "all vocals are now done... what a crazy day." It was a close call, he says:
"we are SO lucky that Kevin walked in just in time..."
Hughes has previously said BCC II had fast become his "proudest musical moment" and its recording "has been a wonderful experience."

Hughes called Kev "The Caveman" the "best producer I have ever worked with."

BCC II, which is so hot it fried a soundboard, is due for release in June. It is the follow-up to the self-titled debut album out last SeptemberCheck out their tour dates and a second-album preview video here. Also, see Jason Bonham on tour with Paul Rodgers ahead of the BCC II album release.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Calling Jimmy Page: Where are you?

Editorial by Steve Sauer

Tonight, I'm remembering a time when Jimmy Page had a backing band.
I'm wearing the T-shirt I bought when I saw Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes. They played live in Camden, NJ. Note the boys in the picture appear to be playing with a Zoso symbol they've discovered! Symbolic, maybe? I'm glad to have seen Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes live. Not everybody got the chance since they never finished their tour. Jimmy Page had back problems!
OK, remember when his touring band consisted of Robert Plant on vocals, Robert's son-in-law on bass, Michael Lee on drums? For their '98 tour, it was back to a fourpiece playing primarily Led Zeppelin songs, plus a few of the Page/Plant/C. Jones/Lee originals that had appeared on Walking into Clarksdale.

A few months later, Robert Plant told Bill Curbishley not to go ahead, as planned, and book any Page/Plant shows in Japan. Robert decided to leave Jimmy. And he did; he just up 'n' left!

And what did Jimmy do? First, he went to the studio, bringing drummer Michael Lee, and laid down some new instrumentals that just needed Robert's part. Their original music needed original vocals. But Robert stayed away.

And what did Jimmy do next? He called up those two Robinson brothers from Georgia and said they should do a few shows together. They'd met before, never jammed. Page had been listening since their first album, however, so he made it happen.

So they rehearsed. These are those 1999 rehearsals with Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes. Thanks to the YouTube user who uploaded them a week or so ago! These have previously been unseen.

Note all the Zeppelin they're playing! They were essentially a cover band handpicked out of Page's preference. They must have hunkered down and listened to some old CDs before meeting up with Page.

This is them meeting up with Page, who wants to see what these boys have got.

And how are the results? See where it's working and where it's not as they attempt "In My Time of Dying."

Part 1

Part 2

Listen to them get low-down dirty on the Howlin' Wolf blues "Smokestack Lightning."

Watch Chris Robinson do some Robert Plant moves on "Houses of the Holy."

At any rate, Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes were on the road the following year, playing a few dates in New York and a few more in Los Angeles. Kevin Shirley just happened to record the L.A. Greek Theater dates and suggested afterward they release it on CD! They did.

That CD package was initially released by, which was soon to be defunct. In those days before iTunes had taken over, it was available for you to order custom-made CDs with the track listing and order of your own choosing. They'd burn 'em and mail 'em to you -- for a charge, of course. That's the improbable manner in which these CDs were marketed and sold. People would try anything in those days!

It sold so many copies that the site was down. Too bad for the people invested in, but the success of these sales was essentially lightning striking only once.

But the CDs then went to the TVT label a few months later, and they put out an expanded edition of Live at the Greek and sold it in brick-and-mortar stores. It sold well, too. And they also sold it at their concerts.

This represents one time in Jimmy Page's past that he bounced back from Robert Plant not being available anymore for touring with him. Jimmy tried only once to lure Robert back into the studio, and when that didn't work, he just found a new group with a new singer. And they went from there! Jimmy and the Black Crowes.

When else has Jimmy bounced back from Robert's unavailability? Think also: Jimmy and Coverdale ('93). Jimmy and Aerosmith (a few shows in '90). Jimmy and Paul Rodgers (the Firm from '84 to '86).

Has Jimmy bounced back anytime lately? Uh... Jimmy and Myles? No, we never heard it. Uh... Jimmy and Steven Tyler? Thank our lucky stars we never heard it!

