Classic Rock Review

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Led Zeppelin Wild And Relatively Mellow (Boston, July 1973)


Boston Gardens, Boston, MA – July 20th, 1973
Disc 1: Introduction, Rock and Roll, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song
Disc 2: Dazed & Confused, Stairway To Heaven, Heartbreaker, Whole Lotta Love (incl. The Crunge, Boogie Chillun’), ending announcement

Wild And Relatively Mellow is the latest release on the special Led Zeppelin label Badgeholders and documents yet another tape from the Joe Maloney collection. Since they began to circulate last January I was hoping there were some Zeppelin shows and here is the first one to surface. The band’s July 20th show has already been released on a second generation tape on such titles as Zep Vs. Boston on IQ and War Zone on TMOQ. That tape has been described as poor. It is very distant but surprisingly clear and the consensus is that it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be.

This new tape source is more complete and a significant upgrade from the older. Whereas the older source would merit a six, this one rates an eight. The only negative for the new source is Plant’s vocals being buried a bit in the mix, and there are times when Page’s guitar also becomes buried (most notably in “Dazed & Confused”).

The benefits far outweigh the negatives, however, and it captures one of the strangest Led Zeppelin shows on tape. On a tour noted for the wildness of the audiences and throwing of firecrackers, this show in Boston ranks as the absolute worst. The trouble begins after “Over The Hills And Far Away” when Plant says: “Easy! You don’t want to break those things down. If you don’t stop pushing forward we’ll have to stop….There are people up front who will get hurt…We’ll play something more soft.” The band drops ”Misty Mountain Hop” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and go straight to “No Quarter”.

After “Dazed & Confused” Plant says sarcastically “I don’t know what local football team is called, but it’s just been playing for an hour and a half in front of our feet”. They drop “Moby Dick” and play out the rest of the set and leave. “Thank you and good night, Led Zeppelin are gone,” the mc announces with the audience milling around like they don’t believe it.

That the show ended so early and was so “stripped down” is a shame for several reasons. Firstly the band was on fire and delivered an amazing show. “No Quarter” and “Dazed” are particularly aggressive and are perhaps the best versions from the entire tour. What would an entire show sound like with this kind of playing? Also, as fate would have it, this is Zeppelin’s final appearance in a city that received them so early in their career and is the site of some of their biggest milestones.

The famous four hour Boston Tea Party show occurred there in January 1969, and also their first arena show in the States occurred at the Boston Gardens in October 1969. It’s sad to see their relationship with the city end on such a negative note.

This tape has been released simultaneously with Empress Valley’s Boston Cream Pie (both as a 2CD set and 4CD with the older tape source) and Tarantura’s Wreckage In Boston, a 5CD set with the tape from their 1970 and 1971 appearances. Badgeholders made no attempt to fix the cuts with the older tape source and sounds like they didn’t try to work the tape that much. There is no evidence of excessive mastering and tinkering with the tape so it’s presented as is.

It will be interesting to see what the premium labels do with it. Hopefully this will not be the last Led Zeppelin tape from Maloney’s collection. I’ve been told he also taped the September 1970 show which needs a definitive release.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Wild And Relatively Mellow | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin The Woody Woodrocker Show (Central Park, July 1969)


The Woody Woodrocker Show (Tarantura TCD-23)

Central Park, New York, NY – July 21st, 1969
Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Babe, Dazed & Confused, You Shook Me, White Summer/Black Mountainside, How Many More Times (incl. Woody Woodpecker Song, For What It’s Worth, The Hunter, The Lemon Song, You Make Me Feel So Young), Communication Breakdown

The Schaefer Music Festival was a series of concerts organized by New York promoter Ron Delsner sponsored by the Schaefer Beer Co. His official website history states: “In 1966, Ron Delsener developed and produced the highly successful concert series at Wollman Ice-Skating Rink in Central Park.

During its fifteen-year history, every major contemporary artist appeared at this series, including: Billy Joel; The Who; Louis Armstrong; Miles Davis; Benny Goodman; Otis Redding; Wes Montgomery; Bobby Darin; Muddy Waters; Flatt & Scruggs; Howlin Wolf; Neil Diamond; Stevie Wonder; Sly & The Family Stone; Led Zeppelin; and many more. The ground-breaking Wollman Rink concerts offered audiences the opportunity to see incredible artists in a dramatic setting, with comfortable seating and an astonishing $1.00 admission price. Two shows were held each evening and the series quickly became the hallmark by which most other outdoor concert series are judged.”

This tape of Zeppelin’s first show that day at 7 pm was first released on cd as Schaefer Music Festival (Rock Calender RC 2107 ) followed by Twist (no label but thought to have been produced by the TDOLZ folks) and afterwards the definitive version Complete Central Park (TMOS96901) on the sadly defunct Sanctuary label. It is a very clear, detailed and up front audience recording and a minor miracle considering it comes from the summer of 1969. The only drawback is the minor amount of tape hiss present.

Sanctuary’s release was the best sounding, most complete and ran at the correct speed. Tarantura’s sounds very similar to that one, the only difference is they didn’t boost the volume quite so high. It’s really matter of personal taste which one is exist many different shows to choose from their summer 1969 tour which focused upon a lot of festivals.

I’ve always liked this one since they were able to play their entire festival set and is one of the earliest tapes in existence to record an extended medley in “How Many More Times”. They throw in the “Woody Woodpecker” theme during the staccato riff early in the number, and this is the first reference to Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”, a song that plays an important role in Zeppelin’s history (from the “Whole Lotta Love” medly to their induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1995).

Woody Woodrocker Show is another opportunity to own this great show and is well worth having. It comes packaged in a thick cardboard sleeve that opens to reveal a photo taken of the concert with both Plant and Page wearing cowboy hats and is limited to two hundred copies.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin The Woody Woodrocker Show | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin I’m With The Band (Fort Worth, May 1973)


Tarrant County Convention Center, Fort Worth, TX – May 19th, 1973

Disc 1: Rock And Roll, Celebration Day, Black Dog, Over The Hills And Far Away, Misty Mountain Hop, Since I’ve Been Loving You, No Quarter, The Song Remains The Same, The Rain Song

Disc 2: Dazed And Confused, Stairway To Heaven

I’m With the Band is a celebration of groupies and the rock stars who love them. The title itself comes from the memoirs of the most famous of them, Pamela Des Barres, who is famous for bedding Jimmy Page among many others. Tarantura gives the package a trashy feel with several candid amateur photos of the band with various members of this bottom-feeding cast of fame scavengers with a nice stick of butter on top to symbolize The Butterqueen on the cardboard gatefold sleeve. The overall production design is not very attractive and is perhaps the worst job done by the label. Zeppelin’s Fort Worth concert is singled out for this treatment because of the story of rich oilmen’s daughters renting a jet to follow the Starship out of town.

Pop culture aside, I’m With The Band is the same incomplete soundboard recording that first surfaced on Worthwhile Experience (Flying Disc CD 6-815) and From Boleskine To the Alamo (Flying Disc CD 6-818). This was among the very first of the soundboards to surface from the cache of tapes lifted from Page’s residence in the late eighties. The Flying Disc edition ran at the wrong speed. Tympani For the Butter Queen (62021/2) was released on Midas Touch in 1996 and was speed corrected and sounded much better than Flying Disc. Winston Remasters released the tape as Mr Soundman. This sounded even better than Midas Touch since the tape, a typical flat 1973 soundboard, was remastered to have a more depth and liveliness to it. The Tarantura sounds just as good and lively and much better than the Midas Touch release.

The opening trio of “Rock And Roll”, “Celebration Day” and “Black Dog” is delivered at a fast pace with the only snag being the non-participation of the audience during the third song, and Plant duly scolds them. The first hour of the show is heavy on the Houses Of The Holy tracks surrounding the “Misty Mountain Hop”/”Since I’ve Been Loving You” medley.

“The Rain Song” sounds especially beautiful in this recording and is still unfortunately cut. But the real highlight is one of the best versions of “Dazed & Confused”. Plant dedicates this song to The Butterqueen complete with fanfare from Page and the mastering really brings out the light and shade dynamics making this one of the best versions caught on tape.

It is a shame the entire tape has never surfaced since this is one of the most tight, slick, professional and devastating concerts from the first half of the tour. Not even an audience source is known to exist to complete the show so “Moby Dick” to the encores is a total mystery. It makes collectors wonder if the rest will ever surface and if the band were able to maintain the energy from the first hour and a half. About five years ago fragments from Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and San Diego surfaced but it seems now the well has run dry again. I’m With The Band is a great version of the show to own which will only be bettered if the rest of the tape appears. (GS)

“This is quite an occasion – he said to himself,” an apropos Plantation to hear while enjoying Tarantura’s wonderful title I’m With the Band (TCD-35-1,2) before “Misty Mountain Hop” kicks off. What a great recording, show, and production by Tarantura.

The first thing that grabbed me about this title is the tremendous brown bag-type feel to the cover, which displays a number of shots of the boys enjoying themselves off-stage with ladies (or the same lady?). The front cover has an image of a stick of butter (undoubtedly in honor of the legendary Butter Queen), a heavily used butter knife, and Bonzo exclaiming something to the person taking a picture of him and a blonde who’s also in a picture on the inside cover grabbing Robert’s crotch! The question is – who was getting the sloppy seconds….we Zep fans, of course, are treated to an excellent recording and concert, and no sloppy seconds at all.

Led Zeppelin’s performance on May 19, 1973 at the Tarrant County Conventions Center in Fort Worth, Texas, has been preserved beautifully in a well-balanced soundboard recording. All instruments are clear, and Robert’s in vintage 1973 shape. For those who love to hear Jonesy’s bass a little more prominently in the mix, or Bonzo’s bass drum for that matter, Tarantura’s “I’m With the Band” is a great way to enjoy this show. This, of course, will also enable you to hear the many (and uncharacteristic) flubs by JPJ in songs such as “Celebration Day,” but this is a minor quibble given the superb quality of this recording and Tarantura presentation. This recording is also expansive, allowing the echo in Robert’s voice in “Black Dog” to carry through in the listening experience. Mr. Soundman is beckoned before an excellent “No Quarter”, which once again features a wonderful dynamic in the recording’s depth and quality. After the butter queen is referenced, “Dazed and Confused” gets the treatment before “Stairway to Heaven” (which gets NO introduction before Jimmy starts playing it!) ends disc 2. Unfortunately, once again, we all know that this couldn’t have been the end of the show, but Tarantura’s presentation of this show far outclassed Midas Touch’s title, Tympani For the Butter Queen, which suffers from a flatness and lifelessness totally absent in the Tarantura recording. This is a keeper.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin I'm With The Band | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls by Charles R. Cross (2009)


In “Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller than Our Souls — The Albums, Concerts, Memorabilia, and Biography of the Gods of Rock,” rock critic Charles R. Cross attempts to summarize the nine albums of studio work produced by Led Zeppelin. For the most part, he does a good job of explaining the conditions under which Led Zeppelin’s catalogue was written and recorded, along with the humbling reception given those albums upon their release. The fact that the manuscript contains quite a few errors at first does not detract from its overall intent, which is to pay tribute to the group that formed in 1968 and ended in 1980. However, some of his expressed opinions do eventually detract from an otherwise positive reading experience.

The continuous narrative spread across 96 pages might at first glance appear to be the book’s focus, but the highlight is actually what can literally be pulled off the pages. This isn’t quite a pop-up book; it’s better than that. In several instances, the turn of a page reveals a brilliantly reproduced piece of memorabilia waiting to be examined. The replicas are of concert tickets and programs, vinyl discs, newspaper clippings, press kits and more, straight from the collections of Hugh Jones and Alberto Lo Giudice. Having handled a few originals myself, I can vouch for the accuracy of the look of these quality reproductions.

These hidden treasures, more than anything else in the book, make leafing through it a pleasure. The experience is much like discovering the customizable cover art of the Physical Graffiti and Led Zeppelin III album packaging, the Aleister Crowley-inspired inscriptions on the Led Zeppelin III vinyl or the watercolour portion enclosed with In Through the Out Door. That’s exactly the kind of reaction Cross says he wanted to inspire. In his preface, the author invites readers to play each album while reading the corresponding chapter. “If you own the original vinyls, inhale the musty smell of the jackets with their tell tale ring wear,” he writes. “If you must listen to Led Zeppelin on CD, make sure you get the version that Page remastered, since early pressings left off the studio chatter that can be heard with a focused listen.”

One part of the package that’s especially revealing is a CD that contains 53 minutes’ worth of the six-plus hours of recorded conversation between Jimmy Page and Dave Schulps, who was senior editor for the Trouser Press, a home grown underground publication about rock music. The portions included on this disc refer to the seven studio albums that had been released by the time of the interviews, which were taped over the span of four days in June 1977. The disc kicks off with Schulps and his tentative voice, announcing that he wants “to start out, um, talking about ambitions, like, before we get into all that kind of stuff.” Before he even concludes his initial question, Page eagerly jumps in to set the pace of the interview: “It’s in stages, isn’t it?” The guitarist intends to go bit by bit and take it slowly, which he does, almost frustratingly at some points. But with headphones on and limited distractions, following along with three pages of transcriptions in the book makes for an overall enjoyable experience and an enlightening one.

What I haven’t mentioned thus far is another of the most attractive aspects of the book, its photographic journey from the studio floor to the concert stage and beyond. The band’s photogenic streak began prior to its formation — just look at Robert Plant’s sideways gaze in a promotional photograph with John Bonham and the rest of the Band of Joy; Cross marvelously notes that “Plant was already dressing and pouting like a character out of a Jane Austen novel.”

As mentioned, the text of “Shadows Taller than Our Souls” is not without its faults. Cross discredits himself as an expert on Led Zeppelin’s influences in the chapter on Led Zeppelin II with his pedestrian interpretation of the Willie Dixon track “Back Door Man” as being a song about sodomy; as any novice blues appreciation student is capable of pointing out, the song is about adulterous married woman whose male daytime lovers slip out the back door daily upon the husband’s return. Cross could have picked up on that meaning from listening to “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” with its mention of a “new fangled back door” that must open and close itself because his woman would certainly not allow any other man to creep through his home. Instead, the only thing Cross can muster to write about “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” apart from a plaudit for the band’s musicianship, is an exaggeration of the debt owed to Moby Grape’s “Never”: “The band’s borrowing here is as egregious as their previous remakings of Willie Dixon songs, yet few pundits noticed the parallels, and no lawsuits resulted.” You’d expect such a dismissal from Will Shade, but Will Shade he is not, for Cross can’t even assemble three paragraphs about the Yardbirds without providing two errors and also later giving an incorrect title for the Jake Holmes song from which “Dazed and Confused” almost certainly derived; it was not called “I’m Confused” but — get this — “Dazed and Confused.”

While the Houses of the Holy and Presence chapters are especially besmirched with the opinions only a rock critic would proffer — notably that “The Crunge” and “D’yer Mak’er” were failures, and that “Candy Store Rock” was too heavily produced — the Physical Graffiti chapter in between refreshingly offers beautiful insight on Page’s expertise as a producer. However, no mention of “In the Light” is anywhere to be found.

