photo & text by nacrowe
a REGGAE LED ZEPPELIN cover band fronted by an ELVIS impersonator. i feel like the concept sells itself.
and somehow JIMMY PAGE, ROBERT PLANT and the rest of the estate agreed making DREAD ZEPPELIN the only sanctioned LED ZEPPELIN cover band known in existence (or at least to my knowledge). it is a well-known industry fact that the LED ZEPPELIN estate jealously guards their interests and has been known to get quite litigious in the past in order to protect their catalogue, making the very fact that DREAD ZEPPELIN exists on an widely distributed record a minor miracle in and of itself.
i first learned of the band through their UN-LED-ED (I.R.S., 1990) debut album that my father played for me as a child, usually after listening to LED ZEPPELIN proper. its the same dynamic at play when he introduced my brother and i to MEL BROOKS' CLASSIC SPACEBALLS (MGM/UA, 1987) FARCE only after making us watch the original STAR WARS trilogy back around the same time. one works only after intimate knowledge of the other.
it is obviously impossible to divorce the LED ZEPPELIN and DREAD ZEPPELIN from one other, since all the SERIOUSNESS and EXPANSIVE GRANDEUR evoked by the former is basically turned on its head and PARODIED mercilessly by the latter. my personal FAVORITE recorded moment is on their cover of "MOBY DICK," which finds frontman TORTELVIS reading the introduction to the famously INTRICATE and OPAQUE HERMAN MELVILLE novel to a light skank (courtesy of the guitarist with BEYOND-GENIUS alias, JAH PAUL JO), before stopping abruptly and complaining that he's read it a thousand times and still has no idea what the hell the author is talking about. first time i heard that i was basically in LOVE with the band. same with the GENIUS hybrid "BLACK DOG / HOUND DOG" abomination. it just totally takes the piss out of everything involved (with a little classic "BATMAN THEME" from the CHEESY 60's television show through in). how do you not love that." again, same with the "HEARTBREAKER" and "HEART BREAK HOTEL" hybrid track, its all GENIUS. other STANDOUT tracks include their covers of "WHOLE LOTTA LOVE," "I CAN'T QUIT YOU BABY," "YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME" and "IMMIGRANT SONG."
again, the fact that these PARODIES exist on record really makes me rethink the PUBLIC IMAGE of LED ZEPPELIN as a bunch of IMAGE-CONSCIOUS auteurs that make music meant to evocatively express the EXPANSIVE and ELUSIVE literary and sonic grandeur of ALBION's FOLK traditions. DREAD ZEPPELIN dismantles such by making music that RE-CONTEXTUALIZES and undercuts those ELEVATED ambitions and renders such as the target of light MOCKERY. they effectively make LED ZEPPELIN appear SILLY. kudos to PAGE, PLANT, JOHN PAUL JONES and the estate for allowing this to happen, because the beneficiary is everyone. ELVIS PRESLEY, REGGAE and LED ZEPPELIN fans alike. i view UN-LED-ED as ESSENTIAL. definitely worth checking out.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
im guilty as anyone of getting JADED. feeling like ive seen and heard it all before. its probably part of getting old. then you hear a UNIQUE band like the wildly ECLECTIC HOUSTON trio KHRUANGBIN who mix everything from DUB, PSYCHEDELIA, SOUL and ROCK MUSIC and have whole albums exploring specific TRADITIONAL SONIC TRADITIONS from the likes of THAILAND, MALI, SPAIN, AFGHANISTAN and the MIDDLE EAST. their sound is both AESTHETICALLY FAMILIAR and a radical departure on each track. it is hard to explain but a pure pleasure to listen to.
KHRUANGBIN are definitely worth checking out, whether or not you are a fan of FOREIGN MUSICAL TRADITIONS or more familiar WESTERN INDIE ROCK. they are easily one of the most EXHILARATING and boldly CREATIVE bands i have come across in a while.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the mythical figure of LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY for me was always this seemingly inscrutable, opaque persona where in interviews he would constantly speak in terms of PROPHECY and claims of DIVINE PROVIDENCE that got in the way of me deciphering a route of connection and understanding to a producer that created some of the most compelling music of the 20th century.