But the point is this: What has Jimmy Page been up to? Why haven't we heard from him?

I close with this: Black Country Communion II. They just finished recording it today! Jason Bonham on drums, Glenn Hughes on vocals and bass, Derek Sherinian on keyboards, and Joe Bonamassa leaving his blues guitar comfort zone and playing straight rock music. This is something to get excited about!

And remember that Page/Crowes live album? Kevin Shirley was at the helm. He is here too. More on that in a moment.

Alison Krauss trades compliments with Robert Plant in Rolling Stone

By Brian Gardiner

Last month, Robert Plant told Rolling Stone magazine that a second album with Alison Krauss was started, but "the sound wasn't there."

He was referring to sessions on the followup to their Grammy winning album, Raising Sand. Plant went on to record Band of Joy instead of continuing with the Krauss collaboration. Alison Krauss returned to her band, Union Station, and recorded their sixth studio album.

In a piece in Rolling Stone this week, Krauss agreed with Plant that the sound wasn't there. However, she wants to be clear that's not the fault of the musicians they were working with:
"I don't want to make it sound like we're saying that someone else's performance wasn't there - the band was fantastic, the same as the first record."
The two traded compliments in their respective Rolling Stone stories as well, Plant saying:
"Alison's the best. She's one of my favorite people."
Krauss is more backhanded in her return compliment:
"He's a delightful person, and I'll never meet another like him."
Krauss's new Union Station album, Paper Airplane, is due April 12. It is their first album since 2004's Lonely Runs Both Ways.

John Paul Jones performs at Anna Nicole Smith's big reveal

By Brian Gardiner

Production photo:
Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera's "Anna Nicole" premiered Feb. 17 at London's Royal Opera House. Booked for six performances, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones performed as part of an "onstage" jazz trio.

Composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage with libretto by Richard Thomas, the prospect of an opera on the life of the late Playboy centerfold seems unlikely. It is not, however, unheard of for an opera to be based on an actual person.

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" has a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who as an ordained priest caroused with legendary womanizer Giacomo Casanova. The libretto for "Don Giovanni" was partially based on the life of Casanova. (The recent movie "I, Don Giovanni" was partially based on this connection.)

More than a century later, composer Francesco Cilea with a libretto by Arturo Colautti premiered "Adriana Lecouvreur" about an 18th century French actress. Its plot features love, anger, intrigue, greed and, finally, the heroine's death.

Novelist and opera aficionado/librettist Robertson Davies once wrote of John Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles," "The plot is of a complexity that I think is dangerous in an opera." It's true that keeping an opera's theme simple allows the composer to let the music shine through. And all great operas are great musical works first and foremost.

Anna Nicole Smith's modern story is no less tragic of a story than topics mentioned above. Although her life is suitable to opera, was justice done through the music? The reviews are now coming in, and the verdict is unclear. The Independent notes "Anna Nicole" is:
often ironical beyond irony itself and delighting in the music of its own wordplay - would carry the day even if the score weren't as terrific as it is…
Production photo:
Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House
Sky News is less impressed, however:
Although the singing is fantastic and the Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is excellent as the story's buxom, tragic heroine, the music is less memorable.
And while Eva-Marie Westbroek gets accolades in the bulk of the reviews, Zeppelin fans may be sure, the bassist in the jazz trio was pretty good as well. Reuters reports:
The production included an utterly believable re-creation of a lap-dancing club set in Smith's native Texas and a riotous, cocaine-fueled onstage party that featured a guest appearance by Led Zeppelin bass guitarist John Paul Jones, a long-time friend of the composer.

