Carl Jah on Dread Zeppelin and his solo adventures

Former Dread Zeppelin guitarist hits solo trail

Guitarist Carl Jah first hit the national music scene in 1990 as the lead guitarist for the very strange band Dread Zeppelin. Dread Zeppelin was not the first Led Zeppelin cover band, but they were almost certainly the first to cover them in a reggae style with a chunky, Las Vegas-era Elvis impersonator singing lead.

Jah took the Jimmy Page role in the band, delivering blistering solos against the backdrop of bandmate Jah Paul Jo’s mellow reggae rhythm guitars. The band’s debut “Un-Led-Ed” earned many fans, not the least among them Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant himself, who even went on record saying he preferred Dread’s cover of the Zep classic “Your Time Is Gonna Come” to the original.

Dread Zeppelin still tours, but Jah has moved on to other pastures. In 2012 he released his first solo album, the (mostly) instrumental “Re-Purpose.”

As Jah recently told Toledo Free Press Star, “I moved to Atlanta about four years ago. I was getting settled here and wasn’t in a band. My focus of late has been on songwriting, and I’m very interested in recording. I had a lot of musical ideas that weren’t right for a traditional rock band like I would normally play with and write for. Some of the music was from previous bands. I’d take a 25-year-old cassette tape of a song, loop a riff part that I liked, add all sorts of guitar parts and create an entirely new song out of it. That was part of the repurposement; 85 percent of the music is new and written for this album.”

Written, performed and produced by Jah, “Re-Purpose” is split into six tracks (called “events”), each of which contains five or six songs.

Like the second half of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” these songs segue easily into one another. It’s an instrumental rock album, but the emphasis is on the rock: there’s no arty, long-winded noodling to be heard. Jah gets to the point with catchy, straightforward riffs that rival some of classic rock’s best guitar lines. “Dinner Bell” on Event 1 recalls the bluesy swagger of Joe Walsh; Event 3’s “Blap” brings to mind the frenetic fingers of AC/DC’s Angus Young tearing it up on “Thunderstruck.” Jah layers guitars upon guitars, with well-crafted overdubbing that would make Page proud.

Even the slower numbers aren’t shy about including scorching guitar solos. Two highlights are Event 3’s mellow “Piano Jam” (think Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It” by way of Van Halen’s “I’ll Wait”) and Event 4’s “Interview,” perhaps the catchiest song on the album with its smooth reggae guitars that recall the best of the early Dread Zeppelin days.

Jah naturally includes a nod to those days with a couple of brief Dread Zeppelin snippets; one from “Un-Led-Ed” and another from the band’s unexpected 1992 detour into disco, “It’s Not Unusual.”

“I thought the disco album was a fun one,” Jah said. “We learned those songs with [original lead vocalist Tortelvis] singing them, but he left the band before we recorded them. We had a friend who knew [guest vocalist] Screamin’ Jay Hawkins; she told him about us and he was into it. On that same album we did ‘Talking Care of Business’ by BTO. Randy Bachman traded verses and played some guitar on that one.”

Despite those brief nods to the past, “Re-Purpose” is far from being a Dread Zeppelin nostalgia vehicle; it is proudly and loudly its own creature. Its unique mixture of found music and vocals, unconventional sound effects, and guitars by the truckload proves fresh and original. There is no singing on the album, but Jah does include a variety of spoken vocals to complement the instruments. At various points on the album you may hear some CB radio chatter, lessons on how to dance, a horoscope reading, or a preacher holding forth on the evils of rock music.

Jah even includes a brief sampling of some well-known voices from pop culture for good measure; if you listen carefully, you might recognize some of them.

“I call that ‘the Van Halen brown M&M test.’ Back in the day, Van Halen’s touring rider would call for a jar of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed. It was way down on the list of other things they wanted or needed. The theory was when they showed up to the dressing room and the M&Ms did not have the brown ones taken out, the promoter didn’t read the rider in detail and they would look for other things that didn’t get taken care of.”

In the Dread Zeppelin days, Jah chipped in with background vocals (as well as performing the Maharishi-esque narration to the originally instrumental “Black Mountain Side”), but he said none of the many voices on “Re-Purpose” are his.

“Most of the other voices are not famous and are from all kinds of strange vinyl records,” Jah said.

Of all the noises on the record — from doorbells, gongs and bullet ricochets to the unmistakable sound a computer speaker makes when a nearby cellphone is about to ring (“The cellphone thing happened in real time; I was recording and my cell phone was near the computer”) — one noise you won’t hear is an acoustic guitar; all the guitars on the record are electric.

“I have to [save] something new for the next one!” Jah said.

This article was originally published in the Toledo Free Press Star on August 1, 2013 and online at on July 31, 2013.







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