(N) Interview with Billy Kulke of Letz Zep

By Danielle Partis.
As far as tribute bands go, Letz Zep are in a whole complete league of their own. Critically acclaimed by the BBC and numerous rock legends, including members of Led Zeppelin, this band are definitely ones to watch. Performing all the classics and a hell of a lot more – Letz Zep are taking Europe by storm with the swagger and avidity of the real band like it’s 1977 at the Pontiac Silverdome. We managed to catch up with frontman Billy ‘Plant’ Kulke a few days before his Hessle gig, to uncover his journey to discovering his performing capablities, and what it means to him to be a leading tribute to one of the best rock voices of all time.
Denim and Leather: Thanks a lot for your time Billy. Now let’s start from the beginning. When did you first discover you had pipes like Plant?
Billy: It wasn’t overnight, sad to say, it took a long time.
I started playing out playing bass guitar, notably for Roger Daltrey out in Germany, but also touring with Ozzy Osbourne, Uriah Heep and Saxon with my own band. But everyone thought I had a good voice and I did a lot of backing vocal live too. Ozzy encouraged me to do more singing actually, he is a top bloke, and really looked after us on the tour. Eventually I put the guitar down, and worked on the vocals. I knew I had the range, just had to work on the technique.
D&L: Wow, being encouraged by Ozzy, that’s impressive. Even Robert Plant himself thinks great things of you. How does it feel to be thought of like that by the legend you portray so brilliantly?
Billy: It’s good to know that all the effort is acknowledged, ‘specially by The Man himself no less.
Firstly, I was impressed not only that Plant had even heard of me, but also that he was interested enough to actually come and hear me sing for himself. He said he wanted to see how he was perceived in his 70’s heyday.
I have met him a few times since, he has always shown an interest. Jimmy came to see us too one day, and then we were invited to perform at their official launch party for the ‘Mothership’ CD.
D&L: It must be a good feeling indeed. Has music always been your main aspiration? Or did you once want to do something else for a living?
Coming from Liverpool, it’s either football or music. I wasn’t too bad as a footballer, but music was, and is, the calling. When my son was born, I did get a ‘proper job’, but even that was in the Music Biz, at a record company. Even wrote for a music mag for about a year! But I always missed the performing side of things.
I decided to get back into performing music for a hobby really; I got bored at weekends.
Obviously, I wanted to do my favourite songs, and to be musically challenged! We just did two or three shows a year, locally, until Planty walked in one day. It was then I decided then that maybe I should put a bit more effort into booking shows, the band has been pro ever since! I know I’m fortunate to be able to do something that I love.
D&L: You make it sound so casual! What kind of crowd do you like to attract? Do you think it’s important that a lot of young fans attend your shows, possibly ones who’ve never listened to Led Zeppelin?
Billy: We get such a wide cross section of people at our shows.
Usually, it’s all the younger crowd at the front. They’re usually starting to learn to play and putting bands together, they know all the songs, it’s amazing really. It’s fantastic how the circle turns and that the kids of today are still listening to Zep as a major influence.
I think it is important that they can still hear this music performed live, and hopefully we can be an inspiration to them. There is an art to delivering live music, it isn’t just a case of banging out a load of Zeppelin classics.
At the back is the older generation, arms folded, with the ‘Impress me’ look on the face, having seen it all first time around. By the end, they’re swinging from the lighting rig, singing along and punching the air!!
D&L: It always is harder to impress an older crowd, especially with a classic band like Led Zeppelin. You must be under a lot of pressure to please those long term fans. How do you conquer pre-gig nerves?
Billy: People think I’m weird, but I never get preshow nerves! Not ever! I can’t wait to get out there!
It’s what I love doing – it’s been part of me since I was growing up.
D&L: It’s one less thing to worry about definitely! How about the rest of the band – any ambitions/future plans?
Billy: Well, the band seems to have a momentum of it’s own, each year is bigger and better than the last.
We have made inroads into South America this year, playing in Brazil and Mexico, with great success, We hope to build on that in the future. We also made our first appearance in Moscow, which could open Eastern Europe to us, they love their rock music there, and never had it first time around!
We’re always changing the show, updating arrangements, and different themes for the set.
I would like to do a more bluesy set one day, with ‘I Can’t Quit You Babe’ and You Shook Me’ Lot’s of ambition and hopes for the future.
D&L: That would be interesting indeed. Do you have any past regrets musically? Is there something you wish you could have done differently?
Billy: Most everything! I think mainly, I shouldn’t have listened to some of the ‘advice’ I was given, and should have had more faith in my own judgement, and gone with what I felt was the right thing to do. I would definitely have started singing sooner!
D&L: We’re all just grateful you found your voice at all! What advice would you give to musicians looking to start a tribute act?
Billy: Do it for the music and the love of performing. Play the music you want to play and the rest will come. Most of all, strive to be the best you can be and enjoy it!
D&L: Good advice. Here at Denim and Leather, our main focus is to get great bands the recognition they deserve. Who’s your favourite underground band or artist at the moment?
Billy: Gotye from New Zealand, he is on tour at the moment in the UK. It sold out in minutes!
Reminds me of the work of Peter Gabriel.
D&L: We’ll check him out. Finally, you die. What three albums do you take to Heaven?

: Physical Graffiti – Led Zeppelin
Grace – Jeff Buckley
Electric Warrior – T.Rex

D&L: Brilliant choice there. Thanks again
Letz Zep are playing at Hessle Town Hall this Saturday (29th October). Tickets are £15 and are available from GJM music. If you can’t make this show but are eager to catch them, check their site http://www.letzzep.com/ for additional dates and information.
You really don’t want to miss out!