Here in London, the news of Led Zeppelin’s impending reunion show Monday night is literally the talk of the town.
The Zepp get-together is actually part of a monster concert in memory of Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun.
Other guests expected at the main show on Monday night include ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, as well as possible surprise appearances by the other Stones including Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood.
Foreigner, Mick Jones’ hit-laden group of the 1970s and '80s, is also scheduled to appear. So is Paolo Nutini, the best-kept secret on the current Atlantic Records, the only successful division of ailing Warner Music Group.
But the big doings might come at the after-show party, where Atlantic soul stars from America are set to let loose and show what Ertegun, Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin really made into legends. They include “Soul Man” Sam Moore, Percy Sledge, Ben E. King and Solomon Burke. Moore will solo and play at least one duet with Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers.
The show, set for the O2 Arena in southeast London, was postponed from Nov. 26 because Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page fractured a finger.
There was still some talk Monday at the rehearsals that Page wasn’t absolutely certain about joining Robert Plant and John Paul Jones for the reunion. But Led Zeppelin will go on, and the word is that their two-hour set will be a precursor for their first tour since bell bottoms were in fashion.
One person who apparently won’t be here: Pete Townshend of the Who. The scheduling change knocked him off the list.
Sunday, afternoon some of the non-Zepp acts rehearsed in a Putney studio, and small hairs were standing up on the backs of everyone’s necks. Percy Sledge worked out “When a Man Loves a Woman” with the back-up singers, while Moore and Rodgers practiced “We Shall Be Free.”
Meanwhile, Wyman, who left the Rolling Stones in 1992 after 30 years, played with his Rhythm Kings — the house band for Monday — and surveyed the scene. He has no regrets about leaving the Stones.
“I have three children, I’ve published six books and I’m free to do what I want,” Wyman said. He still gets royalty checks, don’t worry. And he always goes to see the Stones when they’re playing in town.
“My kids say, 'Dad, why did you leave?' And I answer, 'So I could have you!'"
It only took a few minutes Friday night at B.B. King in New York to confirm the worst about funk and R&B legend Sly Stone. That's because Stone only made it through five of what could be loosely construed as numbers before announcing he needed a bathroom break.
As recent observers have noted of Stone's failed comeback, needing to urinate is code for drugs. And when that happens, the show is over.
As he did when I saw him on Nov. 20 at the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, Stone left the stage and did not return for some time. When he did, he was clearly in a changed mental state and, yes, sleepy.
Nevertheless, his band — led by niece Lisa — sort of woke him up by launching into one of his old hits "If You Want Me to Stay."
Stone, stoned, wearing a white hooded track suit and sunglasses, actually belted out most of the number. He started another song, ironically, "I Want to Take You Higher," and then wandered off stage. That was it. Good night.
The sold-out, standing-room-only audience was not happy. One fan grabbed a mike and shouted, "You crack addict. Get back on stage. I paid $100 for this ticket." It was a sad moment.
The show had started ominously. Stone was an hour late, and when he finally sat down at his keyboards he led the audience through a medley of one-line snippets of hits sung first on an altering voice box and then in a whisper.
The band, a group of heroes including Sly-soundalike vocalist Rikki Gordon, plunged into "Dance to the Music," "Sing a Simple Song" and "Everyday People." But Stone spent most of the time nodding or pretending to play notes, occasionally chiming in.
And still there had been moments during the 40-minute set (I'm being generous here, time-wise) that were spectacular, because the band is amazing. Former Family Stone horn player Jerry Martini, for example, sizzled on solos, as did Cynthia Robinson. As many have noted, the current band is much better than the real Family Stone was some 40 years ago.
But the tragedy of Sly Stone (real name Sylvester Stewart) is one that has been continuous since around 1980. An admitted drug addict (crack a specialty), Stone has lived as a recluse.
His infrequent appearances usually have to do with lawsuits. Nevertheless, his numerous hits from 1968 to 1975, including "Everyday People" and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" are considered groundbreaking. They're also the main influence of many other artists, including Prince.