Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Tribute to John Peel

These comments originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

John Peel, the disc jockey at the British Broadcasting Corporation who gave Led Zeppelin possibly its biggest break in the U.K. media, has died.

Principals of the music industry and fellow media moguls are currently paying tribute to Peel, who has been on the radio since the 1960s, most famously leading Top Gear, a BBC Radio 1 program that since 1967 has explored the far reaches of music's most experimental acts.

Jimmy Page had some unkind things to say about the BBC in 1969 because the government-controlled corporation running the airwaves left little room for any unconventional acts. "The BBC have effectively killed the progress of 'underground' music," Page said. But in the same breath, he did praise two particular DJs by name. "It's only John Peel and that other guy, Pete Drummond, who can play any of the good stuff," the guitarist commented.

And so it was fitting that when Led Zeppelin first agreed to appear on BBC radio, the maiden voyage to Maida Vale Studios in London was for John Peel's Top Gear. The trip to the studio came on March 3, 1969, just two months after the release of the group's debut album. Recall that Led Zeppelin insisted on not releasing singles in the United Kingdom. While a single of "Good Times Bad Times" backed with "Communication Breakdown" was released in the United States, Led Zeppelin performed neither of these songs on its initial BBC session. Instead, the group chose the six-and-a-half-minute opus "Dazed and Confused," complete with an instrumental break during which Page attacked and ground his guitar with a violin bow, plus takes of the blues songs "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quit You Baby." During the latter, Robert Plant sang a verse from Muddy Waters' tune, "19 Years Old." Peel aired the exclusive in-studio takes of these songs 20 days later on "Top Gear," and the tracks now grace the beginning of Led Zeppelin's 2-CD set, BBC Sessions, released in 1997.

After a tour of North America in the spring of 1969, Led Zeppelin returned to England in June and included on its itinerary another stop in London for John Peel's Top Gear, among other programs. The June 24 recording session for Top Gear resulted in versions of "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Communication Breakdown," "Whole Lotta Love" and Led Zeppelin's only performance of "Travelling Riverside Blues," which was rooted in the music of Robert Johnson, who was king of the delta blues. These versions, which aired only five days later, are also available on BBC Sessions.

After an absence of two years from BBC appearances, Led Zeppelin returned on another program of John Peel's, BBC Rock Hour. The group was completing a "Return to the Clubs" tour throughout the United Kingdom, restoring Zeppelin to some of the smaller venues it had played on earlier outings as well as other pubs and clubs. The final date of this tour (originally scheduled for March 25, 1971, but rescheduled for one week later because Plant had been experiencing voice problems) was April 1, 1971, at the Paris Theater in London. Peel hosted the evening's event, recording it for the episode of BBC Rock Hour airing three days later. This, too, is available today on the BBC Sessions album.

Of Led Zeppelin's performances for the BBC, nobody was there for more of them than John Peel. He appreciated the fine nuances that made great music just off-course, compared to your everyday pop sensations who fit the mold. During his career, Peel gave voice to more than a generation of burgeoning musical acts that otherwise may have slipped into obscurity without a nod of appreciation. Peel had an ear for these artists, and he made many of them what they are.

Friday, October 15, 2004

John Paul Jones working on projects including next solo album

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

This summer, I had the pleasure of once again meeting John Paul Jones. He was on tour with Mutual Admiration Society, as had been announced at his official Web site, www.johnpauljones.com. I met up with Jones for the last two shows of the tour and was happy to spend some time with him backstage. He remembered me clearly from our four-hour interview in 2001, and when somebody backstage mentioned my name, he asked for security to let me in!

The concerts I saw were sensational. For me, the highlight was not that the band played two familiar songs from Jones' past; it was the top-notch playing of all six musicians at each show, along with the obvious camaraderie they all have for each other. There truly is no better name for the group than Mutual Admiration Society.

Jones raved about the tour when he returned to England. "The whole experience has been immensely enjoyable and I have found myself inspired by the great musicianship (and energy!) of my fellow bandmates," he wrote on his Web site Aug. 25. "It is a pleasure to work with people who are not only extremely talented but who have a great enthusiasm for any and every kind of music, and they can play it!"

The six-member touring group was a conglomeration of all three members of the modern bluegrass band Nickel Creek, fronted by Toad the Wet Sprocket's Glen Campbell, plus Attractions drummer Pete Thomas, who played on all of Jones' solo albums and tours since 1999. In my opinion, the star of the band turned out to be Nickel Creek's mandolin player, Chris Thile, who told the audience that he wants to take lessons from John Paul Jones on how to rock. But Jones countered that he, himself, needs to take lessons from Chris Thile on playing mandolin.

Jones' Web posting also thanks all the fans who turned up to support Mutual Admiration Society. He wrote: "It was so nice to be appreciated by Zep, Toad, and NC fans, rock and bluegrass fans alike. Diversity and the crossing of borders has for me always been one of the most interesting aspects of making music, (something those that know me may have already guessed!) but we need a ready, willing and open-minded audience to complete the experience, thank you for being just that."

