Jah Paul Jo & Carl Jah Interview
Feature Article By Jas Obrecht, Guitar Player Magazine, January, 1991
Some call ‘em rock and roll dream makers, and all night sheet shakers. Others cast them as “the most profound cultural force in the post-Elizabethan era.” Their debut album, Un Led ED (IRS), has been hailed as “a triumph of good over evil and a true gift to eternity.” Meet Dread Zeppelin, the only band on earth to inject “Hound Dog” and a patented Bob Marley call-and-response into a cover version of “Black Dog.”
Here’s the rap: the corpulent Tortelvis, a Driftwood Dairies milk truck driver, is riding around Southern California with the voice of Elvis Presley inside his head urging him to “Do Led Zeppelin songs, reggae-style.” His delivery truck mysteriously rear ends a ’72 Pinto, scoring a direct hit to the gas tank. The Pinto miraculously survives intact, and out pop five white reggae musicians (guitarists Jah Paul Jo, and Carl Jah, percussionist Ed Zeppelin, drummer Fresh Cheese ‘N’ Cheese, and bassist/stripper Put-Mon. Tortelvis arises from the gutter a veritable reincarnation of Elvis Presley, the voice within screaming “This is it, this is it!” (other rumors hold that Tort’s the only male child of Elvis and Priscilla, or that he was created by space aliens in the likeness of one of the most important people to ever walk the Earth.)
Whatever the explanation, the musicians band together. Osterizing reggae rhythms, close-copped Led Zeppelin riffs and lyrics, and Elvis vocals into something irresistibly insane. The success of Dread Zeppelin’s first gig at The Cage in Pasadena, California, portends it’s fate. Two singles are released and then a six-song cassette sells more than 10,000 copies. An album and tour are soon in the works. Robert Plant promotes the band on MTV, and headliners such as Sinead O’Connor, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and Faith No More begin flocking to shows. The rest is one of America’s most beloved bedtime tales of fame, power and fortune.
Live, Jah Paul Jo and Carl Jah emerge as the Dan Aykroyd and Gene Wilder of rock and roll. Sporting guitars and outfits straight out of the Arabian Nights, they have the Jimmy Page-at-his-prime solo style wired and both are competent reggae fakirs. Carl Jah, a high stepping master of feedback, excels at fast fingered acid-melt solos, while Jah Paul Jo skanks his plank like a Jamaican refugee. The self-proclaimed “Prince Of Peace and Love,” Jah Paul displays the grooviest guitar posturing since Jimi discovered the Marshall. Tortelvis brags Jah Paul’s “One of the top 500,000 guitar players in the Richmond, Virginia area,” and the guitarist was recently honored with a “Lifetime Sellie,” the International Concert Merchandiser’s award for career achievement in the field of “at-venue-revenue” due to his introduction of the first-ever $65 harmonic convergence T-shirt back in ’87.
Dreadlore has it that that Tortelvis, whose influence ranges from Elvis, Wayne Newton and Sammy Davis, Jr. to Shirley Jones of the Partridge Family, “leads a storied life of glamour and excess.” His eight Nevada homes sparkle in the desert sun, awash in grand antebellum design and park-like splendor; his Temple City Castle in California is believed to be the most expensive private residence ever built, complete with an indoor 10-meter platform diving facility/waterfall, 400-person banquet room, and the full-functioning underground missile silo (for protection). And of course, each residence features one of the singer’s trademark gold-tone, sideburn-shaped swimming pools.
“His generosity is legendary,” continues the hype, “with many a stunned stranger going home in a new car or staring at the mega-carat diamond ‘n’ gold kustom-kreation now gracing a finger.” But what about Dread Zeppelin’s string slingers? We corralled them after a sound check in San Jose, where certain facts were ascertained.
There’s lots of talk about Tortelvis’ past and yet nothing is known about your backgrounds.
Carl Jah: Are you gonna go half technical and half story, all story, or what?
Whatever you want.
Jah Paul Jo: Personally, I wouldn’t listen to a word he says.
So what is the twist of fate that led you to Dread Zeppelin?
Jah Paul Jo: It’s the famous Pinto story. I don’t know what came over Tortelvis to lose control of his truck like that; it’s very unlike him. Luckily, no one was injured, and he ran out and saw us and said, “This is like a dream I’ve had, that I’d meet a reggae band and I would hire them on the spot,” and we were Dread Zeppelin after that.
Carl Jah: We were part of a band called the Reggae Blades many years ago, and we had this song “Cheese ‘Ums.” How high did that get in the charts, Jah Paul?
Jah Paul Jo: “Cheese ‘Ums” was like #211 on the Canadian charts, and we were really proud of that. It was a reggae-type song. We were trying to go to #500 because you get a gold record in Canada when you reach #500, but we never quite made it.
Carl Jah: They give you a little cardboard record that’s painted gold, but it’s still a gold record.
How long have you known each other?
Jah Paul Jo: (Imitates Tortelvis imitating Elvis) Since 1956.
What’s your connection with Jimmy Page?
Carl Jah: I happened to meet Jimmy Page at Castle Donnegan during the big festival over there.
