The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience formed in 1995 to perform the most accurate and captivating Led Zeppelin live show since the real thing. For Zoso, it’s much more than just being a tribute—it’s about touching a golden era in music. Zoso embodies Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones in their spirit, tightly wound talent, and authenticity.
Each band member has been carefully selected to portray both the appearance and playing styles of their Led Zeppelin counterparts. In over twenty successful years of touring, they have perfected their art. As one of the longest tenured Zeppelin tributes, Zoso’s 2,400 live shows around the world have established them as the most traveled and successful band in the market.
Zoso’s live shows are not about simply playing the right notes, they are about aura and feeling, harkening back to the unique atmosphere Led Zeppelin created. It’s in the way they play: each band member’s mastery of authentic vintage instruments coupled with spot on vocals, guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, their compelling stage persona and distinct Led Zeppelin sound, as well as astounding visual imagery recreates the music, magic, and mystery of a Zeppelin concert. The impact is so powerful that band members constantly hear from young rockers that they were the catalyst behind turning them into new, diehard Zeppelin fans.
Their passion, musical ability, showmanship and precise attention to detail earned them critical acclaim, name recognition, and a loyal national following. The Los Angeles Times hailed the group as being “head and shoulders above all other Zeppelin tributes,” while the Chicago Sun-Times declared Zoso as “the closest to the original of any tribute.”
If you missed Led Zeppelin live in the ‘70s or are looking to relive the “Hammer of the Gods” phenomenon, you must experience what the St. Petersburg Times calls “the most exacting of the Zeppelin tribute bands in existence.”
Zoso is comprised of Matt Jernigan as Robert Plant, John McDaniel as Jimmy Page, Adam Sandling as John Paul Jones, and Bevan Davies as John Bonham.
In anticipation of their New Year’s Eve performance at the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture, The Rolling Zone was able to get Jernigan on the phone to talk stories from twenty years on the road and living up to some seriously great expectations.
RZ: Hey Matt. How are you doing today?
MJ: Good, good.
RZ: You’re about to go on the road. How are rehearsals and tour prep going?
MJ: It’s wonderful. We’re constantly playing. We probably do up to 160 shows a year.
RZ: Looks like you’ve got quite the schedule coming up.
MJ: Oh yeah.
RZ: You’ve been touring and performing as a group for more than twenty years. What brought you guys together and to what do you owe your longevity?
MJ: What brought us together was [by] the request of a management company, to see if we might want to do this. We thought about it for about four months [before] we took it, and here we are twenty-one years later. There’s a lot of in between there, as far as really pounding the pavement with this stuff, but it’s been a long run and we really worked hard for it. The longevity [comes from] the work ethic with the band, and I would say, the way the band executes the music. That’s the most important thing. The third thing involved is the people’s interest. It really is up to them. They’re the ones who buy the tickets.
RZ: Zoso is more than a Led Zeppelin tribute—it’s a lifestyle. How has such a commitment to this music changed the lives of the band members, as well as those of both Led Zeppelin and Zoso fans?
MJ: To begin with, yes, this is a full-time gig and has become a total lifestyle. How has it changed our lives? We’ve been able to stay professional working musicians like anybody else, whether you’re [of] the upper echelon or below what we’re doing. That in itself is rewarding because the arts are a very hard thing to make a living at. We do understand it’s a very subjective thing. What one person might think is the greatest thing since sliced bread, the other people don’t. And a couple of us do have families, so we’ve been able to keep a balance on that where we don’t have to be on the road for four, five months and then come home. But on top of that, we’re doing—it can be my opinion or a fact—music of the greatest rock band ever. Therefore, we really had to get close enough to sounding like the real thing. Then performing [had us] getting into acting, which is something we never really thought about. But other than that, I get to be a full-time musician and I think that’s an accomplishment in itself.
RZ: Awesome. So give us a peek into a Zoso show. What can fans and those who’ve maybe not been to one of your concerts expect from a performance?
MJ: Of course, their music stands all on its own, but I think people have a misconception at times because Zeppelin never had a number one hit, being the biggest band in the world and never having one. “Stairway” was never a number one hit—should’ve been, but it wasn’t. When you come see a show like ours, we work our best to try and recreate the live experience. With that comes [the fact tribute] bands want to take you down hit lane. More with Zeppelin, it’s a journey. They take you through different moods and different styles and variations of the music. [And] there’s other things—we extend leads of stuff like jam parts, not really over the top, but we try to do it so there will be something for everyone. If you’re really a Zeppelin fan, you’re going to really appreciate anything we do. And there’s a lot of songs we do that they never did live, which is refreshing to people. That’s basically what we do. We’ll do the familiar songs, of course, but we’ll do the obscure ones too, from an artful perspective, [that’ll] make it far more interesting.
RZ: That sounds like a great way to ring in the New Year. Now let me ask you about the fans. How crucial are they to this grand tribute you’ve
MJ: The fans make any band. Without them, there are none. We’ve had some loyal, loyal fans. Over the years, people have driven hundreds of miles to see us, or have seen us 25–30 times. It is overwhelming, but they’re very, very responsive and supportive. That’s really what makes it. And for a lot of people, the vast majority never got to see Zeppelin. So when we try to put them in that environment of the live performance, it helps tremendously. We are a very live band. There are other tribute bands out there that just come out and go through the motions, [but] we have to get into character. I think it’s more natural and not really robotic. We never do the same show. We change the list up every night, so you will never see the same thing. I think [the fans] feel we really work hard it. We get in return what we give, and sometimes it’s more than we would ever thought we’d get.
RZ: You travel all over the country. Are you ever surprised by the fandom and any gestures or experiences you encounter?
MJ: People have come up and given us tokens of appreciation and things like that. Some photographers, who’ve done some excellent work, have come out [and said], “Here, man. I really appreciate your band. I took pictures of you, and I don’t want any money, I just want to give them to you.” Those things are always nice. They do treat us, in a lot of respects, like we’re the best thing since sliced bread. I appreciate that, but I think we’re pretty humble about it. I think, also, [it’s great] when parents bring their kids because they’ll never have anything like this, which is sad but true.
RZ: And you’re really connecting the generations, too.
MJ: Oh yeah, and especially some of these really young guitar players, twelve and fifteen years old. Their fathers bring them out and I know why. This is the nucleus of everything you’re hearing now, as far as the rock thing goes. The development [goes back to] The Beatles being the first world touring band. They were great. I think Led Zeppelin picked up where they left off and pushed the envelope a bit more and carried it to a different realm. Without The Beatles, you wouldn’t have Led Zeppelin, let’s get real. You wouldn’t have a lot of people if you didn’t have The Beatles. And then of course you wouldn’t have The Beatles if you didn’t have Chuck Berry and Little Richard and Elvis and all the other guys. Like The Beatles were in a lot of ways, I think Led Zeppelin almost has something for everyone. It’s just The Beatles weren’t as heavy in a lot of ways, even though “Helter Skelter” was very heavy for that time. It was very ahead of itself. Where Zeppelin really harnessed that sound and the power in music, or played in that way with that approach. Zeppelin also still appeals to youth and people a little older. There’s a little something for everyone there.
RZ: For sure. Can you give us one outstanding memory from your career with Zoso?
MJ: There are many, but there was an incident in the spring of ’87. We had just finished [touring] the upper East Coast and were in the Carolinas. We had a day off and we had a day to be in Athens, Georgia. On our way to the gig, our vehicle caught on fire. It started with a little bit of smoke, then it got bigger and bigger. Stupid us, we didn’t have a fire extinguisher. So a cop pulls up and he tries to put it out, but it’s getting more and more and more and more. We were able to get things out of our trailer before the fire started spreading after the vehicle became engulfed. A fire engine came along [to] these flames alongside the road—the tires are melted, the windows are blown out, everything. So it gets put out, but we’re about seventy miles from Athens. The wrecker driver asks if we need to get somewhere. He had a dual-cab and we said, “Well man, we’ve gotta get to our gig.” We were just starting out so we couldn’t miss a gig—we needed the money. So he hooks up our trailer to the wrecker and says he’ll take us to our gig. We asked how much he wanted, but he said “You guys have already been through enough today.” He took us for free. I couldn’t believe it.
RZ: Wow. That must’ve been nice.
MJ: So we get there and we’re smelling like smoke, having been through a lot that day, and we played the show. It got around to the agencies that our band’s vehicle burned up on the side of the road and we made it. I think that [shows] the determination of the band for all the years. But one other thing happened in that fire. Everything got destroyed in the van, and under the backseat, there was the whole catalog of all Zeppelin’s music. The book was in that inferno and it only singed the edges and the book did not burn up. It should’ve burned up really quick. Our guitar player still has that book to this day. It became the Holy Grail.
RZ: What is your interpretation of “Zoso” and why was this decided to be the band’s name?
MJ: It was Jimmy Page’s sign on the fourth album, of course the untitled album. When it was on Billboard, no one knew what to call it. Billboard titled it that or they called it Led Zeppelin IV, which it wasn’t really IV either, even though it was the fourth album. Since Jimmy’s symbol was the only [“word”] outside of the lyrics to “Stairway to Heaven” on the inner sleeve. It was the only thing that stood out, so that’s why they called it that. When we started [our] band, I didn’t want to be cliché and call it the name of an album or a title of a song. I wanted something to really stand out—plus there was a copyright infringement thing going on. These are religious symbols that every guy picked to represent themselves. [They say] he got that out of a book and can’t copyright that, so I said “Why don’t we just call it that?” and it’ll stand for itself. So many people would automatically be able to relate to it, and we’d tell the others about it so they’d get it. The [name] was for the ones who knew and a learning process for the ones who didn’t.
RZ: Well congratulations on 20+ years. Thank you for talking with me today.
MJ: Appreciate it.
ChickenJam will present Zoso: The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience on New Year’s Eve, Saturday, December 31st at The Emerson Crawford Theater at 10pm. Tickets to this ALL AGES show are $30 in advance in store and at www.CactusRecords.net/ and $35 at the door. Doors at 9pm. For more information about this and other upcoming shows, visit www.chickenjamwest.com/. •