Monday, March 25, 2013

Revolution Name-Checks Led Zeppelin Song Titles

The J.J. Abrams produced NBC Television series Revolution, borrowing from other series in the past, ie. That 70's Show, Newsradio*, and Covert Affairs, has named some episodes of the show after Led Zeppelin songs: Oct. 01, 2012 "No Quarter"; Nov. 12, 2012 "Kashmir"; Nov. 19, 2012 "Nobody's Fault But Mine"; and upcoming on Apr. 08, 2013 "The Song Remains the Same". We shall see if this trend continues. Meanwhile, we Led Zeppelin fans greatly appreciate such titling as it is indicative of the influence the band continues to yield, and for that we are grateful.
(I mention such titling in my book, Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, now also available on Kindle through Amazon.)
*Note that Newsradio named many episodes after Led Zeppelin albums.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Led Zeppelin and The Art of Improvisation

Excerpt from Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, now also available on Kindle:

It is etched into my memory: A time, long, long ago in perhaps late ’77 or early ’78, I am leafing through the LP bin in a drug store in Concord, California. I begin looking at the Zeppelin albums. I pull out the at-that-time relatively recently released Soundtrack Recordings for The Song Remains the Same. Turning the album over to view the back of the jacket, I am startled by what I see. (I am aware that this is a live recording.) My eyes are drawn to the track listing with its attendant song lengths inscribed. After glancing at Side One with the four tracks and average song lengths, suddenly Side Two leaps out at me. There is only one song? (“Dazed and Confused”) And it’s 26:53? I know that this song closes Side One of the debut album, running at approximately six and a half minutes. How and why has this song increased by over twenty minutes in its live incarnation? Thus am I introduced, unknowingly, to the art of improvisation.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music by Kevin Courtright Now Available on Kindle

I'm proud to announce that my Led Zeppelin book, Back to Schoolin', is now available on Kindle. The following is an excerpt from the book:

"Enjoying an excellent creative partnership from the very beginning, Page and Plant see eye to eye musically right away. “’One day when Jimmy was out’ recalls Plant, ‘I looked through his records
and pulled out a pile to play and somehow or other they happened to be the same ones that Jimmy had put aside to play for me when he returned – just to see whether I liked them. When he saw that
I’d picked them out too, we just giggled at each other for a bit. We found that we had exactly the same tastes in music.’”

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tame Impala Honors Zeppelin?

A friend introduced me to a band from Australia named Tame Impala. I find their stuff interesting, to be sure. However, one track stands out and that is the song, "Led Zeppelin". Is it an homage, a tip of the hat, a tribute, or an ironic jab? I don't know the answer to that question, but I find the song to be intriguing. The song is only available as an iTunes bonus track in relation to their album Lonerism. Whether an homage or a jab I love that Led Zeppelin is name-checked. Their legacy continues to grow, and grow, and grow...

Monday, April 25, 2011

First Back to Schoolin' Interview

During the course of their official existence, Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham are notorious for their extreme reticence in being interviewed by "journalists". This is a stance taken by the band within the first couple years of their existence when the negative press they receive (principally in relation to album and concert reviews) proves to be so pervasive, and often so unnecessarily nasty, that they feel the need to withhold comment in order to limit the damage. Having learned this lesson early on, they make the wise decision to maintain complete control over whom it is that interviews them in order to get a fair and necessary advantage. Only a handful of music writers are afforded the privilege of interviewing them during their hey-day in the 1970's.

My first official interview discussing my book, Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, has recently taken place and I am privileged to have been interviewed by Stephen Mitchell, a man who is not only an extremely experienced and expert interviewer, but one who asks intelligent and appropriate questions. The members of Led Zeppelin would have been pleased to have been interviewees under Mr. Mitchell's probing and informed questioning. The only disappointment is the (understandably necessary) short duration of the interview. I could have continued much longer.

My Photo

In 1980, Stephen founded an entertainment industry think tank in the guise of a repertory company for film and television labeled The New Hollywood Studio System. In 1985, Stephen pioneered a unique application of product integration in branded entertainment with his cable TV series (Interview). In 2006, Stephen authored a protocol for the management and marketing of business executives. He is currently producing a documentary on the Ferrari GTO, one of which he owned for several years.

Check out Stephen Mitchell's blog site below:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Thirty Years Gone

In September of 1980 I enter the new school year ready to settle in. Life for me as a 15 year old is, I'm certain, fairly routine and not particularly different from others my age. By this point I've embraced a very stringent, overtly ingrained ideal about my musical preferences which is quite simply immutable, bordering on religious in its import. Led Zeppelin is the end-all, and there is no argument, be it theoretical or empirical, that will change that. On the surface, all seems right with the world -- that is until Thursday, the 25th.

Between classes my friend Bob approaches and proceeds to tell me something that will have an immense impact on my life at that time: John Bonham has died. The words do not make any sense to me. Clearly this cannot be true, and I tell him so. His angry response to my lack of belief in his news alarms me as I know intuitively that his anger is clearly born of sincerity. My refusal to believe such an impactful message is an affront to his veracity. I go to my next class with an awful weight in my stomach. The palpable sense of dread is overwhelming to the point that I tell my teacher I'm not feeling well, and I have to go home. I leave, find my friend Dave, a fellow Zep devotee, tell him the news, and then go home. Finally, the reality of the situation lands. From the moment Bob tells me the news, I have a deep-seated sense that it is true. I call Bob to apologize for not believing him, and in doing so, break down in tears.

By September 25, 1980, I am part of a group of friends most of whom form a coterie of Zeppelin loyalists. It is a dark day indeed, that Thursday, as we all try to come to grips with this tragedy. We have no idea what are the details. All we know is that one of our principal points of commonality has been struck a terrible blow, and we're not sure how to make sense of it. Eventually, we re-group, carry on with our lives, and perhaps all grow up a little.

John Bonham is still recognized as perhaps the greatest of all Rock drummers -- and deservedly so. His legacy is massive, and continues to grow. His reputation for all manner of off-stage shenanigans is legendary. But it is his recorded legacy, both live and in the studio, that will live on. He is the very pulse and, with John Paul Jones, foundation for much of what Zeppelin delivers as a musical unit. The unmatched brilliance of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant is not the same without that Bonham/Jones rhythm section underscoring so much of their music. And when he dies, one forth of Zeppelin dies -- an effective death knell for the band. On December 4, 1980, an official group-penned announcement brings the mighty Zeppelin to an official end. On that day, I shed no tears -- I am merely numb.

The word Thursday is derived from "Thor's Day". On Thursday, the 25th of September, 1980, Thor's hammer comes down on the world's greatest band, striking a lethal blow. Right now, on Saturday, the 25th of September, 2010, I've outlived my favorite band by 30 years -- by the grace of God. And though they are no more, the music of Led Zeppelin continues to thrill me, and for that I am grateful.

We miss you, Bonzo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Covert (Zeppelin) Affairs

For those of you who have read my book, Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, you may remember that in Part 3 - The Business, I point out that the American sitcom, That 70's Show, names every episode of the fifth season after Zeppelin song titles. I also point out that the American sitcom Newsradio names approximately the last half of the second season after Zeppelin album titles. Now the new action/drama Covert Affairs, starring Piper Perabo, has joined in the fun by naming episodes 2-11 of its first season after Zeppelin song titles:

• Season 1  
1  1-1  13/Jul/10 Pilot 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
2  1-02 20/Jul/10 Walter's Walk 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
3  1-03 27/Jul/10 South Bound Suarez 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
4  1-04 03/Aug/10 No Quarter 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
5  1-05 10/Aug/10 In the Light 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
6  1-06 17/Aug/10 Houses of the Holy 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
7  1-07 24/Aug/10 Communication Breakdown 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
8  1-08 31/Aug/10 What Is and What Should Never Be 
[Recap] [Trailer] 
9  1-09 07/Sep/10 Fool in the Rain 
10 1-10 14/Sep/10 I Can't Quit You Baby 
11 1-11 14/Sep/10 When the Levee Breaks 

As I state in my book, this is evidence of the on-going impact that Zeppelin has on their fan-base. It is a reasonable assumption that in all 3 cases, the Creator/Executive Producer of these shows is a Zep fan whose goal is to pay tribute, albeit via subterfuge, to the mighty Led Zeppelin. And I, for one, thank them! And if these folks are not fans, I still thank them!

