Jimmy Page has been accused of being a “thieving magpie” stealing guitar riffs, melodies and chord progressions from other artists and published songs then crediting himself and Led Zeppelin as the original songwriters. In fact, Zeppelin has been sued by several artists in recent years who were then compensated and properly credited for their accomplishments.
An interesting tidbit is that before the lawsuits heated up Page had actually admitted to being a bit of magpie while searching for inspiration and taking from here and there those shining pieces that he stuck into Zeppelin’s music. What he did in the late ‘60s was not that different from how the oral tradition of blues music evolved, nor was it much different from how many blues rock guitarists from that era developed their style and composed songs. The vast majority of these guitarists were white and didn’t grow up in the Deep South, Chicago or Detroit. Their blues experience came from vinyl recordings and seeing the occasional bluesman passing through town. Arguably, blues rock evolved almost exclusively from white guys “borrowing” from other musicians. That’s an old story, which Page originally conceded to until the lawsuits descended.
The point being, appropriation is not a crime. However, appropriation without crediting is.
Ian Dillon, the central figure and driving force behind Electrical Revival opens up at the mention of Led Zeppelin and the influence Page has had on him. Although Page and Led Zeppelin are two separate things in Dillon’s view. Nodding his thick mane of shoulder length hair he reveals, “I’m a fan of Jimmy Page. A big fan. We get a lot of Zeppelin referencing, though. Way too much. When you think of Led Zeppelin, you think of Robert Plant. But there’s no Plant in our band. None,” he says flatly.
“Got To Be” is the opening track to their recent recording, Pirate Radio. The melodic, two-chord progression that moves the song along is unquestionably a dark, sexy Sabbath-like groove. Two thirds of the way through Dillon breaks out with a fiery, jet-propelled solo that takes its cue from “Dazed and Confused” before pile-diving into “Hell Hath No Fury” which is raw, raging, flat-out, three-chord punk. No Robert Plant.
Dillon acknowledges that the band’s three favourite albums are The Stooge’s Funhouse, Pearl Jam’s Vs. and Led Zeppelin I.
“When you watch early footage of Zeppelin, they’re a punk band,” claims Dillon adamantly, as if to defying any other notion. Dillon, who runs his own studio and produces records as his nine-to-fiver, notes ,“I see that first outing of theirs as a punk album. It’s the tonality. Page used Telecasters when recording and they have a very treblely, edgy tone. It’s that and the full-bore, punk essence of ‘Communication Breakdown.’ It sounds like they’re playing live. And that’s how we like to record, live off the floor.”
From Funhouse, Dillon says he embraced the stripped-down, gritty grind that is also key to the Electric Revival’s sound. The band actually began with Dillon on his own doing basement recordings working on a bare-bones approach that he then put up online. After those attracted some attention, he recruited drummer Dallas Lobb and bassist Dan Toews, both longtime friends of Dillon’s from Innisfail who he had played in several metal circuit bands with since their mid-teens.
Given that they have worked together for over a decade, it’s no surprise that Electric Revival put on a powerhouse live performance. Toews, who’s an experienced metal guitarist, is a vital part of that energy. He drives the rhythm section with bass runs that are tight and seamless—sonically surfing with precision and passion. Turning out his signature head whips with blades of helicopter hair flying, Toews maneuvers the straight-aways, valleys and peaks while wearing Steve Vai on his sleeve. Behind him Lobb’s center of gravity drumming firmly anchors everything else letting Dillon roam where he wants to, either squeezing out solos, taking it down to a whisper or going off on trippy, Theremin tangents.
Dillon attributes the band’s dynamics not only to having the collective years of experience, but also taking break from the stage and viewing things from the other side.
“I had to step away from it for awhile. It got old for me. I had to step back from performing and be an audience member. I did some live sound, made some records and sat on the other side of the fence. Before that, I didn’t know what I was really trying to do. We were shooting in the dark. I needed to be a fan for awhile. When I did that, things started to pent up and I could focus, release and know more of what I wanted and how to do it.”
Artists who aren’t ashamed, concerned or reserved about holding back or disguising their influences, often enough take it on the chin from both critics and a certain breed of concert-goers and cultural consumers. The naysayers point out the influences and, especially if those influences aren’t the current brand of cool, are quick to denounce the music as un-hip, played-out, artless or just not worthy.
Despite touring across the country DIY, actually making money at it and drawing bigger and bigger audiences in the type of small towns they grew up in as well as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, despite a healthy grassroots level of success and one that screams Canadian, Electric Revival are no strangers to great displays of indifference.
“We played those shows, “ says Dillon as Toews nods in agreement, “where the crowd stands there and stares, arms folded while we’re giving them all we’ve got. It’s tough getting that kind of reaction, that kind of rejection. And then sometimes you see the girlfriends, and girls off to the side and back of the room, start to move their hips, come up and dance in front of the stage.” Dillon takes a sip from his glass of beer, smiles and shrugs his shoulders content with that particular validation.
They can’t quite put their finger on why? That they’re a bunch of big, bushy longhairs, or that they’re also a blues-based rock ‘n’ roll show from western Canada? Whatever it is, they’re not sure of the Sheepdogs’ comparison.
Understandable. Dillon may owe a debt to Jimmy Page, but Pirate Radio leans into punk and a fierce blast of Marilyn Manson. There is no sappy, happy mainstream pop either. When the band does lighten it up, the pure blues magic that Dillon “borrows” from Page shines through not only displaying guitar work that reigns supreme, but also Dillon’s soft, cooing vocal delivery that’s haunting and seductive. On “I Will Kill You,” a masterful blues ballad, Dillon both threatens and pleads with his lover not to leave. There’s a lot of light and darkness. A lot of real emotion.
By B. Simm