Ultimate Interviews

Ultimate Interviews

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Chris Manning ~ The Hindenburg Project

When you think of Texas, some think of the State's successful sports teams. The music from the lone star state is very flavourful. Whether it's the honky tonk sounds of Milton Brown, Bob Wills or Ernest Tubb, Texas offers up as many music genres as cuts of meats on a bbq.  Tex Ritter, Kenny Rogers and George Strait round off the country dish of legends that call Texas home.
Surely we can't say Texas and not mention the legendary Blind Willie Johnson. By the 1970s the blues may have been forgotten, but was revived later on, thanks to artists like Johnny and Edgar Winter, ZZtop, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Texas is no stranger to the rock world. Early days welcomed Buddy Holly and Roy Orbinson. A decade later, the gritty voice of Janis Joplin took the world by storm. Pantera and Drowning Pool also call Texas home. Alternative rock bands such as The Toadies and Flyleaf proudly reign from Fort Worth and Belton, respectively. 

In August of 1969, four English men landed in Texas. It may have been early on, people and critics alike not sure how to receive what they were witnessing. A critic wrote in 1969, following Led Zeppelin's performance at the State Fair Park Coliseum "..one of the most exciting and pulsating collections of sound in the rock business." It was clear that they had made their mark on the State, as well as the many musicians who would grow up and site Led Zeppelin as their own influences for the reason of getting into the music business. 

Fast forward to 2011. In Dallas, Texas a guitarist sees a vocalist's ad seeking other musicians. Although working on his own band for several  years, Chris Manning listened to some audio clips and was convinced that along with vocalist Bob Brewer, they had the makings of a great Led Zeppelin tribute band. So what did they do? They recruited bassist Randy Ranew and drummer Tom White and before you knew it...The Hindenburg Project was born.

I reached out to guitarist Chris Manning to find out more about 'The Hindenburg Project' as well as his own solo band 'The Chris Manning Band'.  

LZ~UFP: It's my honour to introduce 'The Hindenburg Project'.

Photo by Ashley King

Chris Manning: Guitar, theremin

Bob Brewer: Vocals, blues harp

Tom White: Drums

Randy Ranew: Bass, Keys, Vocals

LZ~UFP: Do you recall the band's first gig and what was about it that made you all realize this was what you guys wanted to do?

Chris Manning: Our first gig was booked at a small club in Dallas. We were slotted as the headliner along with about four other local bands, none of which were tributes. We were very prepared and well rehearsed because we had put so much time into getting it right before venturing out.  My memories of that show are actually similar to the response we still get to this day.  People are amazed at how close we can reproduce the studio versions of the songs in a live setting and of course how close Bob's voice is to Robert Plant's. 

LZ~UFP: Chris, besides 'The Hindenburg Project', you have your own band, 'Chris Manning Band'  and have also played live with the likes of Drowning Pool, George Lynch and Yngwie Malmsteen to name a few.  When playing with each mentioned band/artist what sort of mindset do you need to be in? Do you find approaching the Zeppelin songs more challenging or easier than the other stuff?

Chris Manning: It's really two different animals, because when I play with The Hindenburg Project, Bob is the front man so I don't have to worry about working the crowd.  When I play with my own band, I am the front man and since it is instrumental, my guitar is typically carrying the song's melody that is normally filled with the lead vocalist.  Playing in a Led Zeppelin tribute band requires me to always be conscious of playing in the style of Jimmy Page (in the occasional instances where I am not playing the studio versions note-per-note).  It certainly took me awhile to recognize when my own guitar style was creeping in and to learn to always play in the style of Jimmy Page.  Writing, recording, and performing original music will always be the ultimate for me but studying Jimmy Page so intently for two years now has certainly made me a better, more well-rounded guitarist and musician.

Photo by Ashley King

LZ~UFP: You have listed some guitarists such as Ace Frehley, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, and Alex Lifeson as some influences. What is it about those guitarists and their playing, either collectively or individually, that made you want to pick up a guitar and play?

