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There are lots of wild stories about Led Zeppelin—some true, some false. Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin dishes up the facts, in the band’s own words, as they saw them. It shoots down the folklore and assumptions about Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham and presents the band’s full history, from when Jimmy Page was playing skiffle to the day the band was honored by the Kennedy Center for their contribution to American and global culture.
Any band is an amalgam of the players, but in very special cases, those players form an entity unto itself. Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin captures the ideas of all of the band’s members at the time they created classics like “Whole Lotta Love,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Kashmir” but also encapsulates the idea of the band itself as it crafted the music that changed pop culture. In the process, the book offers insight into what made Led Zeppelin tick—and what made it the most popular band in the world.
In a series of over fifty interviews from 1957 to 2012, many never before seen in print, this is the story of Led Zeppelin, as it happened, told by the people who knew it best—the members of the band.
About the Author
Hank Bordowitz’s books include Bad Moon Rising: The Unauthorized History of Creedence Clearwater Revival; Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man; Every Little Thing Gonna Be Alright: The Bob Marley Reader; The U2 Reader: A Quarter Century of Commentary, Criticism, and Reviews; Turning Points in Rock and Roll; Dirty Little Secrets of the Record Business: Why So Much Music You Hear Sucks; and The Bruce Springsteen Scrapbook. He has written for Spin, Playboy, Jazziz, and hundreds of other publications and is an itinerant professor of music, the music business, and writing
Read an Excerpt
Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin
Interviews and Encounters
By Hank Bordowitz
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2014 Hank Bordowitz
All rights reserved.
JIMMY PAGE IS JUST WILD ABOUT LED ZEPPELIN
December 27, 1968, Go! magazine
One of the first things the New Yardbirds did after a few desultory gigs in Europe was play some dates in America. And one of the first people they encountered there, and the first to publish a story about the new band in the US, was English expatriate Robin Leach, who created a broadside magazine called Go! that was distributed free. It was the same publication in every city except for the middle four pages. These four pages were sponsored by local radio stations (in New York it was the WMCA Good Guys) and included playlists and promotions for the station. For the two years the periodical lasted it was able to brag that it had "the Largest Circulation of Any Pop Weekly." — Ed
Jimmy Page walked into the office, smiled, and sat down. His slim build was covered with clothes, cornucopia of color, topped off with a silver velour jacket. The impression that his clothes made on others didn't even seem to faze Jimmy, as he talked about his new group, Led Zeppelin.
Jimmy Page is a well-known musician all over Britain. He is probably one of the best studio musicians ever to come out of the English recording studios, being in the backup bands for Engelbert Humperdinck and big groups.
From this background he joined the Yardbirds and stayed with them for two years as lead guitarist. After two moderately successful years with the Yardbirds Jimmy split, since he found too much friction working with them.
"They were too much into their own bag. They were great at experimenting, allowing me to move in and out of the expression every good musician needs — but then they started to get erratic.
"Sometimes we would play at concerts and the audience would want to hear some of our older songs — the ones that were hits — but the guys didn't want to do them. They just wanted to do their own stuff, solos and the like."
When Jimmy left the Yardbirds, the group just broke up.
After that he tried reorganizing. The New Yardbirds took a little while to find, because Jimmy wanted to get the best.
After three weeks of constant searching he still had nothing, but one week later the whole group was formed.
The New Yardbirds consisted of vocalist Robert Plant, John Paul Jones on bass, John Bonham on drums and percussion, Jimmy Page on guitar and just about any other stringed instrument, except maybe the piano.
The New Yardbirds were already into recording an album when they started wondering about their name. "We originally thought that by calling ourselves the New Yardbirds we would be able to keep a sort of continuity from the early days of the old group, but midway through the album recording we figured it would be better to find a new name.
"A friend of mine had a name, but no group, so we took his name, with his blessings, of course. Actually, we kind of liked the sound; the Led Zeppelin sounds sort of groovy, doesn't it?"
The Led Zeppelin had its first concert in Scandinavia. "They don't cheer too madly there, you know? We were really scared, because we only had about fifteen hours to practice together. It was sort of an experimental concert to see if we were any good, I guess.
"We did the concert, and at the end we got a tremendous ovation. It was more than we ever expected, and it's really given us a great lift."