Jones then said something really juicy (and The Lemon likes juicy): "I hope now to spend the next few months writing and recording for my next solo album and attempt to turn all this inspiration into hard currency whilst the fingers are hot and the brain is buzzing."

Since 1999, Jones has released two self-produced, full-length solo albums, setting the tone of his performing career as a multi- instrumentalist dabbling in hard blues-based rock, down-home folk, and everything in between. The first of these albums, Zooma, was all instrumental, but Jones sang on four songs of his 2001 follow-up, The Thunderthief. There is no official word yet as to the direction Jones' new album will take.

Robert Plant and Strange Sensation preparing new album

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Robert Plant is said to be involved with his Strange Sensation backing band on a new album. It would be the follow-up to Plant's studio album Dreamland, released in June 2002. This June, the Web site of Strange Sensation member Justin Adams, www.justinadams.co.uk, hinted that the band had begun working on Plant's next album and that it could possibly be released in spring 2005.

On Dreamland, the singer covered seven songs that had haunted and inspired him for years. "I wanted to put myself and the musicianship of the people around me into these tunes and breathe some new life out of them," Plant said upon the album's release. The following August, he submitted eloquent words for liner notes in his career- spanning two-CD retrospective album, Sixty Six to Timbuktu. Expounding on his admiration for a lifetime of influences, he wrote: "I heard the voices of the high Atlas and pre-Saharan Morocco, the sound from the last juke-joints of south-side Chicago and the buzz of after-hours backstreet Bombay, performances so beautiful, remote and contrasting that I was never to recover."

Dreamland also included two new band compositions (the U.K. version also included a third), each of which is credited to Robert Plant and band. He has alluded to other songs having been written two years ago but not included on Dreamland. He also speaks proudly and extensively about the way Strange Sensation writes fresh material. "The musicians make this thing work," he said. His diverse and powerful band is currently made up of Justin Adams and Liam "Skin" Tyson on guitars, Clive Deamer on drums, John Baggott on keyboards, and Billy Fuller on bass.

In a message penned in August 2003 and included in the liner notes of Sixty Six to Timbuktu, Plant states bluntly that more creative output is on the way: "With abundant new material developing rapidly and connections in Morocco and West Africa moving at a pace unimagined back in '71, the future is ahead - bright ahead."

Reports: Jimmy Page to release Santana-style album

This news originally appeared at the Web site for the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

There is chatter that Jimmy Page currently has a new solo album in the works. This would be his first since the 1988 release of Outrider, which contained several original rock instrumentals, one new collaboration with Robert Plant, and the single "Wasting My Time."

The U.K. newspaper The Independent reported Aug. 27, 2004, that Page "is currently planning an album with guest musicians, along the lines of the recent Santana albums."

A blurb in a recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine provides further insight, stating that "each track would feature him playing a different, rare guitar" and that one ax rumored to have been owned by Chuck Berry has been provided by singer-songwriter Dan Hicks.

More details on Page's new project will be provided as they become available.

Since touring in 1988 for Outrider, Page teamed up with Whitesnake singer David Coverdale to write and record an album of new material, Coverdale/Page. This led to his highly successful 1994-1998 reunion with Robert Plant, including the Unledded album and video (finally being released on DVD this month), multiple large-scale tours, and 1998's Walking into Clarksdale, Page and Plant's first collaborative album of all-new material since Led Zeppelin's In Through the Out Door in 1979. In 1999 and 2000, Page toured extensively with the Black Crowes, releasing Live at the Greek, a two-CD live set of their concert material.

While a back injury has hindered Page's concert appearances since 2000, the guitarist has continued to make in-person appearances and work on various Led Zeppelin projects. These included the production of the Led Zeppelin live sets How the West Was Won and DVD, released simultaneously in May 2003.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Page-Plant concert movie playing one day this month; Reunion's 10th anniversary heralded with 'Unledded' in theaters Oct. 26

This news originally appeared in an edition of the newsletter "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History."

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the television premiere of Unledded, MTV's special reuniting Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The 1994 show contained musical segments filmed two months earlier in England, Wales and Morocco, with Eastern-influenced remakes of Led Zeppelin songs such as "No Quarter" and "Nobody's Fault but Mine." Page and Plant enjoyed additional support from four musicians from Marrakech, an Egyptian ensemble and the London Metropolitan Orchestra.

Home video and CD releases captured their performances, but Unledded has never been released on DVD or screened inside a movie theater. All that changes this month to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's reunion. The Unledded DVD was released earlier this week in the United Kingdom. The U.S. release will be Tuesday, Oct. 26, along with a reissue of the No Quarter album including songs previously not included on CD.

But the big news is the theatrical premiere of Unledded in 44 selected cities across the United States that day. According to promotional material, "These original performances have now been personally re-mixed by Jimmy Page and are brought to you -- one night only -- in 5.1 surround audio." Click here to purchase tickets online for admission at the theater nearest you.