Chris Manning: While my early years were inspired by guitarists like Page, Hendrix, Blackmore, and Frehley, it was the next generation of guitarists (Satriani, Eric Johnson, George Lynch) that ironically took my guitar playing to a level that years later equipped me with the chops to be able to play some of the most challenging Page riffs. Without the years of woodshedding in the late 80's and early 90's learning the styles and techniques of Satriani, Eric Johnson, and George Lynch, I would not have been able to play some of the solos that Page recorded in the late 60's!
Page and Hendrix in particular, are not only great guitarists but great musicians and there is a difference. There are guitarists who can play other people's music and even excel at it, but when it comes to writing their own music, they just can't do it.  Jimmy Page is one of the great guitarists who are also great musicians and I have learned to appreciate his genius more since starting The Hindenburg Project.

LZ~UFP: Could you please share with us, a few words about your bandmates.
Bob - how does he incorporate his own talent,  yet staying true to the role of Robert Plant?

Photo by Ashley King

Chris Manning:  Bob is an amazing vocalist with a voice very well suited for doing Led Zeppelin.  Not only can he sing Robert Plant convincingly, he is doing it without the benefit of tuning down (i.e., we are tuned to A440 standard tuning) and it is well within his range! To me, a great Zeppelin tribute begins with the singer and if he is not great, then it's hard to get past that.

Randy - What techniques does he use, in order to channel John Paul Jones into your gigs? 

Photo by Ashley King
Chris Manning:  Randy utilizes several different basses, one Fender Jazz bass and one specially equipped with a special pickup allowing him to integrate keyboards into songs like 'Misty Mountain Hop', 'Thank You', and 'Kashmir'.  He is also intimately familiar with the songs so he knows if you are playing your parts accurately!

Tom - Bonzo played with such intensity...what quality does Tom bring as the beat keeper in the band?

Photo by Suzan Ranew

Chris Manning: Tom came into the band with an extensive knowledge of the Zeppelin catalog and he has been studying Bonham since he was a teenager.  He is a powerful drummer - he actually cracked a cymbal at the last show.

Chris - Which Zeppelin song do you find the most challenging, yet rewarding to play?

Photo by Ashley King

Chris Manning: When you play Jimmy Page, you must be able to play slide, play with a bow, and play a variety of styles and that is a great challenge in addition to taking on the style of a legendary player.  So for me, playing 'Dazed and Confused' really well and performing the bow solo that combines the best elements of Page's solos is very rewarding and it will always be one of the fan's most requested songs.  If you're never played a guitar with a bow, it is a challenging experience that can produce sounds just not possible otherwise.

LZ~UFP: In the years that you have been together and performing,  you've played for many fans who love the music.  What is it about Zeppelin do you think keeps them relevant, fresh and loved, even after all these years since they disbanded?

Chris Manning: I think true greatness will reveal itself after enough time has passed and this has certainly been the case with Zeppelin.  Whether it's music history or any type of history, it takes a decade or two in order to gain a clear perspective of people and events.  Bands should be evaluated in context of the time period they produced their music.  Most of the people don't realize Led Zeppelin 1 was recorded in December of 1968 and released in January 1969, which puts them alongside Hendrix in the music timeline, except Hendrix's first release occurred in 1967.  That's amazing when you compare other music of that time period, especially guitar-centric music.  Ultimately, it boils down to the music, and Led Zeppelin produced an incredible catalog of music spanning multiple genres (blues, rock, reggae, folk, etc.) with a sound uniquely to their own.

Photo by Ashley King

LZ~UFP:  From the Zeppelin discography, which album do you find influences you the most?  Is there a particular element on that album? (i.e., the guitar, lyrics, music, etc.) As for a favourite song, is there one that you enjoy playing more than the others?

