The Boulevard Music Festival is in full swing and, after triumphant shows by Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands, Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic, Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca, and the John Jorgenson Quintet coming Thursday, August 3, it’s the turn of Led Zeppelin tribute band Led Zepagain. We spoke with bassist Joe Wootten (John Paul Jones) about what we can expect from the set.
CULVER CITY NEWS: HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED THIS EVENT BEFORE?
Joe Wootten: Yes, we actually did it maybe three years ago now. Our singer, Swan Montgomery, is actually a longtime friend of Gary. Gary asked our band to play. We do a specific show called Symphony to Heaven — Gary expressed great interest in that, and asked Swan if we could possibly bring it to Culver City.
HOW LONG HAS THE BAND BEEN AROUND?
The band has been in existence 30 years next year. Now, none of the current members are original members. At this point, they’ve all left. The senior member of the group is Swan, who has actually been in the band for 27 years. I’m the next senior member – I joined in 2001 so I’m in my 16th year with the band right now. The other two players, Anthony Thymiakos (guitar) and Derek Smith (drums), Derek joined two years ago. Anthony just joined us at the start of this year. They’re both quite a bit younger than us.
WHAT SETS YOU APART FROM THE MANY OTHER ZEPPELIN TRIBUTE BANDS OUT THERE?
I would say, ever since I’ve been in the band, we’ve always strove to be as accurate as possible to the recordings. We’ve tried to be as authentic from a looks standpoint, equipment, but most importantly from a musical perspective. We just want it to be a situation where people are hearing the songs like they remember them on the record. We don’t want to put our own personality into it at all. We just want to make it as close to seeing Led Zeppelin as you possibly can. Others do that to varying degrees, but some of them don’t. Sone of them just figure, ‘Hey, we’re not gonna dress like them or try to look like them – we’re just gonna go up and play the music.’ That’s fine, but we’ve always tried to take an approach that we want you to have the complete experience of seeing Led Zeppelin in concert.
The show that we’re going be doing in Culver City is a little bit different in that what we’re doing is playing the music all acoustically. There’s going to be no electric instruments on stage. It’s all acoustic and we’re playing with a string quartet. They’re not playing the parts that were on the recordings. We actually asked somebody to write some original string parts against what Zeppelin had done on the recordings. So we’re playing the songs like the recordings, but they’re playing other counterpoint melodies that really make it interesting and fresh.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A LED ZEPPELIN FAN?
Oh man, I’ve been a fan of Led Zeppelin since I was 14 years old. I’m now 55, so almost 40 years.
DID YOU EVER GET TO SEE THEM?
I didn’t get to see them first time around. I had tickets to go and see them in 1980 when they were going to be at the Forum, and then obviously John Bonham died. I lost my opportunity. The only time I did get to see them was in 2007, when they did the reunion concert in London. That was an amazing night. Jimmy Page’s manager provided us with tickets. We got to go backstage after the show and meet all of them. They also gave us a pass to go to the rehearsal and soundcheck the day before. That all came about because Jimmy Page came to see the band in 2004 at the House of Blues in Hollywood which no longer exists.
HAVING JIMMY PAGE COME TO SEE YOU MUST HAVE AMPED UP THE PRESSURE…
It was insane. The thing was, at that show, I had no idea he was there. The other guys knew. Our guitar tech found out that he was up in the VIP section, and he put a note on the drum riser that said, ‘Page in the house.’ I was on the other side of the stage and completely clueless to it until the last song. We came off stage and the audience was calling for an encore. We asked the stage manager if we could do one more and he said, ‘Yeah but I’d make it a quick one – Jimmy Page is up in the dressing room waiting to meet you guys.’ I can’t even tell you what kind of a feeling that was. It was a lifetime moment, one of those things I’ll never forget.
WHAT DID PAGE SAY TO YOU?
He actually was very complimentary. He said, ‘You know, I listened to the whole set, and you weren’t just playing the songs. It’s like you were inside of the music. You must have grown up on this.’ It was not anything that we really expected, but then I suppose that if he didn’t enjoy the show, he wouldn’t have stayed to the end anyway.
Led Zepagain plays Culver City’s Boulevard Music Summer Festival at City Hall on Thursday, August 3. Admission is free, although limited seats are available for $10. The show runs 7-9 p.m., as they do each week. The final performance (and interview right here) will be Albert Lee. For more information, call Boulevard Music at 310-398-2583.