The Led Zeppelin will have their first album released during the third week of the New Year. This release, on Atlantic Records, will fall in the middle of a six-week tour which they begin December 26, in Denver, Colorado.
"The tour is scheduled for six weeks, but if we're having a good time, and the people like us, then we'll probably extend it."
Talking about the type of music the Zeppelin will do, Jimmy was animated as he said: "All of us are good musicians. We do what is pleasing to us and an audience.
"We can do all kinds and styles of music, so we're not restricted to any one thing. We want to get an act that will allow free movement. I mean, we play something and, say one of us just feels like playing one type of piece likely as not we will all join in after a few minutes, so we can all do it together.
"These things aren't planned. It's a feeling you get when you work together. Basically, we like to play blues with innovations, but we're not restricted. The old Yardbirds were restricted like that, by themselves. When they found something they liked they didn't do anything else for long stretches of time."CHAPTER 2
LED ZEPPELIN CLIMBS BEFORE ITS FIRST LP
Ritchie Yorke | January 11, 1969, Globe and Mail
Ritchie Yorke was a major voice for Led Zeppelin early on in their career (and his). His 1976 book Led Zep: The Led Zeppelin Biography was certainly one of the first books about the band. It was edited into The Definitive Led Zeppelin Biography in 1992. — Ed.
Much to their surprise — and delight — record companies have discovered that they can sell stacks of albums without getting once-vital radio exposure. They have even found that they can sell a group's LP even if it has never made a record.
The truth of this unlikely situation is borne out by the orders for the first album by Led Zeppelin, a new English group headed by guitarist Jimmy Page.
Although the LP is still more than four weeks away from its release date in the United States, it reportedly is much in demand in California, with orders for more than 50,000 copies.
How can a group command this kind of attention when most people have not even heard of the album? The answer seems to lie with the popularity of individual musicians.
In the case of the Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page is the attraction. The 23-year-old former art student is known for his stints as bass guitarist with the Yardbirds, and later as the group's lead guitarist.
Although the Yardbirds have split up, their influence continues. Between the Yardbirds' breakup and the formation of Led Zeppelin in October, Page worked as a recording session musician. One of his more memorable efforts was the guitar gymnastics on Joe Cocker's single, "With a Little Help From My Friends."
"I only did a few sessions, because I didn't want to fall into that trap of playing on every disc coming out in England," Page said from Los Angeles, where the group has started a North American tour.
"Since I split from the Yardies, I've been searching around for some guys for a new group, the right group." The standing ovations received by Led Zeppelin at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles indicate that Page's search may be over.
Led Zeppelin's other members are: John Paul Jones, 23, on bass, organ, and piano; drummer John Bonham, 20, who played with Tim Rose; singer, Robert Plant, 21, a former member of the Band of Joy.
The name, Led Zeppelin?
"Keith Moon, of the Who, thought it up," said Page. "You know the expression about a bad joke going over like a lead balloon. It's a variation on that; and there is a little of the Iron Butterfly light-and-heavy music connotation."
Led Zeppelin landed in Denver two weeks ago, starting a two-month tour that brings them to Toronto's Rock Pile on Feb. 12.
"The reaction has been unbelievable so far," said Page, who is recovering from a bout of Hong Kong flu. "It's even better than what we got with the Yardbirds. It's really exciting to be back on the concert trail.
"My original concept was to put together a group in which every one was proficient enough to be able to take a solo at any time, and it's worked.
"We cut the album at Olympic Studios in London early in November. It's all original material, except two numbers: 'You Shook Me,' a traditional blues, and 'I Can't Quit You, Baby,' the old Otis Rush thing."
The album, simply titled Led Zeppelin, will be released later this month. I obtained a copy from New York this week. The LP seems to live up to claims that Led Zeppelin will be the next super group in the United States.
It's a mixture of heavy, earthy blues ("I learned a lot from B. B. King, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy: I used to listen to their records over and over, and then try to play exactly like that") and wailing psychedelia.
It's not quite as free-flowing as Cream, but in the process of adding more instrumentation and vocal harmonies, Led Zeppelin has emerged with a positive, driving, distinctive sound.
Page's guitarwork skims across the melody with a simple joy. Jones's organ rhythms are forceful and invigorating. The whole is a rare pop experience. Unlike many groups, Led Zeppelin has managed to maintain simplicity while striving for depth.
