Interview: Getting To Know The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Tribute Act, Led Zepagain
When you think of tribute bands, you might think of them as bands that merely plays someone else's music, somewhere in small dive bars on weekends. But the guys in Led Zepagain, quite easily the best Zeppelin tribute band around, have taken it to a whole another level, and they really are a tribute band in the truest sense.
These guys have got it nailed absolutely perfect, laying down the most legendary music the rock world has ever seen, with an almost machine-like precision and an amazingly artistic touch of flair.
Having started about 10 years ago, the Southern California-based Led Zepagain have been hugely successful in going about achieving their aim of recapturing the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin's music and presenting it to the fans.
Not only are they extremely accurate and comprehensive with the rendition of the music, they take extra care of the visual aspect as well, giving the paying audience the most full-on Zeppelin experience they would get outside of a Zeppelin show.
The fact that the real Zeppelin isn't active anymore makes Zepagain's contribution all the more important, and a lot of people are thankful to them for keeping the spirit alive. So it's no wonder that their audiences have been getting bigger and bigger as time has gone on.
Besides mesmerizing the U.S. West Coast, Zepagain have also been able to garner an international audience by playing shows in places like Canada, Mexico and Japan. They have been thoroughly praised and acknowledged by people like Jimmy Page himself, who once saw their show in 2004 and requested to meet the band, just to praise them on their accuracy.
I had the immense pleasure of sitting down with all four members of the band at the House of Blues in Hollywood on August 26, a few hours before they played a gig here. I did an interview with them in an attempt to get to know them better, and in the process make everyone reading this more aware of what they do.
Just to introduce the lineup to you, Swan Montgomery performs the part of Robert Plant, Steve Zukowsky does Jimmy Page, Jim Wootten is John Paul Jones and Jim Kersey plays John Bonham.
Read the entire conversation below, and check out the band's official website (http://www.zepagain.com) for all the information on their upcoming shows.
The last time I saw you was at the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet, which was a completely different show as compared to the one you're going to play tonight. That one was outdoors, and you played three one-hour sets with one-hour breaks between them. Tonight it's indoors, with one continuous long set. As performers, which setting do you prefer?
SZ: I kind of prefer this thing. Do it all in one shot, big concert thing, a little bit closer to what Zeppelin did back in the day.
SM: Well it's more about the production, with the lights and presentation. It's more colorful and spectacular, you know.
You guys sound so perfect on stage. Do you even practice, or is it in your head by now?
SZ: It's all on DAT machine really. We just stand up and ... (laughs).
SM: The band has probably rehearsed about five times in total, in the ten years that we've been together. That is the honest truth. But everybody goes away and really studies the music. It's just the chemistry that's between the four of us. Sometimes we're up there, and even if make a mistake we just get it back quick by just looking at each other. I don't know what it is that goes on between the four of us, but it's special.
You change up the set lists so much from one show to the next, and it's almost completely different every time. Are there any songs which you have never played?
JW: Yeah, there's a few. There are a few off of the In Through The Out Door album, like "Carouselambra," which we've actually rehearsed in one of the five rehearsals. We never had the sixth rehearsal that's why we never performed it (laughs). But yeah, that song, "South Bound Saurez," and there are a few off of the Coda album as well.
SM: We never played "Boogie With Stu" [from Physical Graffiti] either.
SZ: Yeah there are about 12 songs in the whole catalog.
JK: I'm going to jump on the piano for that one, and get the drum machine going!
And since how long have you not played "Gallows Pole"?
JW: Actually it's been only six months.
SZ: It almost made the set list tonight. We've already got seven guitars and that would have made it eight, so we had to draw the line somewhere.
SM: Yeah, we had to take it a little easy on the tech, you know (laughs).
You were supposed to take part in the Zep Fest this year on Memorial Day weekend. But the whole event got cancelled, and there was a brief explanation saying that there were not enough finances. What exactly happened?
SZ: That's as much as we know too. Yeah I think he just didn't really have it together to get the finances going.
SM: I think they had a good marketing team, so they just put it out there in the hope that investors will come in at the last minute. That was a gamble, it just didn't happen, and made a lot of people angry, including The Yardbirds, who were supposed to headline that thing. Although, they got a deposit at least (laughs). So that was good, but it's sad and it could have been a wonderful event.
Other than The Yardbirds, the lineup had all the Zeppelin tribute bands from across the country.
SM: Yeah, it would have been a gathering of the Zeppers (laughs). We're all doing our bit in keeping the music alive, so I thought it would have been a cool thing.
Last time we talked about Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion show at the O2 Arena in London. You guys went to see that show, so I'm sure it was the biggest near-Zeppelin moment for you. Other than that show, have any of you had a chance to see any of the original members performing somewhere?
SM: Yeah, I had a chance to go see Robert Plant perform with Band Of Joy up at the Santa Barbara bowl, and it was great. He has still got it going on, and he definitely did different versions of the songs again. Every time I see him, even with Alison Krauss, which is also yet another interpretation, he's still cool, he's still got it going on. I got a chance to meet him afterwards, and that was a big highlight for me. I have met him before but I met him when he was doing the Now And Zen album. That was at the actual Marquee in London when I met him. He's a lot older now. I was shocked though when he came out and I saw that he's got this old man hunch-back and man boobs going on, and I was like, okay what's going on with you Robert? (laughs) He's still so cool because he doesn't care and he's not like going to Beverly Hills to get a face-lift or anything. He just doesn't care. He is Robert Plant!
