How did you get such a cool stage name – crafty manager or was it your making?
Dread Zeppelin’s Jah Paul Jo: All the original members stage names were invented by themselves. In fact, it got to be a bit of a contest to see who could come up with the best one. Tortelvis and Put-Mon’s were based on their real surnames. Ed Zeppelin was out of the blue (Don’t mess with ED!). Carl’s real middle name is Jon and he had a bit of a solo career before DZ calling himself Carl Jon… so Carl Jah was a natural. Mine had a little fun with real Zep bassist, John Paul Jones (what the heck is HIS real name?), but my favorite was Cheese. Funny story, when the original Cheese left the band, we named new drummer “Fresh Cheese.” Credits for drums on Un Led ED read drums by Fresh Cheese & Cheese – two different drummers, right? Nope… everybody read that to be new drummer’s name: Fresh Cheese ‘n Cheese. So it goes…
Did it blow you away that the band became so popular and got so much press when it first came out?
Yes. And it blows me away to this day.
It really seemed like it was going to become some sort of break through alternative band to save music in a way – there was much hope for the band in the pre – alternative boom of the early 90s – what were those days like in the late 80s early 90s for you & the band while shite metal was in the charts [not that thats changed now]?
That’s kind of you to say, but we really had no agenda to change music, or the business of music, or the presentation of music. I just took everything I had learned from the past ten years working with “serious” bands and applied it to this ridiculous concept. Lo & behold… it worked. Better than anyone could have imagined. When we first started playing in LA, Guns ‘n Roses were the band d’jour. Lots of leather, head bandannas and top hats. So when we would show up in Elvis jumpsuits and mu-mus, it would really make a stir. Carl and I used to, perversely, play through the tiniest Fender amps we could find and then mic them through the sound system. I remember a gig at the old Coconut Teaszer in Hollywood, they used to have shows with, like, eight bands on the bill… usually, all would share gear. Carl and I would show up with our little Fender Sidekick 10’s that we could carry with one finger. The guys in the Guns ‘n Roses clone bands felt sorry for us and offered the big Marshalls. Nope… we like it this way. They were horrified… ha ha! (but we probably sounded better than them… oh well).
Did you or your manager pay Robert Plant to go around to every news room and tell them how great your band is – I mean really how did that happen? Was that some fluke or did someone through your label somehow get him a tape in his mansion?
The true story is, before a gig at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood, I was approached by a very nice British man named Ross Halfin. Turns out, Ross is one of the most respected photographers in the world and he just happens to be taking new photos of Robert Plant that week. He asked me if he could take some of the DZ records and T-Shirts that we were selling at the show to Robert. Of course!!! Next thing we know, Robert Plant is on magazine covers, wearing our t-shirt and proclaiming to the world how much he loves Dread Zeppelin. Absolutely amazing. When Un Led was to be released, our manager and I had to meet with the Elvis Presley Estate to clear rights to the image. It was pretty tense as the Presley People were nonplussed by the Tortelvis image (to put it mildly). In those days, we said that Tortelvis was the secret, illegitimate son of The King. They asked us to change that. OK. Jerry Schilling asked, “Does he have to look so fat?” He IS that fat, Jerry. What can we do? Well… maybe you can change his hair. OK. THEN I mentioned that Robert Plant really likes us. Schilling lit up. Really? Led Zeppelin likes you? And then everything was good. So we really couldn’t have done it without Robert Plant’s endorsement. It opened a lot of doors.
Does Plant still like the continuation of Dread Zep or does he have any contact with you then or now? Did he autograph side 2 of Zeppelin 4 for you?
We would cross paths with members of his solo band often on the road. Robert was actually in the audience at a Rochester, NY gig in 1991 and wanted to get up onstage with us for the encore of “Stairway To Heaven,” but journalists in the audience hassled him so much he left early. Robert and Tortelvis did speak on the air for the syndicated radio show, Rockline in 1991.
Please give us a break down of how you formed the group – was it really in a garage part time with tons of different people in and out of the band?
