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Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, The Who and the Birth of the Mega Rock Tour (Book Excerpt)

This story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In the classic rock movie Almost Famous, set during the spring and summer of 1973, rock critic Lester Bangs laments “this dangerous moment” in rock history when fame and money threaten to “strangle everything we love about rock.” In an exclusive excerpt from his new book, What You Want Is in the Limo: On the Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and The Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born, THR contributing editor Michael Walker uncovers the facts beneath Cameron Crowe’s thinly veiled fiction.

72_Led Zeppelin North American Tour 1973_iocero_2013_04_27_17_37_43_05fc64507551e729fb1e385It was the year the concert business went big time with the stadium tour. The crowds were bigger, the travel more decadent, the groupies more eager and the behavior of the stars more outrageous. Into this came three legendary acts touring to promote three career-defining albums: Led Zeppelin with Houses of the Holy, The Who with Quadrophenia and the original Alice Cooper band with Billion Dollar Babies. The Who, the last of the great British Invasion bands, was a critical darling after such albums as 1968’s rock opera Tommy. Quadrophenia, another concept album, was its attempt to grow and connect with a new generation that missed 1965’s “My Generation.”

Led Zeppelin, formed in England in 1968, was a commercial success (the band’s 1971 fourth album sold 32 million copies) but was dismissed by critics. Houses of the Holy, its fifth album in as many years, was its first to feature all original material. Alice Cooper the band was just coming into stardom in 1973. Like Zeppelin, it was reviled by critics — for its outrageous stage-show theatrics, including fake blood and live snakes, that anticipated David Bowie’s outre-glam and Kiss’ demonic makeup. Unlike Zeppelin, Cooper’s first two albums were commercial flops.

The 1971 hit “I’m Eighteen” and 1972 follow-up “School’s Out” changed that trajectory. With its themes of decadence and power, Billion Dollar Babies captured the zeitgeist of a country about to be engulfed in the cynicism of the Watergate scandal and reached No. 1. Shifting to an all-stadium tour, Alice Cooper grossed $4.5 million (when tickets were $6.50), drawing a then-astounding 820,000 fans and paving the way for modern tours like Lady Gaga’s $181 million-grossing Born This Way. In 1973, these three seminal acts would herald the transformation of the rock concert into the rock concert business. — Andy Lewis

OPENING LICKS
Led Zeppelin crashed into the United States in May 1973 fresh off a string of European shows with Houses of the Holy on its way to No. 1 on the Billboard charts. By design, the first two dates of the tour — held in outdoor stadiums to capacity crowds in Atlanta and Tampa — were meant to convey the band’s new world-beating status and generate the respectful press that had gone to The Rolling Stones the previous year. Peter Grant, the notoriously blunt manager for Zeppelin, made as much ominously clear to Danny Goldberg, the band’s new publicist. Goldberg seized upon a brilliant strategy to link Zeppelin to rock’s ultimate touchstones. Tallying the capacity audience at Tampa Stadium, he noted that, at 56,800, it slightly exceeded the attendance for The Beatles’ record-­setting 1965 Shea Stadium show. “Of course, the contrast with Shea Stadium was a reflection of the size of the stadiums, not the relative popularity of the groups,” Goldberg later acknowledged, along with the fact that rock festivals like Woodstock had drawn far larger audiences. “But I figured those crowds had been drawn by multi-artist packages rather than single headliners.” Goldberg typed a press release declaring that Zeppelin had broken the attendance record set by The Beatles for a single-­artist concert and dropped it off at the local UPI bureau — “where it was a slow news night.” The next day newspapers around the world ran stories with headlines blaring that Led Zeppelin was now “bigger than The Beatles.”

The Who arrived in San Francisco to open its American tour at the 14,000­seat Cow Palace on Nov. 20. The band traveled with 20 tons of custom sound and lights and other staging that required three 45-­foot trailers and a 12­-man crew. Tickets for the show — as with every city on the itinerary — sold out in hours, and anticipation for the band’s first concert in America since 1971’s Who’s Next was acute. But within minutes of the group striking up “Magic Bus,” drummer Keith Moon appeared vacant-eyed, flailing at his cymbals, before passing out face ­first into the tom­-toms. As the band played on, he was hoisted as if from a fishing net and carried offstage, limp and pale as a mackerel. “When Keith collapsed, it was such a shame,” Pete Townshend later recalled. “I had just been getting warmed up at that point … I didn’t want to stop playing.”

Such was Townshend’s mind-set when he turned to the audience and half quipped, “Does anybody play the drums?” A cheer went up. “I mean somebody good.” In the audience near the stage was Scott Halpin, a 19­-year­-old Iowa transplant who had paid for a scalped ticket and was attending with a friend. When his pal heard Townshend’s request, he got the attention of stage security and, indicating Halpin, shouted “He can play!” The next thing Halpin knew, he was backstage downing a shot of brandy someone handed him and being escorted to the drum set. As he settled in, Townshend reached through the cymbals to shake his hand. “I’m in complete shock,” Halpin recalls.

Given the circumstances, Halpin acquitted himself reasonably well before joining arms with Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle for the curtain call. Backstage, Daltrey gave Halpin a tour jacket and pledged to pay him $1,000. Whereupon Halpin climbed into his VW Beetle and drove himself back into obscurity. Townshend sent him a thank-you note after the tour moved to Los Angeles, but the thousand dollars Daltrey promised never materialized.

BIGGER, BETTER, LOUDER
Before the early ’70s, bands seldom toured with their own PA­ systems — it was the promoter’s responsibility to provide one. As late as 1970, says Cooper’s road manager David Libert, “even big bands would show up, and there would be a sound system they had never seen before. But [good] sound systems were just coming in — there were companies forming at that time.”

One of them was Heil Sound, founded by a pipe organist and electronics geek with no affinity for rock but a keen appreciation for the dynamics of sound in a live environment. In 1966, Bob Heil opened a music shop in his tiny hometown of Marissa, Ill., where he sold Hammond organs. As it happened, rock bands at the time were repurposing the Hammond B-3, a favorite of jazz and blues musicians, into a screaming lead instrument on par with the electric guitar. When Heil heard the pathetic sound systems bands played through, he scavenged two huge Altec A-7 speakers from St. Louis’ Fox Theatre and paired them with radial horns, ring tweeters and thousands of watts of amplification. In 1970, the Grateful Dead’s sound system was impounded while the band was en route from New Orleans to St. Louis, and Heil took a call from a panicked Jerry Garcia. Heil trucked his creation to the Fox and mixed sound at the concert. The Dead took Heil and his PA to New Jersey and on the rest of their tour. Word of Heil’s “really big PA” spread, and The Who ended up commissioning Heil’s unprecedented quadrophonic sound system, used on the U.K. dates of the 1973 Quadrophenia tour.