Jones turning up as part of a jazz trio gives only a small clue to the depth and breadth of Turnage's score for the 80-piece ROH orchestra, under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano.
John Paul Jones on bass, and a big brassy blonde singer. Sounds like my kind of opera!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Paul Rodgers, Jason Bonham link for UK tour in April

While waiting for Black Country Communion to release its second album and begin touring in June, Jason Bonham will not be lounging around the house waiting for the unemployment check. Bonham will be part of the touring lineup backing Paul Rodgers on his April jaunt through the UK.

Photo: Carl Dunn
The tour will be in support of the 31st album of Rodgers's career as a recording artist. Completing the band lineup with with Bonham on drums will be Heart guitarist Howard Leese and bassist Lynn Sorensen.

Rodgers has led a successful solo career in addition to fronting the bands Free, Bad Company, the Firm and a post-Freddie Mercury Queen. Bonham drummed on two of Rodgers's albums in the 1990s: Muddy Water Blues in 1993 and The Chronicle in 1997.

Rodgers and Bonham also shared the bill of the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert in 2007. Before Bonham filled his father's seat for the Led Zeppelin reunion portion, Rodgers opened with renditions of his song "Seagull" and the Free hit "All Right Now." a rendition of his song "Bluebird."

Tickets for this tour in April are ₤34.50 regionally and ₤32.50, ₤37.50, ₤40.00 and ₤50.00 in London from Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

Tour dates are:
  • April 15: Blackpool - Opera House
  • April 16: Sheffield - City Hall
  • April 18: Newcastle - Metro Radio Arena
  • April 19: Glasgow - Clyde Auditorium
  • April 21: Manchester - O2 Apollo
  • April 22: Nottingham - Royal Centre
  • April 24: Bournemouth - International Centre
  • April 25: Southend - Cliff Pavilions
  • April 27: London - Royal Albert Hall
  • April 28: Birmingham - National Indoor Arena

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Them Crooked Vultures awarded Grammy with 'New Fang'

By Brian Gardiner

Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, drummer Dave Grohl and guitarist/singer Josh Homme have won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. The award, for the song "New Fang" by their group Them Crooked Vultures, was announced during non-broadcast portion of the awards.

In other non-broadcast Grammy awards, Robert Plant and the Band of Joy were shut out on their bid for a Grammy. The Band of Joy was nominated for two Grammys: Best Americana Album, which was won by Mavis Staples for You Are not Alone, and Best Solo Rock Performance, which was won by Helter Skelter from Good Evening New York City.

In other awards:

  • Jimmy Page's fellow former Yardbirds guitarist, Jeff Beck, won three Grammys for Best Pop Collaboration, Best Pop Instrumental Performance, and Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
  • Patty Griffin, a current bandmate of Robert Plant's, won a Grammy for Best Tradition Gospel Album for Downtown Church.
  • T Bone Burnett, who produced Plant's Grammy-winning album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand, also won for Best Song Written for a Motion Picture, with "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Black Country Communion previews second album, 'BCC II'

Black Country Communion has released video footage of the band recording Black Country Communion II, an album singer/bassist Glenn Hughes referred to earlier this week as "my proudest musical moment."

Update: Black Country Communion's European summer concert dates so far include the following:
  • June 23: Vitoria, Spain - Azkena Rock Festival (tickets)
  • June 30: Stuttgart, Germany - Killersberg (tickets)
  • July 1: Frankfurt, Germany - Jahrhunderthalle (tickets)
  • July 2: Liepzig, Germany - Parkbuhne (tickets)
  • July 4: Munich, Germany - Zenith (tickets)
  • July 5: Berlin, Germany - Zitadelle (tickets)
  • July 6: Hamburg, Germany - Stadtpark (tickets)
  • July 10: Weert, Netherlands - Bospop Festival (tickets)
  • July 14: Bonn, Germany - Museumsplatz (tickets)
  • July 26: Leeds, England - O2 Academy (tickets)
  • July 27: Newcastle, England - O2 Academy (tickets)
  • July 29: Glasgow, Scotland - O2 Academy (tickets)
  • July 30: Manchester, England - O2 Academy (tickets)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Obituary: Joan Bonham passes away

Joan Bonham, mother of John Bonham
By Brian Gardiner

"I see you're still up to the same tricks," Joan Bonham told Robert Plant last October in Birmingham, England. The mother of Plant's ex-bandmate, John Bonham, was teasing Plant backstage at a Band of Joy concert.

Joan Bonham died peacefully this morning. She was 81. (Editor's note: I have received conflicting information about her birthdate and age, and I will be looking to confirm this information.)

Born in 1929, Joan had three children, Led Zeppelin drummer John (1948-1980), photographer and writer Michael "Mick" (1951-2000), and daughter Deborah (1962). She is predeceased by both of her sons and her husband, John Henry Sr., who died in 1998.

To help supplement the family income when she was younger, Joan ran a news store in Redditch. In the past few years she sang for the geriatric rockers The Zimmers.

In Ritchie Yorke's biography of Led Zeppelin, John Bonham credits Joan with starting him on drums. "When I was 10, my mum bought me a snare drum," he said.

The Zeppelin site Achilles Last Stand reports that Joan Bonham has been ill since Christmas, and died this morning in her sleep. She is survived by daughter Deborah; her grandson, drummer Jason Bonham; and granddaughter, singer-songwriter Zoe Bonham.

Condolences go out to friends and family of Joan Bonham.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Forthcoming Yardbirds box set combines unreleased recordings, photos

By Brian Gardiner

A 5-CD box set called The Yardbirds: Glimpses 1963-68 that has taken five years to compile is promising previously unheard tracks and an in-depth booklet with unseen photos. The set, to be released on the Easy Action Records label, is fully licensed by EMI, BBC and the Yardbirds.

For Led Zeppelin fans, and specifically Jimmy Page fans, this set offers a fair bit of Jimmy Page material, including "Stroll On" (the Yardbirds take' on "Train Kept a Rollin'" for the film Blow-Up), plus early versions of "Dazed and Confused" and "White Summer."

Easy Action Records
"White Summer," a Jimmy Page guitar instrumental, later became a live staple for Led Zeppelin.

(Editor's note: As this is the first Yardbirds-sanctioned release since songwriter Jake Holmes filed suit against Jimmy Page over royalties of "Dazed and Confused," it is interesting to note that this releases credits Holmes as author and the Yardbirds as arrangers. This is not the first Yardbirds release to do so; the releases in 2000 of Cumular Limit and Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page also contained this credit to Jake Holmes with the Yardbirds as arranger, while Led Zeppelin releases have credited only Page -- or, sometimes, also Robert Plant.)

The audio also includes several interview clips from members of the Yardbirds, including three with Jimmy Page.

The last disc has live BBC material throughout the Yardbirds' career, including two appearances from the Jimmy Page era, in 1967 and 1968. The first disc also contains some BBC recordings with Page.

The box set is currently not available for ordering, and no release date is currently listed for the product.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Robert Plant returns to Letterman's Late Show for a chat and a song: Watch CBS tonight

This tip just came in from publicist Ken Weinstein in New York, where Plant stopped by last weekend for two shows at the Beacon while also taping a television appearance on Monday that will air tonight. Ken writes:

"Set your TiVos and DVRs!! Robert Plant and Band of Joy on Late Show with David Letterman tonight!!

"On the show, Dave interviews Robert Plant and he tells an awesome story about meeting Elvis Presley. (Dave is also pretty hilarious with Martha Stewart. Bizarre wackiness ensues!)

"Band of Joy will be performing Richard Thompson's 'House of Cards' from the new record, Band of Joy, out on Rounder records, tapes and 8 track.

Sent from an unspecified handheld device

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Robert Plant has robust U.S. festival schedule: Wanee, Jazz Fest, Bonnaroo, Telluride, and more?

By Steve Sauer

Robert Plant's robust U.S. festival schedule in the coming months may now include Bonnaroo in June, if a post-encore comment delivered two nights ago is to be believed.

