The last time I saw Dread Zeppelin -- the band that performs Led Zeppelin songs in a reggae style sung by a 300 pound Las Vegas Elvis impersonation -- was at an all-day Reggae on the Rocks concert at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver.
This was in the early 1990s, shortly after the band materialized and had surprising success with a host of singles and Un-Led-Ed, their I.R.S. Records debut featuring Zep classics from I, II, and IV.
Anyway, a handful of songs into the set and the booing began. Each subsequent song it got louder. This was a reggae show too -- maybe the pot hadn't taken hold yet and people had yet to chill out sufficiently. Maybe the pot had taken too much hold and their baked minds couldn't process the sight of a 300 pound man in a white jumpsuit, spangled cape, and dangerously long sideburns fronting a "reggae" band. Either way, the scene soon turned ugly.
Food began reigning down on the band. Tomatoes, chips, hard-boiled eggs, tuna sandwiches, a salami, fruit, and much more went airborne. Yet, the band skanked on, offering up slippery versions of "Whole Lotta Love," "Hey, Hey What Can I Do" (which seemed a fitting question given the atmosphere at the venue), and other iconic delights. In hindsight, it's clear: The audience just didn't get it. In short order it was a regular smorgasbord on stage. All that was missing was some mustard.
Oops, spoke too soon.
And there it was, hurling toward the stage in that last-second-before-disaster slow motion somersault; a gentle arc above the crowd glinting in the sunlight: a bottle of French's yellow mustard.
It exploded in front of and all over the guitarist Jah Paul Jo. He was coated in radiant yellow from head to toe. Mustard dripped from the guitar and oozed down the amps. It looked like yellow bomb with a 10-foot radius had gone off.
Maybe the band could have appeased the crowd with some Bob Marley, which they would commence to playing in the future, but the band quit in mid-song. Looking down in disgust, I knew there was no way Tortelvis could get the yellow splatters cleanly out of his jumpsuit. His sneer was palpable as the band walked off stage to rising applause--perhaps the loudest of the entire eight hour event.
Dread Zeppelin had started as a joke in 1989, a crazy fun excuse to make music, but this was no joke. War was declared -- and it would be waged with a guitar.
Jah Paul Jo, still dripping yellow, stopped at the back of the stage, turn to access the crowd, and defiantly strode to the center stage microphone.
It's too long ago to quote accurately, be he said something in the nature of: Fuck you all. We're paid to play and I'm going to play until our time is up.
He proceeded to detune and play an absolutely horrendous solo for about 15 minutes. I smiled (that I remember), because you've got be good to play that bad -- and have the balls to do it in front of a hostile reggae audience. More and more food flew to the stage while crowd volume increased attempting to drown him out. It was another great undocumented moment in Rock and Roll history!
And yet, after 22 years, this unlikely band, having released 20 albums (five live), are still doing reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs sung with an Elvis stammer.
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Dread Zeppelin is scheduled to perform Thursday, March 15, at 910 Live in Tempe.