I find this the best debut album by a group since the 1967 release of Are You Experienced? by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
"I'm really happy to be back into it," said Page. "There's room for everything on the scene; you don't have to follow any bandwagons. You just get out there and do your own thing.
"It's a good period for guitarists. I think every good guitarist has something unique to say musically. My only ambition now is to keep a consistent record product coming out.
"Too many groups sit back after the first album, and the second one is a down trip. I want every new album to reach out farther. That's what I'm doing here."CHAPTER 3
LED ZEPPELIN: PLANT
Mark Williams | April 11, 1969, International Times
As people started to take notice of the band, people also started to take notice of the band members. For the first year or so, they were Jimmy's group, the latest iteration of the veteran group the Yardbirds. Yet as far as the quartet was concerned, they were something else entirely. Mark Williams of the International Times, the revolutionary underground London newspaper, caught up with one of the other members of the band, Robert Plant. — Ed.
It's not hard to suss that Led Zeppelin are well on the way to becoming a "Supergroup," in the best tradition.
They have tremendous drive, the currently trendy "heavy" sound and they look good. They also play rather well. What does appear to be happening, even at this early stage of the game, is that guitarist James Page seems to be evolving as the dominant personality of the band, as far as publicity and teeny-appeal go. Which is sad, because all the group are excessively proficient on their own scenes and I personally don't think that Page has sufficient character as an individual to rise above the others in terms of "Star Appeal" (ugh!). The gent who really has that mysterious something, both as an artist and as a person, is Robert Plant and I can well see him causing a severe outbreak of knicker wetting.
Robert Plant wasn't feeling too clever last week when we went along to a soul searching, probing (finger popping?) in-depth interview, having just escaped with his life, (he said), from a crash landing plane at Heathrow. "The captain came on and told us there's going to be an emergency landing and then, from being way up in the blue one minute, we're suddenly going down, but very down. My scotch went up in my face and the next thing I know there's some guy asking me to help the older cats out of the plane, and there I am doing the Boy Scout bit while everyone else is running away!"
As we got onto musical topics I remarked that I was very happy to see that after years of getting virtually nowhere fronting Birmingham groups that were well ahead of their time (for that area), he was finally starting to be appreciated. Robert's last group, the Band of Joy, had some very interesting things going, nice arrangements of Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, and odd Negro pop numbers, that provided a useful background for his very distinctive, blues inclined vocals. "There were very few other groups around at the time doing that sort of thing, but eventually we were getting 60 and 75 quid a night. In the end, however, I just had to give it up. I thought 'Bollocks, nobody at all wants to know.'"
At that time, I remembered, he was very disenchanted with the whole business and gave the impression he might give it all up.
"I met Terry Reid, who I'd played one or two gigs with in Band of Joy days, whilst I was down trying to get something together with Tony Secunda and he told me that the Yardbirds' singer had just left and suggested that I try and get into that scene. I knew they'd done a lot of work in America, which to me meant audiences who DID want to know what I'd got to offer, so naturally I was very interested. I went down to Pangbourne where Jimmy lives, it was the real desperation scene man, like I had nowhere else to go. There I was with my suitcase getting off the train and suddenly this old woman starts slapping my face and shouting about my hair. Well, I was staggered, so I called a cop and he says it was my own fault for having long hair. So much for British justice! Anyway I got to Jimmy's and we found we had exactly the same tastes in music."
So Led Zeppelin was beginning and Bob managed to persuade Jimmy that the group needed John Bonham as a drummer and managed to persuade John that he needed Led Zeppelin instead of the nice steady job he had backing Tim Rose, which is what he spent most of his time doing after Band of Joy disbanded. The addition of well respected session man John Paul Jones on bass and organ got the whole thing grooving and the rest I'm sure you've all read about.
Plant's style is, thankfully, pretty hard to categorise. "The first music that appealed to me, when I was at school even, was stuff like [Bob] Dylan's 'Corrina, Corrina' and when you look deeper into that sort of thing you find there's a lot of the same feelings that are in blues music, like Leadbelly's stuff and then you realise that the blues field is a very wide one. There's a lot of shit of course, all the old guys, such as Bukka White, who originally recorded in the late '20s, are suddenly being grabbed a hold of and shoved into a studio to do an ethnic blues recording. They think, 'Well it's 200 bucks, that'll keep me in firewood for the next three months,' so they get into their wheelchairs, do the thing, and all the blues freaks say; 'Well man, this is the real blues,' and it's really a load of bollocks."
Onstage, Plant has a terrific empathy with the music he's singing to, moving and flexing to every progression and chord change. He presents, I should imagine, (says he carefully), a very desirable image to young ladies with an interest in musical gentlemen. The groupie thing, whilst, by cunning contrivance, we're on the subject, is of particular interest to Robert, never having really experienced that scene on the scale it is in the States.
"It's an art over there, it really is. Take the Plaster Casters in Chicago, it's the only thing they've got in the world man, because they couldn't pull a fella if the fella was blind and pissed, 'cause they're so revolting, but they can turn round and say, 'Well, I've got so and so's plaster cast.' When they came round to see us they came in with the wooden case, suitably inscribed, all very ceremoniously, it was SO funny. So one of them starts this big plating scene, 'cause, to them, that's all part of their ritual, and she goes on doing it for an hour, a whole hour. All of a sudden she stops, having decided that it's just not going to work. Then she starts taking her clothes off, because she feels that she's got to do something having wasted the last forty minutes. And she's rather large, no doubt about it, she's rather well built and there she is standing there as naked as the day she was born. So then she got covered in soap from head to foot, then she got cream doughnuts and then whisky all rubbed in together and there she was a moving mountain of soapy flesh. At first she dug it but soon she got rather afraid and her friend, a virgin who'd just come along for the ride, was trying very hard to disappear under the bed, like she just didn't know where it was at. Eventually she got into the shower, grabbed her clothes and split. A few days later we heard she'd quit the Plaster Casters — had enough! It's so sad that people like that exist, man. It wasn't as if it was a perversion she enjoyed, which would have been OK. It was just a ritual she had to do to get herself noticed. A very weird scene."
And so on that, decidedly unmusical note, we repaired to the Marquee where Zeppelin performed to quite the largest audience I've seen there since the Nice ended their residency and, apart from a little unto-getherness in the first few minutes when Jimmy had trouble with his lead, they were absolutely total. Robert was wailing and swaying, like some energetic modern ballet dancer caught in a tornado and the band swung like fuck until the audience had been whipped up to a pitch equal to that which Mr. Hendrix used to be well-known for producing. Robert was the tiger teasing his prey, quite capable of pouncing but never going quite that far. The music did that for him.
Excerpted from Led Zeppelin on Led Zeppelin by Hank Bordowitz. Copyright © 2014 Hank Bordowitz. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prelude: In Which a Future Rock Star Considers a Career in Biology xxi
Part I Whole Lotta Love
Jimmy Page Is Just Wild About Led Zeppelin
December 27, 1968 | Go! magazine 3
Led Zeppelin Climbs Before Its First LP Ritchie Yohke
January 11, 1969 | Globe and Mail 6
Led Zeppelin: Plant Mark Williams
April 11, 1969 | International Times 9
Forget Blind Faith, Led Zeppelin's the Biggest Ritchie Yorke
August 14, 1969 | Globe and Mail 13
Jimmy Page Talks About Led Zeppelin Valerie Wilmer
1970 | Hit Parader 16
Ask-In with a Led Zeppelin: Bassist John Paul Jones-"Motown Bass Deserves a Lot of Credit" Ritchie Yorke
April 4, 1970 | NME 21
Ask-In with a Led Zeppelin: "Thinking as a Sex Symbol Can Turn You Into a Bad Person"-Robert Plant Ritchie Yorke
April 11, 1970 | NME 28
Ask-In with a Led Zeppelin, Part Three: John Bonham, Extraordinary Known as Bonzo Ritchie Yorke
April 18, 1970 | NME 36
Jimmy Page Answers the Questions in the Final Led Zeppelin Ask-In Ritchie Yorke
April 25, 1970 | NME 42
Jimmy Page: Zep Come to the People Keith Altham
February 27, 1971 | Record Mirror 51
August 14, 1971 Rock Magazine 55
