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White Denim's James Petralli: Five Essential Led...

White Denim with James Petralli second to left (photo by Drew Anthony Smith, PR)

White Denim with James Petralli second to left (photo by Drew Anthony Smith, PR)


Most long-lived bands hit a transition phase—and that's where White Denim finds itself after a decade. The bluesy, virtuosic Austin-based rockers released a seventh album earlier this year, the rollicking and reflective Stiff, produced by Ethan Johns. As singer, guitarist and songwriter James Petralli rides the waves of some lineup shifts, White Denim hasn't slowed down its tour schedule — the group will be at New York's SummerStage in Cental Park on September 22 for a benefit concert with Band of Horses.

FUV hosted White Denim in our studios in 2013 following the release of Corsicana Lemonade — and they knocked us out with their gritty, kinetic performance. We were so impressed by White Denim's blistering cover of Led Zeppelin's "Custard Pie" for MOJO's Physical Graffiti Redrawn that we reached out to James and asked if he'd write about his "Five Essential Led Zeppelin Songs" for FUV Essentials. Not only did he agree, but his essay is heartfelt and hilarious. And pretty insightful too.

White Denim's James Petralli: Five Essential Led Zeppelin Songs:

Led Zeppelin is the first rock group to fully flip my lid. I was about twelve years old and heavily into playing Little League baseball when I was introduced to their music. During batting practice on a typically sweltering North Arlington summer afternoon, we were hard rocking the latest Soundgarden cassette. Our Aiwa blambox was really rattling the rusty cage when one of the coaches thought it'd be killer to crank Led Zeppelin II.

By the time "Living Loving Maid" kicked off I was hooked. That summer I bagged groceries at the Tom Thumb. Nearly every penny I earned went to the acquisition of Swisher Sweets and anything related to Zeppelin. I bought t-shirts, cassettes, and posters from the shop near my house and when I ran out of money I sold bits of my parents smooth jazz collection to get more Zeppelin.

I lifted Hammer of the Gods from the second hand bookstore and carried it cover out through the halls at my junior high so everyone would know how supremely heavy I was. I loved Led Zeppelin zoso much...

Then I got into high school and was turned on to Thrill Jockey records and jam bands. College led me to Elvis Costello, Mingus, and Sun Ra. These were much lighter years.

When I moved to Austin after school I thought the scene here was mostly a drag. There were cool groups but what was being celebrated was really twee so I started drinking heavily and rocking out super hard with my roommate Byshop Massive in our cool apartment. We set out to make a music band that would be in opposition to what was happening in Austin at the time. We wanted to be aggressive, dumb, and fun. We began to study Led Zeppelin again. These are what I believe to be the choicest Zep cuts. I don't think there is much of a point in talking about their massive hits. Though they still reign, everyone has heard them and they are still played on the radio every day around the world.

I'm listening to these songs as I write this:

"Good Times Bad Times," Led Zeppelin
John Bohnam's first fill on the first song from their debut record is arguably the most confident and badass thing ever played on a kit. Every note on this cut is so deep. You could make a career out of simply repurposing moves from this song alone. I think more than a couple of successful music bands have done just that.

"Celebration Day," Led Zeppelin III
It is a known fact that Zeppelin III is by far their best record. Physical Graffiti is second, that is followed by II, then Houses of the Holy, then the debut, IV, then Presence, In Through the Out Door, and last and totally least is Coda. I'm not sure Coda even counts as a Zep record. Anyway, Paul Jones is absolutely crushing on this one. Does Bonham come in on the end of 2? What an utterly bangin' and totally creative rhythm section.

"Down By The Seaside," Physical Graffiti
I wanted to pick a tune that showcased the more sensitive and country leaning side of Zep. This is a solid tune through and through. Killer tremolo effect employed by Page. This could have been the Kinks or the Faces until the bridge bops in and then UH OH it's clearly freakin' Zeppelin.

Achilles Last Stand, Presence
This track is taken from the album Presence. The sound of this album is really interesting. I think the band Heart had a bigger hit with this one than Zep did. They're a good band as well. I doubt LZ fussed too much about the nod considering how deeply inspired they were by other artists. Rumor has it that Plant did his vocal takes for this record from a wheelchair following a severe car accident. He still sounds really powerful here. I saw him a couple of years back with one of his electric bands. To be honest my expectations were not high. I was blown away. The performance stands as one of the best shows I have seen since I've been on the road.

Fool In The Rain, In Through the Out Door
Massive hit, I know. It was either gonna be this or "In The Evening." Probably should go with that really. Plant has been more appealing elsewhere in the catalog for sure. I kinda love this though. Bonham doing Bernard Purdie. Samba whistle? Yikes. I'm a little ashamed to include this one...whatever. I love the octave effect on the guitar solo. I think Marc Bolan had the same effect for Electric Warrior and maybe Jack White for some of his records. I believe it's made by Boss and can be purchased at most guitar shops for well under a thousand dollars. Also the arpeggios on the acoustic guitar are stunning. This is a heartwarming and fun classic original by Led Zeppelin.

- James Petralli
August 2016

Read all of FUV's Five Essentials.