Chris Manning: I really like the first release because they were a new band and there are so many great songs.  The solos in 'Good Times, Bad Times', 'Dazed and Confused', and 'Communication Breakdown' are really groundbreaking and technically challenging for players of any era but especially then. Guitarists underestimate the technique required to play some of Page's solos and so I take a lot of pride in putting the level of detail required to give the audience the classic versions featuring Page's greatest riffs.
Photo by Michael Manning

LZ~UFP: How much improvisation goes into your solos during, say for example: 'Whole Lotta Love', 'Dazed and Confused' etc?  Jimmy has been known for changing up the solos at each show.  Do you try to do that during your performances?

Chris Manning: That's interesting because we pride ourselves on playing the studio versions of the songs, but these are two songs that have long instrumental breaks. Whenever I improvise, and these are definitely songs that require that, I try to remain as true as possible to the style of Jimmy Page. 'Whole Lotta Love' requires a theremin which can produce a wide range of sounds but in the case of both songs, I try to keep the solos to a reasonable length, as I don't think the audience prefer 15-20 minute solos like they did back in the 70s!

LZ~UFP:  Many people dream to either play with the Zep boys, or have them in attendance at one of their shows. If you could have any  member of Zep on stage with  you, which one would it be, why, and what song would you absolutely have to play?

Chris Manning: As a guitarist, I would love to meet Jimmy Page, play 'Rock and Roll', and have the opportunity to hang out with him for a few minutes.  Robert Plant now lives in Austin, Texas, only three hours from Dallas so it would be amazing to have him sit in with us for any song, but I would go with a deep cut like 'Four Sticks' or 'The Rover'.

Photo by Ashley King

LZ~UFP: Which 5 songs must be on a typical setlist?  

Chris Manning: That's a difficult question with so many great songs to choose from.  I would say 'Dazed and Confused', 'Rock and Roll', 'Kashmir', 'Black Dog', and 'Immigrant Song'.

LZ~UFP: A final question, for those who have not been to a show yet, what would you say they could expect when seeing 'The Hindenburg Project' live?

Chris Manning:  First and foremost, expect to hear the classic studio versions of the songs, performed as accurately as possible. Most people are blown away by how accurately we play the songs.  I feel there is an added degree of respect for the Zeppelin catalog by playing them accurately and true to the original recordings.  There is certainly nothing wrong with playing the live versions of the songs, but we choose to remain true to the original recordings because those are the versions the fans love and are most familiar with.  One other thing I have seen at every show we've played is people pulling out their cell phones to shoot video and I think that is a great compliment. 

Photo by Michael Manning

We recently played the House of Blues in Dallas the same night as Ratt and I didn't realize what a huge Zeppelin fan Stephen Pearcy was, but the next thing we know, he is sitting in with us for a few Zep songs! The response has been great and as word continues to get out about us, the opportunities increase.  We are still a relatively new band but we have done a lot in almost two years including shows in Galveston, San Antonio, Austin and Longview as well as about six shows at the House of Blues and we are just getting started.  

You can check out a clip from that night here.
'Wanton Song' with Stephen Pearcy

While writing up this interview, I gained a new appreciation for the guys. It's evident that they are not in it just to cover Led Zeppelin. They are in it for their admiration and respect for those four men who came together and become one incredible force in the music world. Although they may have other side projects, when they come together to get the Led out, they have one objective...to give the audience an ultimate Led Zeppelin experience.  

To learn more about 'The Hindenburg Project', including tour dates, booking information and media, check out the links below for their official website and Facebook group. You can also check out the 'Chris Manning Band' website for an insight to all of Chris' solo work.

I want to especially thank Chris for taking time from his busy touring schedule to answer our questions. 

Thanks also to Ashley King, Suzan Ranew and Michael Manning for the photos.

Important Links:

The Hindenburg Project Official Website
The Hindenburg Project Official Facebook Page
The Hindenburg Project Youtube Channel
Chris Manning Band Official Website

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