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The Greta Van Fleet Phenomenon and Led Zeppelin, by Nasos Kavathas

 

 

Nasos Kavathas

Nasos Kavathas

jokersbonus@yahoo.com

It’s the band that everybody talks about these days. I mean, everybody involved in Rock music. Great Van Fleet is still something very “new” in the limelight. My first impressions and first observations, seeing & listening to GVF for the first time, was like this:

“What I see and hear now is an early Led Zeppelin, okay”.

The band consists of four ‘kids’ , young men – the three of them are brothers. And they are good players. Which means: their songs are such a good, unashamed ‘take’ on Zeppelin, like a new, young and hungry Led Zeppelin. I mean: this rock ‘idiom’ which Zeppelin  music is, coming from the young it comes across with its own purity. Guys are barely 20 year olds’, 21 is the oldest I think.

My initial reaction was: «Well, another Led Zeppelin mimicking act?». But again, I was glad to see the ‘kids’ -ok, the young guys- play their own songs, using Zeppelin as a genre, as an idiom – like the gifted champions off a modern kinda School of Rock scene. Why not?

Even a group of older musicians, whether hobbyist or professional, would again impress with the sound Greta Van Fleet achieved here. I’m talking about the whole thing, but especially for the voice of the band, Josh Kizska.

Fresh air: from the ‘country’ to the top of the Billboard

They started in 2012, in the small town, near village, Frankenmuth, in Michigan, America. They grew up in the fields, (as they themselves say in interviews). They began to play live, locally, in nearby towns, as children, teens still. I mean, it’s a true, ‘organic’ story their story – GVF is not a project of some producer. I can imagine their first audiences being blown-away. Thus the phenomenon blossomed. By “word-of-mouth”, they were first gigged locally, then more widely in the state map and later in the rest of the states of the USA. They released their EPs from 2014 to 2016 and just last October (2018) released their first full album «Anthem of the Peaceful Army».

Which went to top sales in America. From their humble creations and their youthful strides, ‘Greta Van Fleet’, at the moment fill up stadiums, they are the latest No1 Charting Rock band in America. They’re nominated for 4 Grammy’s and are set to pick up a few of them.

I’m glad, but .. I’m really worried about the kids. But seeing a good dose of maturity next to  their youthful humor and playful spirits, kids look fine. They seem to know and understand what’s going on and the street is wide-open in all directions – after all: they do write their material, they play the music and they know production. Especially with regard to their vocal singer: Josh has already set the foundations for a future. Many would like to be «the young Robert Plant»‘s , well: there it is: with his own style and look. And, of course, if he keeps away from the proven pitfalls (drugs, rambling, business, etc.), he obviously has the prospect of unfolding his talents – even beyond Zeppelin standards.

You see: while the older audience can enjoy the ‘new Zeppelin’, (with Robert Plant’s’ approval it seems – he has given some favorable comments on GVF), even more: the young listeners – who have no idea who or ‘what’ Led Zeppelin is – they just acquired their own ‘Led Zeppelin’, both in sound and in ‘vibe’. The future will show if it all is a ‘bubble’ and whether the GVF phenomenon will fade or not. But, ladies and gentlemen, I have the answer:

The songs will speak for themselves. Whatever hype / advertising is done or not done, good songs are generally a scarcity today – in the charts. The songs of GVF are ‘almost there’ – they have the ‘promise’ of maturing, they have potential. But only a ‘cracker’-song on their next album could bring them ‘there’. (And then: not just one or two good songs of course). As for today, yeah: GVF have their ‘Zeppelin-inspired’ tracks, some of which are of the quality that the real Zeppelin (oops!) would leave out of their albums as bonus tracks. More on the ‘filler’ side than the ‘killer’ one. But Greta Van Fleet are still young, early in the game, they have not given their own ‘Black Dog’ or -Page forbid me! ‘- their own’ Stairway to Heaven ‘. Then we talk.