Though Covert Affairs has just finished its first season, I recommend giving the show a try in re-runs and, if it returns, its next season. Any show that has such great taste in music can't be half bad (which it isn't, having seen an episode myself).

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Latest Review for Back to Scoolin'!

"Writer/Producer Sonya Alexander has worked for some of the most high-profile companies in the film and television industry. She was trained to become a literary agent at the William Morris Agency and The Agency, where she read scripts and scouted for new, talented writers. She has written many articles about celebrities in the entertainment industry for such publications and websites as, Black Filmmaker Magazine, ScriptWriter Magazine, and Essence Magazine, as well as for political site Over the years, Sonya has built strong, longstanding relationships with many Hollywood actors, writers, directors and producers. She is very pleased to be in the process of publishing her first book, "Echoes of Colonization: Creole Culture in Louisiana and Haiti." She resides in New York."

The preceding profile is taken from the web-site where Sonya contributes articles, also maintaining a Zeppelin-specific site called Led Zeppelin Examiner. Her very generous review of Back to Schoolin' appeared recently, and is reproduced below:

Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music by Kevin Courtright - A Review

  • August 21st, 2010 10:36 pm ET
Back to Schoolin' cover

"Many music fans appreciate the greatness that was and is Led Zeppelin, but some don't truly understand the complexities and layers of the loudest, biggest, baddest rock band ever. Composer Kevin Courtright grew to appreciate the band at a young age and decided to share his wealth of Zep knowledge with the rest of the world by writing Back to Schoolin':What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music. In the beginning of the book, Courtright states that when he takes "an interest in something, he becomes obsessed with it." In the 350-plus pages of this book, he turns his obsession into a streamlined analysis of the formula of Led Zeppelin's magic.

The book has three sections, Part 1 focusing on the musical diversity of Zep, how lyrics elevated their material, their originality and the duality of the band, its "light and shade," simplicity and complexity. Part 2 delves into various aspects of Zeppelin's aesthetics; mysterious, symbolic album covers, each member's rock star persona, and the band's palpable chemistry. Part 3 explores their business acumen and the elements that kept them on top, as well as the groundbreaking group's legacy.

While the book is encyclopedic in content, a must for neo-Zeppelinites, it could use a few ingredients to make it jump off the page. Where are key photos of Zeppelin? Any Zeppelin newbie should definitely be shown the progression of the band's signature look, as well as die-hard fans given a peak of never-before-seen shots. Also, there should be more anecdotes and direct quotes from the Zeppelin members, which would liven up the book. Zep set the precedent for decadent living in the 70s and broke the mold for rock star glamour, let the reader get a sense of that excitement by using a little more humor and personal accounts from the members of the group or those associated with them.

Overall, an informative read that just needs to be a bit sexier. After all, Led Zeppelin was and is the poster child for sex appeal, so why not make any account of them just as titillating? This book is a good schoolin' on the nuts and bolts of the band, though, and is a good investment for the aspiring Zeppelin pupil."

I want to thank Sonya for her generous review!

Please visit the site. And especially visit Sonya's Led Zeppelin Examiner site:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Very Generous Plug for Back To Schoolin'

Writer, musician, and creator/maintainer of the Lemon Squeezings Led Zeppelin Web Site, Steve Sauer, is recently featured in an exclusive interview by Sonya Alexander, for the Led Zeppelin Examiner, in which he VERY generously plugs Back To Schoolin':

"Examiner: Why do you think Led Zeppelin is one of the best bands in rock history?

To me, the depth and variety of Led Zeppelin's music is a big part of it. The fact that those four guys are so great individually and blended so well together is another part of it. That all makes them one of the best bands in rock history, but that's a function of the even stronger opinion I hold that Led Zeppelin is probably the most intriguing band in rock history for reasons that deal with more than just the music alone.

I have to credit a musician and author out in California by the name of Kevin Courtright who published a highly informative book last year called Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music. He definitely beat me to the punch when it comes to fully explaining how every last aspect of the band is so impressive. Basically, you could look at any of their album covers and point out something, and there's a story behind that. Who are the children on the cover of Houses of the Holy, and why are they purple? Is this massive mountain real? Where did they get this idea from? That's just one thing out of a million.

Kevin says he learned a lot from things like that, related to Led Zeppelin. I did too; it's just that Kevin actually put it into a book. Definitely read this and put the books in the hands of any aspiring musicians out there, or creators of any art, to be influenced -- both positively and negatively, because there are a few things Zeppelin did you may not want to repeat."

I am extremely pleased and honored by this generous plug. Steve previously reviewed my book for his web-site, again, very generously, (posted earlier on this blog-site), and I can't thank him enough.
Please take a moment to read the entire interview with Steve. He is very well-spoken and engaging. (Find the link both to the interview, as well as to Steve's Lemon Squeezings web-site below.)

Steve's interview:
Steve's web-site:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Greatest Band Of All Time According To The British

As reported by

"According to BBC2 viewers and Radio 2 listeners, Led Zeppelin are the best band ever. A live poll conducted at the finale of the BBC 2 series ‘I’m In A Rock And Roll Band!’ crowned the Seventies rock gods, after boiling it down to a short list of three: Zep, Queen and The Beatles.

"All good choices, of course, coming from a long list of The Clash, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Joy Division, Nirvana, Radiohead, The Rolling Stones & The Smiths. Presumably a lot of names got weeded out along the way but it’s hard to argue with Led Zeppelin, an incredible coming together of great musicians who pushed and pulled rock music in a host of new directions while essentially defining what it meant to be a hard, heavy, sexy rock band.

"But personally, I would put them third on the list. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are the bands who set almost the entire parameters for rock music in the Sixties. They remain the quintessential rock bands, and everything that followed is a kind of offshoot, either by reacting against them, or following through on their inspiration. Led Zeppelin certainly took up the baton and charged into the Seventies, but by that time the core of what it meant to be a rock band had already been defined.

"For me, there is something undeniable about a triumvirate of Beatles, Stones and Led Zeppelin as the best bands ever, that makes every other possible choice seem merely subjective."

For anyone who has read my book, you know that I sit squarely in the Led Zeppelin camp, holding them up as the greatest rock band of all time (in other words I agree with the voters in England). And with the British voters having also recently voted "Stairway to Heaven" as greatest Rock song of all time, I certainly find myself in kinship with those of the Mother Country (not so much that I believe "Stairway" to be the greatest Rock song, but that a Zeppelin song is the choice). Granted, these sorts of "polls" are subjective. But, they are also often influenced by present trends and points-of-view, making this choice all the more authentic as the choice is a band who have not officially existed in 30 years. So, I say, "Thanks, Mates! You have great taste over there on the other side of the pond!"

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dave Lewis, Led Zeppelin expert and author, reviews Back to Schoolin'

