Taking a bite out of the competition, one song at a time!
What do you get when you combine a group of guys with the desire to play some of the classic tracks from one of the world's greatest rock bands with an appetite for a favorite New York eatery's sandwich? Led Blimpie, folks!
Growing up in New York City, guitarist Thor Fields remembers how a childhood eatery set him on the rock and roll highway. Fast forward to 2005, and Led Blimpie took its first flight. I had the great honor of interviewing these fun, hard working guys. They provided me with some entertaining insight into what keeps this blimp afloat.
Thor Fields: Guitar
Jon Conver: Vocals
Matt Nonnenmacher: Drums
Joe Nerve: Bass
Frank Picarazzi: Keyboards, Backing Vocals (not pictured)
Photo provided by Led Blimpie.
LZUFP~ Can you provide a little history about the band. When you all got together and decided that this is what you wanted to do?
Thor Fields: Led Blimpie is about total passion and homage to the music of Led Zeppelin. We are fans first and foremost. I think that's what people love about our shows. It's not about recreating something from the past. The music is just as alive and valid today as it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. I formed the first incarnation of the band in 2005. Having been in a bunch of original projects, I noticed how the crowd always got SO much more into it whenever we played a Zep tune. I got addicted to that energy; the rapport between the audience and the stage. It's very powerful.
Jon Conver: I can't speak on the entire history of the band...I joined the band about 2 years ago after they were already established with a fan base. I replaced their old singer when I auditioned for the band after a co-worker recommended me to Thor. I've also always wanted to sing in a Led Zeppelin band. I worked in Times Square when I first moved to NY and always caught the tribute shows at BB Kings. I remember seeing a Zeppelin tribute there and thinking I could do what the singer was doing and more. This band just kinda fell into my lap.
Frank Picarazzi: I came into the band at the early stages, in November of '05. At that time, the lineup was completely different, except for Thor, who is really the heart and soul of the group. The group was raw, not as polished as it is now, but from the first rehearsal it was evident that everyone involved loved playing this music and did so with a lot of passion and intensity. For me it was such a treat to play these songs, especially on keys, which at that time was a new venture for me (I'm originally a drummer).
LZUFP~ Who came up with the name 'Led Blimpie'? Is there a story behind the name?
Thor Fields: It was a light bulb moment for me if you know what I mean. You see, when I was about five years old, I lived across the street from NYC's first Blimpie sandwich shop located on 55th St. and 8th Avenue. We had a fire escape with a direct view of the restaurant across the street and every day, I would see this huge, fat man sit at a table by the window and devour a large sub. In those days, the Blimpie restaurants had this cool wallpaper with characters traversing the world in blimps while delivering sandwiches. I used to daydream that the fat man I saw everyday was one of those characters come to life. I became a child-actor, performing on Broadway, television and film. As I entered adolescence and developed a passion for the music of Led Zeppelin, I taught myself to play guitar, learning all the songs note-for-note. Years later while trying to come up with a band name, I happened to be walking past that same Blimpie Sandwich shop where I grew up and that's when the light went off in my head.
Photo by Shade Rupe
Frank Picarazzi: My assumption is that it was a take on the word 'blimp', which of course is another name for zeppelin. At some point, silliness took over and the concept was stretched to the sandwich chain 'Blimpie'. It works out well because the iconic sub sandwich can be used in so many different settings; my favorite is the one of a Blimpie sub over the old man's back from Zoso, so instead of hauling sticks, he's carrying a delicious, spicy sub sandwich.
LZUFP~ 'The Sandwich' seems to play an inportant, but fun part of the marketing of the band. Who came up with this concept? Is it in fact a real sandwich and have you tried it?