Zeppelinology 

From the middle to the late 1980s, when Hard Rock was at its peak, Led Zeppelin was rediscovered,  recognized and everybody loved them again. Almost all of the guys in the ’80s rock bands were their fans as youngsters or at least they admitted Led Zeppelin as masters. You hear and see the influence on «Hair metal» bands such as Vinnie Vincent Invasion, Slaughter, Great White, Badlands and even Cinderella, Bad English, Poison, Warrant, etc., not really completely, but elementary. The same for many others: blues, rock, pop artists. (Even the band The Mission, who had made one of their good and successful recordings with producer John Paul Jones (of Zeppelin), were ‘wrongly accused’ of ‘zipping’ the sound of Zeppelin). Influence is there even on Jeff Buckley’s “Grace” album, (RIP).

However, there are also more literally sounding alike cases, as well as full Led Zeppelin mimicking. Whitesnake’s famous ‘Still of the Night’ is an example of using ‘Zeppelin elements’ as a ‘genre’: it’s a self-righteous song with many musical parts – some of them are «Tips off to Zeppelin.» And, of course, David (Deep Purple, Whitesnake) Coverdale’s album with Jimmy Page, the lead master of Led Zeppelin, is the best and most relevant to the directly-related discography. Read more in the article on ‘Coverdale / Page’, (here)

A clear case is the band Kingdom Come: with their track ‘Get it on’ just re-created ‘Kashmir’ of Zeppelin (with different lyrics), while the 2nd single of the same album, the ballad ‘What love can be ‘ brings to mind’ Since I’ve been loving you ‘of LZ. The remarkable thing is that only these two tracks of the album reminisce of Zeppelin – the rest, a very good album has no other direct similarities, it has the influence ‘as much as it should’ like on  tracks such as ‘Living out of touch’ and ‘Now forever after’ e.t.c. There are many other cases that I could mention; I will suffice in two cases from the early 70s, when LZ themselves were active.

The first Rush album reminds me of the Great Van Fleet case. The influence of LZ is pervasive and clear. But from their next album, Rush made their own identity and became one of the great names of Progressive Rock.

And, of course, Judas Priest’s extraordinary «Victim of Changes», which has its LZ elements but also wears the label of the band itself, Judas Priest, one of the three or four biggest Heavy Rock bands.

Future scenarios

Led Zeppelin is not likely to return, as a result of Robert Plant’s negation. Meanwhile, Page can choose among all the rock singers in the world – he has rehearsed with a few, (Steven Tyler, Myles Kennedy), but in the end does not make a move – not even with Coverdale.

All these years, from the 90’s to today, a lot of wannabe-zeppelin bands have been plagiarized the sound, bands such as The Answer, Rival Sons and a bunch of other second-class imitators who have not even a single decent song. Remember: songs is what matters.

I have to mention the exceptional Black Country Communion, Glenn Hughes’ supergroup with Joe Bonamassa, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham – the son of LZ’s drummer John Bonham. A brilliant band with 4 albums under their belts – with Glenn Hughes in superhuman vocal form.
 
Meanwhile, in all the ‘Zeppelin-ology’ scenarios, youngsters Greta Van Fleet came in to revive mythology. This bunch of ‘real’ kids, (not a ‘corporate’ creation), have discovered, love and play a music that young people their age do not even know.  I’m glad they’re making waves, but I expect more: good songs, that is. Well, let’s see/hear their next album due in 2019, now that GVF is on the rise.

The other nice thing is that Greta Van Fleet’s growing success has caused a wave, a bustle to the existing music industry. Which means that the whole classic rock side of things will benefit, with opportunities for bands and a turn of the mass audience to discover cool sounds that have been neglected and badmouthed by the mainstream. It has always been like this!  

In Greta Van Fleet’s video for one of their best singles so far, ‘When the Curtain Falls’, the guitar is plugging in the desert rock for amplification – Earth Power. You gotta love that stuff!

Artwork by Nasos Kavathas