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Cameron Crowe interview with Led Zeppelin (Rolling Stone, March 1975)

rolling-stone-cover-volume-182-3-13-1975-jimmy-page-and-robert-plantFrom Rolling Stone

A conversation with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant

“Very very proud of this one. The quest to land Rolling Stone’s first interview with Led Zeppelin was a rough one. The magazine had been tough on the band. Guitarist Jimmy Page vowed never to talk with them. While touring with the band for the Los Angeles Times, I attempted to talk them into speaking with me for Rolling Stone too. One by one they agreed, except for Page. I stayed on the road for three weeks, red-eyed from no sleep, until he finally relented… out of sympathy, I think. My mother was about ready to call the police to drag me home. Needless to say, the incident shows up in a slightly different form in Almost Famous.” – Cameron Crowe – Summer 2000

Over its six-year history, Led Zeppelin has taken some pretty hard knocks from critics of all stripes – this magazine not excepted. During those same years, the band has managed to sell a million units apiece on all five of its albums and the current American tour is expected to be the top grossing event in rock & roll history. Can it be that the critics can’t hear? Jimmy Page and Robert Plant discuss this possibility and other matters in a Rolling Stone conversation

John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin’s bassist and keyboard player, was quietly playing backgammon and half listening to a phone-in radio talk show on New York FM.

“I was in a club last night when someone asked me if I wanted to meet Jimmy Page,” the show’s host suddenly offered between calls. “You know, when I think about it, there’s no one I’d rather meet less than someone as disgusting as Jimmy Page.”

Jones bolted up from his game. “Let me just say that Led Slime can’t play their way out of a paper bag and if you plan on seeing them tomorrow night at the Garden, those goons are ripping you off. Now don’t start wasting my time defending Led Slime. If you’re thinking about calling up to do that, stick your head in the toilet and flush.”

Jones, normally a man of quiet reserve, strode furiously across the room. He snapped up a phone and dialed the station. After a short wait, the talk show host picked up the phone.

What would you like to talk about?

“Led Zeppelin,” Jones answered coolly in his clipped British accent. The line went dead. Victim of an eight-second delay button, the exchange was never given any air time.

It was a familiar battle, as Jones saw it. Although Led Zeppelin has managed to sell more than a million units apiece of all five of its albums and is currently working a U.S. tour that is expected to be the largest grossing undertaking in rock history, the band has been continually kicked, shoved, pummeled and kneed in the groin by critics of all stripes. “I know it’s unnecessary to fight back,” Jones said. True enough: The Zep’s overwhelming popularity speaks for itself. “I just thought I’d defend myself one last time.”

The night after that aborted defense, in the first of three concerts at Madison Square Garden, Led Zeppelin brought a standing-room-only audience to its feet with one of the finest shows of its six-year career. On Page’s unexpected midset impulse, the band launched unrehearsed into a stunning 20-minute version of his tour de force, “Dazed and Confused.” The tension of uncertain success was an evident and electric element in Zeppelin’s performance that evening. “No question about it,” lead singer Robert Plant enthused before returning to the stage for a second encore of “Communication Breakdown,” “the tour has begun.”

It has been a long time since Zeppelin last rock & rolled. After 18 months spent laboring over their new double album, Physical Graffiti, the band has some warming up to do. “It’s unfortunate there’s got to be anybody there,” Plant said. “But we’ve got to feel our way. There’s a lot of energy here this tour. Much more than the last one.” The tour’s official opening night, January 18th at the Minneapolis Sports Center, went surprisingly well considering the circumstances. Only a week before, Jimmy Page broke the tip of his left ring finger when it was caught in a slamming train door. With only one rehearsal to perfect what Page calls his “three-and-a-half-finger technique,” the classic Zeppelin live pieces, “Dazed and Confused” and “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” were definitely retired. Codeine tablets and Jack Daniel’s deadened the pain enough for Page to struggle through the band’s demanding three-hour set.

Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager and president of Swan Song, the group’s recording company, found those first few dates strange: “A Led Zeppelin concert without ‘Dazed and Confused’ is something I’ll have to get used to. In a lot of ways that number is the band at its very best. There’s one point in the song where Pagey can take off and do whatever he wants to. There is always the uncertainty of whether it will be five or 35 minutes long.”

Page reacted to his injury with quiet desperation. “I have no doubt the tour is going to be good, it’s just, dammit, I’m disappointed that I can’t do all I can do.” He began beating a fist quietly into the palm of his crippled hand. “I always want to do my very best and it’s frustrating to have something hold me back in the set the very second I’m able to play it. We may not be brilliant for a few nights, but we’ll always be good.”

The tour progressed satisfactorily through three nights at the Chicago Stadium and visits to Cleveland and Indianapolis until Plant came down with the flu. A show in St. Louis was postponed until mid-February and while Plant stayed behind to convalesce, the band flew to Los Angeles for a day off.

The rest sparked a shift into second gear and subsequent concerts in Greensboro, Detroit and Pittsburgh progressively improved, leading up to Led Zeppelin’s tumultuous New York victory and the first version of “Dazed and Confused” on the tour. In the meantime, there was little of the savage hotel-room-splintering road fever Zeppelin is known for. “There hasn’t been much room,” said drummer John (Bonzo) Bonham a little sadly. “The music has taken up most of our concerns.”

It was in late 1968 that Jimmy Page first put together the band that was to become Led Zeppelin. The name was suggested by Who drummer Keith Moon, and embodies an irony that hardly needs to be commented upon. Page first approached Robert Plant, then the lead singer for a raucous Birmingham group called the Band of Joy. “His voice,” said Page, “was too great to be undiscovered. All I had to do from there was to find a bassist and a drummer.”

The latter came easily. Plant suggested Bonham, the drummer from the Band of Joy. Bassist John Paul Jones was the last to join. “I answered a classified ad in Melody Maker,” he said. “My wife made me.” Jones had a sessionman’s background. He had arranged some of the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Requests album. He also arranged albums for producer Mickey Most’s stable. “I arranged albums by Jeff Beck, Lulu, Donovan and Herman’s Hermits.”

All four members used the word “magic” when recalling Led Zeppelin’s first rehearsal. “I’ve never been so turned on in my life,” says Plant. “Although we were all steeped in blues and R&B, we found out in the first hour and a half that we had our own identity.”

Robert Plant, now 26, grew up in the Black Country, where the English industrial revolution began. He says he lived “a sheltered childhood” and that he began picking up on Buddy Guy, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Woody Guthrie almost as soon as he entered school. Drifting in and out of groups like the Delta Blues Band, the Crawling King Snakes and the Band of Joy, Plant became locally knows as “the wild man of blues from the Black Country.” He met Page in 1968, just before the formation of Led Zeppelin.

“Pagey and I are closer than ever on this tour,” Plant said after the New York concert. “We’ve almost jelled into one person in a lot of ways.”

Jimmy Page, now 31, grew up in Felton, a dreary community near London’s Heathrow Airport. An only child, he had no playmates until he began school at the age of five. “That early isolation,” says Page, “it probably had a lot to do with the way I turned out. A loner. A lot of people can’t be on their own. They get frightened. Isolation doesn’t bother me at all. It gives me a sense of security.”

Page started playing guitar when he was 12. “Somebody had laid a Spanish guitar on us…a very old one. I probably couldn’t play it now if I tried. It was sitting around our living room for weeks and weeks. I wasn’t interested. Then I heard a couple of records that really turned me on, the main one being Elvis’ ‘Baby, Let’s Play House,’ and I wanted to play it. I wanted to know what it was all about. This other guy at school showed me a few chords and I just went on from there.”

After a stint of several years as one of England’s leading session guitarists (he played on the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” Van Morrison and Them’s “Here Comes the Night” and “Gloria,” the Who’s “I Can’t Explain” and several Burt Bacharach hits, among others), Page joined the Yardbirds as a second lead guitarist to Jeff Beck. Beck was soon to leave the band and Page was left alone in the spotlight for a time. When the Yardbirds finally crumbled, Page was free to form Led Zeppelin.

The following conversations with Page and Plant took place over a period of two weeks. We began over tea in Plant’s suite at Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel. The talk continued three days later in Page’s darkened room. “It’s still morning,” he shivered, sitting underneath a blanket on his sofa. “We may have to talk for three hours before I make any sense.” The resulting interview, from which most of this material is taken, stretched into late afternoon. Page, a soft-spoken man, apparently preferred candles to electric light.

A visit to Plant several days later provided more material and one final visit with Page on the plane flight to New York supplied the remaining details.

It wasn’t until Led Zeppelin’s last American tour in ’73 that the media fully acknowledged the band’s popularity.

PLANT: We decided to hire our first publicity firm after we toured here in the summer of ’72. That was the same summer the Stones toured and we knew full well that we were doing more business than them. We were getting better gates in comparison to a lot of people who were constantly glorified in the press. So without getting too egocentric, we thought it was time that people heard something about us other than that we were eating women and throwing the bones out the window. That whole lunacy thing was all people knew about us and it was all word-of-mouth. All those times of lunacy were okay, but we aren’t and never were monsters. Just good-time boys, loved by their fans and hated by their critics.

Do you feel any competition with the Stones?

PAGE: Naw. I don’t think of it that way. I don’t feel any competition at all. The Stones are great and always have been. Jagger’s lyrics are just amazing. Right on the bell every time. I mean, I know all about how we’re supposed to be the biggest group in the world and all, but I don’t ever think about it. I don’t feel that competition enters into it. It’s who makes good music and who doesn’t…and who’s managed to sustain themselves.

What motivates you at this point?

PAGE: I love playing. If it was down to just that, it would be utopia. But it’s not. It’s airplanes, hotel rooms, limousines and armed guards standing outside rooms. I don’t get off on that part of it all. But it’s the price I’m willing to pay to get out and play. I was very restless over the last 18 months where we laid off and worked on the album.

PLANT: There’s constant conflict, really, within me. As much as I really enjoy what I do at home…I play on my own little soccer team and I’ve been taking part in the community and living the life of any ordinary guy, I always find myself wistful and enveloped in a feeling I can’t really get out of my system. I miss this band when we aren’t playing. I have to call Jimmy up or something to appease that restlessness. The other night when we played for the first time again I found the biggest smile on my mouth.

What’s this rumor, Jimmy, about a solo album?

PAGE: Chalk that off to Keith Richards’ sense of humor. I did what could possibly be the next Stones B side. It was Rick Grech, Keith and me doing a number called “Scarlet.” I can’t remember the drummer. It sounded very similar in style and mood to those Blonde on Blonde tracks. It was great, really good. We stayed up all night and went down to Island Studios where Keith put some reggae guitars over one section. I just put some solos on it, but it was eight in the morning of the next day before I did that. He took the tapes to Switzerland and someone found out about them. Keith told people that it was a track from my album.

I don’t need to do a solo album and neither does anybody else in the band. The chemistry is such that there’s nobody in the background who’s so frustrated that he has to bring out his own LPs. I don’t really like doing that Townshend number of telling everybody exactly what to play. I don’t like that too much. A group’s a group after all, isn’t it?

You’ve managed to continue undaunted in the midst of such criticism – especially in the early days of Zeppelin. How much do you believe in yourself?

PAGE: I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I’m doing. I know where I’m going musically. I can see my pattern and I’m going much slower than I thought I’d be going. I can tell how far I ought to be going. I know how to get there, all I’ve got to do is keep playing. That might sound a bit weird because of all the John McLaughlins who sound like they’re in outer space or something. Maybe it’s just the tortoise and the hare.

I’m not a guitarist as far as technique goes. I just pick it up and play it. Technique doesn’t come into it. I deal in emotions. It’s the harmonic side that’s important. That’s the side I expected to be much further along on than I am now. That just means to say that I’ve got to keep at it.

There’s such a wealth of arts and styles within the instrument…flamenco, jazz, rock, blues…you name it, it’s there. In the early days my dream was to fuse all those styles. Now composing has become just as important. Hand-in-hand with that, I think it’s time to travel, start gathering some real right-in-there experiences with street musicians around the world. Moroccan musicians, Indian musicians. . . it could be a good time to travel around now. This year. I don’t know how everyone else is gonna take that, but that’s the direction I’m heading in right now. This week, I’m a gypsy. Maybe next week it’ll be glitter rock.

What would you gain from your travels?

PAGE: Are you kidding? God, you know what you can gain when you sit down with the Moroccans. As a person and as a musician. That’s how you grow. Not by living like this. Ordering up room service in hotels. It’s got to be the opposite end of the scale. The balance has got to swing exactly the opposite. To the point where maybe I’ll have an instrument and nothing else. I used to travel like that a long while ago. There’s no reason I can’t do it again. There’s always this time thing. You can’t buy time. Everything, for me, seems to be a race against time. Especially musically. I know what I want to get down and I haven’t got much time to do it in. I had another idea of getting a traveling medicine wagon with a dropdown side and traveling around England. That might sound crazy to you, but over there it’s so rural you can do it. Just drop down the side and play through big battery amps and mixers and it can all be as temporary or as permanent as I want it to be. I like change and I like contrast. I don’t like being stuck in one situation, day to day. Domesticity and all that isn’t really for me. Sitting in this hotel for a week is no picnic. That’s when the road fever starts and that’s when the breakages start, but I haven’t gotten to that stage yet. I’ve been pretty mellow so far. Mind you, we’re only into the tour a week.

How well do you remember your first American tour?

PLANT: Nineteen years old and never been kissed, I remember it well. It’s been a long time. Nowadays we’re more into staying in our rooms and reading Nietzsche. There was good fun to be had, you know, it’s just that in those days there were more people to have good fun with than there are now. The States were much more fun. L.A. was L.A. It’s not L.A. now. L.A. infested with jaded 12-year-olds is not the L.A. that I really dug.

It was the first place I ever landed in America: the first time I ever saw a cop with a gun, the first time I ever saw a 20-foot-long car. There were a lot of fun-loving people to crash into. People were genuinely welcoming us to the country and we started out on a path of positive enjoyment. Throwing eggs from floor to floor and really silly water battles and all the good fun that a 19-year-old boy should have. It was just the first steps of learning how to be crazy. We met a lot of people who we still know and a lot of people who have faded away. Some ODed. Some of them just grew up. I don’t see the point in growing up.

You seem sincerely depressed over the matter.

PLANT: Well, I am. I haven’t lost my innocence particularly. I’m always ready to pretend I haven’t. Yeah, it is a shame in a way. And it’s a shame to see these young chicks bungle their lives away in a flurry and rush to compete with what was in the old days the good-time relationships we had with the GTOs and people like that. When it came to looning, they could give us as much of a looning as we could give them. It’s a shame, really. If you listen to “Sick Again,” a track from Physical Graffiti, the words show I feel a bit sorry for them. “Clutching pages from your teenage dream in the lobby of the Hotel Paradise/Through the circus of the L.A. queen how fast you learn the downhill slide.” (© 1975, Joaneline Music Inc.) One minute she’s 12 and the next minute she’s 13 and over the top. Such a shame. They haven’t got the style that they had in the old days. . . way back in ’68.

The last time I was in L.A. I got very bored. Boredom is a horrible thing. Boredom is the beginning of all destruction and everything that is negative. Every place is determined by the characters who are there. It’s just that the character rating at the moment has zeroed right out.

Of course, I enjoy it all, but as a total giggle. It’s funny. I miss it. All the clamor. The whole lot. It’s all a big rush. From the shit holes to the classiest hotels, it’s all been fun. From the Shadowbox Motel where the walls crumbled during the night seven years ago to the Plaza, where the attorney general staying one floor above us complained about me playing Little Feat records too loud last night.

Do you feel you have to top yourselves with each album?

PAGE: No. Otherwise I would have been totally destroyed by the reviews of our last album, wouldn’t I? You see, this is the point. I just don’t care. I don’t care what critics and other people think.

So far I’ve been very, very fortunate because it appears that people like to hear the music I like to play. What more fortunate position can a musician be in? But I will still carry on changing all the time. You can’t expect to be the same person you were three years ago. Some people expect you to be and can’t come to terms with the fact that if a year has elapsed between LPs, that means one year’s worth of changes. The material consequently is affected by that, the lyrics are affected by that. . . the music too. I don’t feel I have to top myself at all. It took a long time for this album mainly because when we originally went in to record it, John Paul Jones wasn’t well and we had to cancel the time. . . everything got messed up. It took three months to sort the situation out.

How does it feel to be your own record company executives?

PAGE: I guess we are our own executives now, aren’t we? Listen, give us time with Swan Song. You’ll be surprised. We’ve got some good things lined up. I think the Pretty Things LP is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We’re executives and all that crap, but I’ll tell you one thing, the label was never – right from the top – Led Zeppelin records. It’s designed to bring in other groups and promote acts that have had raw deals in the past. It’s a vehicle for them and not for us to just make a few extra pennies over the top. That’s the cynical way of looking at a record company.

People have been asking me whether I’ll be doing any producing for the label. I don’t know. I’m just too involved with Zeppelin. I was offered a chance – a longstanding one too – to produce Freddie King, which I’d love to do. But I’d need time to work on it.

Do you feel that the music business is sagging in any way?

PAGE: People always say that amidst their search for The Next Big Thing. The only real woomph was when the Stones and Beatles came over. But it’s always said, “The business is dying! The business is dying!” I don’t think so. There’s too many good musicians around for the music business to be sagging. There’s so many different styles and facets of the 360-degree musical sphere to listen to. From tribal to classical music, it’s all there. If the bottom was to sag out of that, for God’s sake, help us all.

If there was never another record made, there’s enough music recorded and in the vaults everywhere for me to be happy forever. Then again, I can listen to all different sorts of music. I don’t really care about The Next Big Thing. It’s interesting when something new comes along, a band of dwarfs playing electronic harps or something, but I’m not searching. Look at Bad Company and the Average White Band. Those guys have all been around in one form or another for a very long time. How many of the new ones coming through have really got a lot of substance? In Britain, I’m afraid there’s not much at all. We’ve got a deal with Suzi Quatro and Mud. It’s absurd. Top Ten shouldn’t be crap, but it is.

How difficult was the first Led Zeppelin album to put together?

PAGE: It came together really quick. It was cut very shortly after the band was formed. Our only rehearsal was a two-week tour of Scandinavia that we did as the New Yardbirds. For material, we obviously went right down to our blues roots. I still had plenty of Yardbirds riffs left over. By the time Jeff [Beck] did go, it was up to me to come up with a lot of new stuff. It was this thing where Clapton set a heavy precedent in the Yardbirds which Beck had to follow and then it was even harder for me, in a way, because the second lead guitarist had suddenly become the first. And I was under pressure to come up with my own riffs. On the first LP I was still heavily influenced by the earlier days. I think it tells a bit, too. The album was made in three weeks. It was obvious that somebody had to take the lead, otherwise we’d have all sat around jamming and doing nothing for six months. But after that, on the second LP, you can hear the real group identity coming together.

PLANT: That first album was the first time that headphones meant anything to me. What I heard coming back to me over the cans while I was singing was better than the finest chick in all the land. It had so much weight, so much power, it was devastating. I had a long ways to go with my voice then, but at the same time the enthusiasm and spark of working with Jimmy’s guitar shows through quite well. It was all very raunchy then. Everything was fitting together into a trademark for us. We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most, and what we knew got more people back to the hotel after the gig.

We made no money on the first tour. Nothing at all. Jimmy put in every penny that he’d gotten from the Yardbirds and that wasn’t much. Until Peter Grant took them over, they didn’t make the money they should have made. So we made the album and took off on a tour with a road crew of one.

Jimmy, you once told me that you thought life was a gamble. What did you mean?

PAGE: So many people are frightened to take a chance in life and there’s so many chances you have to take. You can’t just find yourself doing something and not happy doing it. If you’re working at the factory and you’re cursing every day that you get up, at all costs get out of it. You’ll just make yourself ill. That’s why I say I’m very fortunate because I love what I’m doing. Seeing people’s faces, really getting off on them, makes me incredibly happy. Genuinely.

What gambles have you taken?

PAGE: I’ll give you a gamble. I was in a band, I won’t give the name because it’s not worth knowing about, but it was the sort of band where we were traveling around all the time in a bus. I did that for two years after I left school, to the point where I was starting to get really good bread. But I was getting ill. So I went back to art college. And that was a total change in direction. That’s why I say it’s possible to do. As dedicated as I was to playing the guitar, I knew doing it that way was doing me in forever. Every two months I had glandular fever. So for the next 18 months I was living on ten dollars a week and getting my strength up. But I was still playing.

PLANT: Let me tell you a little story behind the song “Ten Years Gone” on our new album. I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, “Right. It’s me or your fans.” Not that I had fans, but I said, “I can’t stop, I’ve got to keep going.” She’s quite content these days, I imagine. She’s got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports car. We wouldn’t have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn’t relate to me. I’d be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I’m afraid. Anyway, there’s a gamble for you.

PAGE: I’ll give you another one. I was at art college and started to do sessionwork. Believe me, a lot of guys would consider that to be the apex – studio work. I left that to join the Yardbirds at a third of the bread because I wanted to play again. I didn’t feel I was playing enough in the studio. I was doing three studio dates a day, and I was becoming one of those sort of people that I hated.

What was the problem with session work?

PAGE: Certain sessions were really a pleasure to do, but the problem was that you never knew what you were gonna do. You might have heard that I played on a Burt Bacharach record. It’s true. I never knew what I was doing. You just got booked into a particular studio at the hours of two and five-thirty. Sometimes it would be somebody you were happy to see, other times it was, “What am I doing here?”

When I started doing sessions, the guitar was in vogue. I was playing solos every day. Then afterwards, when the Stax thing was going on and you got whole brass sections coming in, I ended up hardly playing anything, just a little riff here and there…no solos. And I remember one particular occasion when I hadn’t played a solo for, quite literally, a couple of months. And I was asked to play a solo on a rock & roll thing. I played it and felt that what I’d done was absolute crap. I was so disgusted with myself that I made my mind up that I had to get out of it. It was messing me right up.

And how do you look on your days with the Yardbirds?

PAGE: I have really good memories. Apart from one tour which nearly killed all of us, it was so intense – apart from that, musically it was a great group to play in. I’ve never regretted anything I’ve ever done. Any musician would have jumped at the chance to play in that band. It was particularly good when Jeff and I were both doing lead guitar. It really could have been built into something exceptional at that point, but unfortunately there’s precious little wax of that particular point. There’s only “Stroll On” from the Blow-Up film – that was quite funny – and “Happenings Ten Years Ago” and “Daisy.” We just didn’t get into the studio too much at that time.

Obviously, there were ups and downs. Everybody wants to know about the feuds and personality conflicts…I don’t think that it ever got really evil. It never got that bad. If it was presented in the right way, maybe a Yardbirds reunion album would be a good thing to do someday. Somehow I can’t see Jeff doing it, though. He’s a funny bloke.

You live in Aleister Crowley’s home.

[Crowley was a poet and magician at the turn of the century and was notorious for his Black Magic rites — Ed.]

PAGE: Yes, it was owned by Aleister Crowley. But there were two or three owners before Crowley moved into it. It was also a church that was burned to the ground with the congregation in it. And that’s the site of the house. Strange things have happened in that house that had nothing to do with Crowley. The bad vibes were already there. A man was beheaded there and sometimes you can hear his head rolling down. I haven’t actually heard it, but a friend of mine, who is extremely straight and doesn’t know anything about anything like that at all, heard it. He thought it was the cats bungling around. I wasn’t there at the time, but he told the help. “Why don’t you let the cats out at night? They make a terrible racket, rolling about in the halls.” And they said, “The cats are locked in a room every night.” Then they told him the story of the house. So that sort of thing was there before Crowley got there. Of course, after Crowley there have been suicides, people carted off to mental hospitals…

And you have no contact with any of the spirits?

I didn’t say that. I just said I didn’t hear the head roll.

What’s your attraction to the place?

The unknown. I’m attracted by the unknown, but I take precautions. I don’t go walking into things blind.

Do you feel safe in the house?

PAGE: Yeah. Well, all my houses are isolated. Many is the time I just stay home alone. I spend a lot of time near water. Crowley’s house is in Loch Ness, Scotland. I have another house in Sussex, where I spend most of my time. It’s quite near London. It’s moated and terraces off into lakes. I mean, I could tell you things, but it might give people ideas. A few things have happened that would freak some people out, but I was surprised actually at how composed I was. I don’t really want to go on about my personal beliefs or my involvement in magic. I’m not trying to do a Harrison or a Townshend. I’m not interested in turning anybody on to anything that I’m turned on to…if people want to find things, they find them themselves. I’m a firm believer in that.

What do you think about your portrayal in “Rock Dreams”? As a guitar Mafioso along with Alvin Lee, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton?

PAGE: There’s nothing about Zeppelin in there at all. The artist spends his whole time masturbating over the Stones in that book, doesn’t he? The Stones in drag and things like that. When I first saw that book, I thought, aw, this is really great. But when I really started to look at it, there were things that I just didn’t like. People can laugh at this, but I didn’t like to see a picture of Ray Charles driving around in the car with his arm around a chick. It’s tasteless. But the guy’s French, so what can we say? Ray Charles is blind. What kind of humor is that? They may be his rock dreams, but they sure aren’t mine.

