On Dec. 10, 2007, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited to pay tribute to legendary record executive Ahmet Ertegun at London's 02 Arena. With Jason Bonham filling in for his late father, John Bonham, on drums, demand for tickets was unprecedented (the Guinness World Records would later proclaim the "Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert" with 20 million online requests) fueling speculation a world tour would follow.
That reunion tour never happened. But at least one band is attempting to keep the Zeppelin legacy alive in a concert setting. Led Zepagain has been performing their tribute for 20 years and has weathered numerous line-up changes, but the songs remain the same. On Aug. 10, they'll play one of their biggest hometown gigs to date when they headline the Starlight Bowl with fellow tribute act Queen Nation opening.
The show will be especially sweet for drummer Jim Kersey, who's been a member of Led Zepagain for a dozen years. In 1988, he and his wife moved to Burbank from Boston, where they settled down and raised their two now-grown children.
Kersey does session work and has a part-time job to make ends meet, but up to 80 times a year, the 56-year-old dons a costume and wig and becomes John Bonham, to give fans who never had the opportunity to see the real thing a close recreation.
The band also includes singer Swan Montgomery in the role of Robert Plant, while Jim Wootten handles bass, keyboards and mandolin as John Paul Jones. Christian Nesmith, the son of Monkees' guitar player Mike Nesmith, has been with the band as Jimmy Page, but he's on the road with the Monkees this summer, so he'll be replaced by Japanese guitar whiz "Mr. Jimmy" Sakuri, who's flying in from Hong Kong for the gig.
While some tribute bands have angered the original acts who see them profiting off their legacy, Led Zeppelin has seemingly given Led Zepagain the seal of approval. Zeppelin's management made tickets available to their tribute alter-egos at the 02 Arena show, where they were seated with rock royalty. "[Queen guitarist] Brian May was right in front of me and Marilyn Manson was right behind me. You look down, and there's Jeff Beck and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers," Kersey says. "It was just a wonderful event."
Members of Zeppelin have also caught Zepagain's act. In 2004, when the band was playing the House of Blues in West Hollywood, its road manager slipped a note on Kersey's drum riser during the band's performance, which read, "Page in the house." Kersey recalls. "Then he points up into the balcony and I can make out his silhouette up there."
Following the performance, the band got word that Page wanted to meet them. "He was so flattering to us. He was like a proud father. He embraced us all," Kersey adds. "He was really happy how we presented his music and he said, 'You must have grown up loving the music because you did a great job playing it.' It was really a dream come true."
The drummer also got a chance to meet Jason Bonham, who showed up at one of the band's House of Blues shows and even sat in with the band. "It was great to talk to him and ask him what his dad used on certain recordings and what he liked to listen to," Kersey says.
While Zepagain does have Zeppelin's repertoire down — the band can play 81 songs in the Zeppelin catalog — it has no interest in mud sharks or the sort of off-stage shenanigans Zeppelin allegedly engaged in during their prime. "I don't know about groupies as far as sex," says the long-married Kersey. "But we certainly have our followers that come. Most of the guys are married and have girlfriends and are settled down. We've all been there, done that."
Where: Starlight Bowl, 1249 Lockheed View Dr., Burbank
When: Aug. 10, 6:30 p.m.
More info: (818) 238-5300, starlightbowl.com
CRAIG ROSEN is a local music journalist and a preview contributor to Marquee.