You need a whole lotta love for Led Zeppelin to play their music and nothing else in a tribute band. You need a whole lotta chutzpah to do it if your band features all women.

Steph Paynes has both.

When she started Lez Zeppelin in 2004, she knew an all-female tribute would need to work hard to win over Zep fans.

"Everyone was skeptical," said Paynes, who plays the Jimmy Page parts and brings Lez Zeppelin to Friday's Erie Tattoo Convention at the Avalon Hotel, 16 W. 10th St.

"As much as we like to say it's 2011 and there's no sexism in the world, and everyone thinks we're equal, the truth is the majority of the audience -- if they haven't seen us -- don't really think we're going to pull off whatever Led Zeppelin was in terms of power and technique and all the rest. So, when we do that, they're still stunned.

"In a sense, you almost have to be better," Paynes added. "You really have to be better to make sure there is no doubt in their minds that what they're seeing is for real. And that's been our trail of believing. We're leaving huge, jaw-dropped audiences in our wake."

You don't earn raves in Spin and play such festivals as Bonnaroo and Columbus, Ohio's Rock on the Range if you don't have the goods. Lez Zeppelin has proved itself live and recently did the same in the studio, fastidiously re-creating Zep's still-staggering 1969 debut.

"We matched very closely the sounds, the feel and the layers of the first record to the point where many times you couldn't tell them apart without the vocals," Paynes said. "We used all the vintage equipment that Led Zeppelin used. We fought very hard for those textures and those sounds."

"Dazed and Confused" remains one of Paynes' favorites to play live (along with "The Rain Song").

"It's a beautiful piece for guitar. It's complete in the sense that it's got all of Jimmy's tricks."

It's hard for her to pin down her favorite Zep album. Picking the best Zep concert is easier; she saw the 2007 reunion.

"I had never seen Led Zeppelin, so I was a bit shellshocked, like everyone else," Paynes said. "I saw Dave Grohl hanging around at an after-party. We were talking about how stunned we were by what we had just seen. They completely rose to the occasion."

She also met Zep bassist John Paul Jones afterward.

"I was introduced as a member of Lez Zepplin, and he was all over it. He was like, 'I heard so much about your band and I'm dying to see you.' It was amazing to me that he knew so much about the group."

Zeppelin didn't follow up with a tour. Lez Zep aims to fill the vacuum.

"I felt I had the torch to run with," she said. "We really had this responsibility, almost, to deliver this music as intense and in as passionate a way as possible."

Lez Zepplin caps the tattoo convention's opening night; Sacred 13 (8 p.m.) and Icarus Witch (9 p.m.) also play. Saturday features Scarwork (8 p.m.), Night Haven (9 p.m.) and Hammersmith (10 p.m.). Metallica tribute Whiplash (8 p.m.) plays Sunday.

More than 40 tattoo artists -- including national names Marshall Bennett, Eva Huber, and Danny Fugate -- will participate.

"It's basically an opportunity for local people of Erie to get tattoos from some really phenomenally famous artists who would (otherwise) not be in this area," said Nick Hanna of Edinboro's Game Over Tattoo.

Cost is $40 for a weekend pass or $20 per day. Partial proceeds benefit Hair Peace Charities. You can schedule appointments online at For more on the convention, see Friday's Erie Times-News.

La Sumisa
Erie Tattoo Convention

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