Singer Shannon Conley (left) and Steph Paynes
Originally published in Guitar World, February 2011
The tribute group remakes Led Zep’s 1969 debut.
While tribute acts, by definition, attempt to sound and, occasionally, look, like the genuine article, few—if any—go to the lengths of Lez Zeppelin. The New York–based, all-female four piece have been gettin’ the Led out since 2004 and several years ago cut an album of mostly Zep tunes (and two originals) under the watchful eye of that band’s longtime engineer, Eddie Kramer. Now, they’ve taken things even further with Lez Zeppelin I, a full-on reproduction of Page & Co.’s landmark 1969 eponymous debut. Says Steph Paynes, Lez Zep’s founder and resident Jimmy Page, “We went in pretty deep.”
Indeed, Lez Zeppelin I is no mere romp through the classic album. Rather, the band, along with producer Perry Margouleff—who also owns and operates the fully analog Pie Studios on Long Island, New York, where the record was tracked—attempted to conjure the precise tones and vibe of songs like “Communication Breakdown,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Good Times Bad Times” by matching as closely as possible much of the gear used on the original recording. To that end, Paynes, à la Page, primarily played a late-Fifties Fender Telecaster through an original Supro amp and employed such vintage effect pedals as a Sola Sound Tone Bender, Vox Clyde McCoy wah, Maestro Fuzz-Tone and Roger Mayer Octavia, as required. She picked the acoustic parts on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and other tunes using a period-correct Gibson J-200, while bass guitars, drums, mics and outboard gear were also appropriately sourced.
The results are, in many spots, shockingly authentic. Says Paynes, “During the sessions we A/B’d some of the tracks against the original vinyl, and we sometimes couldn’t tell which was which. It was that close.”
Overall, both in the studio and onstage Lez Zeppelin (who, for the record, neither deny nor confirm the Sapphic connotations of their moniker) channel their idols in impressively genuine fashion, despite—or perhaps because of—their very obvious differences. Reasons Paynes, “People consider Zeppelin to be the ultimate male band, but there was a real female energy to what they did.” In that respect, the role of Jimmy Page was a natural one for Paynes to assume, and also one that fulfilled a long held desire. “I always wanted to play like Jimmy, and that’s why I started the band,” she says, then laughs. “To be very ‘male’ about it, this is a guitar player’s wet dream.”