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How Dread Zeppelin Merged Led Zeppelin and Reggae to Make ‘Un-Led-Ed’

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What do you get when you mash up Led Zeppelin with reggae, and toss in a dash of Elvis Presley for good measure? The answer is the one, the only, Dread Zeppelin.

The group released the debut album Un-Led-Ed on July 24, 1990, giving audiences around the globe their first opportunity to experience Zeppelin covers performed by a reggae band led by a 300-pound Elvis impersonator calling himself Tortelvis. The group got their start the year before, selling out a pair of vinyl singles (“Immigrant Song” b/w “Hey Hey What Can I Do” and “Whole Lotta Love” b/w “Tour-Telvis: A Bad Trip”) before embarking on their first full-length effort.

Although Dread Zeppelin initially intended to re-record each of Zeppelin’s studio albums in their signature style, they eventually downscaled those ambitions in favor of a cherrypicking approach, recording songs from throughout the Zep songbook — and turning one song, “Heartbreaker,” into an Elvis hybrid that spliced it into Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The band’s efforts attracted the attention — and strong endorsement — of former Zeppelin singer Robert Plant, who surprised some fans by going out of his way to praise Dread Zeppelin in multiple interviews. At one point, he was even quoted as saying, “They did ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’ better than we did.”

While it could hardly have been argued that the world was waiting for a Zeppelin reggae band (or another Elvis impersonator), Un-Led-Ed did reasonably well for an indie release, peaking at No. 116 on the Billboard album chart and launching Dread Zeppelin into a recording career that currently spans more than 25 years and counting. Although bassist Gary “Put-Mon” Putmon has been the band’s sole constant member over the years, they continue to tour and record; their most recent effort, Soso, was released in 2011.

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