There are very few opportunities that will make a music journalist jump
quicker than the opportunity to see the three surviving members of the
legendary (and legendarily squabbling) rock group Led Zeppelin together
on the same stage. Even if you are not the band's biggest fan (and
I can't claim that I am), this may just be a once in a lifetime
opportunity to see one of the most storied bands in rock and roll
After all, the three original members have only played together three
times in the over thirty years since original drummer John Bonham died
of an overdose in 1980. The first two of those reunions were
mostly notable for their lacklusterness. At both short sets at
Live Aid and the 1988 Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary show, the rust
was quite noticeable and the band members decreed that they were further
proof that the band should not go on without Bonham. (Also lead
singer Robert Plant and lead guitarist Jimmy Page did work together in
the 80s as part of the Honeydrippers and the 90s as Plant Page
Therefore it was quite a shock in 2007 when all three members of the
band (and Bonham's drumming son Jason) agreed to do a one-off full
concert in London as a tribute to the recently deceased Atlantic Records
founder Ahmet Ertegun, who discovered the band and was instrumental in
making them stars. Ertegun was also a good friend. The show,
at London's O2 Arena, quickly became the hottest ticket of the
millennium - 20 million people entered a lottery for 18,000 show
Six years later, that show - rechristened Celebration Day - will
be doing a short theatrical release before being let loose on CD and Blu-ray
in November. To celebrate this release, the four members did two
press conferences together, one in London and one on October 9th at New
York's Museum of Modern Art Film Center.
was a rather surreal experience to see the four of them up there. They basically seemed to be getting on well. There were no real
snipes at each other like when John Paul Jones suggested in London that
he was glad the other two found his number this time around, an obvious
shot at the others for famously excluding him from the Unledded
album and tour.
However, just because they were on the same page doesn't mean that it
was all roses. A few different radio personalities tried to ask
the band about reuniting - and the band flatly refused to answer. There was complete silence. It got so uncomfortable that on
the third time the question came
up, one of the other journalists in the crowd came to the band's defense
and yelled out angrily to the questioner, "It's been answered
a million times, sir!" Our own Brad Balfour was able to get Plant to open up on
the idea working
together again a bit, simply by not asking about it. Other
questions were occasionally too fawning, leaving the band little to say
but thanks. Plant was occasionally a bit goofy, musing about how
one of the journalists had used to be a massage therapist he had used,
at another point calling a questioner a schmuck. Page was sage and
slightly inscrutable. Jones was the most down to
earth of the three, humorously pointing out that he enjoyed playing
"Kashmir" so that he could sit down a bit in the show. And young Bonham seemed
like a huge fan, almost as awed by the other three members of his group
as the crowd was.
Still, it was an exceedingly rare opportunity to see rock and roll
deities together on one stage, and well worth the experience. So,
here, direct from second row left of the MOMA theater, is a
transcription of the entire press conference (even the uncomfortable
Jason, did you
ever step outside yourself and say “holy shit, it’s Led Zeppelin?”
It happened on more than one occasion for me over the years. Getting a
chance to play with them again 19 years later, when probably the first
time we did it, it wasn’t as rehearsed as now. I was just getting to
know them for about six weeks. There were lots of moments where I kept
saying (awed) “I’m playing drums for Led Zeppelin.” This really
is something very special. Something that I dreamed about all my life,
in a strange way. [So] all in all, yeah. I remember there was one
incident, John won’t remember it like I do, I watched The Song
Remains the Same [Led Zeppelin's 1976 concert movie] so many times
and John had this look during “No Quarter” and I remember it was just
like Song Remains the Same. He gave me the look! And it probably
wasn’t for the same reason as it was with dad, but I’m sure it was very
John Paul Jones:
That was the “where are we?” look.
But for me, as I said, it was a huge, huge honor to play. When we were
playing I wasn’t thinking about the crowd, I was concentrating on who
was on stage, really. I just wanted to impress my mates here, my dad’s
Which songs did
each of you pick for the set?
