TIME OUT Magazine: August 15-22, 1990
By Nick Coleman
Fuse the songs of Led Zep with reggae beats and the jellied tenor of an overweight Elvis impersonator, and the unholy outcome is Dread Zeppelin, the latest chapter in the tangled story of the blues. Singer Tortelvis says the King should take the credit.
The blues went south, walked through New Orleans and stowed away on a boat for Jamaica. At some point in the crossing, a beat was displaced and the blues arrived in Monego Bay all reggae-shaped. At about the same time it was widely reported that a pouting Memphis truck driver, in aspect not unlike Tanita Tikaram, had rammed the blues midships with his country rig. He made a right mess of them. Ten years later the tangled wreckage was exported to Europe, injected with hormones and Anglicised in a painful operation beneath a hedge in the suburbs of Wolverhampton. This is the hidden story of the blues, the true, hybridous blues, whose epithalamium is the song of Dread Zeppelin.
Dread Zeppelin's fine debut LP bears in the top right-hand corner of its sleeve the legend: 'File Under Zeppelin Music Inna Reggae Style'. Strangely, what the copywriter omitted to mention is the subtle caveat, 'the Elvis Presley on vocals'.
Time Out spoke over the phone last week to the six-piece band's bulbous lead singer Tortelvis, whose jellied transatlantic tenor was as authentically Elvis-like as his late-period belly is fat.
Tell me your innermost feelings about Led Zeppelin.
Well, y'know, actually, I'll tell you. When we first started doing the songs it wasn't actually our idea; it was actually Elvis Presley's. He came to me back in 1977 just before he died and he said you gotta do this Led Zeppelin thing reggae style, the way those songs were meant to be done. I wasn't actually sure what he meant at the time but I think we've figured it out now and everything seems to be coming together. The songs seem to fit really well into the reggae style and, of course, Jimmy Page himself was quoted as saying that 'Stairway To Heaven' was originally supposed to be done as a reggae tune. I suppose this whole things was just supposed to be.
Did Elvis himself point out your strange vocal affinity with him, or did you discover it for yourself?
Well, y'know, I had discovered this a few years earlier. What happened was -- at least, this is what I hear -- I was created by aliens and modeled after the most popular person who ever walked the earth, who of course is Elvis Presley. It was when I was about ten or 11 years old that Daddytelvis -- the man who raised me from a small child -- said 'you've got this beautiful singing voice', and it was then that I realised I was modeled after Elvis and that I could sing very easily, and that I tended to sound like him. And, of course, in the way I look now I even resemble the later Elvis, just before he died, which is a little bit overweight. He came to me for this reason, I believe, to tell me to carry on with what he would have done if he were still alive.
Do you see Dread Zeppelin going far? After all, Led Zeppelin's catalogue is not a bottomless pit...
That's true. You know what we're gonna do. We're gonna take it as far as it'll go. As long as the fans wanna hear it, we'll keep doin' it! And we'll branch out a little bit. Our next album, which we're due to start work on very soon, is gonna de a double album...kind of a rock opera, half made up of Led Zeppelin songs, half made up of original material, having to do with characters in the group. for example, Charlie Haj, who hands me my water and my towels on stage. We're writing 'The Ballad of Charlie Haj' right now.
Do you enjoy living in the modern world?
Well, I do. I really love living in California and in particular beautiful Temple City, which is where I live. But I also like going out to Memphis, of course, to visit the grave of Elvis and the original Graceland (Tortelvis lives in a replica of Elvis's great rococo palozzo). And of course I'm very much looking forward to coming to England next week to see your beautiful country for the first time.
Have you any idea of what it's like over here?
Y'know, I really don't. Apart from our tour manager, Alan Grange, who's English, from Hartlepool, and I guess a lot of people make fun of Hartlepool...well, he told us a little bit of what it's like.
Can you tell me about the band?
Well, we have Carl Jah. Now, he's one of the top 500,000 guitar players in Richmond, Virginia. He's very good and also a great actor, by the way. Then there's Put-Mon on bass: he's a five-time gold medal winner for dancing. On guitar we've got Jah Paul Jo, the Prince of Peace and Love. His motto is, if you don't go along with peace and love, he'll kill you. On the drums we've got Fresh Cheese, who's a former light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world. And Ed Zeppelin, from Trinidad, the conga player of the group.
And now I'd like to tell you about the most important man on stage, other than myself: Charlie Haj. I mentioned him before. And he is actually the son of the Charlie Hodge who handed Elvis his water and towels on stage. No, it's true. Without him I just don't think I could do the show sometimes. He is a real inspiration to me. He wipes my sweat and gives me my water. He's the man who pulls the whole show together.
So Charlie is an expression in the physical plane of the immanence of your own essential Elvisness?
That's so true. It really is.
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