as the documentary THE UPSETTER: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LEE SCRATCH PERRY (PERMANENT MARKS, 2008) illustrates, he is largely responsible for the transition of SKA into REGGAE and was instrumental in the careers of many of JAMAICA's most famous cultural exports, including BOB MARLEY. to some extent he took a back seat in terms of his public persona, preferring to be a behind-the-scenes figure who controlled the boards and the contracts. in the documentary he speaks of MARLEY as "the king" and himself as "the prophet," which is as apt an analogue to the relationship between artist and producer that ive ever come across.
what i found particularly interesting was how his relationship with REGGAE and the community around it broke down. essentially he was being harassed by the police and the local community on a daily occurrence for money at the legendary home studio, the BLACK ARK, that he worked out of. being of generous heart, his home was largely open to the public given his optimistic outlook on people's motives given his RASTAFARIAN beliefs. this was a mistake and he lost everything, his studio, his wife and his connection to a community. the unhinged and impenetrable public persona he carried with him largely until his passing was his guard against intimacy in a sense. if people thought of him as a madman and left him alone, then that is what he wished to be.
its a pretty sad story given that one of the celebrated touchstone talents the elevated JAMAICAN music to a worldwide audience saw such notoriety and fame as something to be feared within the context of his local community. at the time before he burned the BLACK ARK and was being extorted by the police, he had to hire soldiers to provide him security. he was a literal prisoner. there is a moment in this documentary when an unnamed off-camera interviewer in the early 1980s asks him he felt about the passing of his former collaborator MARLEY and his response was that now he was free. he was free from being extorted by his entourage and his fame. he was free from the community that sprang up around his music and depended on him for sustenance and work. its a pretty heart-wrenching sad state of affairs that fame equals being a target for extortion by both familial and power structures in JAMAICA, but such is the case. it makes total sense to me how FELA KUTI in NIGERIA built a literal armed compound (KALAKUTA REPUBLIC) in LAGOS to guard against outsiders and the police while he was working in his home recording studio inside. same sad state of affairs.
watching this film definitely helped me better understand the history of an enigmatic cultural figure whose music ive long cherished. i dont think it is essential to understand one's biography to appreciate their music, but with the case of LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY and his idiosyncratic public persona i think it doesnt hurt. it was seemingly a deliberate smokescreen to ensure his personal safety and to push away those that sought to exploit him. THE UPSETTER: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF LEE SCRATCH PERRY is worth investigating for anyone interested in REGGAE and the history of JAMAICAN music. highly recommended.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
the title a reference to a former BRIXTON sound-system enjoyed long ago by JAMAICAN WINDRUSH GENERATION immigrants, SUPERSTONIC SOUND: THE REBEL DREAD (3FILMGROUP, 2010) is a film about famed director and PUNK ROCK icon DON LETTS and the CULTURAL and PERSONAL HISTORY of BASS over three generations of his family in BRITAIN. its an interesting topic criminally overlooked, especially since, as DON states, "bass is JAMAICA's gift to the planet."
the film is a dialogue of sorts with his son JET, who is an upcoming DUBSTEP producer, which interestingly continues a family legacy that was started with DON's father ST LEGER who set up a small sound-system on the steps of a church after service. in a sense, this intermingling of RELIGION and MUSIC was what got that first generation of immigrants through ECONOMIC, POLITICAL and CULTURAL racism from a new home country that rejected them.
what i found interesting about the film was the interplay between ROOTS REGGAE and the beginnings of BRITISH PUNK ROCK in the late 1970s and how such carried over to NYC HIP HOP in the early 1980s. the through-line between such seems obvious in retrospect (REBELLION, PERSONAL FREEDOM, UNINHIBITED CREATIVE EXPRESSION), but the seeming recognition and collective interest of such at the time by active participants in each scene is pretty remarkable. it also provides an explanation for the formation of BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE (of which DON co-fronted), which was a band i never completely understood after being raised on THE CLASH.
i also found it remarkable how levelheaded JET was about the legacy of his father, how he doesnt feel a need to live up to some outside expectation, but nonetheless appreciates to learn what he can from him. and his father in return sees value in his evolution and appreciation for the use of BASS in his music. it is pretty remarkable.
of course this film was recorded long before the catastrophe of BREXIT and the UNITED KINGDOM's fall back into state-sanctioned RACISM and rampant XENOPHOBIA that led the way for TRUMP and globally ascendent authoritarians worldwide. i can only imagine what this film would look and sound like just 6 years later. my sense is that a common love of BASS would nourish that family's soul and provide a respite just as it did during the post-WORLD WAR II period with the WINDRUSH GENERATION. scary to think about.