The funny thing is that Presence, as a collection of songs, has
been very important to all of us, obviously. We didn’t get much of an
opportunity [to play it live]. “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” maybe, and
“Achilles’ Last Stand“ we visited quite a lot, but it’s such a great
piece of music. I was talking about it the other day. It has an amazing
sort of math, as a piece of music. Just like Jason, I was amazed I was
there playing with Led Zeppelin. I was just saying “where does the crew
come in?” I know I had made a couple errors and had to shut up instead
of doing too much but I think that was my favorite part of the show, to
be honest. None of us could bring too much back from having ever played
it before. It was a great experience and that is flying by the seat of
your pants and these guys did such a great job. Very exciting. Great
light show, too.
Jimmy, was there
one song you had to do?
Well, “Kashmir” obviously we had to do, but we had played that before.
The rest of the set, “For Your Life” was fair because it is quite a
testy song to do, there’s a lot to remember. Not having played it before
it was a very interesting one out of all of them to be approaching. We
did a really good job with that one, but we went right across the board
and had a good assault on all of them.
John Paul Jones:
Nothing new here. “For Your Life” and “Kashmir,” definitely. “Kashmir”
is real good, I get to sit down. Plus I can make a lot of noise with the
keyboards. “Good Times Bad Times” was interesting actually because that
was the start. Had we done that before? No we hadn’t. That was all new
and fresh and a good kicker off.
What was it like
having the drums done by Jason?
John Paul Jones:
It was very exciting. As a man that was taking chances, and he’s a
chance of course. It was really good and it was always the natural focus
of our band. We’d start the shows maybe a little more spread out, but as
soon as it got serious, everyone meets by the drums and that’s when you
can actually feel everything happening. It was still just as exciting as
it always was.
We had a series of rehearsals running up to the show, actually. In every
rehearsal Jason played his heart out and it was really good. I mean, we
all played our hearts out, to be honest, but it was really good. We had
a really good communion on the night of the 02.
There are some people in here who are not journalists. There’s a
masseuse in here who is not a journalist. I think that’s ever so
When you watch
yourselves, are you able to enjoy it or do you nitpick it or are
As long as it’s good, we enjoy it.
I used to be better looking than this. I’m quite concerned about all
that stuff. It didn’t bloody matter.
We have some
former and current Atlantic Record employees here. Obviously, Ahmet
Ertegun was the reason for this concert to begin with. How did the chain
of events occur to bring this reunion together?
When we were kids in England, actually before Jason was born, we were
individually in different parts of Britain and really avid music lovers
and vinyl junkies. The greatest thing on the planet was be to ever be
considered signed to Atlantic Records for British people. The integrity
and the roster of Atlantic music was phenomenal and probably unbeatable.
Maybe a couple little labels in New Orleans did some great stuff too.
That first album, taking that home with an Atlantic label on it and
showing it to your friends, it didn’t really matter what happened after
that. Everybody hated you for getting that far. As the years progressed
Ahmet became quite attached to us. I think he liked the after-show
relaxations we had, more than perhaps Jerry Wexler did. I think, Jim?
Time went on and Ahmet never lost his energy and love of music and the
musicians he had gotten to know even if they had changed labels and gone
some other place. It was more important to know that between us all. So
when he had the accident, everything hung on his returning back to
normal and that never happened. So in England and also here in New York
everybody wanted to do something to recognize how much we loved the guy
and bit by bit things took shape. They changed quite a lot along the
way. At times the Stones were going to be involved. Is that right, Jim?
Yeah. The other
night I went to the Beacon Theater to see some blokes, [French singer]
Johnny Hallyday, actually. It dawned on me: of course that was where
Ahmet had the accident [Ed. note: Ertegun fell down and hit his head
backstage at a 2006 Rolling Stones benefit concert at the Beacon,
which he never recovered from]. The feeling was really
Clapton was going to do something. I think he was going to put Cream
back together and I think we were going to do The [Royal] Albert Hall,
but things changed. Someone suggested we go to a bigger venue and it
became what it became, but never out of sight of the fact that Ahmet was
a personality as well as an absolute music lover. He continued forever
to love. He was a seer in many respects. Everybody’s got a different
story about him and I don’t think we’re gonna tell you any of them. But
it was great, you could have a wonderful time with him talking about
anything from Coltrane and Modern Jazz Quartet through to Ratt and White
rehearsing for six weeks for this. What were you thinking? Is this film
in anticipation for something bigger for the band?
