Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Xtra Fun Kick But Sacreligous In So Many Ways

Dread Zeppelin

Ripped at a hip-shakin' 320

Biography by Jason Ankeny
Dread Zeppelin channeled the musical spirits of Led Zeppelin, Elvis Presley, and Bob Marley to create tongue-in-cheek novelty rock heartily endorsed by no less an authority than Robert Plant himself. Led by one Tortelvis -- a 300-pound Elvis impersonator born Greg Tortell -- the lineup also included guitarists Jah Paul Jo (Joe Ramsey) and Carl Jah (Carl Haasis), bassist Butt-Boy (Gary Putman), percussionist Ed Zeppelin (Bryant Fernandez), and drummer Fresh Cheese (Paul Masselli); playing their debut live gig on January 8, 1989 (the 54th anniversary of the King's birth), the Pasadena, CA-based group performed reggae-influenced renditions of classic Led Zep anthems capped off by Presley-like vocals, an approach perhaps best exemplified by gene-spliced songs like "Heartbreaker (At the End of Lonely Street)." Growing local buzz soon earned Dread Zeppelin a deal with IRS Records, and in 1990 the group issued their debut LP Un-led-Ed; in addition to surprisingly strong sales, the record's cover of "Your Time Is Gonna Come" also earned high marks from former Led Zep frontman Plant, who admitted he preferred their updated rendition over the original.
Dread Zeppelin's second album, 5,000,000*, followed in 1991, but already the joke was growing stale, and the following summer Tortelvis, Ed Zeppelin, and Fresh Cheese left the band; Butt-Boy rechristened himself Gary B.I.B.B. and assumed vocal duties for the follow-up, 1992's It's Not Unusual, a disco record which effectively alienated much of their core audience as well as executives at IRS, who dropped the group immediately after. Tortelvis and Ed Zeppelin returned for 1993's Hot & Spicy Beanburger, a return to past glories issued on Jah Paul Jo's own Birdcage label; shortly after Dread Zeppelin made a cameo in the 1994 film comedy National Lampoon's Last Resort, Carl Jah and Ed Zeppelin then left the lineup, with the latter's brother Bruce and bassist Derf Nasna-Haj signing on for 1995's No Quarter Pounder. Jah Paul Jo's subsequent departure preceded 1996's The Fun Sessions, the group's lone recording for the Imago imprint; both the live The Song Remains Insane and the rarities collection Ruins soon followed. Deja Voodoo was released in late 2000, marking a return to the Led Zep tributes that constituted the group's bread and butter. The band soon started their own label and website, creating a cottage industry selling music direct to their fans. Live DVDs and CDs plus their first all-original album, Spam Bake, kept hungry Dread Heads satisfied. The music/video hybrid CD Chicken and Ribs from 2005 included the band's version of "Kung Fu Fighting".


Review by Ed Rivadavia

Despite singer Tortelvis' reputed propensity for gas, there is no denying that, initially, Dread Zeppelin was a breath of fresh air in a stale music scene which oftentimes took itself way too seriously. Anyone jaded enough to think they had seen it all in rock & roll was forced to think again when faced with the band's improbable reggae renditions of Led Zeppelin classics, performed by an overweight caricature of the King himself, the aforementioned Tortelvis. Together, these disparate elements provided an aural and visual cocktail of Spinal Tap proportions -- but in this case, it was all for real. Of course, none of it could possibly have worked had it not been so cleverly well thought out in advance, and then expertly executed. Make no mistake, behind the sextet's comedic façade lies a highly competent group, featuring solid musicianship, great arranging talent, and, face it -- sheer balls and audacity. Having said that, the sextet's first album, 1990s Un-Led-Ed, is a gag-infested tour de force where almost every dubious musical moment is safeguarded by a healthy dose of humor -- and vice versa. Instantly catchy, and often hilarious renditions of such Zeppelin staples as "Black Dog" and "Heartbreaker" (cleverly spliced with "Hound Dog" and "Heartbreak Hotel" for added flavor) are, for the most part, perfectly valid interpretations from a musical standpoint. (Just listen to guitar player Carl Jah as he peels off scorching leads that would make Jimmy Page proud during "Whole lotta Love" for further proof.) And ultimately, what greater endorsement could one hope for, then the one bestowed by Zep vocal legend Robert Plant, who claimed that he actually preferred Dread Zeppelin's take on "You're Time Is Gonna Come" over the original. In the end, there is a very fine line between "sexy clever" and "sexy stupid," and though they would soon cross that line never to regain their way, at least with Un-Led-Ed, Tortelvis and company were taking care of business.

1 Black Dog
2 Heartbreaker (At the End of Lonely Street)
3 Living Loving Maid (She's Just a Woman)
4 Your Time Is Gonna Come
5 Bring It on Home
6 Whole Lotta Love
7 Black Mountain Side
8 I Can't Quit You Baby
9 Immigrant Song
10 Moby Dick



barkingdog said...

Hey Trustar

Thanks for this have been after this for some time.

And for once I agree with the reviews.

Keep up the good work.

Cheers... the Dog

severs2000 said...

Hey Hey... Thank you for the kind words re: Un Led ED. A labor of love. DZ fans should check out new website at:

~ JPJo