Thor Fields: I came up with the concept and yes it is all about fun! The 'Blimpie' in Led Blimpie refers to the famous New York City sandwich shop, which itself refers to a blimp. There's also a bit of a pun with 'Lead Belly" who was the blues man who first recorded a centuries old tune and called it 'Gallis Pole'. The song can be traced back to 1697 but is best remembered today as 'Gallows Pole' by the version on Led Zeppelin III. The sandwich on the parodies is not from the restaurant. It was a real sandwich that I created with my friend, Bill, photographed and devoured myself! Take a closer look, it even has strawberries on it!! We have a sense of humor about it all. We are very serious about the music; getting it right, delivering it to the fans but without all that ego non-sense that goes along with being in a rock band.
Jon Conver: I think it was in reference to the original line-up being heavier guys. It was a way of not taking the whole thing too seriously. Also the sandwich looked like the Hindenburg.
Frank Picarazzi: Thor always chastises me when I walk into rehearsal with a Subway sandwich. But seriously, have you ever tried their cookies? They're off the CHAIN.
LZUFP~ When you decided to use the beloved Zeppelin pictures and album covers with the inclusion of the sandwich, were you worried that you would get some backlash for trying to make a parody out of Zeppelin? If so, what would you say to those who were upset about it?
Thor Fields: Have a closer look. Actually, most of them are not actually Zeppelin's artwork at all. In some cases I've hired an artist to make a similar illustration, like on our 'Zep I' parody and also the Apollo Logo. In others, I've recreated similar artwork using photoshop. Most Zeppelin fans get the joke immediately and the response is almost always positive. Wear a Led Blimpie t-shirt out on the street and you'll see exactly what I mean! I was never concerned that it would offend a Zep fan. I was a little worried in the beginning that the Blimpie sandwich company might try to stop me. But they recently contacted me and asked us to be a part of their 50th year celebration which is happening next year.
Jon Conver: People are always gonna have a reaction to anything you do - especially if it's involving something they have strong feelings about. The parodied artwork is both tasteful and ridiculous, at the same time. It's just another thing that says we don't take ourselves too seriously. If someone was really upset about it, I'd probably tell them to 'calm down and get over it'.
Frank Picarazzi: Not in the slightest. Anyone who hears us play, and hears how much preparation and dedication we put into the arrangements and the performances, would know immediately how serious we take the music. The humor angle is just a fun bit of entertainment.
LZUFP~ We'd like to know a bit more about who makes up the band.
Thor Fields: First and foremost, each member of Led Blimpie plays himself. We don't try to recreate the original members of Zeppelin. I knew I wanted to put together a Zep tribute and knew that I wanted to stay away from the "impersonator" aspect that so many bands do. When I go to see a band play live, I really don't want to watch someone posing and playing a role. I want to see the musicians GET INTO the music and make it their own. Are you aware of the term 'the Uncanny Valley'? It's a term used in the field of human robotics and computer animation that describes the feeling of revulsion felt when one observes something that looks and moves ALMOST, but not perfectly, like a natural human being. That's what I always felt whenever I saw a dress-up band. The closer an impersonator gets, the weirder it looks to me.
Thor Fields: Each musician in Led Blimpie brings something special and unique to the performance, we just happen to be playing the Zeppelin repertoire. Our fans get to rock out to the music they love, while getting to know the guys in the band. It's a win-win situation.
LZUFP: It's very evident, that the boys from Led Blimpie are doing something they all enjoy and take great pride in. The passion and love of the music shines brightly at each performance. Gone are the stage costumes and wigs. What you get in place of that, is hard work, dedication to get the songs just right, and intensity from the first song to the last. This is a true tribute band who caters to the fans. Sometimes even putting the setlist away and allowing the audience to pick the tunes. It doesn't get any better than that. Not only do they perform renditions of Led Zeppelin's music with extreme precision, but they do so, all while having fun. You will leave a Led Blimpie show knowing that you witnessed not only musicians, but fans of Zeppelin getting the led out. And remember, when you're out there taking in a Led Blimpie show, keep your eyes open for Robert Planet - You'll never know what to expect.
To read the entire interview on Led Blimpie, visit the Led Zeppelin Ultimate Fan Page.
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