Out of all the guitarists to come out of the Sixties, though, Beck, Clapton, Lee, Townshend and I are still having a go. That says something. Beck, Clapton and me were sort of Richmond/Croydon type clan, and Alvin Lee, I don’t know where he came from. Leicester or something like that. So he was never in with it a lot. And Townshend. Townshend was from Middlesex and he used to go down to the clubs and watch the other guitarists. I didn’t meet him, though, until “I Can’t Explain.” I was doing the session guitar work on that. I haven’t seen Townshend in years. But I suppose we’ve all kept going and tried to do better and better and better. I heard some stuff from Beck’s solo LP recently that was fucking brilliant. Really good. But I don’t know, it’s all instrumental and it’s a guitarist’s guitar LP, I think. He’s very mellow, and Beck at his best can be very tasty.

Have you seen Eric Clapton with his new band?

PAGE: Oh, Eric. Fucking hell, Eric. Yes, I saw him with his new band and also at his Rainbow concert. At least at the Rainbow he had some people with some balls with him. He had Townshend and Ronnie Wood and Jimmy Karstein and (Jim) Capaldi. “Pearly Queen” was incredible. And I would have thought that after that, he would have said, “Right, I’m gonna get English musicians.” Ever since he’s been with American musicians, he’s laid back further and further.

I went over to see him after he’d done his Rainbow concert and it wasn’t hard to sense his total disappointment that Derek and the Dominoes were never really accepted. It must have been a big thing for him that they didn’t get all the acclaim that the Cream did. But the thing is, when a band has a certain chemistry, like Cream had…wow, the chances of re-creating that again are how many billion to one. It’s very very difficult.

The key to Zeppelin’s longevity has been change. We put out our first LP, then a second one that was nothing like the first, then a third LP totally different from them, and on it went. I know why we got a lot of bad press on our albums. People couldn’t understand, a lot of reviewers, why we put out an LP like Zeppelin II, then followed it up with III with “That’s the Way” and acoustic numbers like that on it. They just couldn’t understand it. The fact was that Robert and I had gone away to Bron-Y-Aur cottage in Wales and started writing songs. Christ, that was the material we had, so we used it. It was nothing like, “We got to do some heavy rock & roll because that’s what our image demands…” Album-wise, it usually takes a year for people to catch up with what we’re doing.

Why did you go to Bron-Y-Aur cottage for the third album?

PLANT: It was time to step back, take stock and not get lost in it all. Zeppelin was starting to get very big and we wanted the rest of our journey to take a pretty level course. Hence, the trip into the mountains and the beginning of the ethereal Page and Plant. I thought we’d be able to get a little peace and quiet and get your actual Californian, Marin County blues, which we managed to do in Wales rather than San Francisco. It was a great place. “The Golden Beast” is what the name means. The place is in a little valley and the sun always moves across it. There’s even a track on the new album, a little acoustic thing, which Jimmy got together up there. It typifies the days when we used to chug around the countryside in jeeps.

It was a good idea to go there. We had written quite a bit of the second album on the road. It was a real road album, too. No matter what the critics said, the proof in the pudding was that it got a lot of people off. The reviewer for Rolling Stone, for instance, was just a frustrated musician. Maybe I’m just flying my own little ego ship, but sometimes people resent talent. I don’t even remember what the criticism was, but as far as I’m concerned, it was a good, maybe even great, road album. The third album was the album of albums. If anybody had labeled us a heavy metal group, that destroyed them.

But there were acoustic numbers on the very first album.

PAGE: That’s it! There you go! When the third LP came out and got its reviews, Crosby, Stills and Nash had just formed. That LP had just come out and because acoustic guitars had come to the forefront all of a sudden: LED ZEPPELIN GO ACOUSTIC! I thought, Christ, where are their heads and ears? There were three acoustic songs on the first album and two on the second.

You talk of this “race against time,” Jimmy. Where do you think you’ll be at 40?

PAGE: I don’t know whether I’ll reach 40. I don’t know whether I’ll reach 35. I can’t be sure about that. I am bloody serious. I am very, very serious. I didn’t think I’d make 30.

Why not?

PAGE: I just had this fear. Not fear of dying but just…wait a minute, let’s get this right. I just felt that…I wouldn’t reach 30. That’s all there was to it. It was something in me, something inbred. I’m over 30 now, but I didn’t expect to be here. I wasn’t having nightmares about it, but…I’m not afraid of death. That is the greatest mystery of all. That’ll be it, that one. But it is all a race against time. You never know what can happen. Like breaking my finger. I could have broken my whole hand and been out of action for two years.

You’ve been criticized for writing “dated flower-child gibberish” lyrics…

PLANT: How can anybody be a “dated flower child”? The essence of the whole trip was the desire for peace and tranquility and an idyllic situation. That’s all anybody could ever want so how could it be “dated flower-child gibberish”? If it is, then I’ll just carry on being a dated flower child. I put a lot of work into my lyrics. Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized, though. Things like “Black Dog” are blatant let’s-do-it-in-the-bath-type things, but they make their point just the same. People listen. Otherwise, you might as well sing the menu from the Continental Hyatt House.

How important was “Stairway to Heaven” to you?

PAGE: To me, I thought “Stairway” crystallized the essence of the band. It had everything there and showed the band at its best…as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with “Stairway.” Townshend probably thought that he got it with Tommy. I don’t know whether I have the ability to come up with more. I have to do a lot of hard work before I can get anywhere near those stages of consistent, total brilliance.

I don’t think there are too many people who are capable of it. Maybe one. Joni Mitchell. That’s the music that I play at home all the time, Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark I love because I’d always hoped that she’d work with a band. But the main thing with Joni is that she’s able to look at something that’s happened to her, draw back and crystalize the whole situation, then write about it. She brings tears to my eyes, what more can I say? It’s bloody eerie. I can relate so much to what she says. “Now old friends are acting strange/They shake their heads/They say I’ve changed.” I’d like to know how many of the original friends any well-known musician has got. You’d be surprised. They think -particularly that thing of change -they all assume that you’ve changed. For the worse. There are very few people I can call real, close friends. They’re very, very precious to me.

How about you?

PLANT: I live with the people I’ve always lived with. I’m quite content. It’s like the remnants of my old Beatnik days. All my old mates, it lends to a lot of good company. There’s no unusual reaction to my trip at all because I’ve known them so long. Now and again there will be the occasional joke about owing someone two dollars from the days in ’63 when I was a broke blues singer with a washboard, but it’s good. I’m happy.

Do you have any favorite American guitarists?

PAGE: Well, let’s see, we’ve lost the best guitarist any of us ever had and that was Hendrix. The other guitarist I started to get into died also, Clarence White. He was absolutely brilliant. Gosh. On a totally different style – the control, the guy who played on the Maria Muldaur single, “Midnight at the Oasis.” Amos Garrett. He’s Les Paul oriented and Les Paul is the one, really. We wouldn’t be anywhere if he hadn’t invented the electric guitar. Another one is Elliot Randall, the guy who guested on the first Steely Dan album. He’s great. Band-wise, Little Feat is my favorite American group.

The only term I won’t accept is “genius.” The term “genius” gets used far too loosely in rock & roll. When you hear the melodic structures of what classical musicians put together and you compare it to that of a rock & roll record, there’s a hell of a long way rock & roll has to go. There’s a certain standard in classical music that allows the application of the word “genius,” but you’re treading on thin ice if you start applying it to rock & rollers. The way I see it, rock & roll is folk music. Street music. It isn’t taught in school. It has to be picked up. You don’t find geniuses in street musicians, but that doesn’t mean to say you can’t be really good. You get as much out of rock & roll artistically as you put into it. There’s nobody who can teach you. You’re on your own and that’s what I find so fascinating about it.

Last question. What did you think about President Ford’s children naming Led Zeppelin as their favorite group on national television?

PLANT: I think it’s really a mean deal that we haven’t been invited around there for tea. Perhaps Jerry thought we’d wreck the joint. Now if we’d had a publicist three tours back, he might be on the road with us now. I was pleased to hear that they like our music around the White House. It’s good to know they’ve got taste.

Final comments?