Starting he group was incredibly easy. Put-Mon, the original Cheese and myself were all in a group called the Prime Movers that had, at one time, been signed to Island Records. For whatever reason, we would play Led Zeppelin songs, reggae style at sound checks. The first, as I remember, was “Good Times Bad Times” which worked quite well as reggae. We started telling friends about our new “group” Dread Zeppelin. People started taking us seriously… which really cracked us up. Greg Tortell had been doing a DJ spot at a club I ran in Pasadena called The ‘Cage. I knew him as a drummer and really didn’t know he could sing. He got up and did a killer version of karaoke “My Way” and I remember being very impressed. He said that he’d like to sing for the new Dread Zeppelin… I said, OK, but you’re going to have to get Elvis hair, sideburns and jumpsuit. He agreed and it was on. Carl Jah was a long time friend and, years ago, had been in a band with Put-Mon and myself. He is a walking Led Zep riff encyclopedia so I knew he would be perfect as the lead guitarist. Ed Zeppelin was our graphic artist and my good friend who I appointed to be in the band. What will I play? Congas! And so it was.
Who was friends with the guy from the Eurithmics & how did that happen?
Prime Movers sound man, Lee Manning (Rasta Li-Mon), who had been in on the group since the very beginning, applied for a job through a Craig’s List ad at a recording studio in Encino. I remember him calling me and asking if i knew of any recording studios in Encino. Pretty upscale area for a studio, I thought. It was Dave Stewart’s place. He had a small studio built in the back – mostly for the Traveling Wilburys who recorded all their stuff there. All the photos of the TWs on the first album were taken at Dave’s house. Turns out, Dave loves Lee and wants him to get some practice on the big automated board that he had just bought. He told Lee, if you have any friends that would like to record on off hours, be my guest. That’s how Un Led ED was started. In fact, 90% of Un Led ED was finished before we signed to IRS. The plan was originally to release through Birdcage Records.
Was the first album really recorded with the line up pictured on it?
Yes, Un Led ED was recorded with the original band. The sessions were always a kick and it was probably the most fun I had ever had in a studio. Most of the basics were done with the entire band playing live. The only session people were “unofficial” members of DZ – many of whom had actually played live gigs with us. Bun E. Slopes played the harmonica. I-Larry Treadwell, normally a very, very good guitarist (it is he on Thomas Dolby’s “Aliens Ate My Buick” album for which he was nominated for a Grammy), created all the telephone squawks at the beginning of “Black Dog.” Laura Creamer, also of Dolby’s band (who the Prime Movers toured with in 1988) did most of the female background vocals. “Colonel” Ron Kane contributed some spoken word bits and we had a horn duo (I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember their names!) on “Black Dog,” but that’s it. “Black Dog” and “(All I Want For Christmas Are My) Two Front Teeth” were the last two songs recorded for the Un Led ED sessions and they are the only two that have new drummer, Fresh Cheese ‘n Cheese.
Are you involved with the band anymore?
No… sadly, we don’t agree on much these days. The only two original guys are Tortelvis and Put-Mon and they have very different ideas of what DZ is and was.
Why did you stop?
We just didn’t get along anymore. I was working very hard on getting the band another recording contract – we came very close to signing with Rhino for Hot & Spicy Beanburger – in fact, Warner Brothers DID release the album in Canada with the understanding that Rhino would release it in the States, but it didn’t happen. Rasta Li-Mon and myself had high hopes that “No Quarter Pounder” would be picked up by a major, but the other guys pulled the plug on the project before it got a chance.
How did Tort Elvis get kicked out / leave or what happened at the 3rd album where he was gone & you were singing 70s disco? [not that thats bad]
We toured relentlessly and non-stop. Tortelvis was just burnt out on it. He had a family and wanted to be home. Simple… but that’s it, really.
Do you think due to fickle buying habits of the public that the band would have been bigger/stayed bigger if the 3rd album was a continuation of the original mission/Zep with Reggae with Elvis?
Yes… absolutely. I loved the disco album. It probably is the only one that I still listen to. But I think it was a little much to get the public to swallow. I mean, before Tortelvis left, there was talk of a movie (really… a script was written), TV appearances (I was hoping for “The Simpsons”) and a tour with Spinal Tap. When Tortelvis left, we unofficially broke up and all the offers stopped.
So are there now 2 Dread Zepplins one with you one with other members or why is your web site different from another ‘official’ one?
The dichotomy began with “No Quarter Pounder” when I found myself with a completed album that Lee and i had spent thousands of dollars on and countless hours in the studio. Do we still release it? Yeah, I guess we just have to think of it as Jah Paul Jo’s Dread Zeppelin and that will be it. I had strict rules for the band… especially about choices of material; everything had to be either the Zep/Presley/Marley fusion or something that advanced the DZ soap opera. As soon as I wasn’t involved, the other group did songs by The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Who… songs I NEVER would have done. Free Bird? C’mon! And they called it “The Fun Sessions” which I think was directed at Lee and I. Maybe we weren’t fun enough and made them work too hard… oh well, the proof really was in the pudding.