I'm very pleased to announce that Back to Schoolin' has been reviewed most generously by world-renowned Zeppelin expert and author, Dave Lewis:
"Similar in feel to the recent Led Zeppelin Philosophy volume, Kevin Courtright's Back to Schoolin' offers a wealth of in depth Zep analysis. His own leanings as a musician aids his understanding of the musical diversity of the band. There are microscopic dissections on every aspect of the Zep spectrum: lyrical symbolism, live performance, improvisation, production techniques, session appearances, business practice, album artwork and artistic integrity -- all these subjects are stripped back with intimate detail. The rather dry tone of this type of research work may not be for everyone, but as the title implies, dedicated scholars of Led Zeppelin and those anxious to learn more on the philosophy of the band, will find much to glean from Kevin Courtright's admirable mass of Zepp cornucopia."
This review is contained in the latest issue of his magazine, Tight But Loose. Most Zeppelin fans know the name Dave Lewis, but a few words are in order.
Dave, who grew up and lives in England, is a Zeppelin fan since the early 70's. He has the honor of having seen the band some 12 or 13 times, including such milestone concerts as the 5 night season at Earls Court in London, in May 1975 (all 5 shows!), as well as both shows as headliners at the Knebworth Festival in August 1979. Dave is author of the books Led Zeppelin: The Concert File (with Simon Pallett); Led Zeppelin: A Celebration; Led Zeppelin: The Tight but Loose Files: Celebration II; Led Zeppelin: The Compete Guide To Their Music; Then As It Was - Led Zeppelin At Knebworth; and the forth-coming Led Zeppelin - Feather in the Wind: Over Europe 1980 (due out later this year.) Some of these books indeed serve as valuable well of information for me when writing Back to Schoolin'. I highly recommend subscribing to Dave's Tight But Loose magazine. It is well worth it! (go to: )
Any consideration of one's work is always appreciated, but positive considerations are highly rewarding. I want to thank Dave for his kind words!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Cross Currents -

In 1919 a Russian named Leon Theramin invents an electronic device the intent of which is utilization as a musical instrument. In 1969 a Brit named Jimmy Page enlists this electronic musical instrument, aptly named a "Theramin", to add an other-worldly, psychedelic touch to the middle section of the Rock anthem he and his band-mates Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones have written (with lyrical borrowings from Bluesman Willie Dixon), called "Whole Lotta Love". This bringing together of Old World and New, Eastern hemisphere and Western, Scientist/Inventor and Musician/Composer/Producer proves to be an unlikely but highly successful synthesis.
Mr. Theramin invents his instrument while his country is suffering through its civil war/communist revolution. Mr. Page makes use of Theramin's instrument while Great Britain and the United States are suffering through a period of civil unrest/counter-cultural revolution. But regardless of the times and conditions in which the instrument is invented (Mr. Theramin) and later utilized to such magnificent effect (Mr. Page), the unquenchable spirit of creativity, over the back-drop of revolutionary upheaval, unveils for us the universal penchant for the transcendence of the arts -- in this case, music.
Obviously Mr. Theramin can not possibly imagine in the 1920's the remarkable manner in which Mr. Page will use his instrument in the 1960's/1970's, but this ability of each to tap into the muse for musical inspiration, distant in time from one another, solidifies for us the eternality of the creative spirit. From Leon Theramin proceeds forth a musical/electronic cross current, right to Jimmy Page. Though divided by time, they are united by creative purpose. Let music lovers everywhere rejoice.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Back to Schoolin' Award Nomination

I'm honored that Back to Schoolin' is nominated for an award by the ARSC, The Association for Recorded Sound Collections. They give out awards annually for excellence in historical recorded sound research. I am currently unaware of how they know of my book, but am certainly pleased to be recognized. Again, this is a nomination, not an award. But, it's an honor just to be nominated. Hmmm...I'd swear I've heard that somewhere before.

Subject: Association of Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence

Dear Kevin

I am very pleased to inform you that your book, Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, has been nominated for the 2010 Association for Recorded Sound Collections Awards for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research.

Our judges will choose a short list of finalists, and ultimately, one winner in each category. Finalists will be announced at ARSC's national conference in New Orleans in May. Our goal, quite simply, is to recognize and draw attention to the finest work being published on the subject of recorded sound.

