Recreating Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy live is no small feat, and I was certainly skeptical going into the Montgomery Performing Arts Center to see The Black Jacket Symphony take on the task . . . but my worries were quite snuffed by the time the band had gracefully maneuvered through album openers “The Song Remains The Same” and “The Rain Song.” The band executed the album quite well, and didn’t come off as just another tribute band in the least. The musicians, the sound, the lighting and the fantastic venue all came together to make for a memorable evening. I was very impressed.
The Black Jacket Symphony attempts to perform classic recordings as faithfully as possible, by assembling groups of musicians who are talented enough to do just that. The real key for me with their rendition of Houses Of The Holy was the singer chosen to fill the vocal role of Robert Plant, Buck Johnson. Buck really did an excellent job of singing all the songs, with an easy range and nearly effortless delivery–all the while never coming off as merely aping Plant, as so many I’ve seen covering LZ material have done poorly in the past. I had the pleasure recently of doing a short interview with Buck, and asked him about hooking up with BJS and how he preps for singing Houses Of The Holy night after night. Enjoy!
How did you get involved with Black Jacket Symphony?
I’m old friends with the co-founder, J. Willoughby, who first got me involved as a keyboardist/singer on The Who’s Who’s Next album. The relationship continued from there as a vocalist on albums such as Led Zeppelin 4, Hotel California and several others.
Taking on Houses Of The Holy (and Robert Plant’s vocals in general!) is quite a tall order. How do you prepare yourself for that–and how do you do it show after show?
I’m fortunate that I’ve always had a strong voice…genetics I guess. I started performing when I was 4 years old and haven’t stopped since. But I do manage it by getting plenty of rest, drinking tons of water and hot tea, I don’t smoke and try and keep the adult beverages at a moderate level.
Who are your musical inspirations, and what got you interested in music in the first place?
My musical inspirations would have to start with my family since they’re the ones who got me started performing with them when I was kid. They had a gospel group, The Johnson Brothers, and we would travel throughout the Southeast. My mom plays piano and tears it up and so that got me playing the piano.
Later I was greatly influenced not only from the music of the South, but from English bands and artists like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Elton John and others that were also influenced by the music of the South (blues, gospel, R&B, ect.)… it was a natural draw to them.
What music are you listening to now, and what keeps you going and interested in music?
Well, besides being immersed in whatever Black Jacket Symphony album I’m performing, like Houses Of The Holy (by the way, I learn something new and enlightening digging deep into those classic albums), I’m listening to the tracks that I’m currently producing in my studio in Nashville…it’s very time consuming, but I love it! As a songwriter and producer and performer it’s music 24/7 for me.
I also love finding great new diverse music like Kacey Musgraves, Lorde, Jason Isbell, Imagine Dragons, Gary Clark, Jr., and others…always learning something from others.
What have you got coming up in the new year, both with BJS and on your own?
There’s more Houses Of The Holy shows upcoming and other albums that BJS will reveal in due time that we’re all excited about! There are two fellow BJS members EPs coming out that I co-wrote, produced and mixed…William Simpkins (from the Synchronicity album) has a project called Altitudes and that EP comes out next Tuesday, Feb. 4th. And Jeni Wiley (from the Hotel California album), has an EP that will be coming out sometime this Spring. I also plan to release a rock album (much of which I’ve already recorded) later this year.
Anything you’d like to add or say about your involvement with BJS or just in general?
Being a part of BJS has been such an amazing experience for me! I have rekindled old friendships, and been able to perform the best rock albums ever recorded with top notch professionals on stage and off. Also rediscovering music that I was influenced by and learning something new from it has been great for me as a songwriter, producer and performer.