PAGE: Just say that I’m still searching for an angel with a broken wing. It’s not very easy to find them these days. Especially when you’re staying at the Plaza Hotel.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Rolling Stone Interview 1975 | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Concert Review: Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, September 1971

20110303-073243-432450From The Globe & Mail

Let us consider a problem in reviewing. Led Zeppelin, the enormously popular English rock band played a concert at Maple Leaf Gardens on Saturday night. That’s the problem in general. Led Zeppelin performed for 2 1/2 hours, playing as usual, music that was heavy, bluesy, rhythmically stolid, filled with long but not necessarily unique improvisational passages.

And the audience, a Gardens sell out, reacted in customary style of Led Zeppelin audiences, which is to say with plenty of ovations (particularly on a very long and genuinely inept drum solo), a great rush to the stage (during the band’s anthem, Whole Lotta Love), and a tribute of matches lit up every row of the Gardens (a beautiful and exciting site).

That’s the problem in specifics: what do you say about a concert that produced everything that was expected and customary?

Well, there’s a remark a couple of years ago by a critic who suggested that Robert Plant, Led Zeppelin’s lead singer, is rock’s number one sex symbol after the late Jim Morrison. That may be so if, as Plant’s stage posturing indicates, sex is something swift and merciless. Plant offers the last word in performing narcissism: he acts out his songs, not for his audience, but for his mirror.

Okay then, how about the claim that Jimmy Page is one of rock’s finest guitarists? There’s more truth here. If nothing else, Page is efficient. He knows all the licks and he can execute them brilliantly. He’s a master at handling all the climaxes of the rave-up guitar style that came out of the Yardbirds way back in the early 1960’s. Which may be the trouble: there is something depressingly antiquated about the style. Psychedelic has lost its thrill, and surely Page would like to move on to new things. Led Zeppelin may be for him a straitjacket – a rich one, but still a straitjacket.

What else can you say about a Led Zeppelin show? That the band makes good music to get stoned by? Certainly, there was a nice haze of marijuana hanging over the Gardens and the people of St. John’s Ambulance had lots to do. One young man very appropriately chose the opening bars of Stairway To Heaven to freak out and collapse in aisle in front of the box seats.

Or you could say, on a purely simplistic level, that Led Zeppelin is at times the most overwhelmingly, stupifyingly loud band around. That’s true up to a point, and the point is Grand Funk Railroad which really is the loudest band and is coming to the Gardens on Oct. 9

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Concet Review Toronto 1971 | , | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup (1995)


This is a really good CD. It’s been forgotten, pushed to the side, by the 1997-released, Hendrix-family approved “First Rays of the New Rising Sun.” Due to this, Voodoo Soup has basically disappeared from stores; I remember when it was released, in 1995, the CD was everywhere. They even had this large, stand-up promotional display in my local record store, a blown up image of the funky cover drawing by Moebius.

I always wondered what the deal was with that pic, Jimi spooning some soup into his mouth, but beneath the cd holder inside the jewel case is the original photo – a pic of Jimi eating in a restaurant. Moebius just “psychedlicized” the photo for the cover drawing. Anyway, most people these days dismiss Voodoo Soup, because the often-lambasted producer Alan Douglas was behind it. Douglas is the guy who was in charge of releasing Hendrix records from the ’70s to mid-’90s, until the rights went over to Hendrix’s family.

Douglas didn’t have any trouble with overdubbing Jimi’s unfinished compositions – to make them sound more complete – whereas the Hendrix family are determined to let us know that these songs – reportedly what Jimi had in mind for his 4th album – were never finished, and thus should be seen as works in progress. So the difference between Voodoo Soup and First Rays (other than a few, glaring song omissions from VS) is basic; Voodoo Soup is presented as a completed album, and First Rays is presented as one that has a few completed songs, and a few more that were barely past the demo stage (i.e. “Hey Baby.”) And though the two CD’s share many of the same songs, the mixes for each are very different. How about a track by track run-down?

1. “The New Rising Sun” – not at all like the song “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” on First Rays. This track is a sound experiment, comparable to “EXP” and “And the Gods Made Love.” A little longer than either of those songs, and mostly just a bunch of white noise, backwards guitars, and drums (played by Jimi), this is still a great opening track, and right off the bat makes Voodoo Soup sound like an “official” Hendrix cd. Jimi had grown fond of what he called “sound paintings,” and I think, had he lived to complete his First Rays, he would’ve started the album with something like this, instead of “Freedom,” which is how the Hendrix-family “First Rays” cd begins. This track flows smoothly into the next:

2. “Belly Button Window” – crazily enough, a pro-abortion song. Not the sort of song that would go over well, these days. Or any day, really. Really just a demo, but it still sounds cool. I don’t see why Alan Douglas chose this as the second track, it isn’t very strong as it is so unfinished. I guess he was trying to get an “Electric Ladyland” feel – like how that album went from the jarring “Gods Made Love” to the laid-back “Electric Ladyland.” Still, I would’ve segued “New Rising Sun” into “Freedom.”

3. “Stepping Stone” – the one that upsets so many, as this mix has the drummer from the Knack on it – his drums were overdubbed in 1995. In all honesty, his drums sound better than Mitchell’s, on “First Rays.” And also keep in mind that even Mitchell’s drums aren’t the original – he overdubbed them in the early ’70s, after Jimi’s death! So overdubbing is overdubbing – regardless if it’s 1972 or 1995. Therefore, the presence of the Knack drummer doesn’t bother me. And besides, this mix is much better than the one on First Rays – the drums are rolicking, Jimi’s guitar is much more up in front, and the overall sound is much, much better than the bottom-heavy First Rays mix.

4. “Freedom” – not much of a difference between this mix and the First Rays mix. I guess I like the First Rays mix a little more – it’s heavier on the bottom, which is good for this track – gives it more of a thump.

5. “Angel” – a great song. Jimi’s voice on the VS version doesn’t echo, as it does on First Rays. And whereas the First Rays track fades at the end and then comes back up for the ending chord (as a lot of other tracks do on First Rays), the VS mix plays throughout, up to the final chord.

6. “Room Full of Mirrors” – the other track with the Knack drummer. And again, a much better mix than that on First Rays. The drums are funkier, giving the song a great groove, and there are effects on Jimi’s vocals – making them spiral around the music, adding a hallucinatory haze to the song. The First Rays version is more straightforward, and lacks the impact of this mix.

7. “Midnight” – the biggest misstep on Voodoo Soup. Instead of using “Izabella” or “Dolly Dagger,” two completed (and not to mention well-known) tracks Hendrix had in mind for his 4th album, Douglas chose to use this, an over-long instrumental that was recorded in 1968 with the Experience.

8. “Night Bird Flying” – much like the First Rays mix, except the drums are a bit softer on VS.

9. “Drifting” – again, much like the First Rays mix, except the effect on Jimi’s guitar is slightly different, and the backwards guitar (at least to me) is a little more noticeable.

10. “Ezy Rider” – definitely better on VS. I think Douglas did a little work on the drum mix, as it just sounds better on here than it does on First Rays.

11. “Pali Gap” – a great song, perfect for late-night listening. The version on “South Saturn Delta” is a tad longer, but it’s cool to have this song on here – it would have been cooler if it had followed, say, “Dolly Dagger.”

12. “Message to Love” – a great, funky track that is very similar to First Ray’s “Earth Blues.” According to the liner notes, this was recorded in the same session as “Earth Blues.” Shorter and less dynamic than the live “Band of Gypsies” version.

13. “Peace in Mississipi” – another instrumental, recorded with the Experience in 1968. I wonder if Jimi would’ve used so many instrumentals on this album. And, placed so close to “Midnight,” you can’t help but notice how similar the two songs sound.

14. “In From the Storm” – a great end to the CD, much better than the track chosen to end First Rays: “Belly Button Window.” The VS mix deletes Jimi’s opening comments, as preserved on the First Rays mix, and also his chorus backing is not as in the front as the First Rays mix.

And on top of this you also get well-written liner notes by Michael Fairchild. Sure, the guy idolizes Jimi to the point of godhood, but still, so what? If you’re going to make a rock star larger than life, why not make it Jimi Hendrix? In summary, I would recommend tracking this down. The mixes are better than those on First Rays, and also the album doesn’t drag after a while – First Rays gets a bit jagged, towards the end. But still, Voodoo Soup could’ve been THE First Rays album, had Douglas used Dolly Dagger, Izabella, and maybe even Hey Baby, instead of overlong instrumentals like Midnight and Peace in Mississippi.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Soup | | Leave a comment

The Who Live At Hull 1970

Who Live at HullFrom

Review This Hull CD is absolutely essential but, please, read on as I explain why. There are a number of very subtle differences between this and the Leeds set, and, perhaps, the most notable is Keith Moon and where he sits in the sound mix here. Keith Moon is certainly dominant throughout the entire set, and his drums are `placed’ very high in the mix resulting in a thundering and very relentless attack which brilliantly drives all the songs here.

