t's been seventeen years since the sudden and tragic demise of Led Zeppelin, but the group's popularity and legion of fans have continued to grow. Despite changes in music, technology and media, new methods of communication - such as the Internet - the message remains the same. The band was an awesome unit and each member's contribution to the magic was never measured by whether or not they stood centre stage.
Zep's most reclusive and "quiet" member, John Paul Jones, has maintained a fairly low profile even as a part of the biggest and best rock group in the world. With all the "Page/Plant" hype during their ironically titled "No Quarter: Unledded" release, it's curious how Mr. Jones' name had rarely come up (which just adds to the despicable way he was treated during all of this.)
But Jones has never relied on the Zeppelin legacy to keep him going anyway. He has been referred to as a "musician's musician" many times and is constantly progressing and growing with his music.
I spoke at length with John Paul Jones recently as he embarks on his latest project: his first solo album.
"Roaring... powerful", he describes. It will feature an assortment of multi-stringed basses. The line-up will consist of "bass, bass and drums", he jokingly explained, and will be purely instrumental.
"I'll be playing pedal-steel guitar, but in the last tour I had to play bass pedals at the same time. This time I thought it would be nice to have a bass player! A good stick bass player can do the bass, and guitar-like parts when I'm doing bass."
The superb collaboration with the eclectic Diamanda Galas in 1994 on the "Sporting Life" was his first tour since the Zep days. The album was a great example of Jones' finger on the pulse, so to speak - in essence, one of things that made Led Zeppelin great.
"I'd done a lot of things since Zeppelin but I hadn't really played live. I didn't really want to get another group together and do it all again. There doesn't seem much point, having been in the best band in the world", he says.
Taking a break from his usual activities of producing, arranging and composing, he enjoyed recording his own music for a change. "If I'm going to put this much energy into it, it's going to be my own music", explains Jones.
"The sort of music I want to do now, would only have been acceptable today. It's not like Prodigy or Chemical Brothers, but a lot of the industrial bands have helped pave the way for the stuff that I'd been thinking about for a long time."
A new tour is planned upon the album's intended completion, sometime in early 1998. Jones had a great time on tour with Galas, and playing in small clubs brought back memories. "I'd forgotten how great it was to see the audience and get that kind of feedback that you could never get playing in large stadiums".
Playing small venues didn't last long in the early Zeppelin period as their popularity grew so quickly, despite little acceptance from the press.
"Zeppelin was a live band and that's how we got our reputation. The press hated us in the early days. Our only way of promotion was to play a lot of live shows, especially in the U.K. It used to spread by word-of-mouth", he recalls.
As underground FM radio was breaking, it was a perfect outlet for airplay, without having to succumb to the singles game. "They could play an entire album or at least a few cuts at a time people like J.J. Jackson were very supportive."
Fans were taken by storm as the group's reputation for live concerts spread like wildfire. The band would expand each song with jams and medleys of their various influences.
"Things got extended a lot to keep ourselves from going mad. Every tour we tried to cut it down, especially in the later years. We'd say we're only going to play an-hour-and-a-half. After a week, it would creep back up to two hours. By the end of the tour it's three hours!"
The powerhouse rhythm section was like a musical "marriage" between Jones and John Bonham. Jones describes playing with Bonham as "a bass player's dream". Both had similar musical tastes in soul music, while Page and Plant were heavily into blues and rock & roll.
Some of the magic of the early days is captured in the upcoming 2-CD release, Led Zeppelin: BBC Sessions. Due in stores November 18th, it features a "best of" Zep's various performances on British radio; several in 1969 and a live performance from 1971. This is the first live release since the 1976 soundtrack to the film, "The Song Remains the Same".
The 1969 studio sessions captured a very creative and experimental era, with lots of rare treasures being released. Alternate versions of material on their second album are featured, such as an early attempt at "Whole Lotta Love" and "What is & What Should Never Be". Fans can also look forward to new gems , including covers of "The Girl I Love" and "Something Else". Live material on the new release is raw and powerful.
There are so many bootlegs of the BBC material, it was time to do it right. "Jimmy put together a draft of the running order and we all listened to it and I thought they were good. It would be nice for everyone to have a proper remastered version out", replies Jones.
And despite what you might think, he doesn't listen to his old music often. "Occasionally I do", he states, "It's nice sometimes to dip into things and be surprised by it".
In case you're wondering... currently there are no plans for a reunion. "They're doing they're album... and I'm doing mine", says Jones. It's still a mystery to him as to why he was treated this way, and there simply is no excuse for the former-members of Zep to have behaved with such disrespect. "We were always very close", he told me. "We never had any problems between us like the Eagles or other bands."
A Led Zeppelin anthology CD / home video is long overdue and "is a possibility" sometime in the future, according to Jones. But, for now he's content listening to a newly acquired "Anthology of American Folk Music" box set.
- -Sam Rapallo
Sam Rapallo firstname.lastname@example.org