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John Paul Jones discusses producing, solo album 'Zooma'

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Author: Mark Guarino Daily Herald Music Critic

John Paul Jones helped provide the heavy underbelly of Led Zeppelin, playing bass and keyboards in the group until they called it quits in 1980 when drummer John Bonham died. Since then, he's been keeping a low profile, working as a producer and arranger with a variety of artists, including adding his touch on surprising quieter songs, like the R.E.M. ballad, "Everybody Hurts." Surviving bandmates Robert Plant and Jimmy Page never told him they were reuniting a few years ago without him - he read it in the paper, like the rest of us. So Jones went ahead and worked on his own solo project, the just-released "Zooma" on the King Crimson independent label, Discipline Global Music. Unlike most all-instrumental albums, "Zooma" strikes a commanding voice in the music, often reflecting Led Zep's thunderous and also quieter acoustic sides.

On Wednesday, Jones arrives at the Park West with a full band, playing the new album plus instrumental versions of some old Led Zeppelin songs. What follows is an edited transcript of a talk we had a few weeks ago.

Q: What took you so long to come back with your own work?

A: I could say I was a really slow worker but that's not entirely true. In the last 20 years in all the things I've done, one thing I hadn't done was play live. And this album gives me a body of music I can then take out onto the road and play live. It's two birds with one stone, really. The album was designed to play live. It's mainly trio-based. There aren't many overdubs.

The instruments are so large-sounding, they really fill out the whole sound spectrum. And I'm also taking live electronics on the road with me that I can control from the stage. I'm going out with Nick Beggs on chapman stick, which is a two-in-one instrument, half guitar and half bass. So when I'm playing the basses, he will be playing the guitar side, and when I'm playing lap steel guitar and keyboards, he can then support me on bass. I'm also going out with Terl Bryant on drums and percussion. So it's like a power trio.

Q: Now writing alone, how do you go about it?

A: I usually go on a long walk and think about it. I usually bring manuscript paper with me and if it's a riff-based piece, I will write it down and come back to the studio and choose instruments I hear in my head and build it up from there. It's a compositional trick because I know I'll come back with nothing or I'll come back with something that's good.

Q: Did you ever feel the need to hire a vocalist?

A: Well I don't sing myself. I don't write lyrics. So it didn't make sense to have a singer or songwriter with it. I knew, as a producer, my instinct would be if I got somebody in to write songs and sing them, I would produce them and it would be their record.

Q: As a producer, performer and arranger, you've worked with an incredibly diverse lot, from Peter Gabriel to the Butthole Surfers to R.E.M and Heart. How do you choose who to work with?

A: They're all people with a mission. It's interesting music. Projects tend to come to me. I used to turn down the more commercial projects because they weren't interesting. Anything left field or requires me having a strange involvement in it. With Heart, I got to play mandolin live onstage and work with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

Q: As an arranger, what is your job?

A: I would add instruments they wouldn't play, usually strings or orchestral instruments. For R.E.M., I did strings for (their 1992 album) "Automatic for the People." I had a handwritten note from Michael Stipe accompanying a tape of backing tracks that said "we like what you do, we need some strings, maybe if they came halfway through." And I just wrote the parts and turned up with them in Atlanta and booked the Atlanta Symphony and we got on with it.

Q: The label you're on is owned by Robert Fripp of King Crimson. How do you know him?

A: I share management with him. At the time I wasn't looking forward to signing with a major label because I knew they would ask where's the single apart from where's the singer or where's the video - all those sorts of questions I really didn't have an answer for. So I asked my manager what Robert did and he said he has a quite unusual record company; they have a very open-minded music policy. They also have no contacts. Everything is done on trust. Also, they have a policy that the artist owns all his own masters and their own copyrights. And I thought that's a good and brave and commendable thing to hear about in this particular industry these days. And they have a good distribution with Rykodisc and a good Internet presence. And they're a very go-ahead company, so I threw my lot in with them.

Q: You were part of one of rock's best rhythm sections. What did you and John Bonham share that made you work so well together?

A: We both had a love of the groove. Led Zeppelin was one of the few funky rock bands around. We loved soul music, we loved rhythm and blues. A rhythm section is like a marriage. You really get very, very close.

Q: Were you disappointed Page and Plant didn't ask you to reunite?

A: I was probably disappointed to not be informed of what they were doing. I was kind of hurt at the time. We were all really close as a band. I was surprised no one called me up and say "Hey, we are going to do something together, you should hear it from us than read it in the paper," which is what happened. Had they asked me at the time, I certainly would have considered (joining). But I guess knowing now they do go over so much old ground, I'm probably glad I didn't.

Q: Onstage, people will surely be screaming out old Led Zeppelin songs. Will you play them?

A: I intend to play all of "Zooma." I did a soundtrack album a couple of years ago that I'll probably play a few tracks from. And you know why shouldn't I play a couple of Zeppelin tunes? I'm not going to do many and they will be different arrangements. Obviously I don't sing, I'm not going to have a singer, so they will be instrumental arrangements of them. So yeah, I can do one or two.

Q: Did you feel Led Zeppelin ended when it should have?

A: No, the ending came too early. We were in rehearsal for another American tour. We had come through some difficult times and we had just gotten our second wind. We were all very enthusiastic, the music had been stripped down, it had gotten more vital again, we realized what we were doing. It was tragic.

Q: Were you surprised when another bassist, Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon, sued Led Zeppelin, claiming "Whole Lotta Love" was ripped-off from him?

A: To be honest, I don't really know much about the blues. Most of my blues comes from jazz and rhythm and blues. Robert and Jimmy were the blues experts. No disrespect, I hadn't heard Willie Dixon's name until he sued us. So I really didn't know of him. The lyrics didn't seem familiar at the time. I was a bit surprised to hear somebody else had written it. But I hear, on good authority, that is pretty much the tradition of blues music. When we went to Chicago, on behest on Robert and Jimmy, we thought we should go down to some blues clubs. But all the Chicagoans we met didn't know any blues clubs. We had to say "for goodness sake, this is your music, you might as well have a listen to it."

The scoop

- Who: John Paul Jones

- Where: Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago

- When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday

- Tickets: $28; (312) 559-1212

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20 Years Ago: John Paul Jones Releases First Solo Album, 'Zooma'

zooma1.thumb.jpg.c1774c425a60451349b0867d9f6249a9.jpg

It took nearly 20 years for John Paul Jones to make a personal musical statement after Led Zeppelin's breakup in 1980. When he did, he knew exactly what he was trying to say.

Unfortunately, people either didn't listen or didn't understand.

The multi-instrumentalist hadn't been idle since the death of John Bonham brought Zeppelin to an end in 1980. He'd started out as a session musician - just like bandmate Jimmy Page - and with the knowledge of how to work with others, he kept himself busy. Nothing drew as much attention as Page and Robert Plant's projects, including their collaborations as the Honeydrippers and Page and Plant.

In September 1999, Jones released his debut solo album, Zooma. "'This 'roaring and powerful' nine-track instrumental album features Jones playing four-string, 10-string and 12-string basses, as well as bass lap steel, Kyma, Mandola, organ and guitars while also arranging and conducting members of the London Symphony Orchestra for one of the tracks," a press release noted. " John Paul Jones envisions Zooma as the advent of an ongoing solo career He is keen to return to touring, and a planned world tour will begin with major cities this fall."

"It isn't commercial, not that commercial," Jones said in an interview with British DJ Tommy Vance at the time. "On the other hand, there are no vocals on the songs, no lyrics - [so] it's got to be interesting. It's got to be listenable and something's got to be happening all the time. ... It's more perverse than diverse, but that's how I like it. That how I do it. I can't really do it any other way."

He was confident that his session experience gave him all the tools he needed to complete the work. "You'd do two, three sessions a day, six, seven days a week, and I was doing arrangements as well a bit later," he recalled. "You could do an Engelbert Humperdinck session, an Animals session ... a Dinah Washington session - you could be rock rhythm and blues, country, but all in one day. You'd go literally from one studio to another. Hundreds of musicians crossing and recrossing London. They'd  put the parts in front of you, count you in, do a run-through, do a take, next title. You'd make two or three titles in three hours, and then you're onto a completely different style of music for the next session."

Asked by a U.S. radio station about the title Zooma, Jones replied, "It's onomatopoeic in a way - it has for me the feeling of the album and the energy of the album, all encapsulated in one little word." He explained that the idea of adding human voices was never an option. "It's a very personal record for me, " he said. "It's my own music, and my own music really doesn't include vocals."

"I wanted it to sound of the time," he told Expose in another interview. "Like it was made last year and not just something drug up from 20 years ago. ... It's mostly traditional music done on traditional instruments. I like to use technology too. When I was in Zeppelin, I used analog synthesizers like the VCS3, but we didn't tell anyone about it. I've always been interested in experimental music and music concrete."

Jones said he viewed the album "as a composition, from a micro level to the macro level. I arrive at everything the same way. You have compositional questions to answer and you just have to answer them."

