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John Paul Jones and his ties to MerleFest, as told by 'Dr. Banjo,' Pete Wernick

Friday, April 30, 2010

When musician Pete Wernick goes to MerleFest this time each year, it's not just his performances that festival goers look forward to. They also get the opportunity to learn tips from him in "bluegrass jam camps" he convenes. The man nicknamed "Dr. Banjo" holds these workshops focusing on improvisation several times a year, not just at the annual music festival taking place this weekend in North Carolina.

John Paul Jones has attended MerleFest in the past and jammed with Pete Wernick and many others onstage. In this installment of the Interview Series, "Dr. Banjo" discusses how his friendship with Jones came about. Also, he reveals why the Led Zeppelin/Them Crooked Vultures bassist seems to fit in so well with the acoustic music crowd.
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Led Zeppelin Reunion

Photo courtesy of Simon Keeping

A tribute concert dedicated to the late Atlantic Records cofounder Ahmet Ertegun held on Dec. 10, 2007, contained the only onstage musical reformation this century of original Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones. With Jason Bonham on drums to take the place of his dearly departed father, original member John Bonham, the band played a two-hour concert that is likely never to be repeated.

Led Zeppelin's reunion in 2007 was witnessed in person by fewer than 20,000 people. Although this special event was filmed, no plans have been announced for its official release. Photographs, amateur recordings, and the firsthand accounts and memories of those who attended are all that can be relied upon to attest to the magic of that single night. The evening is widely praised.

Many posts on Lemon Squeezings since the 2007 concert have centered on the chances of further reunion activity. The popular press have persisted in spreading the myth of an attempt to replace Robert Plant in Led Zeppelin. In reality, Page and Jones considered forming a new band in 2008, bringing in Bonham to help audition singers. Their new band, which they themselves never considered to be Led Zeppelin, failed to materialize.

Since then, Page has retreated, Jones has formed a new band in Them Crooked Vultures, and Bonham has stayed busy with both a new band and something close to a Led Zeppelin tour. Lemon Squeezings will report new developments as they occur.


We are in a time of expectation for Jimmy Page. Recent comments from the guitarist indicate he wishes to be seen in a way he has not been for some time. Following Led Zeppelin's reunion concert as 2007 ended, Page was not alone in favoring a tour with the group. When Robert Plant opposed a reunion, for a time Page instead favored putting a new band together with John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham. Since those plans likewise dissipated for reasons that are rarely discussed, it's not been known exactly what's next for Page.

Mostly -- though not entirely -- retreated from the public eye in recent years, one major exception to this came when he first participated as one of three guitarists profiled in Davis Guggenheim's documentary It Might Get Loud. In the widely acclaimed film, Page details his own personal history growing up in the 1940s and being attracted to the music of the 1950s. He also shares his thoughts on remaining creative later in life. It Might Get Loud was first shown at film festivals, then publicly in theaters, and finally released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Page helped to promote the film at various stages, fitting interviews and appearances into a schedule in 2008 that also saw him playing guitar at the closing ceremony of the Summer Olympics.

Page's first major action of 2010 has been the preparation and release of his own debut as an author. His book is an immediate collector's item; it is a pictorial autobiography available exclusively from Genesis Publications, a high-end retailer of collector books. While this leather-bound gem carries a high price tag, it is thought that Page will eventually announce plans to make a more affordable version of his text available to a wider consumer market.

Page, whose lack of trust in the media is well documented, has thus far been unwilling to disclose publicly whatever other plans he has in store for his planned comeback of 2010. As his plans are made known, Lemon Squeezings will be among the very first to cover them.


The uncompromising Robert Plant does not rest on his laurels. Even during a year like 2009 when he made only limited concert appearances, the single thread uniting those performances was unpredictability. It was the same unpredictability that made fans scratch their heads in 2008 and wonder whether Plant would, for once, accept an offer to reunite Led Zeppelin for more than a single show.

Following a lengthy world tour with Alison Krauss for most of 2008, Plant's first concert appearance of 2009 came on the February evening he and Krauss accepted the second through sixth Grammy awards for their collaboration. In light of the duo's critical and commercial success, they were poised to assemble a follow-up to their 2007 album Raising Sand. However, this ended up not being their immediate priority after all, as the two are now pursuing separate projects. They still dance, Plant insists.

The following period saw him travel to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates for a single guest appearance in the headlining set at a World of Music, Arts and Dance festival. Since then, he's made himself somewhat of a regular performer at London charity events, and he's also experimented by recording under the tutelage of Daniel Lanois.

In the meantime, Plant refuses to abandon the surroundings in which he recorded Raising Sand. He has settled on a new project produced by Nashville guitarist Buddy Miller. Plant's next album, called Band of Joy, is set to be released in the United States on the Rounder Records label on Sept. 14 and on the Universal label in the United Kingdom and other countries, with U.S. live dates commencing in the South this July. Plant used the name Band of Joy to dig up a group name from his own pre-Led Zeppelin past because he claims to be in a state of mind similar to how he felt around 1968. The current Band of Joy lineup -- featuring Patty Griffin on vocals, Darrell Scott on multiple instruments, Byron House on bass, Marco Giovino on drums and percussion, and Buddy Miller on guitar and vocals -- also joins Plant on the album.


John Paul Jones is a man with many musical tastes. Ever since the release of his solo album Zooma in 1999, and especially since the launch of Them Crooked Vultures in 2009, Jones has forced listeners to reconsider his reputation as Led Zeppelin's "quiet one." More often, a modern-day vision of Jones is as a man of many talents.

As a record producer, he recently lent his helping hand to folksy artists such as the traditional bluegrass quartet Uncle Earl and mellow singer Sara Watkins. However, his resume also includes studio work with decidedly noisy acts like Diamanda Galas, the Butthole Surfers and the Mission. His work in producing and arranging began in the 1960s, when he also doubled as an in-demand session bassist.

As a performer, Jones can sometimes be spotted sitting in with bands that bear little resemblance to Led Zeppelin, whether he's picking on a mandolin with a country act at Merlefest, jamming away on a Led Zeppelin song with musicians he's just met, or improvising a full set of experimental sounds with Sonic Youth.

It was little wonder, then, that after plans ended late in 2008 for Jones to continue making new music with Jimmy Page, he quickly and secretly accepted an invitation from Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters to form a new venture with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme. The trio spent the first half of 2009 in isolation, readying for their onslaught. Their sudden onstage debut in August 2009 made Them Crooked Vultures one of today's hottest and hardest rock bands. In the group, Jones offers not only bass and keyboard but also mandolin, keytar, lap steel, fiddle, and whatever else is needed. The self-titled album -- released in November 2009 and supported by concerts around the world throughout 2010 -- stands as a declaration of creativity and proficiency, independent from any one member's previous work. One aspect of Led Zeppelin that was crucial to that band and can also clearly be seen in Jones's new group is the expansion of songs through the exploration of new territory by onstage improvisation.

As a scheduled hiatus for Them Crooked Vultures goes into effect this summer so that the other members can return to their own separate projects, Jones is left with some time to kill. The band plots an eventual reformation to commence with writing a promised second album. How Jones will spend his time until then has yet to be announced, and Lemon Squeezings anticipates being one of the first news sources to unveil his plans.

Jason Bonham

Jason Bonham, son of the late John "Bonzo" Bonham, does not take lightly the responsibility of carrying on his father's legacy. Having made a head start at drumming while he was a child, he is now passing on the same lessons to a third generation of Bonham drummers. His firsthand familiarity with Led Zeppelin made him a shoe-in to join his father's bandmates on most of the few occasions reunion concerts have taken place.

Because 2010 marks the 30th anniversary of John Bonham's death, Jason Bonham is preparing to honor his father with a 30-date concert tour unleashed in his memory. "Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience" will see the drummer and a hand-picked lineup of professional musicians traveling across the United States and Canada with a giant video screen helping Bonham to articulate his memories of growing up surrounded by Led Zeppelin. Many of the earliest reports on the tour cited Lemon Squeezings as their source of information, and this Web site will continue to update readers on tour dates and other information about the show as they become known.

Also among Bonham's announced plans is a new four-piece rock supergroup called Black Country Communion. The name is derived from the part of England from which both Bonham and singer Glenn Hughes hail. A full-length album was recorded in early 2010 with plans to release it in September. Producer Kevin Shirley has provided some of the biggest public insights into what to expect from Black Country Communion, which in addition to Hughes and Bonham also includes Derek Sherinian on keyboards and Joe Bonamassa on lead guitar and some vocals. Lemon Squeezings is dedicated to following this band as well.