PHILADELPHIA — Ain’t it great when all the stars align? Denny Somach is feeling just such a magical, mystical moment as he and others aim to spread a “Whole Lotta Love” for one of the biggest rock bands of all times — Led Zeppelin — with a rash of new goodies, including a lavish book, CD and DVD sets, tribute concerts and even a major TV salute.
Producer of the nationally syndicated “Get the Let Out” weekly and daily radio features, Somach has been on the bluesy Brit band’s case since the early 1970s. That’s when he started cranking out the likes of “Dazed and Confused” and “Good Times Bad Times” on Allentown, Pa., rock radio station WSAN-AM, then brought it here for a long run on WYSP-FM, where Somach helped establish the station as an FM rock radio innovator and ratings-grabber with the “Superstars” and “Classic Rock” formats.
Somach jumped into the syndicated radio and TV show business with his own production company in the early 1980s, creating the year-end “The News That Rocked” specials for MTV, then shows for USA Network, NBC and CBS. Eventually, he’d amass more than 10,000 hours of taped interviews with important music figures. Among them, rarer than rare chats with Led Zeppelin’s drummer, John “Bonzo” Bonham, and press-shy guitarist Jimmy Page.
But only recently did Somach get the urge to gather his Zeppelin treasures in a copiously detailed and colorfully illustrated coffee-table-style book, “Get The Led Out: How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World” (Sterling $29.95). The tome, which officially came out Tuesday, was rushed onto some retail shelves to catch a new wave of Led Zeppelin mania.
“Little did I know that the band was also planning to put out audio and video versions of their 2007 reunion concert at virtually the same time,” Somach mused recently from his Havertown, Pa., office. Those gems will hit stores Nov. 19.
“But I did have the good sense to speculate at the end of my book that the show (a “one-off” tribute to Atlantic Records’ fallen chief Ahmet Ertegun) would eventually appear,” Somach said, laughing. “Now they’re making me look like a genius.”
As that 2007 concert at London’s O2 arena was expensively captured by mobile recording trucks and 14 high-definition video cameras, its release to the home market was inevitable.
But a bunch of other Zep-in-the-news coincidences couldn’t have been conjured, except maybe by those who’ve always bought into the band’s mystical, spell-casting, “Misty Mountain Hop” reputation. Yeah, the stuff that’s inspired a gazillion heavy metal and goth-rock emulators.
For instance, who’d have ever thunk that Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan would ‘fess up that he likes to work out in the morning to muscular Led Zeppelin rock?
Nor did Somach have a clue that Led Zeppelin was about to get the grand “Kennedy Center Honors” treatment — a first for a rock band — with a celebration CBS will tape on Dec. 2 and broadcast on Dec. 26. Sure to pump up the vacation week between Christmas and New Year’s. (Also to be honored that night are Buddy Guy, Dustin Hoffman, David Letterman and Natalia Makarova.)
Likewise keeping the dirigible afloat is Bonham’s drummer son, Jason. A fine fill-in for his dad at those once-in-a-blue-moon Led Zeppelin reunion shows, he also takes to the road with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience, a resounding multimedia celebration.
Somach predicted that the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion show, billed “Celebration Day,” will fast become “the biggest-selling music video of all time.” While Robert Plant’s once caterwauling vocals have lost a bit of fire and brimstone, Page’s blistering guitar and John Paul Jones’ resounding bass have not, we can attest from a preview of the double CD rendering.
And talk about pent-up demand.
“There were 20 million emailed ticket requests for the London concert,” said Somach. “But after the benefiting charity took out a bunch, only 10,000 tickets were actually made available to the public.”
And with good store placement near the concert disc packages (doesn’t hurt that Barnes & Noble owns the Sterling publishing house), Somach hopes his insightful tracking of chronological events, insider interviews and collectible imagery will be snatched up as the perfect companion gift for today’s multigenerations of Zeppelin fans.
The band officially broke up in October 1980, three weeks after Bonham’s death. But surviving members Plant and Page have toured and played the band’s music together and Jones has done some interesting side projects, especially with opera singer Diamanda Galas.
Plant has been most visible in recent years with North African and rustic, country music-influenced band projects, especially his rootsy, Grammy-winning collaborations with Alison Krauss and Buddy Miller.
And as one of the first and arguably still the greatest of thunder-thudding hard-rock bands, Zeppelin remains a staple of classic rock radio, still in heavy rotation with tracks like “Kashmir” and the inescapable “Stairway to Heaven.”
“Lots of teenagers today wear Led Zeppelin T-shirts with pride. How many other bands from the late ‘60s and ‘70s can you say that about?” Somach pondered. “Tribute bands like Get the Led Out and Lez Zeppelin sell more tickets than any others, even the Pink Floyd and Beatles emulators.”
And the hour-long version of Somach’s “Get the Led Out” show, hosted by Carol Miller, is the top-rated specialty show on a bunch of the 100-plus stations that carry it weekly.
Clearly, Somach wears his love and detailed knowledge of the band on his sleeves. In the book’s transcribed interviews, he even dares to correct the faulty memories on dates and concert locations from subjects like Vanilla Fudge frontman Mark Stein, who paid out of his own pocket to showcase the then-fledgling Brit imports as Fudge’s opening act.
“This was December of 1968,” detailed Somach. “The first Led Zeppelin album wouldn’t come out until the next month. Yet Mark was already a fan of Page from his prior work with the Yardbirds.”
In fleshing out “How Led Zeppelin Became the Biggest Band in the World,” Somach isn’t afraid to share some ugly truths. Their fearsome monster of a manager Peter Grant and booking agent Frank Barcelona laid a heavy number on many a concert promoter.
Lots worse, and never detailed as thoroughly as it is here, said Somach, was Page’s bad habit of ripping off other composers’ music without giving credit or royalties. Blues classics by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf were remorselessly stolen from and just slightly adjusted by Page, who then claimed them as his own and pocketed all the royalties.
So, too, was an instrumental by the band Spirit that became opening licks for “Stairway to Heaven,” and the folksy “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” popularized years before by Joan Baez.
Most startling of all are the revealed origins of the Led Zeppelin signature song “Dazed and Confused.” Somach tracked down and interviewed the composer responsible for that one — Jake Holmes, whose other claims to fame include the U.S. Army jingle “Be All That You Can Be” and co-writing the famous “Be a Pepper” soft drink spot.
“Led Zeppelin dragged out that copyright infringement suit for decades,” Somach related. “Eventually, Holmes settled out of court, got just three years of back royalties — the most the law would allow. And even on the new Led Zep concert release, I’ll bet you won’t find Holmes’ name in the songwriting credits.”