As Cooper’s band rehearsed for its tour, a massive set was being constructed on a Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank. Built on multiple levels, the stage comprised two steel cages flanking a Busby Berkeley-inspired staircase that, per Alice’s request, lit up with each step he took. Silvered bodies hung from the superstructure, and a gilded sarcophagus with lasers that shot from its eyes loomed behind center stage. Aside from Alice, the bandmembers were not consulted on the design. On a tour that would increasingly be fraught with unspoken tension over Alice’s emerging superstardom, the stage’s design had the effect, intentional or not, of diminishing the instrumentalists. “I do believe that the stage really made the band look like Alice’s backing band,” says guitarist Mick Mashbir.

THE PARTY NEVER ENDS
When The Beatles toured in 1964, their contract for backstage amenities stipulated: “In all dressing rooms for The Beatles, the purchaser must provide four cots, mirrors, an ice cooler, portable TV set and clean towels.” Minus the ice cooler and TV, that’s more or less what the average jail cell provides today.

The entitlement that would come to define rock stardom in the ’70s — and the ostentatious luxury that embodies it — gained its first foothold in the big tours of 1973. Witness this sample from Alice Cooper’s backstage hospitality rider: “Purchaser shall provide three (3) cases of Budweiser, three (3) cases of Michelob, one (1) gallon of apple juice, one (1) gallon of orange juice, two (2) cases of Coca­-Cola, one (1) case of ginger ale and assorted fruit. This is to be placed in a cooler with ice in Alice Cooper’s dressing room. … The Michelob beer must be in bottles and the cases of Budweiser must be in cans. In states where the sale of beer must have an alcoholic content of less than 6 percent (i.e. 3.2 beer), the beer must be imported from another state.”

Bob Gruen photographed and traveled with dozens of acts in the early ’70s — Led Zeppelin, Cooper and The Who among them — and witnessed firsthand the creation of the rock-­star mind-set. “It’s contempt for everybody,” Gruen says. “It was just, ‘We’re special, we’re gods, everybody adores us and we deserve whatever we want.’ ”

On the Billion Dollar Babies tour, says Libert, “Everybody was living in this bubble. Think of it: You put your bag outside your hotel room, and then the next thing you know, it’s outside your hotel room in the next city. You go downstairs, you hop into a limo, it takes you to your own airplane, the airplane flies you to the next city, you hop out, you hop into another limousine, it takes you to the next hotel. You don’t really touch reality, and there’s people to keep everybody else away.”

One of Danny Markus’ first tasks when he joined Zeppelin’s ’73 tour was to stock the band’s suites at Chicago’s Ambassador East with stereo equipment. After going to some trouble to assemble audiophile­-level gear, Markus stopped by the hotel to check on his charges. “So I’m up in Robert Plant’s room, I think Jimmy Page was there, and I’m looking around, ‘What happened to the stereo? Did it work out?’ And Robert says, ‘Come here.’ And we go down to one of the guest bathrooms in the suite and there it was, in the bathtub, in like a foot of water.”

Gruen was struck by the immensity of Zeppelin’s success and their eagerness to indulge it. “They had the plane, they’re playing a stadium — that was something that I don’t think the bands of the ’60s would have
dreamed of,” he says. “Being in a band in the ’60s was about having fun. Rock and roll was a way to get a free drink and meet a girl. You weren’t expecting to make a lot of money, but you could have fun.” Adds Peter Rudge, The Who’s co-manager, “Woodstock made everybody aware of what the commercial potential was of what up until that time had been, essentially, an alternative culture and in many respects a cottage industry.”

The Kids Are AlrightDave Otto was a Cincinnati entrepreneur whose contribution to rock ‘n’ roll came when he perfected a technique for printing on flexible rayon with an adhesive backing. Thus was born the modern backstage pass. In short order, Otto’s backstage passes became the industry standard and a potent symbol of the stratification of rock culture as the audience-performer dynamic shifted to star-supplicant. “There was a mystique about them,” acknowledges Otto. “A backstage pass was more valuable than a front-row seat ticket.” Before long they became pseudo-­currency, and groupies deduced that the fastest route to the backstage sanctum was through a pass proffered by a roadie rounding up talent for the post-show party. And sometimes that pass would require … extra services, earning them the crude sobriquet “knee pads.”

As for groupies, “Some people took it more seriously than others,” Libert says. “One of the things these guys would do to entice a girl would be to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to such-and-such a town the next day, stick with me and I’ll take you with me on the plane.’ So I had to institute the following rules: If you take a girl on the plane, if there’s room, she had to be 18 and prove it. Rule number two: You owed her a plane ticket back to where you got her from. And if you refused to pay, you got fired. We had to protect Alice. It could jeopardize the whole tour. It wasn’t that I was so gallant.”

CHARIOTS OF THE GODS
Although the 1973 rock ‘n’ roll tour was nominally subject to the laws and customs of whatever municipality or sovereign state through which it passed, it created its own law inside the traveling party. Behavior unacceptable to civilians was tolerated or actively encouraged within the entourage if it boosted camaraderie — a private plane is a powerful bonding device for rich young men interested in no one’s agenda but their own. “Sure, it’s expensive,” Cooper manager Shep Gordon said of AC-­1, the charter for the Billion Dollar Babies tour, “but having our own plane is good for everybody’s morale. We don’t have to f— around waiting in airports, and we can do what we want once we’re on the plane.”

Zeppelin flew the first leg of the ’73 tour in a Falcon 20, a snug French business jet. After the plane encountered severe turbulence after a gig in Oakland and terrified the entourage, Grant leased the just-­commissioned Starship, a former United Airlines Boeing 720­-B owned by teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman. Retrofitted at a cost of $200,000 with tacky-­chic ’70s delights including a water bed, shag carpeting, brass-trimmed bars and a video library stocked with everything from Deep Throat to Duck Soup, the Starship was a hit with nouveau riche rockers who could afford it — Zeppelin paid $30,000 to lease it during July 1973. “There was nothing like it on the face of the Earth,” says Libert. “It was sort of like Air Force One, but rock ‘n’ roll.”

Compared to the mighty Starship, the Lockheed Electra that transported Cooper and Co. seems barely airworthy: The four-engine turboprop couldn’t climb above 29,000 feet, which led to spectacular turbulence. Nevertheless, it was beloved by the entourage for its crash-­pad aesthetics and practicality.

MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS
A new generation of tour managers like Gordon entered the business, and they questioned the wisdom of delegating blind trust to local promoters. By carrying their own sound and lights instead of relying on sketchy rentals, they enhanced the quality of their productions while taking a profit center away from the promoters and turning it into a recoupable expense. “We would bring our own sound and lights and charge the promoters, and the promoters would go crazy,” says Libert. ” ‘I can get that for half the price!’ Well, take it or leave it.”

