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Life after Zeppelin - John Paul Jones rocks hard with new trio


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Chicago Sun-Times - October 15, 1999

Author: Jim DeRogatis

John Paul Jones

7:30 p.m. Wednesday

Park West, 322 W. Armitage

Tickets, $28

(312) 559-1212

As the list becomes ever shorter, my admiration mounts for the few rock heroes who've refused the lure of big bucks to reunite with their former bandmates in tepid nostalgia projects. Topping this list: John Paul Jones , partner with the late John Bonham in one of the greatest rhythm sections in rock history.

In recent years, the 53-year-old bassist has scoffed at the efforts of former Led Zeppelin partners Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Not surprisingly, they've excluded him from their "Unledded" reunions. Instead, he has kept busy utilizing the studio skills he honed even before joining Zep, working with the likes of Donovan, Nico, Cat Stevens and Marc Bolan.

In the '90s, Jones arranged strings for R.E.M., produced the Butthole Surfers and Heart and collaborated with the avant-garde vocalist Diamanda Galas. Now he has released his first solo album, "Zooma," a collection of thunderous instrumentals.

I caught up with him just before he left his home studio in London to undertake a small-club tour of the United States.

Jones: Sorry I'm a bit frazzled; the moving van for our gear arrived an hour early!

Q. Don't tell me you still have to haul gear yourself?

A. No! I've finally got past that stage. Life isn't going to be quite as easy as it was touring with Zeppelin, but we're not quite down to that yet.

Q. Well, since you brought it up, how well off are you? Are you set for perpetuity, like you'd never have to work again if you didn't want to?

A. I was careful.

Q. Really, you'd have to be careful? You couldn't buy a Greek island?

A. No! (Laughs.) Jagger could probably do that, but I'm a few steps below him. I'd love a private jet. On the other hand, I have no complaints. One thing I have spent a lot of money on is a studio. It's my hobby. I love the new technology, and I've got the best quality stuff. I can spend my time in my studio doing what I want, so I'm very lucky.

Q. When I interviewed you before the tour with Diamanda Galas, you said you'd been reluctant to work with another vocalist unless that person was as distinctive as Robert Plant.

A. Yes, and she was! But Diamanda also told me while we were on the road that she'd come to the decision that if she was going to put that much effort into music, it might as well be all her own. I took that to heart and thought, "It's about time I put some effort into my own music instead of other people's."

Q. Did you ever consider putting vocals on "Zooma"?

A. No, not at all. I don't sing myself and I don't write lyrics, so there was no point. I thought, `Even if I do find another really good singer-songwriter, my instinct as a producer would be to produce them.' So it wouldn't be my own record.

Q. This is really a kick-butt album. Excuse my indelicacy, but how does an old guy like you rock so hard?

A. (Laughs.) I've no idea, but hopefully it won't stop! That's what I like to do. The album's main impetus is to have something that I can play live onstage. One of the problems with making an album after all these years is that I never knew what style to do it in, because I have really wide-ranging interests musically. It could have gone more electronic or experimental or industrial or even acoustic. So I thought, "Well, what do I actually like doing?" I like making a lot of intensenoiseonthe bass guitar. So I thought I'd build the album around that and I'd have what I want to play onstage.

Q. Why do you think that so many of the superstar reunions by your peers lack the power of those groups' old music?

A. If you play the old music and just try to redo what you did before, then it can't have that visceral kick, because you're trying to re-create a performance of something you did as a young man. This is new music, it's fresh, and it has its own kick in its own way. It's not the same Zeppelin thing; it's built a different way. I've learned a lot from the Zeppelin days and pretty much everything I've produced and arranged, so I've got all that experience. I know what will work for meandhowtosucceed in doing what I want to do. If I tried to re-create Zeppelin, it would just sound like somebody trying to re-create Zeppelin, and I don't want to be part of my own tribute band.

Q. You're touring with a trio: drummer Geoff Dugmore and Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs. With such a small group, there's nowhere to hide.

A. No, and that's fine. That's what playing live is all about. You really do go to places that you don't go in the studio. You've got the audience, they've put their money down, and you've got to come up with something. Also, for musical reasons, a trio is much more mobile. If you've got four or five musicians onstage, you've pretty much got to stick to the plan, unless it's free jazz, and then the plan is no plan. With three musicians, we can have the plan, but there's lots ofroomtomove within it.

Q. The rhythms you crafted with John Bonham are constantly sampled by rappers and dance musicians. What do you think of that?

A. I'm always surprised by the hip-hop people and dance people at how well they understand grooves. Rock people didn't seriously understand grooves unless they really listened to rhythm and blues, like Bonzo (Bonham) and I did for years and years. Some of these sampling DJs can just move their hands and put together some really grooving stuff. But I think that techno has its limitations, because it takes a lot to program a rhythm track, and to make it really interesting it justneedsmoreandmore programming. I find it's easier just to get a really good drummer!

Q. What was so magical about that Zeppelin rhythm section?

A. It was a very sensitive rhythm section. We always had our ears open all the time. We were very conscious of what was going on around us. Our aim was to make the band sound really good, and we were constantly listening and adapting and changing, throughout the performance or throughout recording. Bonzo and I developed this style with Zeppelin that was a really good way of being dynamic and filling up a lot of space in what was basically a sparsely orchestrated setting. Wewerefunky,andthat was very important to us.

Q. So much mythology has been built up around Zeppelin. What's the most ridiculous thing you've read that actually didn't happen?

A. Oh, Lord, I can't think. A lot of the stories, they just got the punch lines muddled up. Reading what I've read of those sorts of books, I always got this feeling of, "Do they mean us?" Because we always sound like such a miserable bunch of bastards, all full of menace and heaviness, and it really wasn't like that. We just had loads and loads of fun on the road. We were a happy band, very close, very tight. Then there's all that stuff about how I was never there. Well, I used toseethepresscoming and run the other way!

Q. You've said that your daughter keeps you abreast of what's going on in the underground. What are you hearing now that you like?

A. On the rock scene I still like bands like Morphine and Tool, and I shall listen to Trent Reznor's next effort with interest. There's a lot of bluegrass that gets me going now. There's really high musicianship and it's living, breathing music again, whereas a lot of rock 'n' roll kind of isn't. I listen to dance music, but that seems to be stagnating, and jazz has stagnated for years. It's just not a very exciting time in music right now.

Caption: "If you play the old music and just try to redo what you did before, then it can't have that visceral kick, because you're trying to re-create a performance of something you did as a young man," says John Paul Jones of his days with Led Zeppelin

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