Pete Townshend is very clean and his pick-ups (which I assume are his P90’s on his SG) are brighter than ever. On the Leeds set you hear Pete’s guitar very fuzzed out and distorted (even with reverb!), and the Hull set offers a nice clean contrast in places, while other places offer a more rounded smoother overdrive than Leeds. The `presence’ and `closeness’ of just Keith Moons drums and Pete Townshends guitar are enough to place you center stage in a way Leeds does not.

As for the bass, John Entwistle’s playing is as strong as ever, and the over-dubs on the first few tracks are not exposed by the rest of the set – the tone, timing, and volume are all consistent from start to finish and any overdubs are actually undetectable (don’t worry!). And Roger Daltrey’s vocals are absolutely flawless; very powerful, very touching, and very admirable.

Whilst this set is no-where near as `polished’ as Leeds, it does offer an invaluable insight into how the band would have sounded on stage at that time – Leeds has always felt too `done’ in my opinion, and the sound, when compared to Hull, is like comparing a studio recording with a live recording; Hull feels realer, truer, and more alive! The Hull CD gives great tribute to Keith Moon and Pete Townshend in particular, and Moon’s playing is more daring, adventurous, and spontaneous (with fills unimaginably tight), and Towhshend cranking solo’s demonstrate how diverse his playing is – what a great lead and rhythm guitarist!

After first purchasing `Live at Leeds’ in 2001 (at the age of 11) and playing it extensively over the last 11 years, I can conclude that Hull may be the rawer, truer, and superior set to Leeds. Overall, I’d highly recommend this CD set and, having been a strong fan of The Who for years, would rate it as highly as Who’s Next, Isle Of Wight 1970, and Quadrophenia.

Review I’ve become quite slack with all things Who in the last few years, so when Ii first saw the pre-order for this I thought it was going to be disappointing, but knowing what we know about Live At Leeds and its relationship to Hull, it really isn’t.

The first thing that strikes me about this set, is that it is impossible to listen to it and not compare every second to the same moments of LAL. That classic album has had many permutations over the last 40 years, but in my opinion, the original 6 track version still kicks like a mule. I discovered it from a Kerrang 100 albums you must own list from about 1989/1990, and could. not. believe. it. when i first heard it. So LAH has a lot of listening history to live up to.

There is a lot less banter on LAH, whether this is by design or not i don’t know, but it does detract a bit from the perceived intimacy of LAL. However, the other differences are striking. Moon’s drumming is, unbelievably, even more incendiary on LAH. It could be the fact that the mix is slightly different, but he just seems to be on fire. The songs are punchier, and although timings are similar, they seem shorter and more direct. The singing isn’t as good, but The Who live was never about perfection. It is fascinating to hear the differences in Townshend’s playing, and the surprising lack of repetition between the two sets. The production also seems to ramp up The Ox’s playing, and on Young Man Blues his bass growls like I’ve never heard before.

One minute complaint, the inside sleeve of the 2cd set has a photo of Leeds, from the rejected set that Chris McCourt did. Weird. Maybe there aren’t any of Hull.

This is an essential set. Buy it. Turn it up. And for you experienced listeners, maybe feel a tiny bit of the excitement you felt the first time you heard Live At Leeds.

Review Recorded the night after Live At Leeds, this is another great live performance – in fact not that different from its legendary predecessor. The mighty version of Magic Bus isn’t repeated but the rest is – the great versions of Summertime Blues, Shakin’ All Over and Young Man Blues especially. They’re just as good, as is the rest. It’s a proper live album rather than the modern, auto-tuned and otherwise airbrushed and adulterated stuff we’re often served up.

Daltrey produces some spine-tingling moments but also strains for some notes and suffers from some dodgy tuning sometimes (as do the backing vocals.) Towshend’s guitar wanders out of tune sometimes, and there are some moments of near-shambles mixed in with some sheer brilliance. It’s real music being played by real people and, warts and all, is a terrific reminder of what a superb guitarist Townshend is under the antics and destruction, and that Keith Moon may have been madder than an exceptionally mad person on National Mad Day, but behind a drum kit he was a unique genius.

Every Who fan will want this. Of course we will; as a self-respecting Who fan, I bought Live At Leeds when it came out and still have the vinyl album – bits and pieces and all – and then the expanded CD versions and I had to have this, too. I’m not sure that this adds anything to Live at Leeds, really, but – come on – we’re going to buy a live album recorded the night after that historic concert no matter what. If you’re a Who fan, you’ll love it – but then, you already knew that.

(What follows is a personal reflection which you may not want to bother with. The thing is, although Live At Leeds a great live album – possibly the greatest in rock – I’ve not played it in the intervening 40-odd years nearly as much as Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia and the rest. There are some great moments but I often find with live albums that you really had to be there, and I wasn’t – I was at home a few miles away studying for my O Levels. I saw The Who in concert only once (at Charlton Athletic’s Valley ground in 1974, since you ask) and it was a stunning experience.

Daltrey shone like a rebellious god with his golden curls, Townshend windmilled and leapt like a demon, Moon was…well, Keith Moon, and Entwhistle stood like a rock amid it all while I was among tens of thousands of people, all swept away by the music we loved being played just for us, right there and right then, by the men we so admired. Almost four decades on, I still remember it with a thrill. And that’s the thing: a recording of it would probably be very good, but it wouldn’t be the occasion, and that’s what I find with live albums generally. I’m often glad to have heard them but don’t go back to them that often.

I suspect it will be like that with Live At Hull, too, but then – so what? I’ve got to have it so I know it’s there in my collection.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | The Who Live At Hull 1970 | | Leave a comment

Van Der Graaf Generator The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other (1970)


Review If you exclude “The Aerosol Grey Machine”, which was really a Peter Hammill solo album released under the VDGG name for contractual reasons, then “The Least We Can Do….” was the band’s first album release.

I would say that it’s one of my favourite VDGG albums because it is one of the most accessible ones; there is discernable melody here and plenty of it too. That is always important to me, more so than lyrics (but there may be many VDGG/Peter Hammill fans who fixate on his lyric writing as one of their favourite aspects) and this is one of VDGG’d most melodious albums. Tracks (not sure I can call them songs) such as the opener “Darkness (11/11)”, “Refugees” and “After the Flood” are good examples, with the music on “Refugees” being quite beautiful at times.

The songs are complex, long and not in a usual rock format or beat at all but another feature of this album that I find enjoyable is the wonderful rhythm that Nic Potter (bass) and Guy Evans (drums) can set up – quite jazzy in a modernistic sort of way (not in an Ella Fitzgerald way at all!). Hugh Banton on keyboards and David Jackson on saxes and flute add wonderful aural textures and energy, as well as melody. These four create a wonderful musical soundscape for Peter Hammill to deliver his “sung” lyrics – well, if you’ve ever heard peter Hammill “sing” then you will understand that his is a delivery that will not suit everyone. It suits this music and I like it.

I used to have the version of the CD released before the millenium and the sound on that was pretty poor but I’m pleased to say that it is of excellent qaulity on this remastered CD – so well worth getting again for any of you fans with the old copy.

So – melody, drive, invention, energy, wonderful musical soundscapes and a vocalist that demands your attention – this is one of the great VDGG albums from a career that has delivered a strong set of albums – including the recent “Present”, released after an interval of some 25 years from what many thought would be their last, “The Quiet Zone/The Pleasure Dome”. And there is another studio album in the offing for 2008!! Great – can’t wait!

Review Charisma Records was the love-child of the late sports writer, racehorse owner and all-round bon viveur, Tony Stratton-Smith and this band. Once introduced, he took on their management, resolved previous and unhappy contractual issues – and when they couldn’t get a label deal, started his own.
Whilst he nurtured the careers of an eclectic and talented roster of acts (many of whom went a long way to pay for the lifestyle – step forward Genesis), Van Der Graaf Generator were always ‘the ones’ for Strat.

Progressive rock was the new kid on the block, but whilst there was no shortage of labels and acts loaded onto its bandwagon, few were actually ‘progressing’ for long. VdGG were amongst few that were truly progressive in that they innovated, and by so doing, paved the way.

This is the first release in an exhumation of the VdGG catalogue. EMI has formed an ace team for the reissue programme of the Harvest and Charisma catalogues and this album bears their hallmark.

