What makes a tribute act tick? Find out with Get the Led Out
If you go out and ask a random bunch of Americans about their knowledge of Philadelphia, you’ll probably get the the typical cliches: cheesesteaks, Rocky, soft pretzels, the Liberty Bell, and rambunctious sports fans who once threw snowballs at Santa Claus and batteries at J.D. Drew. But there’s one more thing you should add to that list: Philly is home to the greatest Led Zeppelin cover band known to man.
Well, sort of.
I say “sort of” because in reality, the phrase “cover band” doesn’t exactly do the group much justice. Get The Led Out is more than a cover band, but the band members have trouble coming up with a better way to describe themselves. This is because they’re too modest to call themselves what they really are: a group of hard working and ridiculously talented musicians who aim to recreate the sound of Led Zeppelin – and nothing but the sound – to a degree so precise, that the actual Led Zeppelin couldn’t come close to performing their own studio recordings at such an elite level.
Granted, Get The Led Out has one primary advantage over their legendary counterparts: they have six members instead of four. This allows them to accomplish the feat of performing all the guitar overdubs, bass lines, keyboard parts, gong hits, and theremin solos, something Zeppelin never could do with just four dudes on a stage. The actual Led Zeppelin re-invented their songs live, incorporating long, mid-song jams, violin bows guitars and twenty minute drum solos to compensate for the key parts missing.
Chances are, at some point in your life, you’ve stumbled upon some Zeppelin tribute band in a bar, or a YouTube video. They probably tried to recreate an actual Led Zeppelin concert involving dragon suits, wigs, and jams on “Dazed and Confused” and “Whole Lotta Love.” It’s a fun enough idea in small doses, but anybody who’s witnessed an full concert by costume-wearing tribute bands knows that it comes of, um, well…a bit corny.
Get The Led Out prefers a different approach. “There’s no thought at all at trying to look like [Led Zeppelin] or act like [Led Zeppelin]” says GTLO bassist Billy Childs who, by the way, also played bass in the ’80s Philly hair metal band Britny Fox. “I mean, we’re not [Led Zeppelin]. We didn’t write these songs, you know? That’s where I think the whole tribute thing gets a little odd at times. I think it’s kind of strange when [cover artists] try to look like [the real performers] or actually give you some kind of faux performance. I mean, it works great with Elvis, it works great with Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, you know, that kind of thing. It even works with The Beatles to degree. But when you start getting into these heavier bands, like I would say Zeppelin, it’s just, you know, I just can’t suspend my disbelief that much. And it just comes across as being a little silly to me.”
The idea behind Get The Led Out is to recreate the sound of the record, in the most precise way humanly possible. This is, to say the least, extremely difficult. “it is definitely harder to do it this way, and it’s taking a lot longer for us to hit our stride I think because of how challenging it can be — even if you’re just talking about the equipment” says Andrew Lipke, the band’s utility man who plays a plethora of instruments throughout every GTLO show, including keyboards, harmonica, theremin, guitar, and last but not least, the cowbell.
“Just the equipment alone makes it challenging,” Lipke continues, “because if you want to get it right, you have to use the right guitars, and that’s, like, 15 guitars.”
Paul Sinclair is the singer of Get the Led Out, one of the band’s founders, and the one who gets the most credit for differentiating GTLO from other Zeppelin tributes, even though he admits the idea was dumb luck. “I was all about wanting to recreate the moments in those songs that made me excited about them in the first place,” Sinclair. “So that’s where it really stemmed from. But I guess I didn’t even realize at the time…that it just makes so much business sense [to do exactly that], because you’re going to cast the widest net.”
Because most cover bands get a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so, Get The Led Out struggles with trying to get the point across that they’re not like any other cover band. “I’ve literally had people come up to meet us at the shows,” says Sinclair, pondering the band’s enthusiastic fan base. “They say ‘man, my friends have been telling me about this band for the last seven years and, you know, I’m a big Zeppelin fan, I got a tattoo on my back of, you know, John Bonham’s symbol [from Zeppelin IV] or whatever. I love Zeppelin, man, I just had no interest in seeing a cover band. Now I’m kicking myself that I waited seven years.'”
He laughs and continues “So, as a result of that bad rap, people just won’t take a chance. But eventually, it seems that – we come across this a lot – after they’ve heard it enough from their friends, they will.”
The band’s roots can be traced back to The Bridgeport Rib House, a restaurant and bar in Montgomery County where Sinclair and GTLO guitarist Paul Hammond – the band’s other founding member – would sit in with the restaurant’s house band on occasion to play 70s rock cuts from Zeppelin and Aerosmith. The 105-capacity space would be packed at virtually every show. “At 10 o’clock, the doors open, and people just pour in through all three doors. It’s amazing,” recalls the Rib House’s owner, Deets Radliff. As a result, the Rib House started scheduling Sinclair and Hammond to play the first Sunday of every month, which they still do to this day. “Ten years later, as a bar owner, you kind of wait for people to get tired of something, but it’s still [going],” says Radliff.
Because of these monthly performances, Sinclair and Hammond built a reputation among Rib House regulars for being the “Zeppelin and Aerosmith guys.” As a result, they were contacted by a group of local musicians looking to start a Led Zeppelin cover band in October of 2003, which eventually became Get The Led Out. The lineup has gone through numerous changes since then; in fact, Sinclair and Hammond are the only two original members left, while the others (Childs, Lipke, guitarist Jimmy Marchiano, and drummer Adam Ferraioli) were later additions/replacements.
One of the biggest reasons why the current members is going strong is because of the band’s exacting preparation for shows and practice. Problems that derailed the real Led Zeppelin throughout parts of their career, including Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction and John Bonham’s excessive drinking (the latter of which eventually led to his own death and the band’s in 1980), are not at all present in Get The Led Out. Much of the band doesn’t drink, and the others are strident about not drinking enough to let it affect their performance. The band’s relatively strict attitude towards making sure the shows are as perfect as possible comes from Sinclair’s “no nonsense” attitude, as Hammond puts it. He also calls Sinclair “the bona fide leader of the band.”
Sinclair is too modest to take credit, but he doesn’t disagree either. “To me, everything is all about the show,” he says. “One of the greatest things I can say about these guys is that everyone in this group gets on that stage ever has to say to somebody ‘Hey what was that? What did you do on that song?’ or whatever. And this goes for the partying aspect and everything else. We’re not a bunch of teetotalers, but yeah, I’m the front man who doesn’t party. I’m not saying my guys don’t drink, but I can tell you this: No one steps foot on a stage drunk. It just won’t happen because they know that there’s just no room for that.”
The band’s commitment to performing great live music has, within the past couple of years, finally resulted in people other than Philadelphians noticing. Slowly but surely, Get The Led Out is playing more venues that are further away from their hometown. Hammond says the band is also getting a following in places like New England, New York, North Jersey, Maryland, Florida, and Ohio in addition to Philly. “It goes out really until the Midwest, which is what we’re set to conquer next,” Hammond elaborates; next month, the band headlines the Orpheum Theater in Wichita, Kansas, as well as Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado and Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas. In fact, due to GTLO’s growing popularity, Paul Hammond and Paul Sinclair both had to cut back their time spent at Fat City Studios, a studio in Sinclair’s Blue Bell basement where the Pauls would master records from big name international touring artists.
But they haven’t forgotten where they came from. Get the Led Out recently played four sold-out shows in the tiny Sellersville Theater, a venue just outside of Philly and less than half the size of most they play. Despite their ability to sell out far bigger venues, they continue to play the Sellersville as a way of saying thank you in return for booking the band in its earlier years, well before the band had the cult fan base it now does. In addition, Sinclair and Hammond still perform their ‘First Sunday’ shows at the Bridgeport Rib House, a bar so cramped with people they’re literally rubbing elbows with fans. Reasons like these make it clear the guys do it for their passion, not for the money.
“All we set out to do as kids, was we wanted to play really cool rock music like Led Zeppelin or Aerosmith,” says Sinclair. “We wanted to play it, you know, ideally songs we wrote ourselves…and get on stage and perform in front of thousands of thousands of people and to be on a tour bus and travel the country and the world. Well, we’re living that dream. The only difference between our initial goal and what it’s turned into — the only difference — is that we didn’t write the songs.”