Summer Songs: Led Zeppelin Reinvented, Acoustic Style

Tell Me More's 'Summer Songs' series samples contemporary artists who've remade old classics. This week, Gwen Thompkins, host of WWNO's Music Inside Out, shares an acoustic version of a hit by the rock band Led Zeppelin.

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CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

And now we continue our summer songs series. We've been talking to Gwen Thompkins - the host of Music Inside Out on WWNO in New Orleans - about current artists who reinterpret old classics. This week she tells us about musician Alex McMurray. He takes us on a little bit of time travel back to the heyday of the rock band Led Zeppelin. Welcome back, Gwen.

GWEN THOMPKINS, BYLINE: Thank you so much, Celeste. It's great to be back.

HEADLEE: So this song is an American version of a tune by a British band.

THOMPKINS: That's right. Now the song is, of course, "What Is and What Should Never Be," which was composed by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant - you know, the leaders of Led Zeppelin - and it was a big hit back in the '60s and '70s in their heyday.

HEADLEE: Still a classic, right?

THOMPKINS: Oh, my goodness. I still - I have to say, I still blare it whenever I hear it on the radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS AND WHAT NEVER SHOULD BE")

THOMPKINS: And Alex McMurray grew up in New Jersey listening to, you know, rock 'n roll and Led Zeppelin, especially. And he grew up to be a really pretty great song writer in his own right, you know, but his songs are a lot different. I mean, they're narrative poems in which he takes on all sorts of different personas, you know, kind of like Tom Waits or Randy Newman might do. But he connects with this song in a very interesting way because he does kind of a postmodern take on it - an acoustic version. And I'm telling you, it kind of rocks.

HEADLEE: An acoustic version of the guitar-heavy Led Zeppelin. I got to hear it. Let's take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS AND WHAT NEVER SHOULD BE")

HEADLEE: OK, I got to admit, Gwen, when you hear that on the acoustic guitar, you actually can hear the chord structures. I mean, you're able to hear those blue notes and the bend notes...

THOMPKINS: Yes.

HEADLEE: ...In the chords that distinguish Mississippi Blues.

THOMPKINS: It's true.

HEADLEE: It's kind of amazing.

THOMPKINS: It really is and you have to - I mean, you got to hear the song rock out at the end because that's what everyone - when I listen to it, that's what I want to hear, that's what so many people want to hear.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS AND WHAT NEVER SHOULD BE")

THOMPKINS: You know, and truth of the matter is, what guy with a guitar hasn't tried to - you know what I mean - to remake a wonderful, you know, rock classic. And, you know, a lot of them try and not very many actually succeed. But Alex McMurray, he does. I mean, the man can do "What Is and What Should Never Be."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT IS AND WHAT NEVER SHOULD BE")

HEADLEE: It's good to talk to you again, as always, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: Thank you, Celeste.

HEADLEE: That was musician Alex McMurray with his own spin on an old favorite from Led Zeppelin. To hear more of Alex McMurray's music and his conversation with Gwen Thompkins, the host of Music Inside Out, go to WWNO.org. And that's our program for today.

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