Led Zeppelin: Vancouver 1971 Rick McGrath
Fall 1971 | Georgia Straight 64
Led Zeppelin Radio Interview, Sydney Australia David White
February 27, 1972 | Radio 2SM 73
"Don't Label Us": "Zeppelin" on Japan Tour Lon Cabot
October 2, 1972 | Stars and Stripes 121
Led Zeppelin (Part 1): A Whole Lotta Rock 'n' Roll Nick Kent
December 23, 1972 NME 123
Led Zeppelin: The Zeppelin Road Test Nick Kent
February 24, 1973 | NME 129
Part II When the Levee Breaks
Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page: A Heavy Blimp That Gives No Quarter Arthur Levy
July 19, 1973 | Zoo World 137
Robert Plant: Recording's No Race for Us Chris Charlesworth
February 8, 1975 | Melody Maker 145
Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, and a Search for the Elusive Stairway to Heaven William S. Burroughs
June 1975 | Crawdaddy 150
John Bonham: Over the Hills and Far Away… Chris Welch
June 21, 1975 | Melody Maker 165
Led Zeppelin to Record New Album in Munich This November: No Tour Plans Until Plant's Ankle Fully Heals Danny Goldberg
November 13, 1975 | Swan Song Records Press Release 173
Plantations: Should Ralph Nadar Join Led Zeppelin? Chris Charlesworth
May 1976 | CREEM 175
Jimmy Page Radio Interview Alan Freeman
1976 | Capital Radio/DIR 183
Led Zeppelin: Smiling Men with Bad Reputations Chris Salewicz
August 4, 1979 | NME 209
Part III Ramble On
Plant Back on Track Liam Lacey
June 26, 1982 | Globe and Mail 233
Robert Plant with Denny Somach, First US Solo Tour Denny Somach
August 1983 | NBC Friday Night Videos 238
From Hot Dog to Big Log: Robert Plant Hits the Road Dave Dimartino
October 1983 | CREEM 240
Jimmy Page on Stage '85 Chris Welch
April 1985 | CREEM 249
Rockin' Robert Likes 'a Bit of Grit Below the Waist' Liam Lacey
June 8, 1985 | Globe and Mail 258
Robert Plant: Guilty! Tom Hibbert
March 1988 | Q magazine 261
Emerging from the Shadows: Jimmy Page Patrick McDonald
July 7, 1988 | Advertiser 271
Robert Plant Keeps the Faith John Swenson
October 14, 1988 UPI 275
A Decade Later, Plant Refuses to Live Has Past Thor Christensen
July 22, 1990 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 278
Coverdale/Page Electronic Press Kit Video
March 1993 | Geffen Records Public Relations 283
Plant's NEW Work Harks Back to LED Zeppelin'S Acoustic Folk Neil Spencer
May 5, 1993 Observer News Service/Guardian 291
Musician Robert Plant Discusses HIS Latest Album Mark McEwan
October 25, 1993 CBS This Morning 294
Page and Plant Mat Snow
December 1994 | MOJO 298
Led Zeppelin: The BBC Sessions (Atlantic) Mat Snow
December 1997 | MOJO 313
Jimmy Page Interview: Bring It On Home Hp Newquist
August 1998 | GUITAR magazine 323
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of the Former Led Zeppelin Discuss Their Upcoming Tour Mark McEwen
May 11, 1998 | CBS This Morning 329
John Paul Jones: Life After Led Zeppelin Steven P. Wheeler
October 1999 Happening 333
Zeppelin Raider's Soft Side Sue Williams
December 8, 2000 Derby Evening Telegraph 345
Getting the Led Out: A John Paul Jones Interview Gail Worley
April 1, 2002 KNAC.com 348
Plant Returns to Interpretation Adam Howorth
July 20, 2002 Billboard 360
Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones Discuss Their Led Zeppelin Careers and Their New Tour-Footage DVD Matt Lauer
May 29, 2003 NBC TODAY 363
Atlantic Captures Plant's Solo Side on Compilation Melinda Newman
October 11, 2003 | Billboard 368
Robert Plant: Starting Over After Led Zeppelin Ashley Kahn
June 22, 2006 | NPR Morning Edition 372
Getting the Led Out: Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones on Led Zeppelin's Historic Reunion Alan Light
November 12, 2007 | MSN Music 391
Country Rocks; Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Team Up Charles Osgood Katie Couric
October 12, 2008 CBS Sunday Morning 399
Led Zeppelin Sunday Morning Anthony Mason Charles Osgood
December 16, 2012 | CBS Sunday Morning 407
Coda: In Which a Guitar Hero Pays Tribute to His Youth Playing Skiffle, and One of His Inspirations John Sugar
October 11, 2011 BBC Radio 4 416