What about the rest of you guys? Other than man boobs, what memories do you have of Zeppelin members?
JW: (Laughs) Well, actually I haven't seen any of the members performing in concert other than Jason Bonham playing with Foreigner, or when he was playing with UFO, actually, here a few years ago. But the 2007 show was the only one in which I've ever seen any of the original members actually performing live.
If you were given one song for which you could invite a Zeppelin member to jam with you, which song would you pick?
SZ: Wow, I would probably say to Jimmy, let's play "Achilles Last Stand."
JK: Good call! That would be good. The double guitars from both of these guys would be awesome.
You guys do a lot of shows in California, Nevada and all along the West Coast. It must be a good feeling to keep selling out these shows despite there being so much of other stuff going on, specially here in LA. Even tonight, I'm sure there are three other shows going on.
SZ: It's a very good feeling! Well you know, you can't get much better than Led Zeppelin. It just has such a wide appeal, and once the people catch on to what we're doing and they think, "Yeah, it's a really good time to go out and hear some live Zep, because these guys do it right." So it's really rewarding.
You hit the same venues quite often, but do you have to keep a certain gap between two shows at a particular venue, just to make sure you don't play there too often too soon?
SZ: Sure yeah, that's just kind of simple economics. People wouldn't come see us if we played every two weeks (laughs).
SM: Probably like twice a year in the circuit of House Of Blues, The Grove and places like that. Plus the venue doesn't want you doing that anyhow.
SZ: And we're branching out more and more into other areas so that's making it easier for us to do more shows.
SM: We play in Canada and Mexico from time to time. Just recently we played in Monterrey, Mexico, in front of 5,000-6,000 crazy Zeppelin fans. The vibe is great when you go out of California. I think people are more hungry for music. They are not so spoiled and jaded like they are here, and even though like he said, we're able to keep the momentum going here, to play for an audience that's really hungry and full of enthusiasm is amazing, specially when you go to Mexico. They are really starved of good music.
Have you ever thought of putting together a festival of your own? You could do one in Southern California and get some other tribute bands together, not necessarily just Zeppelin tribute bands but others as well.
SZ: It's a lot of work (laughs). The promotion and organizing business is a whole another mouthful.
There are so many other Zeppelin tribute bands in the LA area as well. Do you get a chance to go and see what your competition is like?
SZ: There are no others (laughs).
SM: And that is not meant as an arrogant statement. It's just the fact that they seem to pop up and in all honesty, they just don't have it together. They don't go in for the look, and they don't even care about that. There are a couple of bands that wear jeans and T-shirts, and they just skate over the music. They don't really "play" it. They don't do the intricate guitar parts, the bass and key parts. They just seem to last for a little bit and then fade away. There are many of those bands that have come and gone.
JW: Yeah there's been a lot of them. We hear about them for a few months. Some have sustained for two to four years and then they fall off the map. It's hard to sustain any momentum if you're not playing very often. We're pretty much playing every weekend, so that's why we don't have to rehearse. We feel like we can go in and deliver a good show every week because we're playing so often. But if you don't play that often, it's really hard to stay motivated to do it because you're just in the rehearsal room all the time and it gets a little disappointing after a while, because the fun thing about this is presenting it to Zeppelin fans who really love and appreciate the music.
SM: There are one or two good ones out there. There's one called Get The Led Out. They do it as a six-piece but they are really good. There's another one there called Sozo. They're not bad, but that's about it.
Most of them don't do the piano part, and I think they just kind of take that for granted.
SM: That, and acoustics sometimes. They don't attempt it, and it's always like, there will either be a Zeppelin band that does bass, guitar and drums, or if there is a keyboard, like you just said it's not for the right parts. Hardly anybody touches the acoustics.
JW: Again, thank God for that DAT machine that we have (laughs). But I think the advantage we have is that when we first came together, Swan actually hand-picked the players. So he saw the people, saw what they were capable of doing, and then approached them about playing. In a normal situation, you have a couple of guys that want to start the band, they put out ads for different members, and a lot of the time, guys will come in and audition, and you'll go, "Well, I guess that guy was the best of all of them." But you may really not be happy with the guy you end up with.
SZ: Yeah, so once those guys told Swan to go to hell, he just found us! (laughs)
SM: He didn't tell you how I found them. They were going over the freeway with signs that said, "I'm hungry and play like Jimmy Page." That's the truth right there (laughs).
One final thing I wanted to ask Swan is, you've always given so much importance to the looks. Did you get lucky with that or did you have to do anything to maintain your Robert Plant look?
SM: No, I've just seemed to get lucky, to be quite honest.
SZ: His plastic surgeon is quite wealthy now (laughs).
SM: Right, yeah but seriously I'm just blessed to be honest, and it's still great that Robert is still doing it because it gives me more longevity as he's getting very old. So things are looking up for me, because I'm going that way too. Right now I'm like a younger Robert Plant.
No man-boobs yet, either.
SM: Not yet, but I'm working on them and they're coming along nicely. I think I'm going to grow a goatie and I'd be spot on with the older Robert Plant look right then. We'll see (laughs).
Andrew is a Los Angeles-based writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, reviews and pictures on his website -- with the help of a small group of people. Besides being hugely passionate about heavy metal, he is an avid follower of jazz music and recently started a blog called Jazz Explorer to pursue that interest.