Those first 2 Dread Zep albums are so great and have such a HUGE fan base – everyone we have ever played them for loves them. Can you give us more stories of the magic in the studio for them?
Thank you for that. Here’s some quick shots…”Black Dog” was the final song recorded for Un Led ED and NOT recorded at Dave Stewart’s studio. It was done with one 24 hour session and we recorded it in costume and took video of the whole demented event. “Hey Hey What Can I Do” was recorded on the fly as none of us knew how to play it when we walked in the studio that day. Got a bunch of friends in the studio to sing the Hey Hey chorus in regular voice and falsetto. “Livin’ Lovin’ Maid” had Ed Zeppelin doing the toasting bits. My concept was to have Ed sound as if he was beaming it in from outer space. To get this effect, while Ed would answer, I’d touch the end of a live guitar cable for the buzz – I had to time it exactly as he spoke. I remember hysterical laughter as we would screw up the timing. On the very end of the song, he slips in a “woman” and I hit the buzz way late. It’s me laughing at the end. Carl Jah nailed it as The Maharishi on “Black Mountain Side.” Shockingly, no Grammy nomination! Probably the hardest we laughed at any session was “Tour-Telvis: A Bad Trip.” We took the basic track from “The Ocean” (which we never finished), put Tortelvis in the center of the room, armed Rasta Li-Mon, Ed Zeppelin and myself with pre-loaded sound effects on samplers and had Tortelvis react to them with slurred Elvis-isms. The results were fantastic and, as I remember, didn’t have to do too many takes. Golden. We purposely left “Stairway To Heaven” off Un Led ED, even though we had been performing it live from day one. I figured that it would give us a good reason to make a second album. Our original take on it was to perform it exactly as we had been doing it live. Up until that point, there had been absolutely no interference from the record label at all. I think they didn’t really understand us, and why not leave good enough alone. Perfect. But since we were now doing the Zep classic, IRS label boss, Miles Copeland, asked to hear a rough mix. I was against it. It wasn’t finished and what good could come of it. Sure enough, he wasn’t really pleased. “Can’t you make it more funny?” he asked through our manager. Like put more jokes in it? I was confused. So we did that… we put a few jokes in. None probably as funny as anything on “Tour-Telvis: A Bad Trip.” When Copeland relistened, and I swear to God I’m not making this up, he asked, “Why are you trying to make it funny?” Ohhhhhhhhhh-kay. Took the jokes out (all except Fresh Cheese’s birthday xylophone solo).
When the time came for a 2nd album was there talk of any changes etc in the sound or what you should do or but on record, etc.?
“Stairway…” was probably the last piece of input from the label. At least, any that we took seriously.
Is that 1994 music award show story true? Any footage of it? Did Landry put you on a psycho diet?
Dread Zeppelin is like the National Inquirer… there’s always truth involved. You have to decide whether there’s 90% (because there’s NEVER 100%), or 10. Yes, we did meet Dr. Landy. I had everyone on red alert that if they ran into him, round up the guys for a photo. I literally ran after him backstage at the theater to get the shot. I told him we were big fans and, a bit sadly, I think he was really pleased that we were so impressed. Little did he know…No… Tortelvis has never been on a diet as far as I know.
We were surprised to read your story about Rhino records not getting the band – with their releases we thought they had people there who got ‘it’ / are hip?
I had a friend who was an A&R man with Rhino who saw Dread Zeppelin in the very early days at The Club Lingerie in Hollywood. It was a GREAT show – we really nailed it. The place was packed and everybody loved it. I thought for sure we would get an offer. I usually would NEVER ask an A&R guy what he thought, but I was so confident that evening, I did ask him. “I don’t get it,” was his answer. Well… it’s Led Zeppelin, reggae style with a Vegas Elvis guy singing… I mean, what’s to get? “I don’t get it.” And he didn’t. And Rhino never did. Were they hip? I didn’t think so.
Did that story with Screaming Jay Hawkins really happen?! Can you add anything extra to that?
That story is as near to 100% true as you’ll ever get from me. Screamin’ Jay was a total kick and a gentleman. I’m very proud to think of him as a friend.
Whats now & for the future for Dread Zep?
I’m just scratching the surface on all the material I have for dreadzeppelin.tv. I saved everything. I’m also planning to release a line of “instant albums” – kind of like the old Rubber-Dubber bootlegs of the sixties and seventies. I’m preparing the first one now. It’s called “Don’t Mess With Ed: Dread Zeppelin live At The 9:30 Club 1990.” One of the only live full length sets of the original band.