Covering Led Zeppelin is an unenviable task. It’s almost impossible to improve upon what Robert Plant, John Bonham, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones created when they collided in the studio to make sweet, irresistible sounds together.
However, some souls out there have dedicated their lives to becoming a tribute to the Zep, rather than taking inspiration and creating their own music in the mould of the band that helped shape rock music. Instead, they have formed Zeppelin cover bands, cashing in on the absence of the real thing.
There are countless bands out there who purely play material by Led Zeppelin, with pun-based names that vary from the strange to the absurd, which, to their credit do make you doff your hat. There’s an all-female tribute band named Lez Zeppelin, one called Fred Zepellin, top marks for wordplay in contrast to blander names such as Led Zeppelin 2 or Kashmir, who’ve played the safe route with their monikers. A vital ingredient of a top tribute band is having a stellar name or a USP, one which sets you apart from the sea of fellow Led Zep wannabes.
Even Robert Plant has weighed into the topic before and offered his two cents on the weirdest Led Zeppelin tribute band. Speaking with Brazillian publication Veja, Plant commented: “There was a band called Dread Zeppelin, who played reggae rock covers with the vocalist dressed as Elvis, and did a cover of Heartbreak Hotel and included a Heartbreaker solo (from Led Zeppelin) in its version. It was very good.”
Plant continued: “There is also the album Hairway to Steven, which was another excellent example. And, of course, there was also Gilligan’s Island (Stairway), which was also great, using our ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in a parody of the opening theme of a series (this is Gilligan’s Island, 1964 series; cover is 1978). But it didn’t take long for our lawyers to get rid of this. We sued the band, who had to collect all copies of the disc with the stores cover.”
Led Zeppelin, even themselves, became a tribute band at The Boston Tea Party in 1969 when they freestyled some of their favourite tracks and channelled the spirit of Dread Zeppelin.
Speaking with NME in 1973, John Paul Jones recalled the show: “We had to start throwing ideas around,” he said, before adding: “Just thinking of songs that we might all know — or that some of us knew a part of — and work it out from there.” The band began contributing a series of covers of the likes of Eddie Cochran, Chuck Berry and, of course, The Beatles.
“I mean, [we played] just anything that would come into our head, and the response was quite amazing,” said Jones, remembering performing a couple of tracks from each of the noted names above. For The Beatles, Zeppelin tackled the classic songs ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and ‘Please, Please Me’ and turned themselves, however briefly, into a Beatles covers band.
Even the greats like Led Zeppelin have enjoyed the frivolous joys of being a tribute band, although, thankfully, this didn’t become a full-time thing, and they allowed themselves to prosper as one of the greatest bands to ever grace the earth in their own right.