DREAD ZEPPELIN: UN-PHYSICAL-GRAFFITI

MELODY MAKER Magazine: August 25, 1990
By Mat Smith


"Dear Friend,

Out of courtesy and deep respect for the Elvis Presley estate we would like to emphatically assure you that the lead singer for Dread Zeppelin is not now, nor has he ever been, Elvis Presley or a relation of Elvis Presley. Thank you.

Miles Copeland"

 

"We'll take it as far as it can go. I honestly believe that we have some very creative people in the group and I think we can milk this thing for a long time." -- Tortelvis

 

By now you know the story...how a simple mid-west milkman was kidnapped by aliens and recreated in the image of that fine figure of manhood, Elvis Presley. How the newly re-christened Tortelvis spent the next two years orbiting the planet in Skylab before falling to earth and landing in Daddy T'Elvis' backyard. You know about the chance meeting with Elvis Presley in an LA street where the only words the King said were: "Zeppelin songs, reggae style."

Now the freak show really starts to spin out of control. We're speeding out of New York headed for New Jersey and a coast-to-coast talk show hosted by the oldest hand in the biz, Joe Franklin. Now Joe is a kindly old dodderer. Small and unassuming, like an uncle who sits in the same chair every Christmas quietly farting. But, at 70 odd, the old chap's obviously not quite Chris Roberts when it comes to picking bands who are gonna be the next big thing, so he has a few friends in the industry around him to help choose his guests.

Dread Zeppelin Group PhotoSuch a system is obviously open to abuse. Tortelvis and beautiful dancer Butt Mon are cackling at the good fortune this abuse has brought them as their van draws up outside the TV station. When Joe gets an eyeful of Butt Mon's attire, just underpants, and heavily customised ones at that -- the dial on his pacemaker starts spinning like a Geiger counter giving a Sellafield schoolkid the once over. Women in the audience scream, "Drop them Tarzan," and "What a body" -- and they certainly ain't talking about Tortelvis.

"No, not at all," counters the singer, stripped of his sideburns and sprawled lazily and largely over the back seat of the van. "I consider myself a regular guy. I like to hang out and wash my hot rod down on the street with the boys."

"Although we certainly don't look down on anybody that would be in that state of mind," says Butt Mon. "In fact, our new video for 'Your Time Is Gonna Come' will have a little insert with Daddy T'Elvis doing hand signals for the psychologically impaired. We don't like to exclude anybody."

The stage show that hits, or rather bumps gently, into the UK this week is a veritable embarrassment...of er, riches -- Tortelvis sheet-shaking onstage as only a 220lb. man mountain can is a remarkable sight on its own. And now that the band have mastered "The Rover", it also now looks certain that Fido will be making two appearances on stage instead of just the one in "Black Dog".

"For the most part, everybody enjoys it, though I'd be lying if I didn't admit that we've had a few people running and screaming for the door," says Tort. "But we played in Memphis and didn't get lynched. God knows how."

The Zeppelin show starts with about an hour of male bonding backstage.

"Well, we sit around and we sing and we thumb wrestle. We do a lot of thumb wrestling and I always win. Then we all say a little prayer before the show. Me and Charlie Haj, the guy who hands me my towels and water onstage, have a little tradition. Just before I go onstage, Charlie whispers, 'Watch your step King'."

According to Tort, a Dread Zeppelin show is an extravaganza. There's something constantly happening. You need three or four heads to watch the show. If you're not watching Charlie wiping his brow and throwing Tort his towels, there's Butt Mon's beautiful dancing or Jah Paul Jones' exquisite interpretive guitar solos. Jones must rank among the top 5,000 guitarists in his neighbourhood.

Dread Zeppelin know the essence of rock 'n' roll isn't sweat and sleaze, danger or drugs -- it's Las Vegas. After all, Vegas and rock 'n' roll go together, everybody knows that. It's a miracle no one signed them sooner.

"Well, it was a funny thing. I'd been receiving calls from the IRS (the American Inland Revenue Service) for a long time, and I kept telling Charlie Haj, 'Don't take any calls, we don't owe anybody any money'. Then, he finally explained that it was IRS Records.

Back in the dressing room of the television station where they are waiting to be interviewed by the doddering Joe, Tortelvis pulls on a rather tasteful black nylon wig and Butt Mon stuffs household and extraterrestrial objects down his toilet area. What else do you keep down there, boy?

"That's my baggage and I would like to say I have a claim check for it," Butt insists. "No, I don't feel at all vulnerable dressed like this. I'm dressed for complete mobility and to be able to move around and do my beautiful Russian inspired dancing."

We're ushered out, and behind closed doors, Tortelvis is surgically implanted in a blue polyester jumpsuit. Once completed, the result is more hideous than a nightmare starring Tad in "Escape From Kylie Minogue's Silver Hot Pants". It's fabulously disgusting and he blames its existence on a seamstress in L.A. She could probably be arrested on a number of charges. Meanwhile the dressing room is a scene of "Hammer Of The Gods"-type depravity. Butt Mon is tucking into a cheese sandwich while others mill around openly drinking coffee. Groupies hover around the door obviously after the flame of manhood that is Tortelvis. They're all sent away with a copy of the LP and a Dread Zeppelin board game. It's based on Monopoly with commands like "Give away a Cadillac", "Shoot out TV" and "Win taco eating contest".

God knows how, but the chat show itself passes without incident.

Nevertheless, afterwards Joe is understandably reluctant to leave the safety of the studio and have his photograph taken with Butt Mon and Tort. He has the look of a true pro who's determined that there will not be any photographic evidence linking him to any of this.

"He probably thinks Butt Mon will rape him," laughs Tortelvis.

Speeding me back to the airport and then back to their ultra chic penthouse suite of the Best Western motel down the road, I wonder how long they can actually "milk this thing" for.

Butt Mon stares out the window as the Manhattan skyline looms and thinks hard before answering.

"What time is it now?" he replies.


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