The Music of Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones Discussed With Megan Thomas from Lez Zeppelin
When the week started, we thought today (June 3) was the birthday of Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, so we set up an interview with Megan Thomas, the bassist (and keyboardist and mandolin player) of Lez Zeppelin, an all-female Zeppelin tribute band, to talk about Jones' musical legacy. Well, turns out the book we bought had the wrong information. JPJ's birthday is actually Jan. 3, but any excuse to talk Zep, right? So here's the interview:
So, how did you come to be the bass player in a Led Zeppelin tribute band?
I've been in the band for almost two years now. I grew up listening to Led Zeppelin's music; in high school they were one of my favorite bands. I was aware of my love for them; they were part of my religion.
Were you playing bass back in high school, as well?
I started casually playing bass in high school. I took lessons for about a year when I was 16. I didn't take it seriously, and dropped it for my last two years of high school. My friends had punk bands; I was just doing simple one note stuff. Later, a friend taught me the basics of the blues and such. In college, I majored in music and switched back to the bass from tuba and piano, which I had been working on.
And then, the two finally came together?
Nope! I didn't ever learn a Led Zeppelin song until I auditioned for the band. I grew up listening to the lower end of music, though -- I've always been attracted to that. So, I already knew the bass lines; I just had to learn how to play them. I got my butt kicked initially, but I figured it out.
What's so special about John Paul Jones' playing?
I'm really bad at the history of rock 'n' roll, figuring out who did what and stuff like that. But musically, Zeppelin has a really diverse repertoire; their range of styles is so wide. As I've learned their music better, I've realized even more how great of a player he is, and how much he contributed to the band in other ways. I just really respect his subtle genius with it all. He wasn't the rock star of the band, he was more the glue that kept their momentum going. He was just more stable instead of being a rock star and showing off, you know?
How about his songwriting contributions?
He helped write 'Black Dog,' which, wow, the time signature on that is so crazy, how it changes. And you have to give a lot of credit to Bonham, too -- how great they worked together. Their ability to perform that song live, in so many different ways and in different tempos, is amazing. You can see how much that affected his bass lines. Also, he wrote a lot of the keyboard-based songs that came later, when they were all cracked out.
The relationship between him and Bonham was really special, right?
The connection and space he and Bonham were able to create, nobody else has that, where there are these punches that they have together. They're giving the vocals and guitar more time to sing while they're hitting these subtle background grooves. I love it.
The later-era stuff, like 'In My Time of Dying' and the 'Presence' album -- is that hard to play?
That stuff is the most fun to play live, in that, yeah, it is a little more difficult. There's an open-ended element to what they were playing back then. Sometimes when they play a song, he's all over the bass, and sometimes he simplifies and stays in one place. But no matter what, he stays on the groove and in the right place.
Have you gotten to see him perform with Them Crooked Vultures at all?
I have their album and I've YouTubed them a billion times. I haven't been out to see them, but I'm a huge fan.
So on your new album, you take on their first album all the way through, in order. How much fun was that?
We worked with producers that were very particular with how they wanted it to sound. It's a good thing I knew the songs well, because they had me play note-for-note what he played. In fact, the first time I ever used my music degree -- which I never really intended on doing -- was to write down the bass line for 'How Many More Times!'
Watch Lez Zeppelin Perform 'Whole Lotta Love' From a Rather Odd Angle