Further information about ARSC and the awards, including a list of past winners, is available at:; and;

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The First Review

By Steve Sauer,
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the ninth day of Zeppelin, my true love gave to me:
A how-to guide to Led Zeppelin's complete existence

Have you ever wondered just how Led Zeppelin ever happened? Whether life is directed by free will, or by the determined hand of an interested higher power, or by a never-ending random collision of molecules, the four-man and one-time-only collaboration known as Led Zeppelin did take place. The group did what it did, achieved what it achieved, and essentially played no more since 1980. Even with the realization that the circumstances that allowed Led Zeppelin to flourish at the time it did can never be repeated as, simply, times have changed, there is a lot to be learned from everything this band did over time, everything the band was about.

Kevin Courtright is perhaps the first person ever to approach Led Zeppelin's achievements as a finite list of lessons that can be passed on to hopeful musicians of the present and future. If there was ever another publication that attempts what "Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music" accomplishes in about 400 pages, it hasn't landed on my shelf. This book isn't another unnecessary biography of the band. He leaves recasting the history to those who've already written it. What Courtright tells here, in a very logical and neatly structured organization of topics, is exactly what musicians can and should glean from knowing anything and everything about the band.

Led Zeppelin's story begins as two sets of virtuoso musicians who were strangers to one another met and promptly started checking things off the to-do list of the one who brought them together. Now already, I've hit upon several things that need to be analyzed further. Inherent within this statement are a lot of facts. The group consisted of four people; that's one. All four people were virtuoso musicians. Two knew each other, and two others knew each other, but neither half knew the other. One person, the founder, had preexisting notions of what could be achieved in this group setting. Only with the entire assemblage of all four could those things be tackled. And once that congregation was formed, their success in meeting or exceeding those goals was almost immediate.

The above paragraph is only my crude way of pinpointing some of the important lessons that can be observed without overlooking a single intertwined detail. Courtright's technique, which is much better undertaken than mine, is to dissect every aspect of the Led Zeppelin story in a unique and sensible format. The topics of his 32 distinct chapters spanning about 400 pages range from the band's collective and individual musical diversity, the art of improvisation, their use of dynamics, their use of tempos, and other areas not about the music but the presentation of it.

Lest we believe there is little to be learned from the procedure of titling an album, Courtright begs us to think again. He explains how the look of the albums resulted from a concerted focus on symbolism and mysterious imagery, preferred over group photos; how the creation of demand came about as a combination of perfectly timed tours and rare media interaction; the contributing ingredients to Led Zeppelin's success in the music business; and just why the band's influence is so lasting.

For each one of the 32 subject areas covered in this book, Courtright details Led Zeppelin's methods, what their achievements meant to him as an impressionable youth first turned on to their music, and how this can -- or in some instances cannot -- relate to any budding musical career in today's climate. I say "cannot" because, as Courtright allows: "[J]ust know that the tactics used by [Peter] Grant and Zeppelin are innovative and successful for them in that time, and any lack of compatibility with today is only indicative of how corrupt, controlled and crushing the industry has become. However, I maintain that with a 'grass-roots' movement of like-minded musicians, utilizing today's technology which does in fact afford some level of autonomy, the trend can potentially be turned back to an at least reasonably equitable state for today's artists."

This book is not a template for success in the music world. Billy Squier, Whitesnake, Kingdom Come and Bonham may have all had their time on the charts, but none was able to do what Led Zeppelin did or enjoy anything close to that kind of lasting power. It simply cannot be repeated intentionally. Still, if the idea that the band's existence can be summed up in a logical way across 400 pages appeals to the aspiring young musician you just know could be the next Jimmy Page, this is the right book for that person. This book will ensure that person seeks out the next Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.