In terms of the writing, he said "the album started from the three heavier riffs. I had to work out what I play. I like to play blues based rock; I'm not a jazz-based player and not an experimentalist. Having to work out three of the heavier riffs and walking helped to determine what I needed."

Jones said he was inspired by "pretty much everything,"noting. "Nature does, literature and other forms of music as well. It will just set me off in another direction. I like how that happens. Not a lick or someone else's song necessarily. Often times I like the way someone else has answered their questions."

The album was released on King Crimson leader Robert Fripp's DGM label, following a discussion with the pair's mutual manager. "I'd heard [Fripp] had a label, and I was asking about it, and it turns out that it's an unusual label," Jones said. "There are no contracts. And also he insists the artists own their own copyrights and their own masters. _ In the early Zeppelin days, we never had a contract with Peter Grant, the manager _ so it seemed a really good way to go."

But Jones' main focus was on touring. "The impetus for this album was the live show," he stated. "I was thinking about doing the album for a long time. If I do an album, I will have a reason to go out and play it since it designed to be played live."

Having said that, he was aware he had a shadow to step out from. "We're going to Europe, U.K., Japan, then come back to the U.S and go down South. You can't go everywhere since we didn't know what to expect at all. _ Your representation follows you, not precedes you."

But Zooma was not the return to the big time Jones might have hoped for. While Allmusic expressed niche approval for the project ("Freed from the boundaries of songs, but not compositions, Jones crafts a series of nine truly impressive songs, blending together blues, worldbeat, heavy rock, jazz and the avant-garde into a distinctive, unpredictable, and original sound," it noted), NME's  review was perhaps more representative of the mainstream, calling it "an album about musicianship. But mainly it's about vastly overblown instrumental rock and face-contorting guitar solos. Like buying a Victorian folly, this is an indulgence expected of the aging rocker. Wildly predictable it might be, but that doesn't make it any less gruesome."

But then, Jones didn't write it for that audience. "I want to make another album, " he said at the time. "I've already got more ideas from this album and tour."

https://ultimateclassicrock.com/john-paul-jones-zooma/

 

 

 

Edited by luvlz2

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Great article - thanks for posting.  Hard to believe it is 20 years.  When I think back to the day I got this I can hardly believe how intense and amazing this record is.  My favorite post Zeppelin album.  Pure John Paul Jones - unleashed !  I mean Crackback and Spaghetti Junction were good but this is over the top.  I was forturnate enough to see his first show in the US at Pearl Street Nightclub in the little college town of Northampton, MA.  Oct 12. Holds about 500 people.  I was standing right in front of Jones.  The crowd was going bananas.  After the show we waited to see if we could see Jones.  Finally gave up and went home.  The next day I read in the local paper that Jones and the band were staying at the Hotel Northampton right downtown near the club - they showed up at the bar later and had drinks with a local reporter and some fans.   I missed opportunity for me but what an amazing show.

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On 9/9/2019 at 3:54 AM, John M said:

Great article - thanks for posting.  Hard to believe it is 20 years.  When I think back to the day I got this I can hardly believe how intense and amazing this record is.  My favorite post Zeppelin album.  Pure John Paul Jones - unleashed !  I mean Crackback and Spaghetti Junction were good but this is over the top.  I was forturnate enough to see his first show in the US at Pearl Street Nightclub in the little college town of Northampton, MA.  Oct 12. Holds about 500 people.  I was standing right in front of Jones.  The crowd was going bananas.  After the show we waited to see if we could see Jones.  Finally gave up and went home.  The next day I read in the local paper that Jones and the band were staying at the Hotel Northampton right downtown near the club - they showed up at the bar later and had drinks with a local reporter and some fans.   I missed opportunity for me but what an amazing show.

Yeah it is hard to believe it's been 20 years...I remember getting this the first week of release and like you could hardly believe how intense and amazing the album was, absolutely pure genius, over the top as you said! Good for you getting to catch him on that tour. I didn't catch him until just before The Thunderthief was released in Phoenix. Excellent show!

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On February 21, 2008 at 8:26 PM, Cat said:

Had they asked me at the time, I certainly would have considered (joining). But I guess knowing now they do go over so much old ground, I'm probably glad I didn't.

 

That speaks volumes...makes it seem the page and plant project was a business deal. 

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I should have said, its interesting that in retrospect, john paul jones would not have been interested in the page, plant project.

In regards to new music, it would make sense if john paul jones played on a current robert plant record. Just as it would also make sense for john paul jones and jimmy page make a heavy instrumental record, like zooma. 

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