Bonerama’s 2001 debut album, “Live at the Old Point,” included the trombone-powered funk-rock band’s take on the Led Zeppelin chestnut “Moby Dick.” For Zeppelin, “Moby Dick” served as a showcase for drummer John Bonham. But as Bonerama demonstrated, it also translates to trombone and sousaphone.
“It’s an easy riff tune that goes over well and is fun to jam on and stretch out,” Bonerama trombonist Mark Mullins said. “It can be a lot of things in that middle section, instead of just a drum solo. People love it.”
“Moby Dick” isn’t the only riff-based song in the Led Zeppelin catalog that people love. Bonerama steadily added more and more of them to the repertoire. “The Ocean” endures as one of the band’s most-requested songs.
In the late 1990s, trombonist Mark Mullins would occasionally encounter Mark Samuels at Kinko’s well past midnight. They'd both be at the copy…
That Led Zeppelin obsession culminates in “Bonerama Plays Zeppelin,” an album consisting of a dozen Bonerama-ized versions of Led Zeppelin classics. The second Bonerama project to be distributed and marketed by local independent label Basin Street Records, it is available on CD and, in a first for the band, vinyl.
Bonerama will headline a celebration for the new album Friday at Tipitina’s. The set will spotlight some original compositions, but mostly focus on Zeppelin songs.
Veteran bassist Sam Price will open the show with his band True Believers, which features former Bonerama drummer Eric Bolivar and former Papa Grows Funk saxophonist Jason Mingledorff. Show time is 10 p.m. Tickets are $15.
Over the years, Mullins, co-founder Craig Klein and their bandmates have often fielded suggestions from fans about what classic rock songs Bonerama should take on. An all-Led Zeppelin album has been a frequent request.
Generally, Bonerama albums include some covers intermingled with original compositions. Devoting an entire album to Led Zeppelin music is indicative of how well the pairing works.
Bonerama started recording Zeppelin material in 2015 during sessions for the 2017 album “Hot Like Fire.” “The hardest thing was figuring out songs you’re not going to put on there,” Mullins said. “There are so many great songs.”
“Bonerama Plays Zeppelin,” the band’s eighth album overall, features such radio favorites such as “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Heartbreaker,” but also the lesser-known “Four Sticks,” a funky take on “The Crunge” and “Hey Hey What Can I Do,” which Zeppelin initially released only as the B-side to the 1970 single of “Immigrant Song.”
An instrumental take on “In My Time of Dying” clocks in at nearly 10 minutes. “I think it works fine because it’s got so many interesting little parts that develop,” Mullins said.
The band’s drummer at the time of the recording, A.J. Hall, is also a singer capable of hitting the high notes that frontman Robert Plant routinely belted with Zeppelin. Hall’s vocals are featured on several songs on “Bonerama Plays Zeppelin.” Now a member of keyboardist Jon Cleary’s band, Hall will sit in with Bonerama during Friday’s show at Tipitina’s.
So will another special guest: Mullins’ 18-year-old son Michael, a senior at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and the north shore’s Lakeshore High School. The younger Mullins, who has his own band, Next Gen V, has joined Bonerama on the road more than once, contributing trombone and, on Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times,” lead vocals.
“We snuck him out for a couple of trips to our stronger markets,” Mullins said. “He’s got this magnetic stage presence, and is very comfortable and confident.”
No less an expert than Robert Plant has given a thumbs up to Bonerama’s treatment of the Led Zeppelin catalog. Mullins met Plant when the legend came to New Orleans to record songs for a 2007 Fats Domino tribute album at the Music Shed. Bonerama had just finished mixing its “Bringing It Home” album at the same studio; the album includes a cover of Zeppelin’s “The Ocean.”
At the Music Shed, Plant listened to Bonerama’s “The Ocean,” for which Mullins used an electric trombone and wah-wah pedal to mimic Plant’s vocals. According to Mullins, Plant pointed out that his “oh so good!” exclamation at the very end of the song was omitted from Bonerama’s version, but otherwise he “loved our approach.”
He’s not alone.