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Movie's Zeppelin-Like Songs Pass Crucial Page-Plant Test

August 13, 2000|STEVE HOCHMAN

Cameron Crowe has directed Tom Cruise and was a nominee for a screenwriting Academy Award for "Jerry Maguire."

But he's rarely been as nervous as he was recently when he flew to London to screen his just-finished movie, "Almost Famous," for Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant and Jimmy Page.

The film is set in the rock world of 1973, which Zeppelin ruled, drawing on Crowe's experiences as a wunderkind writer for Rolling Stone, including a legendary road trip with the band. Now Crowe hoped Plant and Page would find the movie true enough to approve the use of five Zeppelin songs in the soundtrack.

Even more, he was anxious about what his idols would think of the new songs performed by Stillwater, the fictional band at the center of the story.

When the lights went up in the screening room, Crowe sweated out a little small talk before Page asked him, "Who wrote those Stillwater songs?"

"Uhhh," Crowe recalls mumbling, "my wife and, uh, me."

When Page said, "They're really good!," Crowe repeated his answer with gusto: "Oh yeah! My wife and me!"

Of course, it helps that Crowe's wife is Nancy Wilson of the band Heart, which she formed with her sister Ann at the height of Zeppelin's reign. With Crowe writing lyrics and Wilson the music, it was still a big challenge to compose and record a handful of songs that could pass as authentic alongside the more than 50 vintage soundtrack selections by such artists as Elton John, Yes, David Bowie and the Allman Brothers Band, as well as Zeppelin.

"We wanted to do it with the technology of the time and using the angst-free American band ethic--back when it wasn't cool to say you hate yourself and want to die," says Crowe, 43. "More like, 'I'm really happy to be here on the road with all these cities whizzing by and the only problem is I don't remember what city I was in yesterday.' "

Crowe and Wilson actually started work on the Stillwater songs back in 1986 while on their honeymoon and recorded demos in the mid-'90s, but the project was shelved while Crowe was making "Jerry Maguire." Returning to it last year, they went about re-creating the right vibe.

"I'm from that era too," says Wilson, 46, who also composed and performed the film's instrumental score. "And I still have a lot of the ['70s] equipment. I have a big thing about analog equipment. For something like this you have to have all the tube gear possible in the studio."

Jason Lee and Billy Crudup play the band's singer and guitarist, respectively. But for the recordings, Wilson and Crowe enlisted drummer Ben Smith from the Wilson sisters' side band the Lovemongers and brought in Pearl Jam's Mike McCready to play most of the lead guitar parts. The actual voice of Stillwater is Marti Fredericksen, a producer and writer who has worked recently with Aerosmith and Foreigner.

In addition to the four Crowe-Wilson songs, Peter Frampton contributed two that were also recorded by the studio band.

Only one Stillwater song, "Fever Dog," will be included on the soundtrack album, to be released Sept. 12 by DreamWorks Records. And with its staggered beat and meandering, bluesy melody, it does fit comfortably with the vintage material. Crowe claims that a few times he's actually fooled some people.

"Every now and then I'd be playing 'Fever Dog' and someone would say, 'I remember that song,' " he says. "Cool."

BLENDED OR ROCKS?: In recent years, the line has blurred between Sammy Hagar's career in music and his career marketing the Cabo Wabo Cantina in Baja California (which he retained in his divorce from Van Halen) and its brand of tequila. A couple of tours ago he mixed margaritas ("Waboritas," he calls them) on stage and passed them to the audience, and the single from his last album was titled "Mas Tequila."

For his upcoming tour, supporting his "Ten 13" album due Oct. 10, he's taking it to another level. On stage at the shows will be a facsimile of the Baja establishment where fans will be able to hang out and imbibe tequila drinks while the concert is going on.

One big question: Will he be checking IDs--something he didn't do when passing around the 'ritas before?

Actually, yes. The cantina habitues for the shows will be a select group of contest and promotions winners, but only ones who show proof that they're of drinking age.

Says Hagar publicist Alfred Hopton, "Although Sammy does endorse drinking, he certainly doesn't endorse minors drinking."

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