Blues-rock guitar master Alvin Youngblood Hart holds forth on playing covers of Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Stephen Foster, Johnny Cash and Tom Petty with footage jamming with Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Luther Dickinson and his own Muscle Theory backing band. Les Paul, Marshall Stacks and Free on rock radio pointed the way to his own unique sound steeped in blues and Mississippi, Memphis and New Orleans tones. Building guitars, and some in-house licks complete the mix with Ric Stewart on the other mic in BCI #18. Subscribe to the series via bluescenters.com
Singer-Actor-Songwriter-Bandleader-Music Historian Billy Vera is the guest for Blues Center Interview #7. With a star on the Hollywood walk of fame right outside the Capitol Records building lauding him mid-career, he has blazed a continual path across the related fields of the entertainment business. His 2017 documentary From Harlem to Hollywood describes his early songwriting success for Ricky Nelson with “Mean Old World” which appeared on the Ozzie and Harriet Show to his #1 hits for Dolly Parton, and then for himself with “At This Moment” in 1987.
His soul duo with Judy Clay, signed to Atlantic and worked with super producer Jerry Wexler to cut wrote “Storybook Children” in 1967. The pairing created a racially integrated act at a time of great tension and rose to fame at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Some of his other exploits, over 300 liner notes and reissue production credits. He won the Grammy for his liner notes to Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles of Ray Charles in 2013.
In this interview he discusses Specialty Records and its remarkable run of hits with Little Richard, Lloyd Price, Larry Williams and more. He also discusses the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant. A fascinating journey across the decades.
Billy discusses New Orleans recordings at Specialty Records by Art Rupe with Lloyd Price, Little Richard, Larry Williams and their effect American teens and DJ Alan Freed. John Lennon and the Beatles took note covering Larry Williams tracks “Bony Maronie,” “Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Slowdown” and “Bad Boy.” Billy also talks about writing songs for Rick Nelson, Dolly Parton and Robert Plant. Billy won a Grammy for one of his 300+ liner notes. He has stayed busy in Hollywood, but grew up in the soul scene of Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Find out why Jerry Wexler signs Led Zeppelin and subscribe to catch the whole series!
From their phoenix-like rise from the Yardbirds’ ashes in 1968 until the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, Led Zeppelin ruled from atop Mt. Olympus as gods of rock. The British quartet of singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones and Bonham defined heavy metal while dabbling widely in folk, psychedelia and pop styles. In the days before MTV and the internet, large parts of a band’s history fell below the radar. So, while Zep’s blues background may be well known, its relationship with New Orleans and 1976 track “Royal Orleans” could do with a recap.
Infamous for their ability to party, Led Zeppelin naturally fell in love New Orleans, making it a hub for regional tours. The song depicts the aftermath of a 1973 show at the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium. “Royal Orleans” and references the French Quarter hotel (now called The Omni Royal Orleans) at which the band stayed during their frequent trips to New Orleans. The lyrics harken back to a chaotic evening on Bourbon Street in May of 1973.
Rumor has it that John Paul Jones took a woman up from the hotel bar to his room, unaware that “she” was a transvestite. Subsequently, someone fell asleep while smoking and caused the room to go up in flames. John Paul Jones rejected parts of the story but relented that the room did catch fire, as firemen tore down the doors and took axes to the quaint hotel space. The lyrics joked:
New Orleans queens
Sure know how to schmooze it
Maybe for some that seems alright
When I step out, strut down with my sugar
She’d best not talk like Barry White
The band continued to enjoy the city for years to come. However, in 1977 shortly before a show at the Superdome, Robert Plant got the life-shattering news of his 5 year-old son Karac’s death from an infection. Led Zeppelin never played in the USA again with their original lineup. In the intervening 4 decades, both Page and Plant have returned to the blues for inspiration as they have often been spotted in local clubs and shops. In 1998, Page and Plant released a blues rock update called Walking into Clarksdale.
Atlantic Records promo man and Memphian, Phillip Rauls vouched for the Led Zeppelin’s blues fixation. “They always wanted to talk about blues music and Memphis music…” The remaining band members have only reunited a few times since the death of John Bonham. In 2007, they resurrected their mammoth sound to commemorate the record executive who signed them, Ahmet Ertegun with a full-length show. That lineup with heir apparent extraordinaire on skins, Jason Bonham (John’s son), might have carried on and made a bank. However, Plant has stuck to his solo career with great success including 3 grammy wins in 2008 for the T-Bone Burnette-produced Raising Sand with Allison Krauss. Page meanwhile has kept Led Zeppelin’s catalog in tip-top shape by overseeing a complete reissue series (each with a bonus album of studio and live tracks) released in 2015. The smoke from the heady days of the 1970’s may have cleared, but Led Zeppelin’s passion for New Orleans and the blues did not fade away.