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"She'd done quite a lot of serious pieces, and was ready for something a bit more playful," he explains. "She wanted to do a rock album, so I had a pretty good idea how to put that across."
Galás, whose musical experience in the early Seventies included playing with free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman, had long admired Jones' work, even if she wasn't always sure it was him. "I'd be at a friend's house and they'd be playing Led Zeppelin and I'd say, 'What is that killer rhythm section?' The Jones/Bonham thing. That is a motherfucker rhythm section. That's the kind of rhythm section that my voice would enjoy handling."
Before actually getting together, Galás and Jones sent each other demos for several months with "little, funny notes." Says Galás, "I'd send him stuff with voice and Hammond organ and then he'd send me stuff with bass and programmed drums. And I was working on my stuff for about a month before I heard his stuff. When I heard his bass line and the drums to 'Do You Take This Man?', I fuckin' screamed!"
Jones adds, "After the first night together, we made the decision not to make an album with any guitars, which was a relief to us all. I mean, where would we put them? Plus, I used a lot of eight-string bass, which is an old trick I used in the Led Zeppelin days live. It gives you all these 12-string harmonies."
If Jones seems deliriously happy about not having to work with a guitarist, it's because he--unlike his former partners Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, currently looking worse for the wear and tear on MTV's unLEDded special--doesn't want to coast on former glories. "John's just happy to get a new sound," Galás states. "He's not interested in re-creating the Zeppelin sound. Everybody's after him to do that, all these bands like Primal Scream or something, because there's all these Zeppelin look-alike contests."
Not that you can mistake that rhythm section for anything else once it kicks in. What will surprise a lot of people about The Sporting Life is hearing just how much the trademark Zeppelin sound hinged upon Jones' contributions. "A lot of people have gone to this album saying, 'Oh, it's Led Zeppelin-influenced,'" says Galás. "Well, do they ever stop to think that maybe Zeppelin was John Paul Jones-influenced?" "Skótseme" ("Kill Me" in Greek), the opening track, is, indeed, very Jones-influenced. It features the power and majesty of his old band's greatest moments, with his lap-steel playing recalling "In the Light" and "In the Evening." But then add Galás' demented voice, bending and twisting like a whammy bar on a Stratocaster from hell. Galás coaxes notes out of her throat that have been missing in action since Hendrix's "The Star-Spangled Banner."
The Zeppelin similarities pretty much end there. You can't mistake The Sporting Life for Houses of the Holy as far as subject matter is concerned. Instead of Tolkien references, you get songs that chronicle the thin line between love and hate, sadomasochism and marriage, insanity and just someone with a twisted idea of what fun is. It has songs about hiding the cutlery from an unstable romantic partner ("Baby's Insane"), about a prostitute killing her john just to watch him die ("The Sporting Life") and about a demonic curse that is so evil, it can't even be translated ("Hex"). To record such a difficult piece as "Hex" required Galás to submerge herself into a sort of hypnotic trance.
Wasn't Jones, as producer, just a wee bit intimidated by Galás' otherworldly display of vocal prowess, enough to maybe not make her do another take of the song for fear she'd burst into flames?
"Sometimes, after she'd done a take, I'd look over at Pete [Thomas] and we'd be shaking," Jones admits.
But Galás is a professional. Don't you kids try this at home!
"I snap right out of it, because it's a heavy level of concentration," says Galás. "I'm used to doing it for years. It's my job. In a way, it's like being an athlete. You do the long jump and then afterwards, when your friends are around, you're not jumping all over the fucking room."
All this would seem pretty morose if The Sporting Life didn't have at least a few chuckles to it. "There's a lot of sarcasm and humor here that you could never have in Plague Mass," Galás allows. "Because Plague Mass is a work of tragedy, about a tragic situation. Love affairs or obsessive relationships may be unfortunate, but most of the time, people know what they're getting into; you can't call it a tragic situation when you're certainly in it as well as the other one. I think that would be self-pitying. And there's enough of that horseshit in the alternative-music scene."
"She never sounds like she feels sorry for herself," says Jones. "One night, we were sitting at the piano, and I had the Motown song book, and we played everything," he remembers. One could only imagine what "Seven Rooms of Gloom" or "Standing in the Shadows of Love" sound like bereft of pity. Jones suggested that Galás cover James Carr's brooding soul classic "The Dark End of the Street," long regarded as soul music's ultimate cheating song. Galás, in turn, strips the song of all its shame. "It sounds like she's delighted she's getting away with something," Jones says, snickering. Until now, Galás has never had to release a single and make an accompanying video. Mute Records has chosen "Do You Take This Man?", with its Peter Gunn-driven rhythm section, to go toe to toe with Madonna's latest in the pop marketplace. Galás spits out those beloved marriage vows, largely spoken, with battery acid dripping over every syllable. It sounds like the kind of recording Tina Turner might've made had she lost her mind after Ike hit her with the phone too many times.