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John Paul Jones discusses producing, solo album ' Zooma '

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John Paul Jones discusses producing, solo album ' Zooma '

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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  • 12 years later...

Found this 1999 Rolling Stone review of Zooma.  

Legend has it that John Paul Jones was the only member of Led Zeppelin to not sign over his eternal soul to Beelzebub. But on his first solo album, the instrumental Zooma, one of rock's great bassists plows through some downright hellbent grooves. On tracks like "Zooma" (featuring Paul Leary on guitar) and "Tidal," Jones creates thunderous, King Crimson-like, brainiac rock with a battery of four-, ten- and twelve-string basses. "Bass 'n' Drums" echoes the bluesy fills of Zep classics like "The Lemon Song"; "The Smile of Your Shadow," with its glacial prettiness, could give New Age music a good name. It took him nearly twenty years, but with Zooma, Jones has outpaced his more flamboyant former band mates in the adventurousness department. Maybe now Page and Plant will ask to join his band. (RS 822)




(Posted: Sep 30, 1999)

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