As arena rock took off, the managers pushed back. Flat fees gave way to guarantees and percentages. Zeppelin’s opening show at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium with 49,236 in attendance, half of them sprawled on the baseball diamond’s grassy infield, grossed $246,000 (the same show would earn more than $1.2 million at 2012 ticket prices).

Selling out 17,000­-seat arenas gave the new managers the leverage to demand transparency from notoriously opaque box-office accounting. Earlier in his career, Tom Ross booked Olympic figure skater Peggy Fleming into municipal arenas and got to know the building managers. When rock moved into those same arenas in the early ’70s, he was uniquely qualified to call bullshit on promoters who were padding their expenses. “A lot of the costs that promoters would charge us — ­for catering, for limousines –­ were actually companies they started and owned,” Ross said. “So they were making a profit from little ancillary businesses that they used to farm out.”

Chip Rachlin worked for ICM as a booking agent in the ’70s, where his clients included The Eagles and Billy Joel. “I was leaving the agency business and my last show date was in D.C.,” Rachlin says. The promoter was Jack Boyle, whom Rachlin knew well. “Charming rogue, great guy, used to hang out with the Kennedys. He said, ‘I’m going to let you ask me any question you want tonight. Just one. I said, ‘Show me where you cheated.’ ” Boyle led Rachlin to the dressing room, where the post-show catering was laid out. “At the center of the dessert section was this five­-gallon tub of ice cream. You wouldn’t think anything about it. He said, ‘Take a spoon. Put it into the ice cream.’ So you get it down about half an inch and you scoop that into the bowl. He says, ‘Try and get ice cream below the half inch.’ You couldn’t — it was plaster of Paris. He said, ‘That put three kids through college.’ ” Rachlin observes, “The ice cream would show up as a $74 charge. If you do 200 shows a year … who knew how many other cement ice creams he had around the building? I guarantee you, no tour accountant, nobody would catch that.”

THE AFTERMATH
The ’73 tours had consequences that changed the lives and careers of all three acts. The rest of the ’70s were an unfolding nightmare for Zeppelin. In 1975, Plant and his family were severely injured in a car accident in Greece, forcing the cancellation of an American tour and delaying their seventh album. Before a New Orleans show in 1977, Plant received the news that his son, Karac, had died suddenly of a viral infection. The band never again played in the U.S. In the summer of 1980, Zeppelin planned a month­long return to America in October to promote In Through the Out Door, but during rehearsals, drummer John Bonham was discovered in bed at Page’s home, having choked to death on his vomit after consuming, it was later determined, more than a liter of vodka. He was 32.

Cooper’s band had scarcely unpacked from the Billion Dollar Babies tour before they were back at work recording a follow-up. Alice’s isolation was now exacerbated by an aggressive bodyguard who shadowed him everywhere. The band decided to take a one-year hiatus, and Alice recorded 1975’s solo effort Welcome to My Nightmare. After that, there was no more talk of the original band regrouping. “Now what do you got?” says band publicist Bob Brown. “You got a person named Alice Cooper and a band named Alice Cooper.”

The Who played out the ’70s after Quadrophenia amid personal upheaval and public and private tragedy. Townshend wrestled with drink and drugs. The Who by Numbers was released in 1975 to indifferent reviews and sales. After a three-­year hiatus, the band recorded Who Are You, but within a month of the album’s release, Moon died suddenly after an overdose of the drug meant to wean him from alcohol.

Excerpted from What You Want Is in the Limo by Michael Walker. Copyright (c) 2013 by Michael Walker. All rights reserved.

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December 22, 2013 Posted by | Book What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker | , , | Leave a comment

Michael Walker On Rock Stars And ‘What You Want Is In The Limo’ (2013)

Photo of Robert PLANT and LED ZEPPELINFrom LATimes.com

By Christine Rendon
July 26, 2013, 10:12 a.m.
The year 1973 was a wild ride — three wild rides, actually, according to “What You Want Is in the Limo.” The book by Michael Walker details the tours of three enormous rock bands — Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who. Groupies, jets, managers, buses, crystal balls of cocaine: Walker’s got a backstage pass to them all.

Walker, the author of “Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock-and-Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,” will be reading from “What You Want Is in the Limo” at Book Soup on Saturday at 4 p.m. He spoke to us via phone about his new book.

One of the bands you focus on is Alice Cooper. You wrote that he had a great rapport with the press. How did that come about?

The band had a meeting early on with a publicist named Pat Kingsley. And Pat Kingsley went on to become the most powerful Hollywood publicist in history, but back in 1970 or whatever it was, when Shep [Gordon], Alice Cooper’s manager approached her, she was just a publicist starting out. She met with the band, and said, “Shep, tell the guys to step outside for a few minutes.” And she said to Shep, “Look, five guys named Alice Cooper, I don’t know what to do with that. You give me one guy named Alice Cooper, that I can sell.” So Shep went out into the hallway and said, “One of you guys has to be Alice Cooper.” And the guy that got the nut was Vincent Furnier — he was already the lead singer, but everything they did going forward would concentrate on him and the Alice Cooper character because it’s an easier story to sell to the press. There’s a band that was working the press from day one. In the ’73 tour Shep had the road manager tell the rest of the band they weren’t welcome at press conferences anymore because they didn’t know how to get good press, they didn’t know what to say. So Alice became the personal superstar and they kind of got left behind.

Why do you think Led Zeppelin had a bad relationship with the press? You say their music didn’t resonate with Rolling Stone?

The big rock critics at Rolling Stone venerated the ’60s bands a lot: Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane — all the great ‘60s bands were what they knew, what they approved of. They did not approve of Led Zeppelin at all.

The fan age of Led Zeppelin was far younger than they were accustomed to and Led Zeppelin was commercially successful independent of them. Here comes Led Zeppelin who, in their opinion, is doing pretty crass music — crass, commercial, just unredeeming. They thought the music was bombastic, simplistic, it was way too derivative of stuff that had already been done and better by bands they liked.

Simultaneous with Led Zeppelin’s arrival around 1969 and 1970 was the rise of the FM radio. FM radio hadn’t really existed before, at least for promoting rock ‘n’ roll, and it came on in a big way. Led Zeppelin very insidiously courted FM radio; they didn’t court the rock press, they just went completely around them. They got their album on the radio without the help of the press.

The third thing that hurt Led Zeppelin was they signed with Atlantic Records for what was at the time a very large amount of money, a $200,000 advance I think, and therefore they were a hype band. Back in those days that mattered –the fact that they extracted such a large amount of money out of Atlantic Records, they were automatically suspect.

what you wantRobert Plant cultivated his stardom very, very carefully and really, really wanted it. Robert Plant was way too earnest, and that’s kind of what also killed it. Because reporters want to be in on the joke, and Alice Cooper let them in, he basically said, “This is all ridiculous, we couldn’t get arrested three years ago, now we have the No. 1 album in the country. You do the math.” He was a really charming guy, I interviewed him for the book, he’s hilarious, he knows exactly what to say.

You write that in the 1960s, the music industry was free and open, while in the 1970s the industry refocused to being more about money and consumption. What do you think caused this shift?

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to write about the year 1973 — I think it is a dividing line between the values and culture of the 1960s and the 1970s. What interested me about that year is that the ’60s aren’t quite over yet.… At the same time the decade the ‘70s would become wasn’t quite invented yet; it was starting to get there, you’re seeing signs of it. So you have this year that’s got one foot in the ‘60s and one foot in the ‘70s; I thought it would be interesting to take three bands that were formed in the 1960s and were helping define what the 1970s would be.

In the late ‘60s, Woodstock happened, and no one had really known how big the audience was for rock music until that show — 300,000 people show up on a side of a hill in New York: it opened everybody’s eyes. What had been a cottage industry, the record business back then, it didn’t sell that many albums… in the early ‘70s record companies began to consciously go after money in ways they had not before.

There was another thing…the second half of the baby boom generation was coming of age in the early 1970s — 18 million people had been born in 1957, which made them 16 in 1973; all of the sudden teenagers have allowances and part-time jobs and they’re buying albums as never before. There’s also a change in attitude, when the big money started coming in, people at the record companies began to realize how big this business could be and it changed things.

Also, the drug menu was changing. In the ‘60s it had been marijuana and acid, drugs of inclusiveness and sharing; cocaine was coming in in 1973, and that was the opposite.

In the book you mentioned that one of the music PR firms displayed a crystal ball of cocaine.

Yeah, that was Gibson & Stromberg in L.A., it was a cut crystal ball — the only rule was you couldn’t take it with you. You couldn’t scoop it up and use it later that night.

Can you explain how women were involved? This time in history they seem caught between the sexual revolution and this male-dominated industry.

I very much wanted to include what women were doing on these tours and how women were being treated in the industry at that time — and it turned out there was more involvement than I thought. There were women publicists who weren’t fantasizing about sleeping with Robert Plant, they were there to work for him. There was Mary Beth Medley, the right-hand to road manager Peter Rudge, and she ran the tours as much as he did. Women were not just being groupies, they were working it. There’s a part of that in the book.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

December 22, 2013 Posted by | Book What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker | , , , | Leave a comment

What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and the Who in 1973, the Year the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born by Michael Walker (2013)

what you wantFrom amazon.com

Review: To me, a litmus test of a good nonfiction book is how much of it I wind up sharing aloud – and with whom. Family and friends heard major portions of this and factoids are still appearing, days after I finished reading.

I found this book utterly fascinating. I was around in 1973 and really just starting to get into music, and I was a major fan in my adolescence of two of these bands (and had a healthy respect for the third). This book was filled with details about the career arcs of all three, placing them solidly in the evolving rock and roll landscape. I’m sure that there are points in here that are debatable – I know there were a few claims that prompted skepticism and disagreement in me – but that’s going to happen when any historian goes beyond relating bare fact and tries to draw critical conclusions about impact and influence. And in spite of those moments, I felt confident enough in Walker’s research that they didn’t make me question his conclusions entirely.

This does bring me to another point – I see from existing reviews that this book is divisive, with opinions all along the spectrum. Some people seem to be unhappy that Walker was not actually “on the road” with these bands, expecting more of a memoir than an academic treatise. I can understand, if that’s what they were expecting, why this might have disappointed. My academic background is in history – and not recent history, either – so Walker’s methods of reviewing sources from the period and interviewing experts (in this case, people who actually were there) is very comfortable to me. I was not expecting a memoir, so I was not disappointed. If you know what you’re in for, it can help you better select (or not) this book.

It’s also worth noting that in a book on the career arc of all three and the music landscape in general, Walker’s information on any band is not as exhaustive as you might find in a book specifically devoted to it. I have read (though not recently) several books specifically about the Who including the 500+ page 1983 edition of Before I Get Old: The Story of the Who, and there’s a lot I’ve read that’s not in here. I wouldn’t expect it to be. Nevertheless, there were things in here about even that band which I didn’t know.

I am personally very happy with this book. I enjoyed it immensely. I found it an easy read, an interesting read, and an informative one. I look forward to sharing snippets of rock history with friends and family for years to come and will recommend it to them.

Review: “The year 1973 distills a decade’s worth of decadence into twelve awesome months and resets the clock for the rest of the seventies and all that they imply. It’s a year that, by any measure, ought to be its own decade.” – Michael Walker

What You Want Is In The Limo: On the Road with Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and the Who in 1973, the year that the Sixties Died and the Modern Rock Star Was Born is a very thorough look at the year in which three bands, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper and The Who became megahits, superstars, ultra sensations and every adjective in between. From skyrocketing album sales, to publicity (both good and bad), tickets sales, fans (and groupies) and the hype, if ever there was a formula for bands on how to succeed, these three bands figured it out.

What this book succeeded in what truly laying down the blueprints for this formula: how the bands formed, what the state the world was in at this time, what outside influences there were, and how the bands catapulted from the rest of the musical crowds. This all formed the catalyst, the tinder for the explosive fire that was what the bands experienced in 1973.

The book is very well written. It gives an intellectual immersion into these bands’ lives, not necessarily in a day-by-day basis, but selected important events that allows any reader to understand how they became as ridiculously popular as they were without over-stimulation.

My attention was definitely kept to the stories contained within this book from start to finish. Some of the information was sourced from existing interviews, which as a self-proclaimed superfan, I’ve read before, however, it is how the information was sewn together, molded and formed, was how it was made into such an enjoyable read. And yes, author Michael Walker did go the full distance in how the bands advanced beyond the year 1973 into the present day.

When I first found out about the book, the main title What You Want Is In The Limo obviously invoked salacious thoughts in my head of potentially embarrassing recollections of the band members by groupies who had enjoyed their own portion of the bands, but this book is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. What the bands wanted wasn’t just five minutes in heaven with offered wanton product, it was the fame, the money, the music, the buzz!

It is quite a tall task to prove the theory that one year in each of these bands’ lives was the equivalent of a decade, however, Walker absolutely succeeded.

Review: This was light reading about a heavy year in rock. Focusing on 1973, the author makes a pitch for this being the pivotal year of pop stars morphing into “rock stars.” This theory leaves out Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were all established “rock stars” by any standards at the end of 1969.

But it’s easy to understand the author’s point of view and go with it. By 1973 it wasn’t just The Rolling Stones that could fill arenas and stadiums anymore; The Who, Led Zeppelin and Alice Cooper (the band) had joined the club. These are the BIG three bands (the Stones toured the year before behind “Exile On Main Street”) covered in this book with details about their (arguably) career defining albums and mega-tours within those twelve months.

The LP’s are The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy,” and Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies.” Again, arguments can be made for “Tommy,” “Led Zeppelin IV” and “Killer,” as career-definers. But that’s just personal taste. As someone who saw all three of these legendary bands live during this peak in their popularity, I enjoyed the author’s research as he describes the recording and touring processes with an insider point of view.

Most of the details about The Who and Led Zeppelin were really nothing new for fans. We’re familiar with the basic characters and stories from previous books and documentaries. It was much more compelling to follow the Alice Cooper band as the once loyal friends dealt with their monster success, over-excesses, musicianship, and watching the band splintering apart as they create “Billion Dollar Babies.” When the other members of the band woke up to the reality around them, it must have been like a scene from “Welcome To My Nightmare” to realize Vincent had legally changed his name to Alice Cooper and could launch a successful solo career while the others fell into obscurity.

Fans of any combination of these bands will enjoy this book. It’s also a good telling of the rock scene in 1973 for pop culture enthusiasts. I will say the cover and title are a bit misleading. It’s not all about sex, drugs, booze and riding around with groupies in a limo, though those aspects of the story are not hidden. This one is mostly about the rock personalities and their music that made 1973 a very cool year to be a rock fan.

November 29, 2013 Posted by | Book What You Want Is In The Limo by Michael Walker | , , , | Leave a comment

Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski (2012)

light___shade_jacket_image1From amazon.com

Being a dedicated Led Zeppelin Fan and Yardbirds fan before that, means I have a continued interest in all things Zeppelin, including the individual members and the music long after the end of the “golden era” of their albums. I bought the first single Atlantic vinyl 45 of Communication Breakdown b/w Good Times, Bad Times, then bought all their albums, then the first CDs, then remastered CDs, DVDs, and live recordings. I saw them 3 times in concert, including the great Long Beach Concert in the early 70’s now on CD. I stood above Jimmy Page in the second tier and don’t think my ears recovered for three hours after the concert was over. Wow. Great performance I obviously will never forget (the other two concerts I attended were the earlier Los Angeles Forum after III came out and Kezar Stadium Golden Gate Park San Francisco Houses of the Holy album tour).

Of course I had to have this book and I think any fan will have to have it. I am not trying to talk anyone out of reading it, it’s not bad but not great either. A bit of a disappointment to me overall. I read the inside jacket information before purchase, much of which I now think is “hype” (excuse the term – early reviews said Led Zeppelin was all “hype” with little talent, then there is the Superhype Music name). The positive of the book is that you hear the actual words from Mr. Page rather than a writer who may be prejudiced for or against him and the group. However, out of the 300 pages, less than 100 pages is actual interviews of Page, the rest is the author’s writings about Page, Led Zeppelin, later projects and “musical interludes” which are sometimes interesting but are not Page. The “oral autobiography” I expected is not that but an incomplete look into the group and other projects. So much has not been covered.

One thing as a musician that I had expected more of and was talked about on the jacket was that the book “encompasses Page’s entire career beginning with his early days as England’s top session guitarist”, but in my opinion there is little detailed information about that time, there are references to much of that work but not specifics, it says for example that he worked on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” which is true but by not spelling out exactly what he did implies he was lead guitar, he was not. And from other readings I have done, he was not lead guitar for many of the records he is credited to as being on, like the early Kinks, yes he played on their records also with The Who, but did not play lead, same for the recording of the movie Goldfinger theme. I don’t need him to be lead, it would just be nice to have more exact information instead of vague references that imply the wrong information.

Next, the cover says the book does this: “Examining every major Led Zeppelin track” – it depends on your definition of “major.” There are maybe five or six tracks that are talked about in some detail but not enough information for anyone wishing to know how songs got created, the inspiration, how chords changes and other musical phrases were worked out, things like that. There is a little about alternate tunings for guitar which I liked to know and I did find it fascinating that Page would purposely play every concert solo differently at different times so that it would be a new challenge for him and so it would not get boring for him or the audience. He talks about lyrics and how Plant evolved into a major lyricist for the band. But what do certain lyrics mean? Not there. Some information about album artwork. There is an interesting interlude about the equipment Page used: primary guitars, amps, and effects. (Recommended: It Might Get Loud, a DVD with Page, The Edge, and Jack White.)

Some of the book’s other “musical interludes” seem unnecessary, maybe put in due to lack of interview material (not only is there less than 100 pages of interviews, the book uses a not so small type size giving the impression that it is a larger book than it is, also when the first question of a chapter is posed, does it really take a whole page to do that? Very dramatic, black page with white lettering, but a waste of space.) The interlude on “fashion” was not something I felt I had to read, I thought this book would be about the musical genius of Jimmy Page (is he known for fashion? I think he is mostly known for playing guitar, songwriting and producing.) Some of the other interludes might appeal to others, but not to me. The interview with Jeff Beck with Jimmy Page seemed to be from separate interviews and put together, were they in the same room at the time? I have no idea. The interlude with Yardbird Chris Dreja went on too long, I stopped caring and skipped over the end of it. Interview with Eric Clapton? Not here. A chapter on “The Astrology of Jimmy Page”, huh? A long interlude with Paul Rodgers, who I have enjoyed in his many groups, but why here? An interlude with Led Zeppelin publicist I also found unnecessary. I need books that inspire me, that make me want to read throughout the night to finish it, books I HAVE to read. This wasn’t one.

I know that I have read much of this material before, not sure where – I suspect from a small sized book about the album IV (my personal favourite and I’m sure for many fans, it has everything, every song is well done. I still listen to it regularly after 40 years). I found at least some of the interviews have been published before and this is not unique material.

Having read other books about the group which go into detail about the legendary nightlife of the group and was not something I wished to rehash, I was looking for something new, something with more in depth material about Page’s early works and the creation of the Led Zeppelin music, how and why he played what he did. I was frankly disappointed in this book. Oh well, as a fan I guess I might be disappointed in anything less than the full picture. This is not bad book and is fine if you don’t expect too much.

May 12, 2013 Posted by | Book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page by Brad Tolinski | , , | Leave a comment

Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole (1992)

stairway-to-heaven-led-zeppelin-uncensoredFrom amazon.com

Review If you are endeavouring to start reading any books on Led Zeppelin, Richard Cole’s Stairway to Heaven is the place to start.

Keep in mind that Coles claim to fame is that “he was there.’ Furthermore, Stephen Davis of the Hammer of the Gods fame was the first author to release an unauthorized biography. There was a plethora of Led Zeppelin books written from 1985 until the present. Many these books are now out of date and out of print. The 2 books that have stood the test of time are Hammer Of The Gods and Stairway To Heaven. Hammer Of The Gods has been superseded by When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin by Mick Wall. Jimmy Page is no longer on speaking terms with Mick Wall, so therefore it is another must read.

Most Amazon reviews are simply a personal attack on Cole (not completely undeserving) with the benefit of hindsight. Keep an open mind because, like him or hate him, most books to this day still quote him as a primary source so he will never be obsolete. The band members do not like the book and John Paul Jones (Jonesy) has legitimate reason s for disliking Stairway to Heaven and claims that Richard Cole:

1. Deliberately lied to the band as was the primary source for both Stairway to Heaven and Stephen Davis book Hammer of the Gods
2. Gets the stories muddled up and conveniently names Bonham as instigator and culprit, knowing full well that Bonzo can’t defend himself
3. Treats John Bottom (Bonzo) like an imbecile… Bonzo appeared to be Bi-Polar problem that was not officially diagnosed, yet casts him as buffoon, rapist and a violent thug and in fact blames just about every negative event as quote “this happened ….. and Bonzo made it worse.”

Richard Cole does not deserve your pity or empathy. He is a recovering alcoholic and surprisingly has an excellent memory when it suits the author, but, grows hazy when discussing for example, the incident at Oakland.

Name Dropper
Cole is an unashamed name dropper.
For example, Cole alleges that he assists Robert Downey jnr to stay clean on, and, apparently lived with Downey whist he filmed certain movies. Cole goes on to say that he also helped Ozzy Osbourne stay clean. I have never heard Ozzy or Sharon Osbourne thank Richard Cole publically or privately.

1977 and The Oakland Incident
I have always been interested in Zeppelin’s 1977 tour. What really happened? Cole but infers a bad vibe and spiralling drug use but glosses over most of the tour. The incident at the Oakland Coliseum is the darkest in the bands history. Cole in Stairway obviously admits he was there, but, blames the incident on Peter Grant and Bonzo. The ’77 Oakland incident is discussed in far greater detail both in Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin and Keith Shadwick’s efforts in Led Zeppelin 1968-1980.

Shadwick cites references from Stairway to Heaven but it is obvious that he detests Richard Cole. Shadwick’s description of Oakland incident is extremely detailed and has Cole as the instigator. In fact Shadwick, as does Mick Wall and Bill Graham in their books, highlight the fact that Cole was instigated the majority of violent incidents that marked that horrific 1977 tour. I won’t ruin the shocking surprise, but Wall describes a shocking incident concerning the famous seventies drummer Aynsley Dunbar of ELO fame, that will you feeling with nothing but disgust for Richard Cole.

When asked about the book, Robert Plant claims that he has only read the post 1980 chapters, as he was interested to see what Richard Cole did after Zeppelin separated. These in fact are the best chapters in the book and you may begin to feel some empathy towards Richard Cole. However I urge you to read would be Mick Wall’s When Giants Walked The Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin. When Giants Walked The Earth is Hammer Of The Gods with additional detail. If you are into extreme detail, then Keith Shadwick’s effort in Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 is a must. You can then compare all three and make up your own mind concerning Richard Cole.

Review There is little reason for this book to exist except for Richard Cole to make money. Sure he was Led Zeppelin’s trusty road manager for many years, but this is little justification for him to spend the next several decades rehashing the band’s sordid past for his own gain. He did this previously by being the key contributor to Stephen Davis’ inferior Zep biography “Hammer Of The Gods.” Cole should be grateful to Zep for employing him for so many years, and should value their friendship enough to let the past stay in the past.

The surviving members of the band are now mature older men, and while they surely have fond memories of their glory days, they probably know it’s time to lead respectable middle-aged lives. Why can’t Cole do the same? The guy is pushing sixty. Should he still be going on and on about his wild days with his crazy pals three decades ago?

Yes, Zep was the wildest party band ever. Yes they consumed gigantic amounts of illicit substances. Yes they trashed hotel rooms. Yes they degraded women. Yawn. This is all common knowledge. The amount of time Zep was on tour was probably less than 25% of their overall working time as a band. The time they spent writing and recording their incredible music was much greater, and that’s what matters now. Their music is timeless and is their true legacy, while their touring exploits are vaguely funny stories at best. Granted, Cole shows some empathy in his treatment of John Bonham’s exploits, gaining some insight into the inner weaknesses that drove the drummer to an early grave. On the other hand, his treatment of John Paul Jones is sheer vindictiveness, trying to cut Jones’ image as the level headed member of the band down to size. Cole’s coverage of Page and Plant is merely elaboration on what is already known, purely for profit.

Do not buy this book. If you do, you’re encouraging Cole to make more money by living in the distant past, using his fortunate connection with famous people for his own gain. In this book Cole has embarrassed himself by stabbing his old friends in the back for some easy money. He has embarrassed the reader by assuming that this sordid material is useful or funny to the faithful Zep fan. Worst of all, he has embarrassed Led Zeppelin. Fortunately, the music will remain long after this useless book is forgotten.

Review If you enjoy the detaildness of Led Zeppelin’s adventures, that’s one thing. But if you can’t put down sleazy writing for the life of you, this book is for you. Richard Cole did a good job of describing the band’s escapades, but it wasn’t really anything new to anyone who knows anything about Led Zeppelin. It was a typical description of a rock and roll band. But it highlights Robert as a pompous wild child, Pagey as a mysterious, stubborn, yet charming man, John Paul as composed and unwilling and Bonzo as a destructive maniac. It is what one would typically expect of each member, and I expected more.

I was happy to learn of the things I didn’t know about the band members. I don’t really give a hoot about Richard Cole. I was entertained during a part in the book when they were at a big star’s birthday party, and Bonzo got into a brawl someone and they fell into the pool. Soon enough everyone was pushing everybody in the pool. I laughed out loud as it explained that Jimmy Page could not swim and with a drink in his hand wearing a $300 or $400 suit, he stepped into the pool himself.

At times I waited for the book to be over, and there were snippets of time when I actually became intrigued. I find it disappointing that such glorious musicians could be so unharmonious at times and that they could even be scum bags. But they are Led Zeppelin and you don’t want to believe it. All in all, is was good, just because it was truly shocking to find out the truth about Karac’s death and Robert’s take on it along with some other well-known events. My biggest complaint is that John Paul is left out too much and I would say that a mere 3 or 4 pages can take up what was written about him.

May 11, 2013 Posted by | Book Stairway To Heaven Led Zeppelin Uncensored By Richard Cole | , , | Leave a comment

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

Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick (2005)

The first reviews third paragraph should annoy any Brits reading this…

shadwi_keit_ledzeppel_101bFrom amazon.com

Review This is the best historical account I have read – and I have read most of the books on Zeppelin that have been published. What makes this book different and in my opinion better, is that it is much less about the partying and much more about the process that they used to create the music. There is great historical info on the Yardbirds and good accounts of concerts.

Most if not all of the photos have been published but that is understandable since there is limited supply of photos. It’s unfortunate that Zeppelin didn’t seem to have a staff photographer along for the ride. Same is true for the limited video shot of the band.

If there is a downside to this book it is the editing. It is written by a British author and it shows. It was not edited/translated for American readers so you will need to read some of the passages twice to get past what seems like bad structure. British readers may not agree but it does have a few rough spots for American readers. This is no reason not to consider this book.

If you are a Zeppelin fan or are just interested in the history of the music scene at that time, then you should add this book to your collection. It is the best Zeppelin book yet. It’s not “Hammer of the Gods” which is a disputed accounting of the band’s history. This book is full of foot notes identifying sources – It is much more honest in describing the bands history.

Review For those looking for the trash, try ‘Hammer Of The Gods’ … for those looking for what the band did that was important, this is the book … Shadwick goes in-depth on the music like no other author I’ve ever read in any other rock and roll book … no nonsense and no silliness … he covers the gear used, the alt tunings, and what was important in their personal lives that affected the music (the late era heroin addiction most prominently) …

But no dumb groupie stories, throwing TV’s out of windows, etc…. is that part of the history? yes it is … and there are plenty of books for that and they all repeat the same stuff over and over and over and over … I suppose if you’re stoned and can’t remember all those same stories, you might need to reread them with every Zep book you buy … however, some of us are not that addle-minded and so prefer one read of ‘hammer’ and then put it under that short table leg …

It is not a dry, academic read as some have stated … it is written well above the fourth-grade level most rock and roll books are known for (with very few exceptions) but without party and satanic contract stories … so perhaps that’s what is meant …

If you want to really explore Zep, this is the best on their entire career and I don’t expect it to be topped any time soon …

For more specific time periods you can’t go wrong with Dave Lewis … founder and editor of the top Zep newsletter, ‘Tight But Loose’, he has close access to the band and is probably the go-to expert on everything Zep … his recent book, ‘feather in the wind’, covering the last tour thru Europe made by Zep is a sorely needed and outstanding overview of that short final curtain call before Bonzo’s death … his books are also printed on the highest quality paper (no cheapo ‘pulp’ but heavy duty glossy for the final tour book) and are just beautifully constructed books simply on that level …

So two of the best points of reference right there …

Review Keith Shadwick without a doubt has compiled the most detailed account of the bands career, interviews, and quotes; yet his “musical snob elitist” attitude gets in the way of enjoying this book to its full extent.

Keith finds a problem with literally every single song the band had ever recorded, even down to the tiniest detail, and constantly quips how great other lesser known, or more under appreciated older musicians are when comparing every song to older ones. It is to no Zeppelin fan’s surprise that the band had borrowed ideas from other artists, from pop to folk music, but at that time in the music industry it was normal to cover other bands music and it was a time when bands wrote singles and did not worry about full albums like zeppelin did. His personal opinions make you wonder at times if he is even a fan of the band or not, by trying to make the best effort to disguise his disliking of the band in favour of more “pure” musicians who put out more “inspired” music, as he puts it over and over.

His information about the tours, attitudes and visions of the band, and facts are wonderful and that is what kept me reading the book, but his obvious musical snobbery (many times simply just his well overthought opinion about things) kept this book from being what it could have been. Rock n’ Roll is not about sheer perfection, or always being musically correct, that’s where the passion and originality comes from, but to Keith it seems as if he finds a flaw in anything and everything that Zeppelin ever recorded from track listing, to favouring obviously lesser quality B-sides (to make him look intelligent for liking “poor tom” more than “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”), to saying how out of pitch Robert is, or Page’s “uninspired guitar solo”, to Jones “overplaying” keyboard and bass lines, to Bonham obviously taking this drum pattern from the following songs. The fact is, the band wrote what they wrote and took in all their influences. You can’t name a rock band that has not taken an idea from another group and gone with it, or showing obvious influence…that is not a fault of musicians by any means.

The book is a fine read for the information, but the author’s personal opinions really ruined a lot of it.

May 7, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick | , , | Leave a comment

Hammer Of The Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis (1985)

9780061473081_custom-8ea5fd7ed0f8417516c24c277d59184e4b46f944-s6-c30From amazon.co.uk

Review Notorious for being the book that neither Robert Plant or Jimmy Page have read, let alone endorsed, most of the ‘sordid’ tales don’t seem that shocking, in light of the standard behaviour now required of modern rock stars.

What does come across very strongly, though, is the general madness that the lifestyle created for the band, which then trapped them, and which made some of the excesses inevitable: the impossible stress of touring and the constantly building pressures to deliver better and better material, without the protective corporate shield of modern management, and above all a deep rooting in the kind of hard blues where sex and drugs and alcohol were standard routes to creativity – no wonder they went off the rails by the end.

Yes, they were selfish and indulgent, and no, Jimmy Page probably shouldn’t have dumped little Lori Maddox like that, but they created a timeless and genuinely thrilling sound. And a myth that fans lap up as much as the music. This book walks through the whole lot, with plenty of gossip, much of which is sourced from Richard Cole and probably true-ish, and it does give you the story behind ‘Royal Orleans’ on Presence, which you wouldn’t ever work out from Plant’s garbled lyrics. Most of all, it makes you realise that when all this madness was going on, they were in their early twenties – and also that it was a very, very different world.

Fans who still long for a note-faithful reunion probably won’t after reading this: it couldn’t ever be the same.

Review The image of Led Zeppelin was carefully crafted by their larger than life manager Peter Grant and overseer Jimmy Page. Not everything you hear about them is true so read this and beware. But do read it.

This book gives you insight into their lives and characters and how what began in innocence spiralled into something even they could not control. The band became far bigger than any of them or their scary manager and those people who surrounded them did not always have their best interests at heart. Zeppelin was powerful, magical, mystical and sometimes frightening. The 4 of them were all multi talented in their own way and the combination awe inspiring. I don’t think any other band has reached as many people as they did. But this too has to be taken with caution because although millions did hear, it is not sure whether they actually listened or understood.

This book is far better than the one written by Richard Cole their Road Manager, do not waste your money on that one unless you are a diehard fan and just want to see what he says. What this book does not really do though, is capture any of the magic of their music or their immense stage presence. I feel priviledged to have seen them many times.

It is a great title, perfect really. Throughout their existence and even when Page and Plant re-united you had a feeling that this was Destiny.

Such great days, get the video of The Song Remains the Same and relive them, or better still buy the remixed albums.

Don’t ask too many questions – it is better not to know.

Review This is widely regarded as the best book about Zeppelin though there have been comparatively few others and the band themselves have never gone into print to set the record straight.

When it was published Page and Plant were reportedly annoyed because of some factual inaccuracies and because Davis’s accounts of the band’s wilder exploits were largely based on conversations with Richard Cole, their roughneck tour manager (who went on to write an even more lurid account entitled “Stairway to Heaven”). As a fan of the band I think Davis is quite good on their music and the sheer impact of the band, especially in the US.

The book is well structured too, each chapter devoted to Zep’s albums and successive tours. Leaving aside whether or not Cole embellished some of his stories about Zep’s behaviour on tour (which he seemed to instigate most of the time) it is now a matter of record that Peter Grant, their quasi gangster manager, presided over a fearsome operation that involved every rock in roll cliche: groupie gang bangs, business conducted through intimidation and violence, heavy usage of hard drugs and flirtation with cod philosophies and mysticism (in Page’s case, Satanism).

