All-female Zeppelin cover band dodge the “‘Are y’all lesbians?’ question
To play in a tribute band, it takes good musicianship, a good ear and a quirky perfectionist sense. To play in a Led Zeppelin tribute band, it takes all that plus a lot of guts.
Beginning in 2004, all-femme foursome Lez Zeppelin has been bringing an estrogen-charged edge to one of rock’s most legendary acts. The brainchild of Jimmy Page-channeling guitarist Steph Paynes, the New York City-based band earns wild accolades for their rocking pyrotechnics. A word of mouth success, the fiery cover queens recently committed their sexy take on Zep to wax. With a self-titled debut due July 10, the imitators are hitting the road and stop in Dallas on Thursday. Reached on her cell phone earlier this week, Paynes recounts giving one of rock’s most beloved bands a feminine twist.
“I wasn’t sure if people would be offended,” she says. “People talk about Zep as this sort of male bastion, and here we are, four women.”
After seeing the band tear it up live, it seems even diehard Zep-heads are coming around.
“People have been skeptical, but then they show up at a show, and they walk out converted. Once we prove ourselves, the crowds are really great,” she explains.
Perfecting the image of such iconic “cock rockers” has it’s own challenges, particularly for a group of women. Are any member of Lez Zeppelin “packers”?
“It’s been suggested to us,” laughs Paynes. “But I don’t know what we would use.”
Trouser bulges notwithstanding, Lez Zeppelin’s shows have been known to entice both male and female audience members alike. Is the groupie action anything like the tales from Zeppelin’s sordid history?
“Let’s just say we get very excited fans,” Paynes says. “Some follow the band from show to show. So yes, people are turned on by us.”
As guitarist for a group playing such guitar-heavy classics, Paynes is tasked with the impossible job of filling in for legendary axe-man Jimmy Page. Does she ever not feel up to the task?
“Every time that we approach a new thing, it takes a while,” she says. “The idea is to be completely comfortable with the song, so that you can be natural. It’s very challenging.”
Even Zep’s more conventional blues numbers can prove to be tricky.
“In a way they’re harder,” says Paynes. “To reinvent a blues solo and make it really great that’s what it’s all about.”
Despite the sapphic moniker, the women of Lez Zeppelin plead the Fifth when it comes to divulging their sexual identities. In previous interviews, Paynes has only allowed that the group “definitely maybe” has lesbian members. So why take the lezzie label?
“To me, the name is just so perfect,” she says. “Not because it reflects the makeup of the band, per se, but because it turns on its head what Led Zeppelin supposedly are, in a really fun way.”
Reflecting on the sexual maelstrom that Led Zeppelin were at their peak, Payne finds much more to the band than their usual macho image.
“I think that when women do Led Zeppelin it’s more accurate,” she says. “There was something powerfully feminine about them in a way that people don’t always recognize. Look at the way they looked on stage. Robert Plant was like a beautiful girl in some ways. There were a lot of men attracted to Zep. They were drawing on the group’s female power.”
SEE LEZ LIVE
Lez Zeppelin perform
at House of Blues,
2200 North Lamar St.
July 5 at 7:30 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 29, 2007.