The period we
rehearsed over may have run over six weeks, but we weren’t rehearsing
every day. We had a little block here and a little block here. I just
wanted you to know that.
thinking about all sorts of things, but we can’t remember what we were
thinking about. (long pause) Schmuck.
What was the
process like to find the right songs, the right length and what songs
fell by the wayside?
incarnation of Led Zeppelin, in the past when we toured in the 70’s our
sets reflected what we had done in the past and what was there on that
latest album. With this show we had a chance to have a real
retrospective of the career. That’s why we arrived at the first number
being “Good Times Bad Times,” which was the first track of the first
album. Then let’s see what goes on from there. I think we made a pretty
good choice right across the board for the time we had. We paid good
attention to it. The pacing of the set was interesting because with no
warm up gig we had to get it right. We assumed we’d work on it and get
it right and I think it went well.
Would you describe
the feelings you had at previous reunions? Was there a feeling of
John Paul Jones:
immediate sense of relief that we actually got through it and did well.
I don’t know, I didn’t feel much after that, to be honest. It was kind
I feel we had the
opportunity to get back together again, which we had there with 02, with
those things that left us a little uncomfortable like Live Aid and
Atlantic 40th. But we really just wanted to get it right and go out
there to play to people that maybe had never heard us, but heard of our
reputation and what we’re about. Basically go out and stand up and be
counted for who we were. That’s what I thought, anyways.
I think expectations are horrific things. If you go out and play in
North Africa or something like that, you know you’re going to have a
good time and work with people and there’s nothing else about it. That’s
how we started in a little room with Jason’s dad all that time ago. So
to do anything at all together is such an incredible weight because
sometimes we were fucking awful. Sometimes we were stunning. A couple of
times we tried to get together. In the meantime I assume you're
referring tot he fact that the 40th Anniversary wasn’t as good as this.
We were really propelled by Jason and his enthusiasm and his dark
I don’t believe that. Wait, it’s not in your family, I’ve known your
family for 50 years. He really broke the atmosphere of expectation for
us because he knows far more about us than we do. He’s got all the
bootlegs and he’s in touch with all the people make the bootlegs. He has
a strong interest in the bootlegs.
If I may, for me when we did the Atlantic 40th, I probably feel that I
was still in the “the world owes me a living” stage in my life and
didn’t really take anything that seriously. 19 years later, with the
world going to proving to everybody [that wasn't the case] and there was
a lot of doubt out there. The road to the 02 there was a lot of
enjoyment and pressure at the same time. I like to read the internet and
there were some not nice comments that I shouldn’t be doing it. But I
was playing with these guys and they were fantastic, every one of you
and it was a special night and I really, really enjoyed it. For me, it
was what it was.
What would you say
to the people that see the film, but still want to see you in the flesh?
silence, then finally:]
John Paul Jones:
(shrugs) Sorry. [Ed. note: I've seen other articles attribute
this to Robert Plant or Jimmy Page, but I was right under him, John Paul
Jones was the one who made the comment.]
journalists, and over the last 40 years the journalists and critics were
really snobby to you yet you seemed to apologize to them in a way,
despite all the fans. Why didn't you stand up for yourselves. Also, why
would you not want to play music with musicians elsewhere in the world?
Isn’t that a great idea, to explore? That’s how we got to be good. We
kept developing and nuancing ideas and it came from all over the place.
I like the idea of exploring.
What about the
Why were we so sensitive? Because we were.
But if you think
about it, it’s silly.
Well you’re right.
Well it depends what you mean with journalists. As far as the albums
went the critique of the album, it’s quite clear it went over their
heads and they didn’t have time to review it over an evening when they
got a white label. They just missed the point of the album, but our
audience can’t miss the point of the album and that’s why it just went
from strength to strength over here.
Maybe the critics
were jealous and picking you apart?
So what? They just didn’t know the joy of playing a three hour show with
the rest of the band.