For Plant and Page to claim in later years that they were all misrepresented a bit (as if they drank lemon tea and went to bed early every night after the show was over) is partly what makes the book such an entertaining and plausible read.

April 30, 2013 Posted by | Book Hammer Of The Gods The Led Zeppelin Saga by Stephen Davis | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick (2005)

led-zeppelin-1968-1980-book-233x300From amazon.com

There are many Led Zeppelin biographies out there, some good and some downright awful, but this one by Keith Shadwick is easily the most heavily researched and journalistic. Shadwick largely avoids the sordid tales of touring exploits and personal lives that populate many inferior Zep biographies, and focuses on the musical and business sides of the band. Even fans who have read most of the other biographies will pick up many new details here.

Shadwick digs up long-lost period interviews (including invaluable tidbits from the historically under-quoted John Paul Jones and John Bonham), and finds some useful source material on the operations of Swan Song Records and everything that went wrong creatively and businesswise with the film “The Song Remains the Same.”

Here the studious Zep fan will find a great deal of insight on what matters most now – the music, not to mention a great many photos that you may not have seen before (although the designers should have used a much better pic for the cover). But despite its great insight and attention to detail, this book suffers from some important structural weaknesses.

One technical problem is that Shadwick relies way too much on discredited tour manager Richard Cole as a source for happenings on the road, even while mostly avoiding Cole’s well-known weakness for distorted tales of drunkenness and debauchery. See a plethora of latter-day interviews by Page, Plant, and Jones for their opinions on the usefulness of Cole’s memories.

But the biggest underlying problem here is Shadwick’s musical snobbery. While he usually analyzes the songs from a useful technical standpoint, other reviewers are justified in questioning whether Shadwick is really an impartial biographer or if he is just a frustrated jazzbo trying to show off his technical knowledge. Especially annoying examples include “Friends” and “Black Dog” – first praised by Shadwick as unappreciated masterpieces (true) before complaints about how the band screwed up those songs’ conclusions.

He even says that “Stairway to Heaven” could have been even more glorious if the band had only done the conclusion slightly differently. Shadwick also shoots down fan favourites like “Thank You” and “All My Love” for being heartfelt and simplistic, and fully dismisses other unique and unconventional tracks like “Four Sticks” and “Carouselambra” for not displaying his own sense of musicianly chops.

Despite these flaws, the faithful and knowledgeable Zep fan will appreciate the strong research focus of this book but is likely to become disillusioned when Shadwick whips out his often condescending opinions about the songs, which is frustrating because he mostly keeps his opinions to himself otherwise. Regardless, this biography is at or near the top of the heap for useful info on Led Zep’s business and musical sides.

For a less overwhelming treatment of those same topics, I also recommend the out-of-print “Led Zeppelin: Heaven and Hell” by Charles Cross.

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980 by Keith Shadwick | , , | Leave a comment

Led Zeppelin: The Oral History Of The World’s Greatest Rock Band by Barney Hoskyns (2012)

led-zeppelin-oral-history-worlds-greatest-rock-band-barney-hoskyns-hardcover-cover-artFrom amazon.com

Review A comprehensive oral history by Barney Hoskyns which includes interviews, past and present from 200 sources to complete a page turning 576 page book with a bunch of mostly rare photos thrown in.

One of the most incredible things about Led Zeppelin that comes through from this
book is how the whole thing lasted as long as it did. While writing and recording the greatest rock albums of all time in mobile trucks and freezing cold rural cottages, Zeppelin re-wrote the rule book on how to rip it up on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. The groupies came crawling out of the woodwork. No one was exempt from manager Peter Grants take on how things were to be done, not even the legendary Bill Graham. The 1977 Oakland incident is quite incredible even today. But 1977 was a tragic year for Zeppelin and probably the beginning of the end. Cocaine, booze and worst of all Heroin had crept in. Robert lost his son, Bonzo just wanted to go home.

As if things were not bad enough, other famous characters pop up like Keith Moon and Iggy Pop and with road manager Richard Coles recollections, events take on an almost comical nature, with TVs and pianos flying through the air. Press people assigned to cover the ’77 Tour were instructed not to even look at John Bonham or Richard Cole. Paranoia set in, phones were not answered. Swan Song became a mess.

You know what’s coming, but Hoskyns delivers the news as if September 25th happened last week. Just before he died, Bonham and Jimmy Page planned a hard rock album for 1981 to counter In Through The Outdoor. An album and an new era we can only speculate about.

With all the hedonism, tragedy and 70’s excess, Hoskyns book reaffirms that the final winners are still Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones and the music they made between 1968 and 1980.

Recommended.

Review I really enjoyed the way this book unfolded. In depth interviews from the people who were closest to the scene give the reader a real insight into the friendships and rivalries that permeated the pre-Zeppelin, Yardbirds era. However, as the book unfolded chronologically, I found myself liking the individual band members less and less.

I knew that these guys were rock gods, but holy crap, this band and their management team was a hell-raising crusade that crushed everything in its path, at home and abroad! It seems that John Paul Jones may have been the only member of Zeppelin that was able to retain his character and composure during two decades of absolute debauchery, epic creativity, physical violence and tragic loss.

I can’t imagine that the remaining three band members are very happy with Mr. Hoskyns sordid rendering. This book tells the no-holds barred, ground truth behind the ultimate bad-boys of rock and roll. It’s all here; groupies dripping with butter, mountains of pure cocaine, random head-bashing, endless touring, crippling inter-personal conflict and the flawed genius that was Led Zeppelin.

Review As a long-time fan of Led Zep (since 1970), I have been collecting books on the band since the 1st bio (Ritchie Yorke’s-with the PEZ candy-cover) released in 1976. 36 years later, Mr. Hoskyns has taken the time to track down a lot of band “insiders”, and actually got them to talk about the Zep.

It probably took this long for these people to no longer be afraid to speak their minds, given the “heavy-vibe” of paranoia surrounding the tight Zep camp. With the exception of road manager Richard Cole, there was previously precious little in print from the dozens of people who worked with Zep over the years-until now.

Sadly, the additional input only makes clearer what was suspect since “Hammer of the Gods” came out years ago: Hard drugs and Alcoholism destroyed LZ. Plant emerges as a hero, with Jones fully intact. Grant, Page, and Bonham : well the truth does hurt, and BADLY. By 1977-1980, I would have not even wanted to meet them. This said, there are people who will say, “who cares what they were like; just pay attention to the music”.

Decide for yourself when you read this book, but if Page used to be your “hero”, be prepared for a bad taste in your mouth when you finish this book.

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Book Led Zeppelin The Oral History Of The Worlds Greatest Rock Band by Barney Hoskyns | , , | Leave a comment