Gladly, an anecdote conveyed much earlier deals with an in-studio dispute between Page and John Bonham, settled quickly by Peter Grant’s determined reprimand for the drummer to listen to Page, who was his producer. Appropriately, Cross provides not only this insight into a feeling of deference to Page but also the ways in which various couplings of the band members would work together to create the Led Zeppelin sound.

The Led Zeppelin that Cross presents is a band that was always teetering on the edge of breaking up. Right from the aftermath of the widely panned Led Zeppelin III, Cross cites a quotation from John Bonham questioning whether poor record sales might mean he would find himself back in construction work in another year.

This foreshadows the later threat of John Paul Jones wanting to depart from the band in 1974. Whereas some authors report this matter sceptically and others discount Jones’s desire to leave as a joke (which, I must add, is the way Jones himself presented it during my interview with him in 2001), Cross insists not only that it was true but also that Peter “Grant, with his gangsterlike demeanor, assuaged Jones and brought him back into the fold.” Where Cross gets that detail from is uncertain, but it’s rare to hear about Led Zeppelin’s manager using his gangster like demeanor against members of the band.

Obviously, the tragedies of 1975 and 1977 made for a dodgy period for the future of the band, as Cross recounts, and he even cites a remark from Plant to Chris Welch saying that he believes he “left Zeppelin completely” after his son died while he was on tour half a world away. It took press interviews from Page to deny reports that the band had splintered, Cross notes, also admitting to the agenda of the rock press, that both the breakup rumor and the subsequent official denial made good ink.

That bias is reflected in his own writing. For Cross, the possibility of a breakup also recurs through the rehearsals, recording sessions and post-production of In Through the Out Door as Jones and Plant believed they were too sober for the others, while Jones was too dissatisfied with the lack of a production credit for him on the album. Again, it’s not a detail that is reported often, if accurate at all. Cross later hypothesizes, “If it hadn’t been for that initial American success, Led Zeppelin surely would have broken up long before ‘Stairway to Heaven’ was written in front of a fire at Headley Grange.” Sure, presenting an alternate reality is one way to avoid being told you’re wrong. Rock journalists spent the ’70s constantly predicting the breakup of Led Zeppelin, but for one to assert breakups retroactively when they never happened in reality is odd.

If I understand Cross correctly, even Page himself was mulling over leaving Led Zeppelin in 1978, the reason being that Jones had usurped even the most ultimate power any group musician could seek: to change the key of a song. According to Cross, it would not be unthinkable this was the second time Page considered packing it in, the first being when the 1976 Melody Maker reader’s poll named Steve Howe of Yes, and not Page, the favourite guitarist of the year. How fitting it is to assign this much influence to a single periodical is debatable.

His final chapter brings the story up to date from the band’s breakup to the lingering possibility of a reunion; it lingers, he says, because the singer secretly longs for nostalgia, as evidenced by his recent and mostly unreported visit to Page’s Pangbourne boathouse, where Led Zeppelin was essentially formed. That being said, Cross avoids major flaws during this period in the chronology, except for the occasional gaffe:

– He gives 1990 as the year in which Plant finally started singing Led Zeppelin songs in his solo concerts; it was 1987. Eh, but that’s understandable as Cameron Crowe once said Live Aid was in 1987, not 1985, and that was in the liner notes of an official Led Zeppelin box set.

– Cross calls the John Paul Jones solo album The Thunderchief instead of its proper name, The Thunderthief. Such mistakes seem inescapable; I’ve also seen Ritchie Yorke refer to Walking into Scarsdale when, we hope, he meant Walking into Clarksdale.

– Cross gets the name Walking into Clarksdale right but forgets “Please Read the Letter” had been on that Page/Plant album. In noting that Plant won a Grammy in February 2009 for a version of that song recorded with Alison Krauss, he says it is “a song that Plant had co-written with Jimmy Page post-Zeppelin but had not released previously.” Oops, except for that one time, he meant.

– Cross gives 1990 as the year in which Stephen Davis’s Hammer of the Gods was published; it was 1985. Ironically, Cross makes mention of that book’s reputation as being “error-ridden.” Pot, meet kettle.

Like I said, the memorabilia replicas and the photographs are great! It’s a really enjoyable book!

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin Shadows Taller Than Our Souls by Charles R. Cross | , , | Leave a comment

Hammer Of The Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis (1985)


Stephen Davis’ mid-eighties account of the rise, antics and fall of Led Zeppelin is a famously scurrilous affair, cutting a track that a string of copycat efforts concerning the likes of Motley Crue, Black Sabbath and Metallica gleefully followed in much the same way, I suspect, as those bands gleefully followed Led Zeppelin. Looking back at it now, with Led Zeppelin’s status ever-more Zeus-like in the rock pantheon, it is difficult to believe that, at the time of publication (1985), the band’s credibility could hardly have been at a lower ebb. Everything Led Zep stood for was rejected as, in quick succession, disco, then punk, then new wave and lastly new romance (which I decree to be the noun for which “new romantic” is the adjective) followed hard on each others’ heels. To Johnny Rotten (displaying a surprising lack of historical perspective, even for him), Led Zeppelin was the archetypal dinosaur.

In one way it is odd, then, that this unauthorised (and roundly denounced) biography made such a splash. But lusty tales of bondage with sharks, wrecked hotel rooms and satanic backward masking must, for the kids, have been a welcome relief from the glassy neuroticism of A Flock Of Seagulls and their painted, dilettante cohorts – so perhaps no wonder, and it is always darkest before dawn, after all. And day was about to break; in 1985 a young Axl Rose was warming up in the wings. The mighty Zeppelin’s legacy hasn’t looked back since.

It’s quite a legacy, if Stephen Davis is even partly to be believed. (Messrs. Page and Plant would bid you not). Davis writes colourfully, outrageously, bombastically but most of all entertainingly, and in that way as many others does Hammer Of The Gods befit, and reflect the glory of, its subject matter.

For all that it is a little uneven. Davis’ attention to the story does wane somewhat as the seventies wears on – far more space is devoted to Jimmy Page’s brief dalliance with the Yardbirds than to the two years between Houses of the Holy and Physical Graffiti – to some minds (though not this one) Led Zeppelin’s creative apogee. I suppose there’s only so much gigging, rooting, boozing and fetishising of Aleister Crowley you can write about without boring your audience, but all the same more effort could have been put into charting Led Zeppelin’s hubristic and ultimately tragic decline. The best Davis manages is quashing the transparently silly suggestion that the decline and fall might have been brought by Jimmy’s fixation with matters diabolical – thanks for that insight – and noting the increasing reliance on heroin as the seventies wore on took its toll on the creative spark. You have to think there’s more to it than that.

Davis is obviously a fan of the band, but all the same he’s no stooge: the characters he draws are mainly believable (though I still have trouble crediting a roadworker from Birmingham (“tar in his hair, tar on his hands, and when he opened his mouth it was like an air-raid siren going off”) with the insight and deep celtic fascination to pen tunes and lyrics like Kashmir and, yes, Stairway to Heaven. Page remains, throughout, the impish creative genius of the band, Plant the Daltrey-esque Shepherd’s Bush screamer (though as mentioned, this doesn’t seem to do his intellect justice), Jones the completely unengaged professional, and then there’s Bonzo.

Bone of contention here. In my book Davis is far, far more charitable to John Bonham’s memory than, on the content he sets out in this book, he has any right to be. To claim the same man to be a caring, loyal and loving family man (* while sober) and a “beast” – by Davis’ account, repeatedly guilty of at least aggravated assault and attempted rape – (* while drunk) is frankly an asterisk too far, particularly when Davis’ record also tends to suggest Bonham was in any case perpetually drunk, and angry, throughout the seventies, leaving no time for “nice considerate John” to come out. I think Davis should have said it: Bonham was a pig.

And nor is Bonham’s unfortunate (but hardly tragic) death, nor his (literally) fabled drumming prowess an excuse. I suspect Bonham’s reputation survived largely because his behaviour was of a piece with band manager Richard Cole’s, and Cole was a significant source of material for Davis’ book, and thus commanded a sympathetic account. No matter: perhaps our 21st century moralising has got to me, but to my mind Davis could, and should, have been more eviscerating than he was.

Hammer of the Gods is now updated to somewhere near the present day, and the comparative lack of any interesting output since the band split (the one genuinely interesting project, Page & Plant’s No Quarter, hardly counts as new material) only serves to gives one a sense of what was, and what might have been.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Book Hammer Of The Gods The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin by Neal Preston (2002)


There’s them and there’s us. The rock stars on stage, the fans squished below. It would seem that we are forever blocked in climbing from our world to theirs. Until now. This book of spectacular, oversized Led Zeppelin photographs by Neal Preston is the unlikely means. Caught in a shutter click, we can see what we mostly heard before. There have been film documentaries of concerts, but these stills let us stop time and study the camera’s subjects in a way we were never before possible.

But that’s not all. There is an interview of Preston by Cynthia Fox–a LA radio and TV personality–that links the pages of photos and even better, pulls us directly into the middle of this iconic group, much as the young high-school aged photographer is introduced to the backstage world of pop music. He’s a fan but trying to understand what he experiences not in terms of being an aspiring musician, but on a more human level. We learn of his first days with Led Zeppelin. How he had to gain their trust, not just in terms of what he could photograph, but as a member of close knit group of musicians building a legacy we still cherish today.

Led Zeppelin was, of course, the English rock band formed in 1968 by Jimmy Page (guitar), Robert Plant (vocals), John Paul Jones (bass guitar, keyboards, mandolin) and John Bonham (drums). With their heavy, guitar-driven sound they are regarded as one of the first heavy metal bands. However, the band’s individualistic style drew from many sources. Their rock-infused interpretation of the blues and folk genres incorporated rockabilly, reggae, soul, funk, classical, Celtic, Indian, Arabic, pop, Latin and country. The group disbanded following Bonham’s death in 1980, but surviving members have since performed in “comeback” concerts.

Some of the questions asked of Preston in the interview (and his answers) are things we have all wondered about, but even if we could, might be hesitant to ask. “How familiar were you with Led Zeppelin and their music before becoming their photographer?” How did you, as a high school kid, meet people and show them your work?” “Was there ever a moment when, `oops’ suddenly you were in the way?” How do you catch a moment, know something special is coming and be ready? and even, “How soon after a show would you be showing the band your sots and getting their feedback? and What kind of feedback did you get?” None of the answers probe much beyond the visual images we have of the group’s members. Nor do we expect or want them too. There is something challenging about coming face-to-face with myth, yet wanting to keep it magical and alive.

The photographs themselves are sharp, dynamic, helpfully labeled and rich in variety. I couldn’t find one that I would call ordinary, yet they were never repetitious. And like a fine painter, Neal Preston makes his subjects accessible, yet larger than life. There is a heightened reality I have seldom felt about comparable books. It might have been a nice touch to have the names of the groups albums or list their hits on a page in the back. I have one of their original LPs but never made the conversion to cassettes or CDs. We hear their familiar music through the amplification of our imagination. But memories like mine need an occasional boost. In any case, I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever yearned for that stairway to heaven.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin by Neil Preston | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin That’s Alright New York (Madison Square Garden, February 1975)


Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY – February 12, 1975

Disc 1 (55:59): 01. Rock And Roll (4:53), 02. Sick Again (6:01), 03. Over The Hills And Far Away (8:40), 04. In My Time Of Dying (12:40), 05. The Song Remains The Same (6:06), 06. The Rain Song (8:52), 07. Kashmir (8:47)

Disc 2 (49:36): 01. No Quarter (19:02), 02. Trampled Underfoot (9:31), 03. Moby Dick (21:03)

Disc 3 (65:14): 01. Dazed And Confused (33:55), 02. Stairway To heaven (13:16), 03. Whole Lotta Love (1:52), 04. Black Dog (6:04), 05. Heartbreaker (10:07)

When Empress Valley released the soundboard for this show it was a revelation of sorts. Not only was it previously uncirculated but it sounds as if it’s a professionally mixed multi-track recording. The general consensus among collectors was that this recording was the best of the best and could not get any better. Until now!!! Godfather has pulled off a miracle. This new release has taken what was already a three layer cake and added the richest icing possible. Godfather has improved the seemingly un-improvable.

They did what was said couldn’t be done. They have taken the best sounding soundboard out there and turned it into the best sounding soundboard ever… Sure Flying Circus is great but this recording blows it away. Godfather used a professional recording studio to work their magic on this release. This release may definitely take the place of the official Live Led Zeppelin releases in my collection. This release has a beefier sound to it which overall makes this a slamming recording. There’s absolutely no hiss present and this is as clean as it gets. This release will help to set Godfather’s Legacy in stone.

One thing that has confused me over the years is that inside the first edition of Luis Rey’s “Led Zeppelin Live” book he lists both the audience and soundboard sources for this show. Mysteriously the next two editions of his book have only the audience source listed. Obviously Mr. Rey had access to the soundboard long before any of the rest of us did. We’re talking at least 10 years in between the first edition of his book and the release of Flying Circus.

I don’t ever remember too much of a stink made over the listing of the Soundboard and no actual soundboard circulating. Someone in the know got to Mr. Rey and hushed him up. Conspiracy Theories at their finest. That right there proves to me that there’s still plenty of stuff circulating amongst the “Elite” collectors that the rest of us have no idea about.

This release is packaged in the typical Godfather Gatefold with numerous pictures of the band. Inside is another short summary by Mr. Paul De Luxe. He basically writes a short summary of the show. The soundboard source has been previously released as Flying Circus (Eelgrass & Empress Valley Supreme Disc) and Madison Square Graffiti (Red Devil). Audience source #1 has previously been released on LP as The Final Option (Rock Solid Records & The Swingin’ Pig Records), In Concert (Rock Solid Records), In Person (Rock Solid Records), Live At Madison Square Garden 1975 (no label issues & Zep Toepper), Live In Madison Square Garden Part 1&2 (Box Top Records), Madison Square Garden (The Swingin’ Pig Records) & Madison Square garden 1975 (The Swingin’ Pig Records) and on CD as The 10th US Tour (Whole Lotta Live), Can’t Take Your Evil Ways (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin), Can’t Take Your Evil Ways Un-Cut Version (The Diagrams Of Led Zeppelin), Four Blocks In The Snow (The Chronicles Of Led Zeppelin), Good To Be Back In New York City (Planet), Heartbreakers Back In Town Pts 1&2 (TNT Studios), The Jumpleg (Tarantura), Ladies And Gents (Tarantura2000), M.S.G. 1975 (Last Stand Disc, both issues), & Shakin’ All Over (Triangle Records). Audience Source #2 has previously been released on CD as Four Blocks In The Snow (The Chronicles Of Led Zeppelin) & That’s All Right New York (Electric Magic)”. The combined sources have been previously released as “Four Blocks In The Snow (Small Fish CD-R). DVD-A versions were released as Flying Circus (Empress Valley Supreme Disc) & Heartbreakers Back In Town (Genuine Masters).

I’ve always held Flying Circus in high regard due to the sound quality but this release has taken over the coveted spot of “Best Soundboard in Circulation!” Hands down it wins! Thanks must got to Godfather for taking something amazing and making it extraordinary. Eat Your Heart Out Empress Valley.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin That's Alright New York | , | Leave a comment

David Bowie Young Americans (1975)


Err… while I first decided to be kind to the record, as nearly every reviewer in existence, starting from the corporate ones and ending with the independent ones, bashes the chitlins out of it, there’s really too little ground to apply one’s kindness. In a certain way, this is not necessarily a radical departure from everything Bowie had been doing earlier: he always had a passion for ‘authentic’ soul, and traces of the genre can be found on every single album of his starting from Ziggy, maybe even from Hunky Dory; and Diamond Dogs verged on the brink of being ‘soul’ – I mean, ‘Rock’n’Roll With Me’? ‘Sweet Thing’? Huh? And, of course, David Live already prepared us for the ‘big metamorphose’. The biggest departure, of course, was that on Young Americans David completely dumped the ‘glam’ stuff: no more androgynous Ziggy looking at us from the front cover. But if one thinks hard, one will be able to notice that ‘glam’ and ‘soul’ don’t really stray too far from each other – just look at James Brown and tell me he wasn’t a ‘glam star’. It’s all the usual stuff: pompous, overblown, master-of-the-universe-speaking type of music, only this time the rock’n’roll beats and metallic guitars are replaced by funky rhythms and ‘heavenly’ pianos and saxes and wah-wahs. Completely.

Now let it be known that I don’t really think much of ‘soul’ as a genre. It’s a pretty limited and cliched one, and it never places the emphasis on melodies, instead concentrating on image and vocal power and, well, ‘sincerity’ (gee; should we say ’emulation of sincerity’?) and ‘passion’. I don’t give a damn about Motown, and I don’t plan on buying any Aretha Franklin records in the near future. And what about Bowie? Sure enough, he demonstrates a total lack of care for melodies, but he doesn’t satisfy the ‘positive’ criteria either: his vocals can’t live up to the black singers’ potential, his ‘passion’ is entirely trumped up, and ‘sincerity’? Please refer to the introductory passage to see what I’m thinking of Bowie’s ‘sincerity’. Surprisingly, though, it’s his ineffectiveness and faked Philly accent that save the album from utter ruin (for me, at least). Were it ‘serious’ soul, I’d just skip it as an unnoticeable and mediocre record; as it is, it’s still highly mediocre, but certainly noticeable.

Now look here, I totally agree that the whole record contains not more than two ‘classics’ – the songs that bookmark the album. The title track is the most upbeat, vibrating and energetic on the album, and it’s the only song that has some serious ‘breathing’ power: everything else is totally lifeless and artificial. Seems that the lyrical subject of ‘two lovers’ has always fascinated David (he’d return to it, in a somewhat altered manner, in two years on ‘Heroes’), and he gives the song his all, straining the vocals as far as possible. Plus, the arrangement is stunning – Mike Garson’s piano and Dave Sanborn’s sax play a heartlifting, inspiring duel on the intro, and the ‘generic’, but groovy backing vocals chanting ‘young American young American he (she) wants a young American’ will stick in your mind for aeons whether you’d like it or not.

The sax parts are extremely nice and soothing – and sound not unlike that magnificent brassy stuff that John Lennon was releasing at about the same time. Maybe that’s why the backing vocals chant ‘I heard the news today oh boy’ at one point… but wait, John himself is present on the album, collaborating with Bowie on the record’s best track – the #1 hit single ‘Fame’, a song which is a serious candidate for ‘best Bowie arrangement ever’. Its midtempo, mannered funky rhythm is able to drive you crazy, much like the similar pulsation of Peter Gabriel’s ‘Steam’, although the latter came seventeen years later, and the vocals roll over you as waves chasing each other as Bowie sings about the downsides of, well, fame. Call me crazy – but I just love these delicious guitar licks, the occasional brass thunderstorms, and the slow, unnerving ‘grind’ of the song. Not to mention that hilarious chanting of the word ‘fame’ at the end when it goes from ‘highest’ to ‘lowest’. Terrific, memorable and a deserved success.

But this is where the paeans end. Out of the other numbers, only the cover of Lennon’s ‘Across The Universe’ comes across as memorable – and certainly not due to David’s successful butchering of it but to the fact that no matter how far you go in spoiling a Beatles song, it’s still a Beatles song. The obvious question is – why did John allow him do that, as he’s present on the recording himself, playing guitar and singing backing vocals? The number was a quiet, introspective and moody song; here, it’s rough, bombastic and utterly ridiculous. Perhaps ‘ridiculous’ rather than ‘bad’, but… oh well. As far as I know, Lennon hated the way ‘Across The Universe’ was recorded on Let It Be; maybe it was his ‘second try’.

And? What about the rest? The rest is mediocre, grotesque attempts at doing something truly ‘soulful’, but all these songs with short titles like ‘Win’ and ‘Right’ and long running times like four or five or six minutes are almost totally devoid of melody and never ascend to generating some real emotions. Well, perhaps ‘Fascination’ is okay, as it’s at least eminently danceable and, in all, sounds like a poorboy version of ‘Fame’. And ‘Can You Hear Me’ is a rather nice ballad – much too lethargic and hookless for my tastes, but I know people that like it and I’m able to understand them. After all, ‘lethargic’ and ‘hookless’ are rather standard complaints in Bowie’s case, aren’t they? The TV preacher ode ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is dreadful, though, as it drags on for six and a half minutes without achieving anything, the only redeeming factor being Sanborn’s masterful sax playing again. It doesn’t even make suitable background music.