Also they were a lot older than us at the time. Who knows what happened
to them. Some people wanted it to be different. Everyone wanted the Iron
Butterfly and they got us. Sensitivity is a crazy thing. You write, you
create music you think “am I doing it right, or are we as a group doing
it right?” You never really know. When you get to a certain point go
“shit, is any of this right?” And thank God it’s like that because if
you took it for granted, you’re finished. All hail sensitivity, I say.
Why is there no
chance of a reunion? It looked like you guys were having fun. Why is it
Did the fact that
this show went so well, does that make it easier to say that’s the last
At this time four years ago we would have been rehearsing to get to the
02. In December it will have been five years since the 02. So that’s a
number of years of passing in between and it seems unlikely if there
wasn’t a whisper or hint two years ago of something, then it seems
pretty unlikely. That’s what I think.
Do you see things
when you’re watching yourself that you don’t otherwise see? Can you see
what you do well?
That’s a very interesting question, it’s almost transcendental. I think
that night back then we were just hanging on for dear life watching each
other and those expressions of working together, we were so happy we
were getting it right and enjoying it and taking it beyond what we
thought we were about that night. There were moments where we just took
off and went to another place. The responsibility of doing that four
nights a week for the rest of time is a different thing because we’re
pretty good at what we do, but the tail should never wag the dog. If
we’re capable of doing something in our own time, then that will be what
will happen. So any inane questions from people at syndicated outlets,
you should really think about what it takes to answer a question like
that in one second. We know what we got and que sera.
Did you guys
The Song Remains the Same?
I grew up watching that thing as well as being the little kid playing
the drums in it, which I just recently found out it was actually Dr.
John I was playing to. Talk about being at the right place at the right
time. For me, obviously when I was on the stage, I grew up watching that
movie over and over again. Then, as I got older, I watched that movie
over and over again as well as every bootleg I had that had been handed
through by different Zeppelin fans. I was very lucky because it’s
knowledge for me. I was like a Zeppelin sponge with a thirst for Zep
trivia. It was constant. I loved the movie. I would look over it and
point at the stage and be like “oh this reminds me of that.” A bit daft,
really, but wonderful for me. I did have moments of The Song Remains
the Same in my performance because in half of my performances I was
playing, I was thinking of Song Remains the Same versions, like a
lot of people do. Those versions, the live versions, people have grown
up. I really felt in that moment.
I want to know what happened to that blonde chick, Guinevere.
Celebration Day is
on multiple formats; Jimmy has released vinyl only albums. Is vinyl the
best way to listen to Zeppelin?
It’s a matter of taste. Personally, I never let go of vinyl all the way
through, even as CDs came on the scene. What I would recommend you do is
don’t listen to Led Zeppelin on MP3, that’s for sure.
Were there any
moments of doubts during rehearsal or on stage?
No, the rehearsals were going strength to strength. Each day’s rehearsal
had its own character, which is quite exhilarating because we’re working
towards this one point. No, we put enough time into it for Jason and
myself and John playing together so we can be tight knit come the day of
the show. Should something go really wobbly we had a musical communion
between us to straighten it out. Fortunately we were really lucky.
John Paul Jones:
It was something we’ve always known how to do, to be honest. It was just
a matter of getting back to that point again.
We used to call ourselves the Band of Nods because if you miss a cue you
wait a bit and just nod. That has nothing to do with opiates or
anything, we were just nodding and those nods have turned into
The state of rock
now is a complete mess, we’re stuck listening to classics. What were the
first and last records you bought?
That’s not a trick question. What’s going on? Jimmy’s got amazing
records from when we first met. "Lights Out." Jerry Burton. First record
for me was probably a ‘78 of Little Richard. Not the rock and roll trio,
Dreaming on Liberty produced by Snuff Garrett with strings. I’m not
trying to be some kind of rockabilly purist, but I do know a lot about
it now. The last record I got was on First Avenue and Sixth Street from
Kim’s Records where I bought Translucent, their new album. I love
Mumford and Sons' Beam Me Up, Scotty.
My first records were way more embarrassing and nowhere near as cool as
these chaps. I remember having the first week of pocket money, which was
very rare. I’d love to say my second song, which was way cooler, it was
"Bohemian Rhapsody," but my first one was "Blue Ridge Mountains of
Virginia" by Laurel and Hardy, which was on the charts, much to my dad’s
dismay in an interview once.