Jah Paul Jo: He kicked you in the shins, didn’t he?
Carl Jah: Boy, I’m still smartin’ from that one. I thought that I had elephantiasis for a couple of days after that.
Jah Paul Jo: He said, “How dare you do that to my song? Augh!” Well, that’s what Tortelvis said in his dream. I guess Elvis himself comes to him and tells him things. And the latest vision is to do the Zeppelin music reggae style. And that’s The King talking to him, so he doesn’t question it. It’s kind of amazing, too, because there’s lots of connections. Like Elvis’ birthday was January 8th, and Jimmy Page’s is January 9th, as is Richard Nixon’s.
And when you put those numbers together, that’s ’89, the year the band got together.
Jah Paul Jo: Ohhh, ohhhhhh! (bows respectfully). That’s right! ’89.
Carl Jah: I have to leave. That’s a little too cosmic.
Jah Paul Jo: That’s right. There’s a lot of numerology involved in Dread Zeppelin. If you see on the Led Zeppelin box set, you’ve got those numbers in the corner and everybody is wondering what they are. I think they’re some kind of code saying, “Dread Zeppelin: stop using my songs!”
Carl Jah: Actually, we’ve got Nancy Reagan’s astrologer. I forget her name, but she’s on the payroll.
Jah Paul Jo: She works for us.
How would you assess each other’s musical strengths?
Jah Paul Jo: Well, Carl Jah, he’s just riffing so fast, his fingers are like on fire. He’s playing so fast. Maybe on the album it doesn’t do him justice, but if you see him live, it’s unbelievable. He’s faster than George Lynch of The Lynch Mob.
Carl Jah: Actually, they say I have kind of a honky, boxy sound, and I’d be good to hire out for geese hunting. You know, go out and play a few notes so the geese would fly over so the hunters can…
Jah Paul Jo: His guitar honks like a goose, that’s true.
Carl Jah: And by the same token, Jah Paul Jo is our overall mentor/guru of sound, and he’s our main arranger.
Jah Paul Jo: My strength is that I do a lot of fancy posing out there. I’ve really got the posing down with the guitar.
Carl Jah: It’s kind of like a guitar mask.
Jah Paul Jo: A lot of times I’ll hit a wrong note – notably a wrong note – and I’ll just strike this incredible pose, and no one will realize I played something bad. Anybody asks me about it later, I say, “Well what? I wrote it like that.”
Carl Jah: We’re using the cheap equipment, so what are you gonna do? You can blame it on the equipment.
Your guitars definitely have a mutant twist. Is that a Swept Wing, Jah Paul?
Carl Jah: A real one.
Jah Paul Jo: It’s a Hallmark Swept Wing.
Carl Jah: Teisco would be proud.
Jah Paul Jo: That’s my pride and joy. I love that guitar. I found it in a used shop in Hollywood. It called my name. I took it home and serenaded my many girlfrieds with it. I had three or four of them at the time, and I’d play them all a song: “What do you girls think about this?” They all gave it a thumbs-up, so I knew it was the Dread Zeppelin axe.
Where did you get your mutant, Carl?
Carl Jah: I got it at the same little guitar shop. It’s an Italian 1960′s Eko Dragon. Of course, it’s been mutantized and Frankensteined. The neck and body are totally original. It’s held up pretty good. It’s starting to get a little beat, a little ragged, but it’s a lot of fun.
Where did you get the paint jobs?
Carl Jah: Mine’s not really a paint job; it’s just been rhinestoned out. A lot of people think they’re like lights or something. I think Jah Paul’s came like that – that beautiful mustard yellow (laughs).
Jah Paul Jo: I don’t know what maniac painted that. When I first got it, I wanted to restore it, have the Hallmark logo put on and everything. It looks like some guy just took a spray can and painted right over everything, but I love that guitar. I was so happy to find that. It’s a about a ’62 or ’63.
Are those the instruments that you used on the record?
Jah Paul Jo: Yeah.
And yet a lot of the guitar sounds are close to the Zep originals
Jah Paul Jo: We worked pretty hard to get the real sounds.
Carl Jah: Some of the solos we tried to do exact. Some we we went off and did our own thing.
Jah Paul Jo: Like “Bring It On Home,” (co-producer) Rasta Li-Mon and I tried to get the exact stereo trick that they used, and it came out pretty good. I was real happy with that one.
Did you have to scrounge up any period equipment?
Jah Paul Jo: No, it’s all modern equipment. We just experimented around until we got some of the sound. But it was recorded in the same kind of way that the old records were recorded. There wasn’t a lot of working with technical sound as much as there was experimenting with mic placement. And we got the whole band in to play at once. There’s not a whole lot of overdubs, so it was in the same kind of fashion as they used to use for making records, which I’m really interested in anyway. So many of the records sounded so good back then, and now I think people over do it with the technical sampling and things like that. It gets boring to me.
Carl Jah: Those little studio tricks – you know, the old turn-the-tape-over-backwards stuff. On “Moby Dick” there’s some of that. Backwards masking. All that kind of stuff.
…To Be Continued