Jeff Strawman (Achilles Last Stand)

When it comes to fansites, there can be few as extensive, impressive and well-established as Jeff Strawman’s all-singing, all-dancing, all-things-Zeppelin website: Achilles Last Stand.

Achilles Last Stand is a truly fitting tribute to one of rock’s greatest bands, and provides an excellent information service, online forum, and more, for fans. Indeed, in drafting the Led Zep sections in Words and Music I often found myself popping over to check out the odd fact or reference.

Achilles Last Stand is an astonishing achievement, and the music of Led Zeppelin clearly means a lot to Jeff. So I tracked him down and was delighted when he agreed to ‘Ramble On’ for the Q&A Series.

So Jeff, how did your work on Achilles Last Stand come about?
The first incarnation of Achilles Last Stand was put online in early 1996. At that point, the World Wide Web was just a small child and finding information about Led Zeppelin was very limited, mostly coming from Usenet Newsgroups, Digital Graffiti, a mailing list (R.I.P.!) and various fanzines.  A lot of the information found at that time was just flat out incorrect. I’m sure that it originated from fans when the band was still active and just got twisted around as new people heard it or misheard it. So, I had decided to create the most accurate, most informative Led Zeppelin website.

It’s a very extensive site. It must be quite a commitment?
It truly is. There were and still are Led Zeppelin websites that focus on one aspect, like lyrics or photos or news. I felt like I wanted to have a website that had everything. The only thing that I don’t put any focus on is the live trading and bootlegs. There are a few websites out there that are very informative and if I were to add this onto ALS, it would be too similar to what’s out there. A lot of time had been spent collecting and researching information, then compiling it into a straight text formatting and then adding HTML coding to make it presentable for the website. I still mostly rely on a text editor to create individual pages. It may take longer, however I get exactly what I want to see. I have several update projects that I always am working on, trying to make everything look as perfect as I can. If the money was there, I could easily make a full-time job out of it. In addition to juggling life outside of Led Zeppelin, my actual hours spent currently are quite minimal.

Why Led Zeppelin? Is it possible to say what their music means to you?
I am a lifetime musician, having played piano and various instruments in school bands, as well as the bass guitar for nearly 20 years. The instrumental music in the songs of Led Zeppelin attracts me the most out of any other band that I have listened to. I really enjoy the unison of the bass and electric guitars in riffs like in ‘Heartbreaker’ or ‘Black Dog’ as well as the complexity of layering in their later work. Their music has a good groove. Some songs are heavy as hell and other songs float across the air with the grace and weight of a feather. Some bands are very typecast, meaning that they are really known for one style of music. You absolutely cannot say that about Led Zeppelin. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in October 1970 when Led Zeppelin III came out and people were expecting another song like ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with different lyrics & they were treated to ‘Gallows Pole’ and ‘That’s The Way’. Wow, that would have absolutely blown my mind. Can you say that about any other band?

Ever meet any of the band?
No, unfortunately not.

They say it’s often a mistake to meet your heroes. Presumably your experience with Led Zeppelin has been different?
That’s hard to say. Honestly, I think the members of Led Zeppelin are just ordinary people and that’s how they have mostly tried to be.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
I have about a thousand different questions that I could possibly ask each of the remaining members of Led Zeppelin that would shed light on or correct misinformation that is currently floating out there.

Your first Zeppelin gig?
Unfortunately, I was 5 years old when Led Zeppelin decided that they could not continue, however my first Led Zeppelin live recording that I heard was from June 23, 1977, the famous Badgeholders show at the Forum in Inglewood, California. Being able to hear the various instruments clearly was something spectacular. A 30-minute version of ‘No Quarter’ was amazing. I wondered how a bunch of human beings could possibly continue to play for such a long time. Plus, the banter in between songs, the Plantations as it were, were so hilarious and unique, I believed that what I read in some of the unauthorized biographies were actually true, you know, the rock-and-roll excess, sex, drugs and rock and roll?

Your best Zeppelin-related gig (and why)?
I saw John Paul Jones on the second leg of his first solo Tour, on March 25, 2000 at Park West in Chicago, Illinois. Zooma had been out for seven months and although I was very familiar with all of the tracks, seeing it and hearing it in person was totally different. I was so utterly overwhelmed with the sound that was penetrating my core. It was general admission that night and so I spent most of the evening holding onto a set of stair railing. I had to hold on to something because the three performers on stage could have easily knocked me over.

Your top 3 Zeppelin albums?

  • Led Zeppelin II – it was the first LZ album I listened to. It opened my eyes.
  • Led Zeppelin – the first is always the best.
  • Physical Graffiti or Presence – it’s hard to choose between the two. Physical Graffiti has the light and shade, the heavy and the not-so heavy & everything in between, but Presence portrays a mature band, familiar with each other, wanting to branch out into the unknown and create melodic masterpieces.

Your top 3 non-Zep but Zep-related albums? (You know what I mean!)

  • Zooma – John Paul Jones. After listening to this album, you can truly tell who was the heart and soul of Led Zeppelin.
  • No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded – I really like the Arabic interpretations of the songs, plus the new material is a delight. The 2004 reissue includes remixed songs from the original, plus the inclusion of two songs that weren’t on the original.
  • Live Yardbirds: featuring Jimmy Page – the 1968 Yardbirds bootleg that Jimmy Page didn’t want released. Canned applause or not, it still is a well-recorded live concert from a band in all of their psychedelic splendour.

Some (not me, obviously) might say running a website or a fan club is an unhealthy obsession. What would you say to that?
Perhaps. It does require a fair amount of time to maintain and you do talk to some interesting and unique fans, even ones that had passed the classification of insane. Instead of calling it an unhealthy, I think that the proper way is to call it “a labour of love”.

Of everything you’ve done with Achilles Last Stand and Led Zeppelin, what are you most proud of?
Just putting the information out there. I enjoy getting emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter from fans of the website, telling how much they enjoy it.

Are you involved with any other bands or music in any other way?
I was active in cover bands for about 15 years, but I’ve slowed down in doing that as of late.

In your experience, is it the sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique that attracts rock fans to Zeppelin or is it more about the music?
It depends on what type of person you are. Obviously, sex, drugs, scandals and occult mystique sells in this day and age, however you’re going to find some musicians and fans that may want to emulate their heroes or those that really dig the music or the words.

How do you view the role of fan sites and fan clubs in the current era? Do you think they have a future?
Official websites for bands may be limited as to what they can post from management, record companies or even by the band themselves. Fan sites and fan clubs often fill in the blanks and tell the whole truth. It’s a way to unite as a community of like-minded individuals. As long as there are fans of bands, you’ll have fan sites and fan clubs.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
Music trends are very cyclical. There are always points in time when one style of music rises up to a new generation, becomes popular and knocks the previous trend back down. In addition, various types of music mash up together to form something new. I think that we are currently at a point that rock music has morphed off into new hybrids. Elements of rock are still there, you just have to try and find it.

And finally, who do you listen to when you’re not listening to Led Zeppelin?
Honestly, I really like any type of music that has guitar, bass and drums. I’m quite a fan of classic rock, like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull , Iron Butterfly & Black Sabbath.

CHEERS JEFF!

Vist the Achilles Last Stand website: http://www.led-zeppelin.org/

About Words and Music

Get Words and Music

Back to the Words and Music Q&A Series page

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: