Should Zeppelin Re-Unite?

This was probably my first exposure to delta blues and I remember being transfixed by the sound of the slide. Strangely enough, the father of the girl whom I’d lose my virginity to burned me the BBC sessions the summer prior to the big event. 

My brother sent me an article last week about Robert Plant saying he’d be open to to doing something with his former band, the mightiest rock quartet ever, Led Zeppelin. I am sure it’s obvious from my love of 70’s rock that they are in fact one of my favorite bands. In fact, along with the Beatles, I think Zep is a band that almost everyone likes to some degree.  They did so much for popular music that I don’t think it can be written about enough. I’ve read at least three books on the band and I learn more every time. The question is, should they re-unite?

Even though this is not their prime live era, this has long been one of my favorite live cuts off the famous “Destroyer” bootleg from Cleveland in 1977. I love the song and Jimmy must have drunk some coffee to fight the heroin stupor because he really lights up on this cut. I think he messed with the tuning on his guitar as well because it sounds different than the studio version from Physical Graffiti. The rest of the bootleg has its moments, but for me, this is the shining one.

The biggest question around the issue of  a  re-union is who will play drums. Bonham’s son Jason filled in when they did the one-off show at the O2 center in 2007 and killed it, but John Bonham really was the backbone of the band with John Paul Jones holding down the bass to form what may be the best rhythm section in hard rock ever. I mean just listen to “When the Levee Breaks” from their untitled fourth album. I spent considerable time reading on this one track and if you listen, each musical phrase has something different in it than the one before it. The harmonica is played backwards then forwards or something crazy and the guitars are consistently getting weirder. Jimmy Page said that Bonham made this song with his beats, playing it on a brand new Ludwig kit at the bottom of the stairs while it was recorded with directional mikes at the top to get echo. Just listen.

It’s hard to replace an integral member of the band and an excellent case in point is Little Feat, one of my top five favorite bands ever. Lowell George, the lead singer and guitar player who you will see shredding his guitar with a socket wrench at the end of this paragraph, headed the band from its inception until his death by speedball in 1979. He literally created their style of funky rock and roll and was the popular progenitor of using a socket wrench as a slide. The band took a few years off while the other guitarist, Paul Barrere, learned all of George’s parts. I saw them twice in 2009 and they rocked, adopting another guitarist who had contributed to the George era recordings to play Barrere’s old parts.

I have watched this video so many times that I can almost sing the guitar solo. His slide playing is unlike anyone’s. He doesn’t have the control of Ry Cooder, the flash of Duane Allman or the technique of Derek Trucks. What he does have is a style completely unique and unlike anyone else’s. Jimmy Page is on record saying that not only was this band his favorite American act, he also was almost kicked out of the legendary Hyatt House Hotel in California for playing Feat records too loud at three in the morning. Everything is related!

So what is my point? Was the Feat I saw the reigning giants of swampy funky rock-and-roll of their mid 70’s heyday? No, they certainly were not, but I was still stoked to see them. To be honest, it is much easier to replace a drummer than it is a singer or lead guitar player who is out front rocking because you see them all the time. They are the figure head of the band so Lowell leaving the band via overdose was a huge impact to who they are musically and visually. In reality, the band had broken up at the point anyway because George was more into the blues than the jazz fusion stuff Barrere and the keys player Bill Payne were getting into. To sum up, Zeppelin would not sound as they did in the 70’s but it would be good to hear them anyway. Compare this recent video of Feat to the one from their zenith up above and you will see what I mean.

 This is obviously a much different beast than the band of the 70’s with it being an acoustic set and all, but you get the point. It’s still awesome, just very different.

Did anyone listen to the recordings of the O2 arena in 2007? They are not bad and contain some really awesome moments, which is more difficult to say on the 2012 Black Sabbath dates. As for them, the music is largely intact but Ozzy is not doing so hot on the vocals. Granted, he has led a hard life he should get props just for trying. Plant is in better shape vocally from his years of solo projects and as you will hear in just one second, can still wail.  The mighty Zep should tour again and if I can afford the astronomical ticket prices that are sure to ensue, I will be there to check it out. I leave you with a cut from the aforementioned show in 2007 and the statement that Zeppelin is still one of the greatest bands ever. Let’s see what their twilight years bring!

Besides “When the Levee Breaks”, this song was my favorite as a young kid when I’d steal my brother’s copies of the fourth album and Zeppelin III. I love the way the band took the blues and electrified it to a point where it became something else. If you can keep a secret, I totally listened to this band before I heard any traditional blues like Muddy Waters or Robert Johnson. Joe Bonnamassa has said in numerous interviews that he was more influenced by British blues like Zep and Cream than old school blues so consider that Brother!

18 comments on “Should Zeppelin Re-Unite?

  1. theelderj says:

    You definitely took Zeppelin III and IV from me. I don’t really miss either, which will probably not shock you very much.

    I don’t know what it is, but I never really got into the British style white-blues sound or the later southern blues variations. I think you’re quite right that it is a form itself (and that my dislike for the form may condition my lack of interest in Joe Bonnamassa), but I always loved less electric blues (Robert Johnson). Even electrified chicago blues is less interesting to me.

    But, I think this divergence in interest goes a long way towards explaining some of our difference in taste. It isn’t that I don’t like some Americana–you know I like folk and certain celtic influenced styles–but I just never found this type of blues-inspired rock as moving.

    I know that you’re impressed by the musicality of something like ‘When the Levee Breaks’. I recognize it and salute it; I just don’t care that much for it. See, I have always been and will always be about the song. The instrumentation of Led Zeppelin seems aiming at something else.

    I don’t really like the Beatles or Zeppelin. That probably makes me a moron.

  2. Pat G says:

    Zeppelin should not re unite. While they without question could pull it off much better than nearly all the other reunion acts out there, I think they should leave the Zeppelin legacy untouched. It would be nothing but a nostalgia act and I think the former members of Zeppelin have avoided doing it up to this point just for that reason. They have all continued to make music with other projects and I think they respect the idea that bands and their respective music have a certain time and place. When bands go at it for too long (Aerosmith, Rolling Stones…etc etc) it gets sad and stale.

    I think if they did reunite, they should just all get together and rip with just them in the room. That way its on their terms, no expectations and just about the music.

    • theyoungerj says:

      I feel you on this. Aerosmith, in my opinion, should have retired in the 80’s. But, I would like to see my childhood heroes in Zeppelin tear it one more time.
      Now up until recently, I would one hundred percent disagree with you on the Stones. They are too old to do it now it appears, but look at Shine a Light from 06. It was a pretty good show and they still sounded pretty good. One of the reasons I say the Stones are better than the Beatles is they have toured for almost sixty years, not the less than a decade that the Beatles did. Granted, the Beatles certainly have had more wide reaching songs and a social impact, but the Stones were never about that. They are about being rock stars and living that life and allowing concert goers to live it, even just for a few hours. Touring is hard and keeping it fresh is too and I think the stones have done a good job. Almost every album has at least two songs and they do keep touring. Seeing a band live to me is more important anyway than whats been recorded.
      So lets definitely buy Zep tickets!

      • theelderj says:

        I think that PG has a point. Doesn’t your desire to have them reunite come down to nostalgia? You yourself just told me on the phone that you don’t want them to put out a new album. What good (musically) can come from them reworking tired ground? If they reunite and put out new stuff, they will alienate and disappoint everyone. If they get back together and just do the old stuff, it is really just a tour through their own past. Bands break up for good reasons.

        When it comes down to it, the reunion is probably motivated by handlers, record executives and promoters who stand to cash in.

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