By John Benson
Next year marks 35 years since Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham died.
Nearly a month to the day before the band was supposed to play two shows at the Richfield Coliseum, the percussionist suddenly passed away, and with him went any chance of fans ever seeing the original “Stairway to Heaven” band lineup again.
Someone else who was left disappointed was Matt Jernigan, who now fronts national Led Zeppelin cover band Zoso.
“I had tickets in 1980 for the Atlanta, Ga., show,” said Jernigan, calling from his Peach State home. “Then Bonham died and the tour was canceled. I did get to see [Jimmy] Page with the first tour with The Firm.”
As far as the formation of Zoso, Jernigan, who attempted his own music career in Los Angeles beginning in the late ’80s, was contacted by his management company in 1995 to think about forming a Led Zeppelin tribute act.
What made the original offer even more unique is the fact the singer looks like Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant. Today, his bandmates’ appearance is also similar to the original band members. Also, they wear the era-appropriate garb when performing.
“It wasn’t contrived by us,” Jernigan said. “We thought about it for a few months, but as soon as we did it, we started working on it harder and harder. Here we are 19 years later.”
Even though Jernigan never did get to see or subsequently meet his favorite band, he does talk about the time the band met Jimmy Page’s assistant.
“He was supposed to see us at a Fort Lauderdale show,” Jernigan said. “We don’t know if he showed up. Unfortunately, we’ve never met any of them. What’s funny is, people all over the country will say, ‘Here’s a picture of me and Jimmy or me and Robert. It’s like everybody gets to meet them but us, but we’re always playing. I guess we’re not as available for those situations.”
Speaking of performing, Zoso has found quite a rabid Led Zeppelin fan base in Northeast Ohio with previous shows at the House of Blues in Cleveland and the Warren Community Amphitheatre. In fact, the band returns to the latter for a Saturday show.
As for its set list, diehards could get everything from “Black Dog” to “When the Levee Breaks.”
Though Led Zeppelin recently released reissued copies of its first three albums, including unreleased studio versions, Jernigan said Zoso has yet to visit that material.
When asked why he believes audiences still flock to hear the music of Led Zeppelin in concert, Jernigan said, “They’re the greatest rock ’n’ roll band ever. The thing about it, they were a band’s band. They have songs that are better than other songs, but I don’t think they have a bad song, and that’s rare.”