Basically, if you learned something from reading last month's Web gem of eight lessons in creativity and productivity as gleaned from Led Zeppelin, you ain't seen nothing yet. Kevin Courtright is gonna send you back to schoolin'.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rocking the Classics: Led Zeppelin and Eclecticism, Part 2B - Classical

Our look at Led Zeppelin's connection to Classical music picks up with Jimmy Page. He expresses his desire to pursue a classically-oriented, heavily orchestrated approach to some of his music in a 1976 Circus Magazine interview. Page: (Speaking of what he anticipates for the future of Rock at that time) "I feel that young musicians will emerge again, but through a level of really good writing, of depth and intellect, like the classical...I think it will be the actual writing that will count, it will be back to composition like in classical music or the jazz of someone like Ellington." As for his own approach: "I'm very interested myself in scoring orchestral music...there's so much more that can be done with an orchestra...I'm working on a few things at the moment which first I'll doodle up with banks of guitars...A complete guitar orchestra isn't a joke idea at all...I've got one piece which is a perfect vehicle to explore those areas with banks of guitars, which would be orchestration as such and if that is successful it could possibly be arranged differently for an orchestra." Unfortunately, this piece never materializes, but Page has stated that this guitar orchestra approach has seen fruition in songs such as "Stairway to Heaven", "Ten Years Gone" and "Achilles Last Stand". And thus, Page's Classical sensibilities have found flowering in Zeppelin's music.

Not surprisingly, John Paul Jones is the most classically influenced Zeppelin member. In his formative years, he is exposed to the full gamut of the Classics. His training entails mastering of reading, writing, arranging and orchestrating music. In his 1960's, pre-Zep career as a session musician, Jones' abilities are highlighted in his string arrangements for The Rolling Stones "She's a Rainbow", and the Page-era Yardbirds track "Little Games", both from 1967. Jones himself speaks of his Classical leanings in a 1977 Guitar Player interview: "I always get the feeling I'd like to write a symphony. I like all music. I like classical music a lot -- Ravel, Bach, of course, Mozart I could never stand, though to play it on the piano is great fun. If Bach had ever come across the bass guitar, he would have loved it." During his Zeppelin tenure, Jones' Classical background comes through in a couple of ways. In 1977 performances of his "No Quarter" showpiece, snippets of Rachmaninoff music find display during his unaccompanied piano solo. And the Jones/Plant original "All My Love" contains the most Classically oriented, and beautiful passage in the entire Zeppelin canon. In the middle, instrumental section, Jones unleashes a magnificent piece of keyboard orchestration with significant use of counterpoint.

As with the Jazz connection, Classical music is a rare but welcome excursion for Zeppelin. But it is firmly entrenched in their musical DNA. And these Jazz and Classical touches go a long way in mitigating against the oft-repeated misnomer "Heavy Metal" in describing Zeppelin and their music.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rocking the Classics: Led Zeppelin and Eclecticism, Part 2 A - Classical --

In my previous post, I attempt to elucidate the not-so-often-discussed relationship of Led Zeppelin and traditional Jazz. Hopefully my point is secure with my readers that this Jazz influence is not merely tangential, but rather occupies a legitimate place in Zeppelin's musical DNA. I now ask my readers to take another step forward with me as we examine the roll Classical music plays with the band.

Perhaps the least likely Zep member to express any connection to the world of the classics is John Bonham. It will probably be a surprise to read the following quote: "My ambition is to record the 1812 Overture [by Tchaikovsky]. I would overdub all the rhythm sections -- the bells, cannons and timps. I'll do it one day." Tragically, this ambition goes unfulfilled, but the expression of it betrays a surprising side to a drummer so inextricably linked to Rock drumming. As for Robert Plant, though no explicit desire to perform or compose music in a Classical vein is expressed, at least an acquaintance with some of the genre's masters is made apparent. In describing his former Zeppelin partner, Jimmy Page, Plant says: "He's the Wagner of the Telecaster. He's the Mahler of the Les Paul. He's brilliant." Such a sentiment, the intent of which is to praise Mr. Page, also equates 19th and 20th century Classical masters Wagner and Mahler with brilliance. And Plant's comparison of Page with the Classical masters is not unique. Veteran british music journalist and Zep supporter Chris Welch presents a three-part series for Melody Maker Magazine in February 1970 in which he interviews Page. His choice of title for this series is: "The Paganini of the 70's."

