Led Zepagain: Page-Approved Zep Tribute Celebrates 30 Years
BY David DeRocco
When you’re a Led Zeppelin fan, the odds of seeing Plant, Page and Jones perform on stage together again are about as likely as seeing Gilmour and Waters touring as Pink Floyd. Thankfully, you can still get an authentic Led Zep concert experience by seeing the band Jimmy Page says is “as close as you’ll ever get to the real deal.”
That praise was offered to LED ZEPAGAIN, a California-based Led Zeppelin tribute that has made fans of the band’s original members. Formed in Ventura in 1988 by vocalist Swan Montgomery ("Robert Plant"), guitar/ mandolin player Anthony David ("Jimmy Page"), bassist/keyboardist/mandolinist Jim Wootten ("John Paul Jones") and drummer/percussionist Derek Smith ("John Bonham"), LED ZEPAGAIN has earned a world-wide reputation as perhaps the most accurate and authentic replication of a Led Zeppelin live performance. The fact Led Zep’s fan base continues to grow despite having disbanded in 1980 is a testament to one thing according to Swan.
“It’s the music, it just never sounds dated,” said the Irish-born Swan. “It still sounds fresh. Led Zeppelin touched on many different styles of music, like rock, folk, reggae and blues. They covered the whole genre. You can tell when 80s music is 80s music or 90s music is 90s music, but Led Zeppelin is ageless. A whole new generation of fans is discovering the music now.”
Forming a Led Zeppelin tribute band wasn’t Swan’s original mission upon arriving in the U.S. However, he says that the time was right in 1988 to put a project like Led Zepagain together considering the musical climate on the California coast.
“To be honest I came over from Ireland to America on a record deal with Capital Records. At the time I was approached to be in a tribute band there wasn’t a lot of them around on the west coast. In fact I had to ask what a tribute band was. There were only two I knew of, Wild Child’s tribute to The Doors and Atomic Punk’s tribute to Van Halen. Led Zepagain was probably one of the forefathers of tribute bands on the west coast. The original attraction was that I was going to get paid. I grew up listening to Zeppelin in Ireland. There was no specific goal when we started, more like ‘let’s just get out there and see how it’s going to go.’ Well, I guess it’s going pretty well 30 years later.”
Many bands cover Led Zeppelin in their sets. Heart, for example, has earned great praise over the years for their stellar covers of Zeppelin classics including “Rock and Roll” and “Stairway To Heaven.” However, there’s a huge difference between playing a couple covers and trying to replicate the music and performance to the exacting standards set by Plant and Page every night. Swan says he has to answer to fans at every performance who expect him to be truer to the music than the people who originally made it.
“When you go see Robert and Jimmy they can get away with murder by changing the tunes any way they like. When you’re a tribute singer and musician in a tribute band, particularly a Led Zeppelin tribute band, you have to make sure that you know all the notes, that you hit all the notes vocally, because that’s what fans are expecting. There’s no mercy. It’s probably harder than being in Led Zeppelin. Fans know Robert’s at a certain age, he may sing a song a little differently and it’s acceptable. It doesn’t matter, because he’s Robert Plant. He set the standard and can do whatever he wants. Every single night I have to perform as close as possible to the record and incorporate the moves and the swagger. If you don’t (the fans) let you know about it.”
An invite from Page to attend the last official reunion of Led Zeppelin helped reinforce Swan’s love for the music, and he says he and his Led Zepagain band mates try to bring that to the stage every night.
“The thing is I try to create the energy of the band, especially in the live situation, because Led Zeppelin was more of a live band than a studio band. The great thing about doing this is when someone comes up to us after the show who actually saw Led Zep in the 70s or early 60s and they get emotional. It brings back a lot of memories to people so it feels like we’re doing something good. You’re also filling a void because people can’t see Led Zeppelin, but there’s a whole new generation who knows about the music but have never seen them perform. We’re keeping the magic alive.”
Led Zepagain plays the FirstOntario PAC Saturday, March 24th. For tickets visit https://firstontariopac.ca/.