Issued to critical acclaim in 1970, The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other – 35 years later – delivers the goods again in an informative and entertaining package, re-mastered with extra tracks, and original artwork enhanced with intelligent and informed booklet notes, previously unpublished publicity photography and period memorabilia.

One incarnation of the band had supported main man Peter Hammill on his debut solo Aerosol Grey Machine in 1969 (later credited to VdGG).

But it was the line-up of song-writer Peter Hammill (guitar/vocals), drummer Guy Evans, classically-trained church organist, Hugh Banton, jazz-fusion horn player David Jackson, and bassist Nic Potter that formed the nucleus of this creative, wayward act.

In his original sleeve notes, Hammill warned: “Don’t listen when you’re bustling, because it won’t get inside your head. Don’t listen when you’re angry because you’ll smash something. Don’t listen when you’re depressed, because you’ll get more so. Don’t listen with any preoccupations, because you’ll blow it. ”

Melancholy, melody and mayhem co-function successfully in this imaginative and assured set.

Strikingly original then and a dramatic turn still today, it intersperses observational songs (Refugees, Out Of My Book) with epic statement (After the Flood, Darkness (11/11)) in a organ and sax-fuelled melee, powered by the hyperactive Evans, and preceded by the free-ranging Hammill vocal: British, educated, reasonable until prompted by some unseen force to unreason bordering on hysterical.

This release is bolstered with two extra tracks in the beautiful, orchestrated single version of ‘Refugees’ and its B-side, the atmospheric ‘Boat of Millions Of Years’.

The former is sweet, melancholic, lavish, naive – and a counterpoint to moments elsewhere in the proceedings that signpost the next horizon to be swept across by this band’s restless, raging force.

At the time of writing, VdGG have reformed, recorded a new album and are playing sell-out dates at major venues. Begin at the beginning, and find out how this came to be …

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Van Der Graaf Generator The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other | | Leave a comment

Rory Gallagher Tattoo (1973)


As close as Rory ever came around to a masterpiece, Tattoo still has its flaws, but each subsequent listen still makes it shine rather than dim. Perhaps the best news is that Rory’s backing band has finally managed to gel tightly, transformed into a compact, decisive unit where every player is given his due, particularly the keyboard player Lou Martin, whose presence really notches up the entertainment factor seriously. Thus, even the potential filler is able to develop into a tight, impressive jam session with lots of headbanging potential.

Not only that – the songs themselves are among the strongest ever penned by Rory. Lyrically, Tattoo is a very introspective album, filled with melancholy, thought provoking ballads and bitter rockers and only occasionally marred by standard blues cliches. Musically, almost every song has something to say – Rory carefully evades banal passages, throwing out cool riffs and unexpected tempo changes to keep the melodies interesting. Granted, it’s not always noticeable at first sight, but a careful listen to each of the songs shows that they are, indeed, superbly crafted.

Let’s take a short tour again. ‘Tattoo’d Lady’, beginning with a short ominous ‘noisy’ section, turns out to be a wonderfully humble and heartbreaking ‘fast ballad’ with some of Rory’s most evocative (aka incomprehensible) lyrics: ‘Tattoo’d lady, bearded baby, they’re my family, when I was lonely, something told me where I could always be’? What the hell is that? Whatever it is, it’s sung beautifully, and if Rory’s pleading vocal intonations won’t help you achieve purity, maybe the stern organ/piano work and the scorching guitar solos will. I love the song – and I could care less if Rory is just trying to sound like a cross between Muddy Waters and Bob Dylan. He sings it like he means it.

One song’s not enough, though – and it’s immediately followed by one of Rory’s most aggressive pieces of music, the tremendous rocker ‘Cradle Rock’, where, again, the state of ecstasy is reached through a careful guitar/organ interplay. Lou Martin really shines on here, and Rory’s slide solos rock heavier than Deep Purple, if that’s possible, at least, if we understand “heavy” as “violent”.
These two numbers are the obvious highlights, but it doesn’t objectively get any worse after that – it just gets subtler. ’20/20 Vision’ is a more standard blues number, in the classic Delta tradition, but adorned with some particularly jazzy piano lines from Mr Martin and hilarious original lyrics (‘people talk about her like she was a diamond on the shelf, well I got 20/20 vision I can see that for myself’).

‘They Don’t Make Them Like You Anymore’ throws us some more jazz, and it’s hardly a highlight, but it’s interesting to see Mr Gallagher tackle some be-bop. ‘Livin’ Like A Trucker’ ain’t my favourite either – nice wah-wah work, but the genericness factor is a little overdone. These two songs, mainly, are the reason why the album sags in the middle and lacks that absolute perfection which I’ve been waiting for so much, but none of them are supposed to be centrepieces, so why complain?

The centrepieces come on later. ‘Sleep On A Clothes-Line’ and ‘Who’s That Coming’, as I’ve been mentioning above, are those monsters that eventually develop into brilliant jams, perhaps not of a Clapton-Duane Allman quality, but certainly close – after all, there’s only one guitarist involved. ‘Who’s That Coming’ is especially impressive; boy, does Mr Martin really annihilate his keyboards on that one! Just imagine, a storm on your piano, a thunderstorm of notes from your slide guitar, and a cool, tight rhythm section hacking it up in the background, and it all flows along as perfectly as the river Nile or something. Now that’s music.

Finally, ‘A Million Miles Away’ is subtle, gentle and dreamy, just the kind of ballad that’s most perfectly suited for Rory’s simple, sincere, emotional approach – and watch out for that minimalistic ‘clicking’ guitar, whose very sound would be only later on picked up by Clapton and Mark Knopfler. But so as not to depress us towards the end, Rory ends the album on a more generic note: ‘Admit It’ has the most cliched blues-rock lyrics imaginable, but they’re compensated with a neat approach to the song’s riffage. Cool descending riff in the chorus, great funky bassline. What else do you want?

It’s all the more amazing to realize that this record was hastily assembled during a short gap in Rory’s incessant touring program and, according to all parameters, was a rushed one. I’d be the last man to suppose that Rory worked better under pressure – after all, if you’re just a blues-rocker and you’re pressed, what would be easier than to record a quick set of covers and ripped-off originals without bothering about originality or creativity or anything? You don’t have to invent melodies, so why bother? There’s simply no logical explanation to the fact.

So instead of inflating my head, let me just tell you that you gotta go out and get a grab on this record while it’s still in print. Seventies’ blues-rock at its very, very best.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Rory Gallagher Tattoo | | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Jazz (Newport Jazz Festival, July 1969)


Newport Jazz Festival, Newport, RI – July 6th, 1969

(62:49) Intro., Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown, Long Tall Sally

The Newport Jazz Festival, began in 1954 by George Wien, produced several legendary performances including Miles Davis performing “Round Midnight” in 1955 and the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s rendition of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” in 1956. The development of rock from disposable pop into a viable art form was reflected in both the Jazz Festival and Wein’s other yearly event, the Newport Folk Festival.

Bob Dylan set the precedent by plugging in for three songs in 1965 at Folk, and by 1969 two of the four days at the Jazz Festival were devoted to rock and roll acts. On the second day, during Sly & The Family Stone’s set, the crowds grew beyond the capacity for security to control them and the situation came to a head during the Jeff Beck Group’s set.

The situation caused Wein to announce that Led Zeppelin, who were supposed to close the event on the fourth day, were not going to appear.

Zeppelin, just over from England for their third tour of the year, ignored that announcement and appeared anyway. The band’s strategy was to play in as many festivals as they could to increase their exposure which was a shrewd move, except for their decision to not appear at Woodstock. (One can only imagine how that would have effected their career!)

Although many people left believing Zeppelin wouldn’t appear, at least three people remained and had the foresight to record the event for posterity. Following Buddy Rich, who tried hard to blow Zeppelin off the stage, they played a tight and exciting set.

The first tape source is very loud and clear but is incomplete, missing the opening tune ups, has a cut after “You Shook Me,” and is missing the second encore “Long Tall Sally.” In this recording the instruments are clear and powerful but Robert Plant’s vocals are pushed to the back of the mix and are completely inaudible during “Communication Breakdown.”

This tape was used for the vinyl release Live At The Newport Jazz Festival (Led), the early CD New Port ’69 (Black Swan BS-02).

The second tape is more complete, having both the tune ups and “Long Tall Sally.” It is a good recording although it is unbalanced compared to the others. The guitar tends to dominate with the vocals pushed further to the back. It first came out on Tales From ’69 (Tarantura NO-69-1~3) a three disc set with Kansas City and Wallingford 1969, Long Tall Sally (Tarantura T2CD-3) has “Communication Breakdown” and “Long Tall Sally” in addition to material from Toronto and Buffalo 1969. Jazz was the second release of this tape, followed by Live At The Newport Jazz Festival (Empress Valley EVSD290).

Zeppelin play their “festival” set, which compared to the prior two tours is scaled back to about an hour with the long improvisation “As Long As I Have You” and the drum solo “Pat’s Delight” dropped. The show begins with a minute of tunes ups and Plant testing the PA by lowing the harmonica before “Train Kept A-Rollin’” explodes on stage. During “I Can’ Quit You” Plant’s vocals are hard to hear and there are shouts for the PA to be turned up.

Plant mentions the controversy after the song, saying, “There was nothing wrong with us at all and we all intended on coming. That’s what we come to America for. So we hope that you will enjoy everything we do, and that we were coming in the first place, so don’t get any hassles about what we were gonna do and what we weren’t.” ”Dazed And Confused” is a compact twelve minutes long still close to the first album’s arrangement.

Plant asks the engineers to adjust the PA before “You Shook Me” and it takes them two minutes into the song before any results are audible. “That’s better” Plant says through the harmonica, but the change is more audible on the first tape and not so much on the one used on this release.

The set closer “How Many More Times” is fifteen minutes long and lacks the violin bow interlude. Rather very hot, sexually suggestive guitar solos and orgiastic moans by Plant make up the song’s climax. “I come to Newport / gonna have a ball!” Plant sings during “The Hunter” part.

“Communication Breakdown” is segued directly with a long and chaotic version of Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally.” There are only five recorded versions of Zeppelin playing the classic and this the first.

Jazz is packaged in a standard jewel case with very basic artwork. It’s not really on an known label and is normally attributed to TDOLZ due to the similarity in artwork. Subsequent releases like Jazz But Rock on Tarantura have surpassed this in sound quality and completeness, but this is still a good way to obtain this material.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Jazz | , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin Olympia 1969 (Paris, October 1969)


L’Olympia Theater, Paris, France – October 10th, 1969

Good Times Bad Times / Communication Breakdown, I Can’t Quit You, Heartbreaker, Dazed And Confused, White Summer / Black Mountainside, You Shook Me, How Many More Times

Olympia 1969 is another silver release of the recently broadcast October 10th concert. Like the Wendy Paris Olympia 1969, this was taped off of the radio when it was broadcast on Europe 2 in early December. The sound quality is excellent, and this version includes the commentator speaking at various points throughout the show with no attempt by the label to remove it. It sounds very close to Wendy, but the remastering is very gentle on this one and the high end is not so harsh on the ears.

This release is an extremely enjoyable listen and a pleasant surprise. This tape was also a surprise when it was announced for broadcast since its existence was known, but the tape was thought lost until it was re-discovered in the middle of 2007. It also isn’t known if this is all that was taped or if the rest of the show, which some say includes “Moby Dick” was also taped and are still sitting in the vault. It is said they played for an hour and a half leaving a half hour still unaccounted.

More likely than not they also played ”What Is And What Should Never Be” since that was a regular inclusion in the set. The set list as it appears in the radio broadcast also differs from the list reported in the latest edition of The Concert File, which places “You Shook Me” before “White Summer” followed by “Dazed And Confused.”

The period between Zeppelin’s appearance at the Texas Pop Festival over Labour Day weekend and their Royal Albert Hall show in January, 1970 has truly come into sharper focus in the past decade. We can now be sure that they played three shows in Holland on October 3rd, 4th, and 5th with the last being at the famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the music all with the best acoustics. These were played before Paris and the Lyceum show in London on October 12th.

This is their second of three appearances in the French capital in 1969, with the first on June 19th for “Tout En Scene” and the final a private show at L’Ecole Centrale Chatenay-Malabry on December 6th, their final live appearance of the year. It would be great if all those shows surfaced, but at least we now know about them. And with the Olympia tape, there is the most clear record of what the band sounded like in the latter part of the year. And that can be characterized as being very loose on stage. Even though “Heartbreaker” is the only new song, it is played tight and with a heavy echo on the guitar during the middle solo part of the number.

“You Shook Me” must count among the heaviest versions on record with Bonham keeping time with a sledgehammer on his drums. This sound would remain in the set list, in one form or another, for the next couple of years before being abandoned. But the best is the long improvisation during “How Many More Times.” By this time it had already been expanded into a long, distinct medley of oldies, but they really don’t follow any rules in this concert.

Page makes some vague references to Holst and The Yardbirds, and Plant is trying hard to shake up the audience with suggestive lyrics and obscure inside jokes. Maybe Plant is seeking revenge for the tepid reaction they received in the summer, but it is said that Zeppelin were not as well received in France as in other countries. Maybe this is the reason why it took Zeppelin more than three years before they returned to the capital? Nevertheless this is a phenomenal show in great sound quality despite the announcer speaking throughout the performance. Olympia 1969is packaged in a single jewel case with several photos from the period on glossy paper inserts.

It isn’t receiving as much circulation as the Wendy, EV and Tarantura versions of the show which may make this very hard to find in the future.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | Led Zeppelin Olympia 1969 | , | Leave a comment

David Bowie Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars (1972)


Imagine the scene; Earth is five years from being destroyed due to a lack of natural resources and all of humanity it crying out for a savior. In these bleak, desperate times the call is answered in the most unexpected of ways, an extra terrestrial life form discovers Earth. This life form, call him “Ziggy” if you will, is a promiscuous rock star, gifted musically both through guitar and song, bringing a message of peace and love to all of mankind. This is the setting that is beautifully created by master word smith David Bowie in his oft overlooked masterpiece “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars” (hereby referred to as “RAFOZS”). This is truly Bowie at his experimental best, showcasing his ability and cementing his position as one of the greatest English singer/songwriters of all time. “RAFOZS” is without doubt one of the most influential rock albums of the 20th century, justly achieving number 35 on Rolling Stone’s Greatest albums of all time.

From the off the music on this album is terrifically precise with percussion, guitars, piano and vocals all meticulously harmonized together by Bowie. The vocal performance in particular is one of Bowie’s best, encompassing everything that makes him such a great artist into 40 minutes of musical magic. Opener “Five Years” starts off the album brilliantly, introducing the depressing state of Earth, and the eventual realization of the population that their world will be obliterated. The slow build up of the quiet instrumentation allow emphasis to fall onto the powerful, emotive lyrics which are delivered brilliantly by Bowie. Lines such as “News guy wept and told us Earth was really dying. Cried so much his face was wet, then I knew he was not lying” set the scene perfectly, and honestly create a sense of unease within the listener, transporting them to Bowie’s parallel universe.

The music continues to impress throughout the album, with no track failing to impress in any way. “Starman” is probably the most well known track off of the album, and for good reason. After a brief musical introduction, sharp vocals break in, complementing the melodic string symphony in the background. This song also boasts one of the most recognizable chorus’s on the album, softly sung, and immediately catchy. “It Ain’t Easy” is a hard rocking number, definitely one of the heavier numbers on the record with the vocals and overall musical style taking a sharp turn from that already heard on the album. Again it is a vocally driven song, as Bowie once again demonstrates his extraordinary range. Another notable song is “Suffragette City”, another hard rocking number, faster than “It Ain’t Easy” with catchier hooks and a far superior chorus.

“RAFOZS” is truly a product of its era, with influences apparent all over the place, from the highly Beatle-esqe “Lady Stardust” to the bluesy/rock ‘n roll influences of “Star” which could have come straight out of a Chuck Berry back catalogue. Bowie’s bizarre extravagance and captivating outrageousness are displayed throughout the album, none more so than on eponymous track “Ziggy Stardust”. The familiar guitar introduction to this song hooks the listener into the proggiest song on the album. This song is a typical overindulgence of rock fantasy. This is the one song that the album leads up to, the focal point of everything beforehand, and it delivers in spades.

To say this album is one of the best rock albums of all time would be no understatement. Although not achieving particularly huge sales, this album – arguably Bowie’s magnum opus – marked the coming of super stardom for one of Britain’s greats, and helped inspire many acts over the coming years. This album is a must have in any half decent rock collection, containing eleven musical masterpieces that will satisfy any rock lover, and bringing about one of the most celebrated rock persona’s of the 20th Century, a Mr. Ziggy Stardust and his house band The Spiders from Mars.

April 17, 2013 Posted by | David Bowie Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars | | Leave a comment