If heavy metal is a religion (as thousands of people in the latest U.K. census claimed by writing it in as their faith), then who is God? “Bonham is God,” or so claimed a tongue-in-cheek campaign orchestrated by British magazine Metal Hammer, referencing Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham with more than a hint of borrowed nostalgia.
Despite claims to the contrary, Led Zeppelin was not fashioned from dust in the image of God. According to the essay “Light And Shade” by Cameron Crowe, when singer Robert Plant first visited guitarist Jimmy Page in 1968, the Brits bonded in part over a mutual adoration of Chicago blues, spinning favorite records by Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Five songs on the first two Led Zeppelin albums contained appropriations of the work of Chicago bluesman Willie Dixon: “You Shook Me,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” “How Many More Times,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Bring It On Home.” Chicago blues pioneer Howlin’ Wolf had his “Killing Floor” overhauled as Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” on Led Zeppelin II. In another time, Led Zeppelin themselves could be labeled a tribute band.
Chicago guitarist Paul Kamp performs as Page in Led Zeppelin 2, a tribute band that formed around the time Kamp’s Busker Soundcheck ran their course in 2001 after a decade tied to alternative rock. Busker Soundcheck weren’t the typical down-tuned Q101 (WKQX-FM) mopes: They were known for double-necks and sun-bright roller-coaster arpeggios that veered dangerously close to taboo guitar solos. Kamp often played guitar with a violin bow; it was the very first sound they recorded. The plant pressing their debut vinyl single, “Perfect Foil” b/w “This Ride Is Fun,” stopped in the middle of the run to make more copies of Nirvana‘s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Flecks of the decade-defining anthem can be found staining the sky blue of Busker Soundcheck’s shimmering grunge defiance. The players aligned with Rush and Led Zeppelin rather than punk.
Led Zeppelin 2 – featuring Bruce Lamont (Yakuza) as Plant, Ian Lee (ex-Not Rebecca) as Bonham, and Matthew Longbons (ex-Ghettobillies) as bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones – play House of Blues on Jan. 11 and 12. The first night is set in 1976 and emphasizes Led Zeppelin’s mid-era output, while the second night will see the 2007 Celebration Day one-off reunion concert brought back to life. By phone from Logan Square, Kamp takes you across the sea of years.
Mosh: How do you stay intellectually invested in a band whose last studio album came out 30 years ago? Even Robert Plant reportedly said he “made a couple of errors” while singing “For Your Life” from Presence for the first time live at the 2007 reunion show in London’s O2 Arena.
Paul Kamp: The one thing that makes it easy is that I really love the studio albums. I still listen to Led Zeppelin just for my own enjoyment. And it does seem to have a certain density to it, where you can continue to hear new little things in it and appreciate it. Probably the biggest thing that I personally do is I study a lot of the old blues stuff that the early Zeppelin was derived from, and I hear where it came from. The first time I heard the Howlin’ Wolf version of “Killing Floor,” I knew that was where “The Lemon Song” came from. But it had a little bit of a different groove and a different vibe to it. So for me it’s a matter of not just finding live recordings and listening to the studio albums because I like it, but it’s also a matter of understanding where these songs came from and the original artists or the original artists as we know it. There was probably some guy at a bar who was playing these songs in the ’40s and ’50s who has never been properly credited.
M: You were listening to the blues before rock? What is your earliest memory of Led Zeppelin?
PK: My parents went out to dinner with my aunt and uncle, and my older brother and I were digging through my older cousin’s record collection. We came across Led Zeppelin I. I recognized that it was steeped in Chicago blues because I had already been listening to blues before I was really even familiar with what Led Zeppelin was about. I’m from the South Side, so what can I say? And then, it was just listening to the music with my buddies. My dad had a business on the South Side of Chicago when we were growing up, and [my brother and I] hung around at 83rd and Halsted. We got to meet some of the bluesmen who hung around down there. It was an area where a lot of people came up from Mississippi. So there was a real connection to Southern blues music and the men and women who played it in Chicago, even when I was a young kid. We were listening to blues when we were 5, 6, 7 years old.
M: Chicago record label Fuse (Blue Meanies, Wesley Willis) signed Busker Soundcheck during the label’s local omnipresence at the height of alternative rock around 1995. Why did the label rise and fall so fast?
PK: There wasn’t enough money for the label to continue to survive . . . and you know, there were a handful of bands from Chicago that came out in the ’90s. One in particular that was called The Smashing Pumpkins that sold huge numbers of records. There were a handful of others that got their deals and sold quite a few records. Then there were a whole bunch of the rest of us that sold a few records and played a lot of shows. That’s the nature of the music business.
M: The tenets of alternative rock included independence and originality. It was an era of live music where original rock ‘n’ roll was valued over covers, even on the dive bar level. You would be ostracized if you walked into a place like Empty Bottle playing covers un-ironically. Now that your art is strictly in the realm of playing another band’s music, how do you view the D.I.Y. ethic?
PK: Well, we’ve certainly all done the D.I.Y. ethic to the nines. We’ve certainly all done it and lived it and basically financed our own original music for many years. And I loved it, and I wouldn’t really have changed anything about it. We had great opportunities to play big shows at Metro in Chicago and to tour and to meet a lot of people – and to write and record and rehearse and all the stuff that we set out to do. We never became stars of the music scene, but that’s fine. I’m completely O.K. with that. As far as what we’re doing now, I see it as entertainment. It’s something for people to go out and do, usually on a Friday and Saturday night, and have a good time. We’re surprised, really, by the breadth of ages. We’ve got people who come and see us who are teenagers or even younger, and then there are people who are in their 60s and 70s. The way we see it is we are providing a service, a quality evening of entertainment, and it’s music that we like to play. I don’t see a conflict anymore. I can’t muster up a conflict.
M: How different is the uniform of a tribute band than, say, the uniform one might wear at a day job?
PK: You certainly have to shop in a different department [laughs]. I think that the costume stuff, for us, was going to be an option in the beginning. In fact, we played some shows early on where we had no costumes of any kind. We just went up there and played in what we showed up at the gig in. Bruce’s sister, Kelly Lamont, plays in Million Dollar Quartet, which is more of a theater-type show . . . and they have the costumes and the look as well. And honestly, they don’t all look exactly like the character, but they kind of do their hair and their outfits to resemble the characters. We have a costume designer who has worked for Million Dollar Quartet, and they help us pick out some clothes, and occasionally make some things. We have fun with it.
M: When Led Zeppelin 2 stage the reunion show from 2007, will the costumes reflect the older ages of the surviving members of Led Zeppelin?
PK: All I can say is, it’s yet to be determined.
M: Will drummer Ian Lee be performing as Jason Bonham, as opposed to John Bonham?
PK: No, no [laughs].
M: What is your take on a band such as Guns N’ Roses, whose current lineup features only one original member? At what point do they become a tribute band like Led Zeppelin 2?
PK: That’s an interesting question, and we’ve thought about that. Honestly, there are some ’70s classic rock bands out there now that have none of the original members.
RADIO SWEDEN: While choosing my top 10 albums of 2012, I considered In Flames‘ post-melodeath Sounds Of A Playground Fading before realizing it came out over a year ago. If you tune into Swedish radio station Bandit Rock (bandit.se) as often as I do, you would swear the album is a new release flying off the country’s Best Buy-equivalent endcaps. The nationwide commercial FM juggernaut seems to play the stellar “Deliver Us” at least once an hour. More than Volbeat, even, another staple of the station’s edgier-than-active-rock format.
“The thing is, in Sweden we are a huge band,” In Flames drummer Daniel Svensson says in a humble voice by phone at a tour stop in Medford, Oregon. “We play arenas with 9,000 people. [There are] hardly any other bands in any other genres that sell more tickets to live shows.
“We are a big, big band, so that’s why they play us so much on that radio station. The other Swedish metal bands aren’t that big in Sweden.”
In Flames is enjoying popularity on the strength of a melancholic, celestial-minded album that sees death metal respectfully in the rumbling rearview mirror of its craft. Two days after the interview, the band would perform a set in Seattle highlighting its new ambitious future-metal, a departure emphasized by each member wearing a neat button-up shirt. The current lineup features no original members, a fact that doesn’t concern the unassuming drummer.
“You might know about the Gothenburg scene,” he says. “All the bands that come from there: At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, us. Gothenburg is kind of small, so we all knew each other in all those bands [and] In Flames was a band consisting of guys from Dark Tranquillity and Ceremonial Oath. And it was more like a side project in the beginning.
“So that’s why members came and left. It wasn’t really until the The Jester Race was recorded [in November 1995] that In Flames was like a real band. And then those members didn’t want to tour, so they quit. So when I joined [in 1998] right before Colony, maybe that was the starting point for In Flames.”
The group will tour on Sounds Of A Playground Fading until summer or fall, though Svensson says Feb. 8 at Mojoes will be the last local concert before the next record is made.
“If we stop touring now and start to write the new album . . . we kill the previous one, and we don’t feel this album is done yet.”
MOSH-WORTHY . . . LIVE: Arbogast (Ultra Lounge, 1/14); Soundgarden (Riviera, 1/29 and 1/30); The Skull (Bada Brew and Penny Road Pub: 2/1 and 2/2); Enslaved (Reggies, 2/3); Graveyard (Lincoln Hall, 2/5).
MOSH-WORTHY: Kromosom Live Forever (Southern Lord); Tomahawk Oddfellows (Ipecac); Bloody Hammers Bloody Hammers (Soulseller); Voivod Target Earth (Century Media); Rabbits Flexihead (Eolian).
– Mike Meyer
About the Author: