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Costumes

I do not look like John Paul Jones in the 1970's, or in any other time. The three photos above (L-R) are of JPJ around 1979, myself as JPJ in 2011, and myself as myself in 2015. I am also not a rich rock star like JPJ, so I have to try to pull this stuff together on a budget, but it has to look RIGHT on stage the moment you walk out, or the effect is ruined. Here's generally where I land today:


Here's a shot done in the dressing room just before a gig on 10/10/2015, featuring the white Knebworth suit.


Here's a shot done backstage just before a gig in 2014, featuring a bad 70's jacket (for when I am sick of the white suit).

Update 1 August 2012 - Out of boredom and wanting to try something new, I have a new John Paul Jones costume (as of July 2012), taken from a photo of (I believe) Zep's 1975 tour, when he cut his hair and put on a vest. I have photos of a couple of different vests on that tour, and although I do not have the vest 100% right, it seems close enough for rock and roll (as they say...). A new synthetic wig (but a good one), and I finally get to show off my massive sideburns (actually trimmed a bit back to better match the photo). Unfortunately, I also get to show off my massive ass (I'm not as slim-hipped and JPJ). It's also a more correct getup for the gear I use (Fender Jazz bass, pre-Alembic), and seems to fit in with the rest of the band costumes as well. I'm still interested in getting a SONG REMAINS THE SAME jacket (with the weird christmas tree-like decorations sewn onto the sleeve, etc), but there are very few good photos from which to work with besides screen captures from the DVD, so we'll see about that one.

Part of the classic rock band tribute thing is theater, or even performance art - attempting to look and act as much like the original musicians as you are trying to sound like them. It turns out people are willing to go along, just like they are willing to believe (for a short while) that a play becomes a story, characters and emotions, not just people standing around in costumes, talking on a stage in a room surrounded by other people. It's all pretend, and we all know it, but when it's done right that's Art, baby! John Paul Jones was the least flamboyant, and for that matter the least recognizable member of Led Zeppelin (the curse of most bass player). This seemed failry simple to put together.

The Suit

The photo of JPJ from Knebwoth at the top of the page is the one I initially decided to try to match for costume and wig (as do many JPJ's in tribute bands - someone commented on one of my YouTube videos that he's sick of all the white suited JPJ clones, and sometimes I agree). I have pretty narrow shoulders and wider hips, so I look better in a suit than a t-shirt on stage, and except for the VERY STRANGE coat JPJ wears in THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME concert movie, this is about the only getup with a jacket he performed in while with Zep. I was a bit concerned that the rest of the band was going more for the 1972-73 SONG movie outfits as well, and that the whole suit might not look right with others (this look is from thier 1979 tour), but it's worked out fine (people seem to prefer the stereotype, being a nostalgic tribute performance after all).

However...

Try finding a white suit in the fall (even in LA, go ahead and try). I checked with many clothing shops in town, and lots of online sellers, but mostly all I could find in white were cheap polyester tuxes. But then I found the website StudioSuits.com where they custom make suits in India based on your measurements for about $120 shipped! The coolsest fabric they offered was linen, but I figured it would look fine onstage (it does). I was able to custom order it with details I could glimmer from photos, including the single button on the cuffs, wider legs below the knee (this was 1979 after all, but not huge bell-bottoms like 1972), no rear vent, etc. The suit actually arrived in just over a week, but a few adjustments had to be made, so I found a tailor in downtown LA who would lengthen the arms, redo the cuffs and a couple of other minor things for $45.

Of course, as I walked from the tailor's shop, I saw a white 2-piece suit in the window of a men's suit store that matched JPJ's suit even better, for only $89.

Oh well, my suit fits great, looks great in the lights of the stage, etc. - not bad for a first draft. Looking back now, after wearing and evaluating the suit, it seems to me JPJ's suit is much more Armani-style, made with a nice light wool (as opposed to the slightly "Saturday Night Fever" style with heavier linen I ended up with - that's what you get when you order online). I am sure if I return to the shop I saw the other suit it would be long gone, anyway. Better to focus my attention on the hair.

UPDATE - in mid 2011 I found a better fitting (narrower in the shoulders, longer jacket and overall lighter-weight fabric) and slightly more correctly-styled linen suit at a downtown Los Angeles shop for a bit over $100, and wore that for almost a year until I switched to the vest getup above. I'll probably go back and forth depending on mood and weather (if it's a hot putside concert, the suit can get pretty hot).

UPDATE - in mid 2014 I found an even better fitting (narrower in general. tighter pants, polyester fabric) which should outlive the linen suits, which got really work=n out in the front of the pants (from the basses). To me it's now 100% Saturday Night Fever, but onstage it looks great.

The Hair (updated 1 June 2011)

Say what you want about JPJ's playing and his clothing, and the fact that he was about as cool as you can get (the bassist in Led Zep - c'mon!), but his hair styles were just plain strange.

Very thick and pretty straight with some wave and body, the lengths and styles varied wildly for the 12 years of the band, from huge "in his face" mops, to super strange dutch boy bobs, to long/frizzy/big hair at the end of the 70's. Sadly I am coming to the conclusion that if I really nail the hair style as far as accuracy is concerned, it will look weird no mater how good the wig - because he generally had weird hair styles! Since I chose the white suit, the hair I was going for would definately not be my own. A middle aged man, even with a decent head of hair, cannot look like a guy in his late 20's, with a late 20's hair line and hair density (unless you are a Kennedy, I guess). So bring on the wigs!

Update - A new, REAL human hair wig (1st far left above) is my latest. It's almost TOO thick density wise; the first styling looks good, but I think I need to add more wave/body to it. It is also brown with some greys, which looks totally natural on me and looks fine in stage lights, but JPJ's hair was more reddish/stawberry blonde. I'll live with this one for a bit...

I went through 3 wigs before I found a good one for John Entwistle, so I figured it would be trial an error to find the right JPJ wig. This time I attempted to get by with cheaper synthetic hair wigs, at least until I found the style I was happy with. The first wig (2nd from left) is more correct for the late 60's/early 70's JPJ (with the white hippie shirt as shown), but I wanted the suit. The second wig (3ed from left) has a better deeper red color, but it's just not full enough. The problem with synthetic hair wigs is that you really can't custom style them - they are what they are, and either oook right pretty much out of the box (or bag, actually), otherwise it's a losing battle. The first 2 wigs actually came from China on eBay and cost about $15 each with shipping, so getting a few gigs out of them and then moving on is not really a problem (although I did pay to get them cut a bit). The 3rd wig (far right) was me breaking down and spending about $130 for another synthetic wig from a local shop, including some custom styling to get just the right look. Unfortunately it looked the worse of the three after one gig, and reverted back to the way it looked before the styling.

Unfortunately, if I NAIL the JPJ look, then it will look kinda silly (because, let's face it, his dutch boy cut does look pretty bad, at least by today's standards). I do remember my hair looking somewhat like this in 1980 as well, although darker, and this is showbiz, so if silly is what the script calls for, then I silly it is. Maybe I could try a couple of other different costume and wig combinations:

© 2011-15 Joel Pelletier, email: joelp@johnpauljoel.com
Updated 11 October 2015

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