According to the standard match-for-match principle, the bonus tracks here pretty much suck as well. ‘Who Can I Be Now?’ is pretty, a ‘confessional-style’ ballad (Bowie at the crossroads, anyone?), but the other two are just too dreadful to ramble about. Suffice it to say that a) both go over six minutes and b) the second one is a dance rewrite of ‘John I’m Only Dancing’, totally despicable as it is. My advice to you: program this album so that it should always close with ‘Fame’. That way, your last memory will be a good one, and you won’t be willing to extinguish that tempting cigarette that David is holding in his hand on the front cover against his painted lips.

Better still, just get a compilation that has the title track and ‘Fame’ on it and I guarantee it that you won’t be missing any crucial points.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Young Americans | | Leave a comment

David Bowie Station To Station (1976)


It was as though the weakly blue-eyed soul guy from Young Americans suffered a heart attack and died, and then a mad scientist came along, stole his corpse, and turned him into Robocop. Except David Bowie doesn’t fight crime; he sings rock music! (He could probably fight crime if he wanted to, though.) Station to Station is very much the same sort of funky R&B album that Young Americans was except this is far weirder. And when it comes to David Bowie, the weirder it gets the better. The beats are far more mechanical and European, the melodies are more distinctive, the atmospheres are thick and drugged up, and Bowie’s vocal performances seem more natural and passionate. You know what else, the most important thing? This album absolutely rocks.

Yes sir, David Bowie had successfully taken R&B and melded it into his own twisted image, and the result is one of the most uninhibitedly enjoyable albums that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting through. And this is easily one of my favourite albums of all time to sit through. There are only six songs on here, meaning that most of them are insanely long, notably the 10-minute title track. But holy hell, all of these songs pick up so much incredible steam that they are unstoppable. Even the ballads. Not even Superman could stop these songs. I mean, Superman might have been able to reverse time by spinning the earth backwards, but he’d be powerless against the sheer rockin’ power of Station to Station. (Superman probably would love this album, though. Logically, I would assume that Superman had super-good taste in music. He’d have no reason to stop it. Logically.)

The thought of listening to a 10-minute David Bowie song might be a harrowing idea when you first read about it. After all, the previous song he wrote that lasted about that long was “The Cygnet Committee” from Space Oddity, which I’m sure we all remember was charming but dull. …However, “Station to Station” is the sort of song that draws you in right from the moment that stilted groove begins to play, and it doesn’t let go until the fade out. The thematic idea of that song was (…wait for it…) trains; the track begins and ends with an extended soundbite of a steam locomotive! But the groove itself, all chugging and mechanical, sounds like the R&B interpretation of that train. Cool idea!

“Golden Years” was the hit single, a song that Bowie had originally intended for Elvis Presley. But good thing The King didn’t take it; he wouldn’t have sounded quite as cool singing it as Bowie would have. (Not that Elvis wasn’t cool; he just didn’t have it in him to give it quite the extra-terrestrial kick.) Also, “Golden Years” is by far one of the hookiest songs that Bowie had ever done, so it’s nice to hear it surface so predominately on one of his albums! “TVC 15” is another rabble rousing mechanical classic with bizarre lyrics about a television set gobbling somebody up. Who other than Bowie would sound convincing singing a song about that?. Bowie takes a moment to croon at us on “Word on a Wing,” but it’s a different sort of crooning than Bing Crosby; it’s more like crooning from a space-alien. I gotta assume a Roxy Music influence here! …Yeah, these songs are pretty weird.

And the album ends with what’s certainly his greatest cover of all time, “Wild is the Wind.” I had been listening to Station to Station for at least a couple of years before I even realized that was a cover! Bowie hadn’t been very well known for his covers, but he treats this song as though it were his own. In keeping spirit with the rest of this album, he incorporates a mechanical drum beat and a drugged-up atmosphere, but ………. Wow. Bowie’s vocal performance is so stop-dead-in-your-tracks fantastic that I can hardly believe it! By the end Bowie’s singing so passionately and gut-wrenchingly that I can’t help but feeling it right in the centre of my chest cavity. I can’t say that Bowie ever does that too often. He probably gave better vocal performances on “Heroes.” And also on “It’s No Game (Pt. 1).” But that’s about it.

Is Station to Station the greatest David Bowie album of all time? Nah, I don’t think so. Give me Ziggy Stardust over this anytime of the week. If it’s for no other reason, Ziggy Stardust was the more diverse and more joyous record. But I also don’t hold it against people who think Station to Station is superior. After all, Bowie had a lot of great albums each of a vastly different species, and it’s quite a chore for anyone to pick out a favourite. And then there are rumours that David Bowie was so hopped up on cocaine that he doesn’t actually recall recording this album. If that’s true, then this is a pretty glowing endorsement for cocaine!!!! …………But in all seriousness, don’t do cocaine. It’s bad.

April 10, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Station To Station | | Leave a comment