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LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis (2010)

LZ-75From amazon.com

Review 215 pages of text (including a Prologue) and photographs, many unpublished until now. The author, Stephen Davis, has written a number of books on both rock ‘n’ roll and musicians. This is probably closer to a 3 1/2 star review, depending on what you know about the band during this period, and whether the price/worth of the book is agreeable to you.

This is a book that comes from several diaries Davis had misplaced for many years. They come from a period when Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world-slaying any other band around. The period is question is the 1975 North American, tour when Zeppelin was king.

As a stand alone book it’s fairly good, but for those who want to know something in depth about the group and/or it’s music you’re probably better off looking elsewhere. This book is aimed primarily for people who already know about the band, rather than people who know of the band. If you’ve read Davis’ “Hammer of the Gods”, or “When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin”” by Mick Wall, for instance, “LZ-’75” is a good addition, an addendum, to what’s found in those books.

Davis had a ringside seat on this tour, with access to the band, both on and off stage. Included are “lost” interviews with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, and Davis’ chronicle of the band’s performances on tour. There’s also an inside look at the band lifestyle off stage which was a direct result of the hysteria surrounding the band during this time. From his vantage point, Davis was privy to the many ups and downs the band as a whole, and individually, encountered, during this massive tour. Loneliness, illness, drugs and all the rest are laid out for the reader. Davis was even granted a seat on the band’s tour jet, the Starship, which gave him even more insight into the workings of the band and it’s management. In part, Davis weaves his personal feelings about the tour as well as the tour itself, into one story. The many photographs, including several dozen unseen until now, both help portray and give the band a better identity throughout the book. Using Davis’ narrative style of writing, his story moves along at a fairly good pace.

This is a good, penetrating look into a period of time when Led Zeppelin was considered the greatest rock band in history While that’s certainly debatable, there’s no denying that in 1975 the band was at the top-both performance-wise and in popularity. Everything they had done before then was a build-up to this earth-shaking tour. And Davis has written a concise look into the band, and the era-an era that both needed and wanted a band like Led Zeppelin. Whether you think the band’s early work was best, or their later music had something special, this is a good slice of a certain time period when all the wildness, the excitement, and the strange came together. For that reason this is an interesting book about a band that, at least at that time, seemingly had no boundaries.

Review Arguably, one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, no group seemed to mesmerize fans in the manner Led Zeppelin did. There is an undefined mystery/aura associated with Zeppelin that generates interest in the band, beyond its music. While Stephen Davis’ “Hammer of the Gods” was a much anticipated and appreciated look into the band, its tale of debauchery only added to Zeppelin’s mysterious lore. With LZ-75, Davis returns to give us a closer look at the band during its 1975 American Tour. Based notes and memorabilia that were “lost” for almost 35 years, Davis serves-up a close look at the band that somewhat diminishes the mysterious sheen that has cloaked the band throughout its history.

Halfway through the book, I was ready to pan Davis’ work as it appeared Stephen Davis had a grudge against the band. The Godfathers of the heavier version of rock and roll seemed to be finally exposed as … well … mere humans. As a lifelong fan of the band, I was not sure if I was ready to have its image decimated by a series of somewhat embarrassing tales that amounted to nothing less than “too much information”. However, as I pressed on, I began to appreciate Davis’ recollection of the band as an exclusive insider’s-view of Led Zeppelin in an era where rock stars enjoyed their decadent lifestyle in relative secrecy.

“LZ-75” starts with Davis discovering an old box full of memorabilia collected from an assignment covering Led Zeppelin during its 1975 American tour. From this point he takes us to the beginning of his adventure trying to secure such an assignment (made difficult by the negative press the band couldn’t escape from most traditional music sources like “Rolling Stone” magazine). His early reporting of the band’s performance, let alone its members, is less than flattering. Rather than Rock Gods staging yet another blitzkrieg across the United States, we see a group of spoiled prima donnas as unhealthy, homesick, and belligerent drunks with a penchant for drugs and groupies. The performances at the start of the tour are characterized as tepid, not torrid, as one concert in Texas included Robert Plant pleading with an unimpressed audience for some sign of appreciation. Unlike previous tours that followed the release of a new album, this tour featured the band trying to introduce music from an album (“Physical Graffiti”) whose release was delayed. The lackluster fan enthusiasm for the new music (including iconic gems like “Kashmir” and “Trampled Underfoot”) in addition to Robert Plant’s lingering influenza and Jimmy Page’s injured hand seemed to cast a funk on the band and its burgeoning tour. The rhythm section of the band (John Paul Jones and John Bonham) weren’t devoid of problems either as one became the subject of constant ridicule on stage (Jones) and the other (Bonham) turned into his violent, alcohol-fueled alter-ego, “the Beast”. While Davis’ main goal was to land a rare interview with the reclusive Page, it began to appear that the futility in getting that interview started to sour Davis’ opinion of Led Zeppelin altogether. After all, how many fans really need to know about Bonham’s need to wear diapers on stage due to alcohol-induced incontinence or the repeated need to compare Jones’ hair to that of Liberace and his keyboard playing as “cheesy lounge music”?

It is once the tour heads to Los Angeles that Davis’ reporting of events become more interesting and the band begins to enjoy itself and perform as expected. For it is the city of Los Angeles, with its abundance of drugs and loyal groupies, that traditionally served as Led Zeppelin’s life support during American tours. The mood is more relaxed, the album is finally released, the band is happier and the audience begins to appreciate the performances. It is at this point where the reader is given a much appreciated fly-on-the-wall perspective of the band’s stay at the Continental Hotel (the “Riot House”) and on board the legendary “Starship” (the band’s plane). We are exposed to the various people and activities that comprise the burden of that 1975 tour: the hand-assembled, 500 light bulb “Led Zeppelin” sign present at each show, the thuggish antics of band manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole to the workaholic Danny Goldberg. One interesting moment includes the possibility of Davis witnessing Manson follower Squeaky Fromme’s attempt to contact Jimmy Page about a pending omen. Davis finally eases up on Jones’ by acknowledging the importance and need of his bass-playing skills and thankfully, the almost daily account of Bonham’s diarrhoea, comes to an end. With the tour drawing to a close there is a melancholy sense that the author realizes the band’s best days may be a thing of the past.

“LZ-75” is actually pretty good reporting, in my opinion. Throughout the book, Davis displays an honest view of what he sees (good and bad) and overall, he comes across as objective. The book is probably best served to Led Zeppelin fans. Although some fans may believe Davis aims to tarnish the band’s image, many fans may appreciate a peek behind the mysterious veil that has surrounded the band for so long, exposing its members as mere mortals after all.

May 10, 2013 Posted by | Book LZ-'75 The Lost Chronicles Of Led Zeppelins 1975 American Tour By Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment

LZ-’75 The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis (2010)

lz-75-promoFrom amazon.com

Arguably, one of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, no group seemed to mesmerize fans in the manner Led Zeppelin did. There is an undefined mystery/aura associated with Zeppelin that generates interest in the band, beyond its music. While Stephen Davis’ “Hammer of the Gods” was a much anticipated and appreciated look into the band, its tale of debauchery only added to Zeppelin’s mysterious lore. With LZ-75, Davis returns to give us a closer look at the band during its 1975 American Tour. Based notes and memorabilia that were “lost” for almost 35 years, Davis serves-up a close look at the band that somewhat diminishes the mysterious sheen that has cloaked the band throughout its history.

Halfway through the book, I was ready to pan Davis’ work as it appeared Stephen Davis had a grudge against the band. The Godfathers of the heavier version of rock and roll seemed to be finally exposed as … well … mere humans. As a lifelong fan of the band, I was not sure if I was ready to have its image decimated by a series of somewhat embarrassing tales that amounted to nothing less than “too much information”. However, as I pressed on, I began to appreciate Davis’ recollection of the band as an exclusive insider’s-view of Led Zeppelin in an era where rock stars enjoyed their decadent lifestyle in relative secrecy.

“LZ-75” starts with Davis discovering an old box full of memorabilia collected from an assignment covering Led Zeppelin during its 1975 American tour. From this point he takes us to the beginning of his adventure trying to secure such an assignment (made difficult by the negative press the band couldn’t escape from most traditional music sources like “Rolling Stone” magazine). His early reporting of the band’s performance, let alone its members, is less than flattering. Rather than Rock Gods staging yet another blitzkrieg across the United States, we see a group of spoiled prima donnas as unhealthy, homesick, and belligerent drunks with a penchant for drugs and groupies. The performances at the start of the tour are characterized as tepid, not torrid, as one concert in Texas included Robert Plant pleading with an unimpressed audience for some sign of appreciation. Unlike previous tours that followed the release of a new album, this tour featured the band trying to introduce music from an album (“Physical Graffiti”) whose release was delayed. The lackluster fan enthusiasm for the new music (including iconic gems like “Kashmir” and “Trampled Underfoot”) in addition to Robert Plant’s lingering influenza and Jimmy Page’s injured hand seemed to cast a funk on the band and its burgeoning tour. The rhythm section of the band (John Paul Jones and John Bonham) weren’t devoid of problems either as one became the subject of constant ridicule on stage (Jones) and the other (Bonham) turned into his violent, alcohol-fueled alter-ego, “the Beast”. While Davis’ main goal was to land a rare interview with the reclusive Page, it began to appear that the futility in getting that interview started to sour Davis’ opinion of Led Zeppelin altogether. After all, how many fans really need to know about Bonham’s need to wear diapers on stage due to alcohol-induced incontinence or the repeated need to compare Jones’ hair to that of Liberace and his keyboard playing as “cheesy lounge music”?

It is once the tour heads to Los Angeles that Davis’ reporting of events become more interesting and the band begins to enjoy itself and perform as expected. For it is the city of Los Angeles, with its abundance of drugs and loyal groupies, that traditionally served as Led Zeppelin’s life support during American tours. The mood is more relaxed, the album is finally released, the band is happier and the audience begins to appreciate the performances. It is at this point where the reader is given a much appreciated fly-on-the-wall perspective of the band’s stay at the Continental Hotel (the “Riot House”) and on board the legendary “Starship” (the band’s plane). We are exposed to the various people and activities that comprise the burden of that 1975 tour: the hand-assembled, 500 light bulb “Led Zeppelin” sign present at each show, the thuggish antics of band manager Peter Grant and tour manager Richard Cole to the workaholic Danny Goldberg. One interesting moment includes the possibility of Davis witnessing Manson follower Squeaky Fromme’s attempt to contact Jimmy Page about a pending omen. Davis finally eases up on Jones’ by acknowledging the importance and need of his bass-playing skills and thankfully, the almost daily account of Bonham’s diarrhea, comes to an end. With the tour drawing to a close there is a melancholy sense that the author realizes the band’s best days may be a thing of the past.

“LZ-75” is actually pretty good reporting, in my opinion. Throughout the book, Davis displays an honest view of what he sees (good and bad) and overall, he comes across as objective. The book is probably best served to Led Zeppelin fans. Although some fans may believe Davis aims to tarnish the band’s image, many fans may appreciate a peek behind the mysterious veil that has surrounded the band for so long, exposing its members as mere mortals after all.

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Book LZ-'75 The Lost Chronicles Of Led Zeppelins 1975 American Tour By Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment

LZ-’75 The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour by Stephen Davis (2010)

lz75From amazon.com

As one of the “millions of kids” that attended a Led Zeppelin concert during their 1975 “Physical Graffiti” Tour, I consumed this book immediately. Stephen Davis’ newest contribution to the Led Zeppelin canon was nothing more than a refreshment of every “Circus,” “Rolling Stone,” “Creem” or “Hit Parader” article written about this tour that I had read.

Davis’ scholarly/historian pen of “Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga” has been superseded with a dumbed-down adjective-laced prose that borders on corny. Gleaned from decades lost notebooks kept while on assignment for The Atlantic Monthly, placing Davis among Zeppelin’s entourage for two crucial months of the tour, this mere 217-page chronicle comes off as a rush job instead of the Tour de Force it could have been.

Davis writes from his own perspective as a journalist, not a fan. Readers should keep this in mind. As any good reporter, Davis gives his readers the “who, what, where, when and how,” but is less than successful at the “why” events happened the way they did. Davis’ offers personal slant, but, unlike “Hammer of the Gods,” little hindsight or analytical reflection. Having observed Led Zeppelin in their acclaimed 1969 Boston Tea Party Concert, Davis seems to view Zeppelin’s 1975 Tour as a gaudy spectacle: repeatedly alluding to the addition of John Bonham’s drum riser, the laser beam light show, and a radiant 15,000 light bulb Led Zeppelin that closed every concert.

Davis reminds us that this tour was wracked with problems from the start: The tour took place in the worst winter weather in recent memory. Robert Plant suffered from the flu, which noticeably affected his vocal performance during the early shows. Jimmy Page smashed his hand in a sub-way door that almost canceled the tour, and the release of the new album, “Physical Graffiti” was delayed,

The author paints his own portraits of the band members, as well. Legendary drummer John Bonham, affectionally known as “Bonzo” to his adoring fans, is called “The Beast” behind his back among Zeppelin’s inner circle. Drowning an acute bout of homesickness in alcohol, Bonham lashed out violently and would physically assault the closest man or woman at a whim. Davis has an obvious dislike for Bassist/Keyboardist John Paul Jones, perhaps because Jones avoided everyone, especially journalists. Davis repeatedly ribs Jones about everything from his exceedingly long, boring “lounge music” keyboard solos, to his new hair cut, which Robert Plant likened to that of Liberace.

It is not until almost the end of the book that Davis finally credits Jones as being an indispensible contributor of Zeppelin’s music. Davis paints Jimmy Page as the unapproachable reclusive tortured genius of the band. When not on stage, Page remained in a darkened hotel suite, lit only by an array of candles, an insomniac, often sitting on a couch at all hours strumming an acoustic guitar craving new inspiration. Just how far Page was into what would become a debilitating heroin addiction, and whether the myth that the Satanic aficionado Page offered his soul to the Devil, in the form of an oath signed in blood by all band members, in exchange for the musical fame are questions Davis ponders, but, not surprisingly, cannot nail. Davis portrays Robert Plant as a jovial, blonde rock god, early multi-culturalist, already delving into traditional Moroccan and Jamaican Reggae music, but by 1975, singing a full octave lower than the early albums. Davis’ adventures arranging and ultimately conducting hotel room interviews with Page (brief) and Plant (lengthy) are entertaining and revealing.

As an on-the-scene-journalist, Davis noticeably, but expectantly lacks a musician’s perspective coupled with a glaring unfamiliarity with Zeppelin’s fans. As an insider, Davis knew not what a fan makes, just as a fan knew little of life in the inner circle. On the plus side, Davis sums up every show in a few sentences. Interesting are his translations of Plant’s coded bantering between songs, and how the band mixed up the set each night: changing the encore, or inserting parts of songs in the middle of others. Davis has a few favorite songs which he refers to repeatedly: “Kashmir” and “Trampled Under Foot” for example. Less accurate are Davis’ interpretation of the fans reactions to Zeppelin’s new material.

For instance, Davis argues that not until the long awaited release of “Physical Graffiti” in late February 1975, did concert goers finally warm up to the hauntingly slide rendition of “In My Time of Dying.” Davis seems to have forgotten that radio stations were already playing advanced promo cuts from the new album, and Led Zeppelin fans possessed more musical savvy than the hoards of teeny-boppers Davis portrays them to be. Davis mistakes the fan frenzy of 1970s rock concerts (throwing of fire crackers and items onto the stage) as signs of disapproval of the new songs. Pleasing to this reviewer’s memory was Davis’ description of the February 8 show at the Philadelphia Spectrum in which huge burly security guards roughed up a fan simply trying to take a photo. During the scuffle, Page kicked out one of the vaudeville type foot lights (Davis forgot) while Plant poked the ruffian with his mike stand (I forgot).

Davis was welcomed into Zeppelin’s entourage, and when his research was deemed complete, immediately let go (the author continues the narrative to the UK Earl’s Court concert, and Plant’s tragic car accident that forced the cancellation of the second leg of the U.S. tour). Along the way, readers get a peek into Zeppelin’s world of drugs, Groupies, and life on the road with the world’s greatest rock band at the pinnacle of their career. For a new generation of fans, too young to remember, Davis offers only a brief overview. For us Baby-boomers who do remember, a more mature, in-depth approach would have been nice. Three-and-a-half stars.

April 12, 2013 Posted by | Book LZ-'75 The Lost Chronicles Of Led Zeppelins 1975 American Tour By Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment