A few nights ago I was in a semi-comatose state after gorging myself on a giant portion of turkey Christmas dinner leftovers when I happened to tune into this year’s Kennedy Center Honors which aired on CBS. The annual list typically honors 7+ people, but the 2012 group is unique to say the least because it honored 4 people and one iconic trio — Led Zeppelin. This year’s recipients at the 35th annual national celebration of the arts included: bluesman Buddy Guy, actor and director Dustin Hoffman, comedian and television host David Letterman, ballerina Natalia Makarova, and rock band Led Zeppelin. While legendary British rock group Led Zeppelin were honored as a band, keyboardist/bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant each received the Kennedy Center Honors individually as well. Rightfully so, considering the British saints of rock are the greatest living rock band of all time.
The honorees were crowned in a star-studded Washington ceremony on December 2nd, but the ceremony was not televised until December 26th. The Letterman tribute was seriously amazing, and rightfully paid tribute to the most important legacy comedian alive today. But the serious megawatt power was reserved entirely for Led Zeppelin. Jack Black opened the tribute to the rock gods with a few touching words, which swiftly followed by the Foo Fighters‘ rendition of “Rock and Roll” as well as Kid Rock’s high-energy rendition of “Ramble On” off 1969′s Led Zeppelin II, while Kravitz delivered a standing ovation performance of “Whole Lotta Love” with President Obama seen singing along from the audience.
But hands down the pinnacle came with HEART’s breathtaking performance of “Stairway To Heaven”. On the subject of how HEART was brought into this tribute, on December 20th I happened to catch Charlie Rose’s interview with legendary producer George Stevens Jr. who founded the Kennedy Center Honors 35 years ago. Appropriately enough, this year Stevens received an honorary Oscar in a ceremony which took place in Los Angeles on December 1st. Actress Annette Bening and Academy Award-winning actor Sidney Poitier took the stage at The Ray Dolby Ballroom at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood to speak about the work of George Stevens Jr.: “When you work with George Stevens, art and activism are never very far apart,” said Poitier. As on-lookers got teary-eyed, George Stevens Jr. took to the stage to accept his Oscar from Sidney Poitier: “I didn’t want to devote my life to becoming the second-best filmmaker in my family.” (NOTE: Stevens’ father George Stevens directed the legendary film Shane in 1953).
In his sit-down with Charlie Rose, George Stevens Jr. discusses not only his career, but also the immense challenge of how to construct an all-too-short tribute to a band as significant and influential as Led Zeppelin. You can watch him speak about how he and his son produced the Led Zeppelin Kennedy Center Honors tribute segment in the red link below. Worth noting is how Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin told George personally how much he was dreading how the Kennedy Center Honors would handle their greatest song “Stairway To Heaven” in particular — mainly because he and his bandmates had seen it handled so disastrously in the past. Plant told Stevens after the ceremony that it was one of the greatest and most emotionally riveting performances of the classic song he and the band had ever seen (NOTE: TO WATCH CHARLIE ROSE’S INTERVIEW WITH KENNEDY CENTER HONORS’ FOUNDER, PRODUCER, AND THE NEWEST OSCAR HONOREE GEORGE STEVENS JR. CLICK HERE (AND CLICK ON GEORGE’S IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO PLAYER).
Led Zeppelin immediately shut down following the death of their beloved friend and drummer John Bonham in 1980. Worth noting, however, is the fact that during HEART‘s performance of “Stairway To Heaven”, John Bonham’s son Jason Bonham (born 1966) can be seen playing the drums during the performance. Five years ago on December 10, 2007 Led Zeppelin reunited for the now legendary Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London, with Jason Bonham taking his late father’s place on drums. According to Guinness World Records 2009, Led Zeppelin set the world record leading up to that event for the “Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert” for that reunion as 20 million requests for the reunion show were rendered online. Music critics praised the band’s performance that night as going far beyond even the wildest expectations of even the band’s greatest fans. To learn more about Led Zeppelin — the greatest band that has ever lived — be sure to visit Wikipedia. To enter the Mother Ship simply head over to LedZeppelin.com, and to learn more about what happened in Washington on the evening of December 2nd simply head over to Kennedy-Center.org.
On a personal note, Robert Plant is one of my greatest all-time heroes, and another personal hero of mine is bluegrass icon Alison Krauss. Robert Plant so happens to be a longtime giant fan of Alison’s as well and produced the album Raising Sand which features several duets between the two. Led Zeppelin has made it quite clear through the decades that the band would never have happened had it not been for their obsession and love of American blues music. Bluegrass being an inextinguishable extension of the genre, Robert Plant’s adoration of Alison Krauss can be heard in every single note on the Grammy Award-winning album. In the YouTube video below it’s almost impossible to distinguish who has more respect for their fellow collaborator — Robert Plant for Allson Krauss or viceversa. You can purchase your own copy of the album by visiting iTunes.