The Classical connection with Led Zeppelin is proving to be intriguing. The Bonham and Plant quotes only hint at this connection, however. Next we'll see the extent of influence that Classical music and practices have on Zeppelin from the words of Page and Jones.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Swingin' With the Best of 'Em: Led Zeppelin and Eclecticism, Part 1 - Jazz

From day one Led Zeppelin is a band determined to be musically eclectic. In the early 70's, when asked which bands/artists he fancies, Jimmy Page reply's "[P]eople...fusing styles of all kinds of music," citing Frank Zappa and John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra as particularly apt examples. Zeppelin's love affair with the Blues and Folk is well known and well documented. But what of traditional Jazz? A relationship between Led Zeppelin and Jazz may seem a stretch, but is it?

In their young and most impressionable years both members of Zeppelin's highly formidable rhythm section are exposed to, and intimately influenced by, traditional Jazz masters. For John Paul Jones, such luminaries as Scott La Faro, Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Charlie Mingus spark his bass aspirations. (Source: Guitar Player Magazine interview, July, 1977.) As for John Bonham, the two fathers of jazz drumming, Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, play indispensable roles in his earliest drum explorations. But how does this jazz influence find manifestation in the confines of Zeppelin's rock base?

The use of swing rhythms is one way in which this jazz leaning finds voice. Used sparingly but consistently throughout Zeppelin's eight official studio releases, swing brings a welcome element of rhythmic sophistication to the bands already broad approach. In Jones' own showcase piece, "No Quarter", he, Bonham and Page (with Jones on piano) engage in some jazzy interplay during the extended instrumental solo section for 1975 live versions. A particularly playful version of the acoustic gem "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" from LZ III, as performed during the acoustic set in Seattle, WA, 1977, develops into an impromptu jazz excursion with Jones on amplified stand-up acoustic bass and Bonham in full Krupa/Rich mode. But perhaps the shining example is the opening section of LZ I closer "How Many More Times" in which Bonham and Jones swing like mad as they establish a groove over which Page and Plant unleash their blues explorations.

Jazz may be an occasional diversion for Zeppelin, but what an enjoyable diversion it is. And Zeppelin's eclecticism, as evidenced by their jazz inclinations, seems to know no bounds.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Led Zeppelin

I'm convinced that any author, particularly one whose work falls under the banner of non-fiction, will tell you that his/her work has an end-game in mind; a goal sought to be achieved. My work, Back to Schoolin': What Led Zeppelin Taught Me About Music, is no exception. In fact, the very title itself, is self-explanatory as to its essential purpose--that of passing on a body of teaching and understanding as compiled and absorbed by me, to my readers.

However, along with this more obvious purpose, is that of convincing my readers, perhaps somewhat subconsciously, that Led Zeppelin is indeed the ultimate rock band; the very locus crucis of rock music itself. It is acknowledged that music, as with all the arts, is appreciated on a gut, and individually subjective, level. This does not, however, supersede the notion that the arts can be analyzed with objectivity. The seeming paradox of a harmonious relationship between the subjective and the objective may for some be tenuous at best. And for me to hypothesize a notion of Zeppelin's rock supremacy is tantamount to attempting attribution of superiority of one member of the Holy Trinity over another. Undeterred, I maintain my stance that my subjectivity can be articulated objectively; that my hypothesis indeed does have firm basis. With that in mind, my goal is to educate on both emotional and intellectual levels.

Any attempt to present one's pre-determined bias(es) is precarious, fraught with an ever-present danger of disharmony as regards fact and opinion. And though my attempt to harmonize alleged polar-opposites (subjective/objective, fact/opinion), is perhaps fool-hardy, I'm ready to proceed armed with a sense of unshakable purpose. So, I offer the following dictum: I both believe (subjective/opinion) and know (objective/fact) that Led Zeppelin is the very embodiment of all that a rock group can and should be; they are the superlative example of rock music at its apex. My book unveils to my readers the multiple ways in which Led Zeppelin teaches me about music. Perhaps it also convinces even the hardest skeptic that Zeppelin is indeed the top of the Rock heap. If so, you'll know that you're learning from the masters.