The last record I bought here in the Village was a collection of songs
by the Raelettes, Ray Charles’ singers, which was really cool.
How do you feel
about getting Kennedy Center honors? Also, there’s a rumor you might do
the Super Bowl.
Who says Americans aren’t funny? That’s great actually, stick around.
Kennedy Center, everything we talk about is American from our musical
taste, more or less. Maybe some North African or Egyptians. The fact
that we get this thing to go and meet the most dynamic and charismatic
American outside of America, Obama, it’s a great, great privilege and I
think our mutual love and total influence by music from America, whether
it’s Mississippi or wherever, it could have been from Chicago in 1982,
it’s great because we kind of are American in a way, but not, of course.
As far as our music goes, of course we owe a massive debt to American
music. It’s a thing that definitely seduced us all to be a part of
music. But even in England our own home-grown styles over there were
influenced by American music anyways, so it’s all part of the same
John, comment on
the Kennedy Center honor?
John Paul Jones:
It’s fantastic. They know who we are, it’s great.
It’s great to have John with us today, isn't it?
When you began
rehearsing, at what point did it all click?
Well it would be a major component of the overall thing that we all got
John Paul Jones:
We just started to play together, basically. The feeling was there
almost like the first time we ever played together. It just immediately
clicks again, you don’t have to work at it. You just fall into how it’s
always been. I don’t know how many shows we played in all in the old
days. Suddenly time’s compressed and you’re right back there again
working on the same things you were always working on the same things
you always are and focusing on the same issues. It just slid straight
back into it again once the fingers got going again. Brains followed, as
did our asses.
In the film, you
mentioned that John Bonham sang "The Wind Cries Mary." What other songs
did John Bonham sing and how was Jimi Hendrix an influence to you as a
[to Jason] Did you ever hear your dad and the Way of Life?
Yeah, with the afros.
Reggie and Chrissy Jones were people who build houses, and John was a
better singer than any of them, and also his mom, Pat, is a cracking
singer. And Zoe, and him. John was really good at that, he could do
that, play the drums, drive the van, just generally fuck about and have
a really wonderful time. He obviously didn’t want to have four people in
a group if he could just have three, times were tough then. So John did
a great job doing all that stuff. He was right. He said to me “You’re
not very good, Planty. Just go out there and look good.” And he was
right. Hendrix’s work, you know what it is, it’s absolutely
spectacularly free and magnificent. Who knows what might have happened
if he was playing with all the people he wanted to play with? Marvelous
stuff, lots of memories of all that here in New York way back.
You had such
creative control of your music. Could a band like Zeppelin exist in
today’s music industry?
John Paul Jones:
If they release on the internet, yes. I can’t imagine anybody can have
the same control over their music. Maybe it does happen, I don’t know.
But you’re right, we basically had a manager that kept the business and
everything away from us. [He] just said you do what you do and I'll do
what I do. He just gave us total freedom and space to just get on with
the music and please ourselves and hopefully please others.
We were part of a huge movement where there was nothing huge about
anything. We were on a circuit playing alongside so many amazing bands.
We played the Texas International Pop Festival and the Atlanta Pop
Festival with Janis and the Airplane and Pacific Gas & Electric. It was
a huge community in our own age group and above. Not below, we were
really young. We played, and played, and played, and played, and played.
The thing that grew out of that became so big that it became kind of
intolerable, in a way. Whether or not that happens to people now,
because there were no rules back then, we didn’t know the boundaries and
the ebb and flow excitement and adrenaline create. Now I’m sure that
contemporary groups like Metallica or Kings of Leon, they probably
govern it more, they disappear and hide away. We didn’t know anything
about the protocol and etiquette of what we were in the middle of.
It was the time then, the 60’s, 70’s, we had so much freedom over what
we were doing. For example, we were touring and come together to make an
album, present the album to the record company, and the record company
would put it out. That’s how it was. There wasn’t interference about
anything, so we had a great freedom. We were very lucky to have that at
that point of time. I'm not sure, in fact I doubt that new bands have
that sort of freedom that we had, so we were very lucky.