A complete artist roster from the Bonnaroo Music Festival 2011 is forthcoming, but some artists have chosen to spill the beans early, making their own Bonnaroo confirmations public. As of Tuesday's sudden onstage announcement by Plant, his Band of Joy can now rank among acts who've gone that route, including Bruce Hornsby and the Gregg Allman Blues Band.

"We'll see you in summer, Bonnaroo. Come on down," Robert Plant invited his Washington audience from the stage of D.A.R. Constitution Hall around five minutes to 11 p.m.

(Unfortunately, Bonnaroo can't be considered a "summer" festival since it ends over the second weekend of June. Unless the Zodiac did something to the seasons, too ...)

(Oh, and then Plant made a geographical blunder, misdirecting D.C.-area concertgoers "across the Mason-Dixon Line," which would send them to Pennsylvania or farther north, whereas Bonnaroo takes place down south in Tennessee. Oh well, he gets a pass given where he's from!)

Since Tuesday, no other official announcement has been made about a Band of Joy appearance at Bonnaroo, although diligent online media have begun spreading word of Plant's proclamation. There is precedent for Plant making it to Bonnaroo; he and Alison Krauss performed in 2008. (Their Raising Sand tour also hit the Austin City Limits Festival in September that year.)

The addition of Bonnaroo (June 9-12) would keep the already-busy Band of Joy occupied a genre-crossing array of U.S. festivals this summer. They've already been booked to play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado (June 16-19) as well as earlier appearances at the Wanee Music Festival in Florida (April 14-15) and Jazz Fest in New Orleans (April 29).

The Band of Joy's current U.S. tour, underway since Jan. 18, is now between shows in the South, with North Charleston in South Carolina on Friday, Atlanta on Saturday, Charlotte on Monday, and two final shows in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tour dates then continue for at least half the band as Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin take to the seas. Both are booked to play sets aboard the annual Cayamo cruise, departing Feb. 13 from Miami. Aboard the Norwegian Pearl headed returning from the Bahamas one week later, they'll be playing alongside such musicians as former Fairport Convention guitarist Richard Thompson, whose song "House of Cards" has become a Band of Joy concert standard.

Our exclusive on-the-spot concert report from D.C. first appeared online Tuesday night.

Any changes in the set list tonight, Roy? "Only all the time," answers Robert Plant's sound man. He says they rehearse the afternoon of every gig.
Tuesday at 8:49pm

Between the set from the opening act and the headliner, onstage is none other than Darrell Scott, soundchecking his lap steel on headphones. Meanwhile, this is the second Howlin' Wolf song played over the P.A. during the break.
Tuesday at 9:04pm

Before the show, someone asked me if Robert still uses incense at his shows like he did with the Strange Sensation. I wasn't sure, but now I am. The answer is yes. A crew member was just lighting them.
Tuesday at 9:10pm

They're opening with their dirty funky raw country-fried version of "Black Dog" tonight.
Tuesday at 9:14pm

HDNet to air last year's Robert Plant show in London

By Brian Gardiner and Steve Sauer

Cameras were rolling last September when Robert Plant and his new band premiered songs from their new album to a London audience.

This month, HDNet promises to show highlights from the concert to its viewers in the United States and Canada. Its debut on HDNet is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 20, at 8 p.m. Eastern. (If you miss it, stay up a few more hours and it will air again at 1:30 a.m.)

The show was taped Sept. 2 at the HMV Forum in London's Kentish Town. In October, England's Guardian newspaper ran a series of five videos from the show, one each day.

The 70-minute broadcast is set to include live versions of several Band of Joy tracks: "Monkey," "House of Cards," "Harm's Swift Way," "Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down," "Central Two-O-Nine," "Angel Dance" and "Cindy, I'll Marry You Someday."

Also slated for inclusion are "Gallows Pole," "Rich Woman," "Please Read the Letter" and "I Bid You Goodnight."