Swan Montgomery has been playing the role of Robert Plant for 31 years as the lead singer for the Led Zeppelin tribute band Led Zepagain.
And he’s still waiting to get tired of performing the music of the iconic British rock band.
“After 31 years, it’s kind of an ongoing joke in the band as to how much longer we can keep doing this,” Montgomery said in an interview with Black Press Media.
“I’m the oldest guy in the band, but I keep saying we will just keep going until we drop.”
Joining Montgomery in the group are Anthony David on guitar, Jim Wootten on bass and keyboards, and drummerDerek Smith.
Led Zepagain has performed in Kelowna twice in the last decade and will return for a third show Tuesday, Sept. 24, at the Mary Irwin Theatre in the Rotary Centre for the Arts at 421 Cawston Avenue.
Led Zepagain is on the road year-round playing dates in Canada, the U.S., South America, Europe and Japan, which Montgomery feels is both a reflection of the enduring popularity of Led Zeppelin’s music and his own group’s attitude of being faithful to the original recordings.
As a tribute band, Montgomery said its audiences are not interested in their interpretation of the music, but rather want it to recreate the music as close to the original sound as possible.
“It’s interesting but people who come to our shows who grew up with Led Zeppelin come to hear certain sounds or points in a song that bring back memories for them. You might do a solo or reach some point in a song that resonates with the audience and they stand up and applaud while you are still performing the song, which is unusual,” he said.
“For a tribute band, if you don’t get it right, people will let you know about it.”
To that end, Montgomery said he and his bandmates have taken the time to learn Led Zeppelin’s music down to every individual note.
“I don’t mean to criticize other tribute bands but we have done our homework. A lot of tribute bands don’t that,” he said.
Led Zepagain’s efforts have reached back to some of the original band members too, as Montgomery has met Plant – “he was very cordial and nice about what we doing” — and Jimmy Page, who said Led Zepagain is the closest he has seen to recreating the group’s sound.
“Jimmy told us how listening to us perform their songs took him back to the rawness of their sound when they were starting out. That was a great compliment to come from one of your peers.”
When Led Zeppelin reunited for one concert in London, England, Montgomery found himself sitting with other invited guests, courtesy of Page, to witness what he called “a mind boggling concert” in 2007.
“The neat part is we got to watch the band in rehearsal the day before, and it was cool to see them making mistakes in getting their own songs down right. It was an interesting dynamic to be able to watch.”
|The original Led Zeppelin: (from left) John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. (Contributed)|
Montgomery described Plant as “a wild stallion,” a rock’n roll frontman with no vocal training, who didn’t study voice, but someone with a gift for singing who just “went for it” in a style similar to that of a blues singers such as Janis Joplin, one of his contemporaries in the early 1970s.
“But as I’ve been studying and listening to his music for most of my life, I have come to appreciate what a tremendous vocalist he was, both with Led Zeppelin and on his own as a solo act after the group disbanded.”
Montgomery said Led Zeppelin has a song catalogue of 82 songs, and Led Zepagain has learned to play most of them, moving songs in and out of their playlist to keep their shows fresh for the audience and themselves.
He said Stairway To Heaven and Kashmir are two staples from the Led Zeppelin library that they include in every show.
He described the enduring popularity of Stairway To Heaven as a musical work of art, given its orchestral-like buildup coupled with poetic lyrics.
“There is nothing like it that was written at that time or since. It’s a song that just takes you different places in your mind. It is amazing to see the lights and the cell phones (in the audience) while (fans) sing along to it.”
Other favourites of Montgomery’s include Black Dog, Going To California and Ramble On.
He said during Led Zeppelin’s heyday, from 1969 to 1975, the group embraced many different genres of music which Montgomery feels is why, today, its music still resonates with audiences.
“The great thing about their music is it never feels dated,” he said.
Led Zeppelin’s run came to an end with the death of drummer John Bonham from alcohol poisoning in 1980. Despite pressure to carry on with a new drummer, the surviving members, in particular Plant, felt it was time to move on and not tarnish their original group’s legacy.
Plant, Page and bassist John Paul Jones ventured off in different music career directions, the two exceptions being the London reunion concert where the trio were joined by Jason Bonham, John’s son, behind the drum kit, and at Live Aid in 1985 when Phil Collins played drums.
Kelowna classic rock fans may remember Jason Bonham performing at Prospera Place in January 2014 with Heart, who dedicated half of their show that year to playing Led Zeppelin music with the younger Bonham as their invited guest musician.
Tickets for the Led Zepagain concert are available at the Rotary Centre Box Office, by phone at 250-717-5304 or online at rotarycentreforthearts.com. Show starts at 7:30 p.m.