It’s been too damn long since we made a cover band Weird Band of the Week, don’t you think? Let’s end the drought with a little “When the Levee Breaks,” as played by a reggae band led by a fat Elvis impersonator. Yes, people, we are finally paying tribute to the mighty Dread Zeppelin.
In case this ship sailed without you: Dread Zeppelin is a Led Zeppelin cover band that started right here in L.A. way back in 1990 or so…a time when Elvis impersonators were even more popular than they are now, if you can believe it. L.A. also gave birth around the same time to the so-called “Mexican Elvis,” El Vez; Nicolas Cage skydived into Vegas with the Flying Elvises’; and the band Living Colour felt compelled to remind everyone that “Elvis Is Dead.” Someone smarter than us has probably already explained this spike in Elvis mania, but let’s Google that shit later and get back to Dread Zeppelin, shall we?
Around this time, a semi-successful ’80s rock band called The Prime Movers was in the process of getting dropped by their label. (The Prime Movers’ biggest claim to fame, incidentally, was a song on the soundtrack to the 1986 film Manhunter. Their second biggest claim to fame was some seriously awesome ’80s hair in the accompanying music video) Unable to release any of their own music, they decided as a goof to remake Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”/”Hey Hey What Can I Do” single, but in a reggae style. And just to make the whole thing extra-ridiculous, they recruited an Elvis impersonator called Tortelvis (Greg Tortell) to sing lead vocals.
The single was a hit, as was the band’s live show, which mixed up Zeppelin, Elvis, Bob Marley and other random bits of popular music like Edwin Starr’s “War” (“what is it good for? absolutely nuthin’!”) and the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A-Rollin.'” Dread Zeppelin was unleashed upon the masses.
And 22 years and about a zillion lineup changes later, they’re still unleashing it. They’re latest album, SoSo, just came out last year. If you got the Zeppelin in-joke in SoSo before you even saw the cover art, congratulations. You can probably also recite entire chapters of Hammer of the Gods, which we’re sure makes you a hit with the ladies.
Fun Dread Zep side notes: Robert Plant is a fan. Tortelvis performs with a personal assistant, Charlie Haj, whose entire job is to bring him water and towels. They have an album called No Quarter Pounder. And judging from their Facebook page, they really love donuts. Hey, Tortelvis didn’t get that fat on banana-and-peanut-butter sandwiches alone.
It may seem to the casual fan like Dread Zeppelin have run their shtick into the ground at this point…and, well, they kinda have. But they have actually tried to mix it up occasionally. They released an album of disco covers in 1992. The Fun Sessions includes covers of non-Zep classic rock staples like “Smoke on the Water” and “Freebird.” (So yes, you can yell “Freebird!” at a Dread Zeppelin show and not be a total asshole. OK, you might still be an asshole.)
But let’s face it: Anyone who’s ever gone to a Dread Zeppelin concert has been there to hear Elvis/reggae versions of “Black Dog” and “Whole Lotta Love.” Or Zep/Elvis mashups like the one in this video, which might feature our favorite self-indulgent guitar solo of all time. Mercy.
We usually only include one video per post, but fuck it. These guys deserve an encore. Besides, as excellent as the above clip is, it doesn’t fully showcase the band’s reggae chops. This one does: