"I can't begin to tell you how I feel about his drumming," Clementine (she and her band mates answer to first names only) says of the late Led Zep drummer, her idol and inspiration.
"Words can't describe how much his playing means to me, how much it moves me," Clem says on her cell phone while driving across the Bay Bridge to a gig in the East Bay last weekend.
"He was a master player. He was an amazing musician. He had a real clear channel to his emotions, and he let them flow in his music. It's often been said that he had more soul in his left foot than other drummers have in their whole bodies."
Zepparella, which has been together for two years, has played in Tucson a couple of times in the past. The group will return to town for a gig Friday, June 30, at Plush. They'll open the show, too, playing original hard-rock tunes as their alter-ego band, The House of More.
It should be mentioned that Zepparella is a Led Zeppelin tribute band, not a cover band. There's a distinction. Unfortunately, I learned this while doing some research after the interview. Totally gracious, Clementine never corrects me when I continually referred to Zepparella as a cover band.
So what's the diff? To most serious tribute bands, it's all in intent and approach.
A tribute band exclusively performs the songs of one artist, not as an imitation nor to replicate sonically identical versions of the artist's music, but to present a--you guessed it--tribute to the greatness of that act. A cover band performs a variety of music by other artists and isn't interested so much in paying homage to any one band as it is in getting paid by playing tunes that audiences recognize.
Clementine knows this well enough. She used to play in the AC/DC tribute band AC/DShe with Zepparella guitarist Gretchen. She also played with Zepparella's bassist, Nila, for nine years in the original metal act Bottom.
Zepparella started doing its distaff versions of songs by Plant, Page, Bonham and Jones in 2004 with a different vocalist. But not until the actress and R&B vocalist Anna took over the singing (and keyboard) duties last year did the group really gel, Clem says.
"Once we got Anna, things really started to develop."
When asked what makes Led Zeppelin and its music so special, Clem says, "I think they are the greatest rock band ever, that they were individually proficient and as a group brilliant. You've got these four players who redefined blues as hard rock, playing together, making something greater than they all could have achieved separately, and more amazing sexual energy than any band could hope for."
As for musical verisimilitude, the band strives for it, but also attempts to inject some of its own personality into the classic music.
"We try to learn the songs as exact as possible. Once we have learned it, though, we take a little liberty. These songs are so great, because they are designed in such a way that the musicians playing them can really explore how they feel."
Indeed, listening to Zepparella's debut album, Live at 19 Broadway, which was released earlier this year on Bonnyboy Records, one is struck by the love the gals pour into playing more-than-competent interpretations of "Black Dog," "Communication Breakdown," "Rock and Roll" and "Since I've Been Loving You." They're good, no question.
But you can feel them straining to express themselves through the music, whether it's in Anna's soulful yowl or Gretchen's explosive guitar solos.
"The breakdown during 'Whole Lotta Love' is different every time we play it. We have no idea in advance where it will go. It kind of frees you to bring something of yourself into the music."
The members of Zepparella had been bringing so much of themselves to the music that last year it became apparent they needed an outlet for their original material. Thus was born The House of More, which in April recorded an as-yet-untitled 10-song album that will be released later this year.
"After so many years of being in different bands and projects, we finally stumbled in to this situation where there is this magic chemistry, and we were writing songs, so we thought it was a great opportunity to use Zepparella to get our original music out there."
In many ways, The House of More's music is a combination of the various influences and background that the members bring to the table: blues, R&B, jazz, funk, metal, classic and progressive rock.
Naturally, Zepparella gigs make a great platform from which to launch The House of More, Clem says.
"We really like to combine them in one show. The real benefit of having two bands is that we get to be on stage longer, and that is our favorite place to be."
In terms of Zepparella, Clementine admits that she and her partners have had to prove themselves, and often have do so anew at each performance.
"When you first start playing Led Zeppelin, people in the audience were very challenging. You know, you can see them with their arms crossed and looking very skeptical."
But usually, Zepparella wins over the skeptics with their obvious passion for and commitment to the music of Led Zeppelin. And Clem says she's never had a rabid Led Zep fan corner her after a show and claim she wasn't playing the high hat or the bass drum correctly.
"We'd welcome that, actually. Even though playing Led Zeppelin songs is like learning from the masters, we are always learning. If anybody wants to come up to us with tips, go ahead!"
Although Clementine's dreams are the only place she's likely to meet Bonham, one wonders if the members have ever met any of Led Zeppelin's surviving members.
"No, we haven't," she says.
"We do have a friend--in Tucson actually--who knows John Paul Jones and Robert Plant. My ultimate dream come true would be to have Robert Plant or John Paul Jones produce The House of More."