The latest Led Zeppelin tour is taking America by storm, proving yet again that this is the top rock ‘n’ roll band in the world.
There are no exceptions, no maybes, no ifs or buts. Not Alice Cooper, not the Rolling Stones, not the Who. There isn’t a group anywhere that could come close to sinking the Zep.
The band’s fifth album, ‘Houses Of The Holy’, hit number one on the North American best-selling lists after only five weeks of release – against super stiff opposition from the Beatles oldies, Bread, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter.
The feat is made even more notable when you realise that ‘Houses Of The Holy’ is receiving virtually no airplay on AM radio in the U.S. Most American top 40 stations do not programme and album cuts.
Instead they concentrate on oldies and to this end, the Beatles two albums were snapped up like the choicest remnants at a bargain basement sale. Yet still Zep got there first.
Members of the Zep and Atlantic Records are now trying to decide which cut to release as a single. There’s been a lot of talk about ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’. Personally I prefer ‘D’Yer Mak’er’ which strikes me as a certain number one.
Any rock critic worth his free records and concert tickets would hesitate long and hard before introducing the Beatles as one end of any analogy. Yet in the case of Led Zeppelin, it’s desperately hard to avoid.
Take, for example, the first two concerts on Zep’s 1973 North American tour.
At the opening night gig in Atlanta Braves Stadium, Led Zeppelin smashed the seven-year old attendance record set by the Beatles in 1965. The Liverpool lads drew 33,000 people. Zep pulled in 49,236 fans for a total gross of 246,180 dollars. That’s virtually a 50 per cent improvement on the Beatles best in Atlanta.
Moving on to Tampa, Fla., Zeppelin drew the largest crowd ever to a single concert performance in U.S. history. The band attracted almost 57,000 patrons for a gross of 309,000 dollars.
The old record was held by the Beatles’ crowd of 55,000 for a gross of 301,000 dollars at Shea Stadium in 1965, at the height of Beatlemania.
Led Zeppelin would have walked away from Tampa at least 200,000 dollars richer, which is not bad at all for a couple of hours on stage. They were probably the two most lucrative hours in show business history.
There’s never been anything like it. I am now convinced that Zepp could outdraw the Stones, Alice Cooper, Carole King or Elvis Presley in any U.S. city you care to mention.
So much for the cynics who doubted if Zepp still had U.S. drawing power. And for the critics who arrogantly and ignorantly said the album sucked. Led Zeppelin reign supreme and it’s high time many more members of the media realised it.
From LA Times
The majority of the San Diego crowd, not unlike those in the 29 other tour stops, had spent at least seven hours waiting outside the Sports Arena in anticipation of the evening’s performance by British rockers Led Zeppelin. Sold out by mail-order weeks in advance, the event had led many to pitch their sleeping bags outside the doors the night before. Now, with house-lights dimmed and 8 o’clock several moments away, 18,000 hold their lighted matches high while throngs crush toward the stage-front.
Just as hysteria reaches a peak, four musicians take the brilliantly lighted stage and the thunderous opening notes of “Rock and Roll” blast through 33,000 watts of amplification, more wattage than the sound system used at Woodstock. Robert Plant, the group’s sexually taunting singer, struts euphorically and boldly flaunts his machismo. Plant is flanked by the legendary guitar virtuoso Jimmy Page. Several yards behind the two focal points, bassist-organist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham provide a taut and driving rhythm section operating with inconspicuous efficiency.
Zeppelin’s three-hour set is flawlessly paced with a well-chosen, crowd-satisfying cross section of the high-powered material that has characterized each of its five albums, all of them million sellers and platinum discs. There is no intermission, no supporting act, and in short, nothing but Led Zeppelin throughout the tour concerts. “Three hours”, exclaimed backstage well-wisher George Harrison. “The Beatles were never on stage more than 40 minutes when we were doing concerts.”
Within several seconds after a final encore of “Communication Breakdown,” the band is hustled into limousines headed for a Los Angeles hotel. Collapsed in the back seat, Plant giddily speaks the language of a true showman. “The crowd was right up there.” He sips a beer and grins reflectively: “And when the audience is close like that, you’re so much more impulsive. It was great to just wiggle around right on the edge of the stage. It was really good.”
Kicked off upon the release of its newest LP, “Houses of The Holy,” Led Zeppelin’s summer tour of America was allegedly “the biggest in rock ‘n’ roll history.” Grossing $4 million after 30 appearances in the bigger halls and stadiums the States could offer, long-standing attendance and gross records set by others fell in quick succession. All this, while “Houses of the Holy” had streaked to the top of the charts for a lengthy stay, provided for much speculation as to whether Led Zeppelin was indeed the biggest group in the world. The facts do little to deny the band a position at the forefront.
Tickets Tend to Vanish
Zeppelin albums are shipped gold (500,000 copies) the day of release and waste no time in racking up staggering sales figures. And then there are the tickets that tend to vanish within several hours of being made available. In what was to be the tour climax, last May 5, 56,800 people paid $309,000 to see the band at Tampa Stadium in Florida. Besides setting an all-time record for gross profit, it was the largest gathering ever for a single performance. Still, some caution is advised against becoming too enraptured with attendance figures. Many promoters have suggested that if Jethro Tull, the Who or the Rolling Stones were to perform in such vacuous sties as major sporting stadiums, Zeppelin’s drawing power could be easily matched. The controversy rages on, but for the moment – at least on paper – Led Zeppelin appears to be as big as they come.
Jimmy Page, relaxing on the eve of the group’s packing 53,000 into San Francisco’s Kezar Stadium, seems reluctant to pinpoint Led Zeppelin’s appeal. “We’ve never really been involved in the media,” he reflects. “We’ve never done a TV program and air play, of course, is limited because of the fact that we don’t record singles. The record company may release an album track as a 45 here in the States, but this band has never set out to make a hit single. We’ve never had a single in England, for example. Quite honestly, I don’t know why we’ve had such phenomenal success. Perhaps you could relate it to street music and the fact that people feel more of an affinity to Zep’s music because it’s not constantly hammered down their throats from every direction. All I can say is that whenever we’ve gone on stage or into the studio, we’ve always done our best.”
Perfection is a goal Page is well-accustomed to striving for. It wasn’t very long ago that it was his job to anonymously achieve it in the name of others. A veteran session guitarist from an early age, his reputation was made by memorable appearances on the recorded works of among others, Burt Bacharach, the Who, the Kinks and the Rolling Stones.
“Certain sessions were a pleasure to do,” he recalls while swaying to the beat of several Al Green records, “but you see, the problem was that I’d never know who I’d be working with until after arriving at the studio. I mean, you would just get booked into a particular studio between the specified hours. A lot of those sessions turned out to be agony. I hated doing them.”
He left after several years to join the Yardbirds, a powerful English blues-rock unit. “The reason I quit doing session work was that . . . well, obviously there are phases that go in the music business. Sometimes one thing will be in vogue and other times something else will be very trendy. When I started doing sessions, the guitar was really in. I was playing solos every day. Then later, when the Stax thing was going on and you had whole brass sections coming in, that was happening. I ended up hardly playing anything, just a little riff here and there . . . no solos. I remember one particular occasion when I hadn’t played a solo for, quite literally, a couple of months. I was asked to play a solo on this rock ‘n roll tune, and I felt that what I had played was absolute trash. I was so disgusted with myself, I made my mind up to get out. It was messing me right up.”
While with the Yardbirds, Page and fellow members, guitarist Jeff Beck, pioneered the double-lead guitar concept that has since been employed in many other groups. “I have really good memories of the Yardbirds,” says Page. “We were at our peak when Jeff and I were exploring all the possibilities available with both of us playing lead. It could have built into something exceptional at that point, but unfortunately there’s precious little time in the band’s existence. There’s only “The Train Kept a’ Rolling’ from ‘Blow-Up’ film, actually. We didn’t get into the studio too much then. You know, I think a Yardbirds reunion album might even be a good idea if it was presented in the right light. I don’t know if Beck would do it, though. He’s a silly boy, Beck is.”
From Yardbirds’ Ashes
When the Yardbirds crumbled, it was Led Zeppelin that grew from the ashes. Deciding to form his own group in 1968, Jimmy Page looked first to John Paul Jones, whom he had been working with on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” album. A session man with a background almost identical to Page’s, Jones had masterminded the arranging of albums by such artists as the Stones and Jeff Beck. The quartet’s remaining two additions, Plant and Bonham, came from a raucous Birmingham band.
After a two-week tour of Scandinavia, Led Zeppelin felt confident enough to enter England’s Olympic Studios to cut its first album. The LP, “Led Zeppelin,” was an immediate success.
“It came together really quick,” says Page in retrospect. “We finished it in two weeks. I was still heavily influenced by the earlier days and there was a lot of Yardbirds techniques used on that album. I think it tells a bit too. I’m just saying that a real group identity didn’t emerge until our second LP. One of us had to take the lead in the beginning, otherwise we’d have all sat around and jammed for six months . . . ”
“I was shouting too much on the first album,” adds Plant. “I stopped shouting a little bit by the second album. By the third one I finally learned how to sing.”
The explosive “Whole Lotta Love,” a highly successful single culled from “Led Zeppelin II,” exposed the group to an even larger audience. But it was the group’s biggest hit, a captivatingly fluid acoustic-electric piece called “Stairway to Heaven,” for which Zeppelin was acknowledged with what Jimmy Page calls “the musical respectability we’ve deserved all along.”
“That song,” he says, “was our single most important achievement. It was a milestone for us. When everybody heard that one, they realized we were the sort of band that was going to keep coming up with new things. I’m glad that we’re now more recognized for that than ‘Whole Lotta Love.’ We’re not just another hard-rock English group and ‘Stairway to Heaven’ proves it.”
Page quarrels with Zeppelin’s reputation that like the Rolling Stones, it is primarily a live act. “It all goes hand-in-hand,” he contends. “I’m very pleased with all our albums. I’m not one of those people who says all their LPs are a load of junk as soon as the records come out. I think that’s ludicrous. You either like the LP or you don’t put it out. With us, it’s that simple.”
With each album, there appears to be a conscious effort within the band to avoid too closely retracing past musical steps. “Houses of the Holy” is a prime example of Led Zeppelin’s roving nature. Where past LPs have been immediately accessible, this one demands several listening’s before its qualities begin to identify themselves.
“I’m happy about that,” smiles Page, “because there’s a hell of a lot in that LP. It’s not very easy one-time listening, and that’s good. You’ve got to sit down and listen, think about a few things. I’m not saying that every LP is gonna carry on in that progression because they’re not. The next LP will probably have a lot of simple, straightforward cuts like, say ‘Rock and Roll.’ Just really good, straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll.”
“You’ve got to stretch everything to its limits,” Plant philosophizes about the group’s ever-changing direction. “We’ve been together five years and after that long, it’s time to move around . . . experiment a bit. Who knows? Maybe in a year’s time I might be singing through a megaphone. Our experimentation isn’t just for its own sake, though. It’s all to good effect.”
A representative pair of Zeppelin’s more off-the-wall efforts can be found on “Houses of the Holy.” One, “The Crunge,” is a satirical send-up of the frantic James Brown style. “D’Yer Maker” (based on a cornball English pun from way back, it’s pronounced “Jermaicer”), however, is an oversimplified exaggeration of the early ’50s Jamaican beat.
“Some took those songs too seriously,” says Page. “Especially ‘D’Yer Maker.’ I would never say that it was reggae, as a lot of people who’ve lifted their eyebrows at it have said. I think real reggae is rude, dirty music. That’s what makes it great. But it only works when the Jamaicans do it, not the whiteys. It just doesn’t have the same spirit at all. The true Jamaican reggae is, when you really weigh it up, pornographic.”
There have been numerous aborted attempts to record a live Zeppelin album. The reason, according to Plant, is puzzling. “From what we’ve listened back to, the on-stage vibes just can’t be captured on tape. We’ve recorded gigs we thought have been fantastic, but the feeling that was at the actual concert isn’t present to any degree.” Having employed a film crew for the latter part of the tour as an alternative, plans are afoot for a feature-length film.
Despite the absence of financial necessity, Led Zeppelin will remain a touring band. “We enjoy playing too much to retire from the road. I mean, there’s no reason why, but we’ve played every single market in the least 12 months . . . apart from Bangkok and India, which we’ll get to in the next two years. We’ve been playing like a group that’s trying to make it. So, we’ve got it in us and I, for one, can’t stop smiling when I’m playing. When we were really trying hard for about three years, I was self conscious, we all were. Now, we’re all quite at ease and looking forward to a long future together. You could say that we’ve settled down to just being Led Zeppelin.
“We can’t allow ourselves the luxury of becoming fascinated with our own popularity,” says Page. “The way I look at it, if the Beatles were to get back together, they’d forget all about us again.”
Led Zep Conquers States, ‘Beast’ Prowls to the Din of Hordes by Cameron Crowe (Rolling Stone 187, May 22nd 1975)
“Looking back on it, this tour’s been a flash. Really fast. Very poetic, too. Lots of battles and conquests, back dropped by the din of the hordes. Aside from that fact that it’s been our most successful tour on every level. I just found myself having a great time all the way through.”
Backstage at the last show on Led Zeppelin’s North American itinerary, Robert Plant was ready to celebrate. In two-and-a-half months of sold out concerts the band had barnstormed its way to a once elusive critical acceptance, a complete commercial resurgence of its six-album catalogue and a concert gross of more than 5 million dollars.
“We had no trouble adjusting to the tour at all,” Plant continued. “Normally, it takes a while to get into the swing of things. Not this time. I’ve never been more into a tour before. The music’s gelled amazingly well. Everyone loved Physical Graffiti. That meant a lot. It’s like we’re on an incredible winning streak.”
The 33-date tour was not without turbulence, though. The first week and a half, based out of Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel, was plagued by health problems. Jimmy Page’s left ring finger – broken in a slamming train door – kept him in almost constant pain or depression. “This is so damn futile,” he grumbled daily. “I can’t fucking play the way I should.”
Several days into the tour, Plant fell victim to the flu season; one concert, in St. Louis, was postponed. No sooner was Plant back in action than John “Bonzo” Bonham develop stomach problems that forced the highly combustible drummer to keep an uneasily low profile for the first leg of the tour. Only bassist/keyboard player John Paul Jones remained a fit specimen. “Nothing exciting ever happens to me,” he said.
There were also some problems at halls along the way. A February 4th show at the Boston Garden was cancelled by city officials after early arrivals caused $30,000 damage. At mid-March dates in Seattle, 500 or so concertgoers were refused admission to the Coliseum when their tickets turned out to be counterfeit; one alleged scalper was arrested with $1475 in his pockets; and three people were busted for giving Jimmy Page a $2100 Les Paul guitar that belonged to local music teacher. And in Los Angeles, a wire service claimed that a massive bust had occurred at a concert by the group; the raid had actually happened at the Shrine Auditorium during a performance by Robin Trower.
“It’s typical,” said Swan Song Records veep Danny Goldberg. “What can I say? Sometimes it seems like Zeppelin are now where the Stones once were. The media automatically assumed us to be the bad boys. You know, blame it on Led Zeppelin… ”
Jimmy Page, however, has no complaints. “The last thing I want to be,” he said, “is respectable. ”
According to Page, the Texas/West Coast part of the tour was where the group “hit new peaks every night.” After ten days of convalescing, Page’s broken finger healed to the point where he spent afternoons furiously composing new material on an acoustic guitar. Plant boasted that “my voice was getting so good by the end I felt like I could sing anything.” One night at the Forum, he moved out of the spacey middle of “Dazed and Confused” and led the band into Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock ” and, later, even a version of “Take It Easy.”
The Los Angeles concerts (two nights in Long Beach, three at the Forum) played to audiences familiar with Physical Graffiti. “Trampled Underfoot” and “Kashmir,” two numbers which had received a mild reception at the tour’s outset, were now crowd favourites, overshadowing older standards like “The Song Remains The Same” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.” It was the show closing “Stairway To Heaven,” however, that consistently drew the biggest response.
But not all the response was favourable. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, critic Robert Hilburn said: “Besides setting box-office records on this tour, the English group also may be setting some kind of record for the most clichés in a single concert: a mini light show, steam from dry ice covering the stage [three different times], the bands name spelled out in lights… An explosion at the rear of the stage and, of course, the obligatory 20-minute solo.”
He dismissed the show as “a numbing combination of intense, tenacious music and hopelessly limited imagination.”
Page is quick to defend the act’s length. “We need that amount of time to get everything across. You put on a support act and they’re gonna want to do at least an hour – probably an hour and a half – so that makes the whole show about five hours long, including gear changeovers. Some halls have to get everybody out by 11:00, so where does that leave the headliner?
“We established a policy long ago that our concerts would feature only Zeppelin and the people would know exactly what they were coming to hear. Myself, I get fed up with hearing about groups who only do a 50-minute show. It’s not right. It all depends on how much a performer has got to say, I suppose, and Zeppelin has got quite a bit to put across.”
The final ten dates, Zeppelin used an entire floor at Hollywood’s Continental Hyatt House as its base. So many groupies waited hopefully in the lobby that an entirely different group appeared to pick them up. Locals took to calling the hotel the Riot House.”
As always, and armed guard sat outside each of the groups member’s rooms. Page, for one, disliked the menacing flavour of it all. “We had some vague death threats earlier in the tour,” he explained. “I imagine that makes the armed guards a necessity, but . . . Christ.” He let out an exasperated sigh. “This is one thing that really bothers me. I don’t think we’re a band that’s hated by any means. I get good, warm feelings from our fans. We’re not the sort of band people really want to be nasty to.”
Flying back and forth to concerts in Seattle, Vancouver and San Diego, the band and their 18-person entourage made frequent pilgrimages to L.A. Nightspots like the Troubadour (for Bobby “Blue” Bland and Kokomo), the Roxy (for Suzi Quatro) and the Greenhouse Restaurant, where Jimmy Page met long time idol Joni Mitchell. Page had been bashful about an introduction, telling acquaintances that “if she’s been hit on half as many times as I’ve been hit on tonight, she doesn’t want to know,” but eventually they enjoyed some small talk together.
Los Angeles also saw the increased activity of John Bonham. At a party hosted by Zeppelin in honour of the Pretty Things, Bonham threw several stomach punches at Sounds correspondent Andy McConnell. McConnell, who’d had an amicable meeting with the drummer earlier that afternoon, shined a flashlight in Bonham’s face and cracked, “You’re an ugly fucker aren’t you?” Bonzo responded by knocking McConnell across the room.
“You just don’t do things like that to Bonzo,” said one Zeppelin roadie, “especially when he’s had a few drinks. After a certain point the Beast goes on the prowl and the only thing that amuses him is pillage. ”
Earlier on the tour, in Texas, Bonham took a fancy to a custom Corvette. The owner was tracked down and offered an irrefusable amount. Bonham then “paid a small fortune” to have the car towed to L.A., where he couldn’t get it insured. Undaunted, he snapped up a $1400 Ford hot rod for the sole purpose of dragging on Sunset Strip. In two weeks racing anyone who dared accept this challenge, he was stopped only once.
“When the cop got to the window,” said Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs, a passenger at the time, “Bonzo turned on the charm. He told him we were musicians, that we’d been rehearsing all day and we are blowing off a little steam. He didn’t get a ticket. ”
On the afternoon of the tour’s close, Plant emphasized that the group would always remain a road band. “We’ve played every single market that there is to play in the last few years … Apart from Bangkok and India, which we’ll get to in the next year. There’s no reason why other than the fact that we just love to play. We love touring too much to give it up. We took a film crew on our last tour, you know. The movie will be out soon and that one film will be the end-all story of why we have such a great time on the road.” But when asked the movie’s release date, Zeppelin manager Peter Grant only snickered. “You must be talking about the most expensive home movie ever made,” he said with laughter in his voice. “Just say it’s held up in production.”
Outside of the three sold-out English shows at Earl’s Court in late May, Zeppelin has no firm plans. Plant, Bonham and Jones will return to their families in various parts of Britain, while Page, the group’s only bachelor, will sojourn through Europe and the Far East. “I feel the need to aimlessly travel, to soak up some new experiences,” the guitarist explained. “This is something I’ve looked forward to doing for years.”
As the group left for home, Swan Song exec Goldberg discouraged rumours of another U.S. tour as early as this summer. “They could come back in June or they can come back in ’77. Once they get working on something, you never know when they’ll come up for air.”
Last summer, when the cold steel elevator doors of Hollywood’s infamous Continental Hyatt House slid apart to reveal the ninth floor, visitors were immediately met by two menacing security guards. The uniformed officers demanded an official note of authorization before visitors could step one foot onto the carpeted floor. If no note was presented, one of the burly cops silently reached a hairy arm into the compartment and smashed the button marked ‘lobby’. The elevator was sent hurtling downward.
There were similar welcomes throughout the United States on Led Zeppelin’s whirlwind Houses of the Holy tour. By the end of the group’s stay in America, security guards had sent fleets of sleazy, ornamented groupies, eager young journalists, and snap-happy photographers grumbling back to the clogged main floors of hotels and motels. Mobs of hundreds had patiently milled around stage doors in hot anticipation of the inevitable appearance of any one of the four English lads who whipped over sixty major American cities into a summer frenzy.
Reaction to Led Zep’s smash U.S. tour this past summer is still sending earthquaking tremors across the country, but Led Zeppelin themselves, caught in the middle of the quake, feel no pain at all. While Alice Cooper threatened to quit touring be-cause of the exhausting pace, and David Bowie actually gave it all up, Led Zeppelin still loved every minute of it.
On and on
Robert Plant, fresh from the shower and clad only in a white terry cloth towel, strode to a window overlooking the English countryside. For a moment Plant quietly reflected upon the grueling nature of Led Zep’s much publicized cross-country jaunt.
“Since we were last in America,” he spun around and grinned widely to reveal a conspicuously missing molar, “I’ll bet we haven’t had six weeks off altogether. We’ve been playing like a group who’s trying to make it, you know. But we’ve made it… long ago.”
Plant’s remark, and the massive amount of worldwide roadwork the band undertook last year, has led some to speculate that this past tour may have been Zeppelin’s swan song to the life of Holiday Inns. After all, with glamorous and rustic mansions situated throughout the forests and beaches of Europe, why on earth would Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham or John Paul Jones want to spend their days on the road? Con-ceivably, if the group was to retire from live performances, there would be no more dramatic time than now. With a record-shattering sold-out tour of America’s largest arenas and stadiums behind them, Zep fever appears to have reached an overwhelm-ing pinnacle. And despite an unfortunate New York robbery of $ 180,000 from a hotel safe, there is no financial need for the band ever to subject themselves to a tour again.
“I mean,” Plant added, plopping onto the springy queen size bed and leaning against the headboard, “there’s no reason why we should have to play again. We’ve played every single market that there is to play in the last twelve months . . . apart from Bangkok and India, which we’ll get to in the next two years. But we got the balls in us and we enjoy playing too much to ever quit. I can’t stop smiling when I’m playing. I like to see people enjoying themselves. I think that ten years from now it’ll still be the same, too,” he added. “The magnetism that the group holds can’t wane for any reason that I can see. We’ve tried to stay away from all the passing hypes and fads in the musical business. There’s no reason why we should follow them at all. We can just set our own standards. I think that people appreciate that. Obviously, I can’t see what I’ll be doing in eight years from now. . . but I’ll tell you one thing. As long as I’m feeling ‘Black Dog’, I’ll be singing it.”
Best and brightest
In another section of England, virtuoso guitarist Jimmy Page sunk into a deep green sofa and listened in comfort while a stereo pumped out Al Green records. “It was a terrific tour,” he reflected in his clipped English accent. “The reaction was really fantastic. Very, very warm.”
Perhaps a major factor in Page’s extreme pleasure with their recent American tour was the presence of a highly proficient lighting crew. “It was something new for us,” he beamed. “We’ve had lighting before on other occasions when people have just turned up and done it, but we’ve never really planned anything. This time we routined all the lighting before we came over. It took about three or four days rehearsing to get it really tight, so that it augmented our set. It was really well-received, and sometimes you found the lighting effects getting applause on their own, which is really good. It made more of a show that way.
“We rehearsed the whole show at this place called Old Street Studios in England. It’s an abandoned film studio. You see, it’s very difficult to get rehearsal rooms in England because of the noise. Anywhere, for any group, it’s the same story. Every group is up against the same problem. But the studio we used is a nice place that nobody uses for films anymore. The film business is a bit crummy, I suppose. Everybody makes cheap budget films and they don’t use those places anymore.”
The three-hour extravaganza of a set that the band rehearsed in the empty studio was their first in a long while that didn’t include any acoustic material. “We had no room, man,” Plant explained, his eyes agog, “we played for three hours as it was. Christ, I mean we just couldn’t. Physically, there was no space left inside my lungs to do much more than three hours, ’cause I really push it out, you know. I didn’t want to over-fatigue myself because I did a little bit of chasing around at night.”
Too much too long
Plant then honked out a series of guffaws that ended in a coughing spasm. “But sometimes I think we played too long. A lot of groups only play for an hour, you know. After three hours, there’s no room for anything more. We’ve done a lot of acoustic stuff onstage in the past, of course, like ‘Bron-Y–Aur Stomp’ where the audience used to get up and start clapping and every-thing, but now we’ve got ‘The Song Remains The Same’, ‘The Rain Song’, and “No Quarter’ and we really enjoyed doing them. So to break it all with an acoustic thing in the middle wouldn’t be right. We’ve got a lot of acoustic stuff in the can, though. Stuff that we’ve written here, there and everywhere that’s real good.”
Although Robert has said time and again that he wouldn’t be at all sur-prised if Zep ended up doing “an Incredible String Band-type trip,” Page elicited a different response. “I’d be surprised,” he chortled. “I don’t see what he means, really. We may have a little bit of fun at home or something, but I can’t see anything seriously materializing. I like playing rock ‘n roll too much. But that doesn’t mean to say that we couldn’t sit down and play ‘The Battle of Evermore’ after having done a really heavy rock ‘n roll set. That’s the way we are, that’s the way the group’s al-ways been. We can turn our hand to anything. That’s the important part, really. You just can’t stereotype Led Zeppelin. If this tour showed us in one light, that doesn’t mean we won’t come back again doing something completely different.”
It may come as a surprise that the next Zep LP will not be a live one capitalizing on the attention given the tour last summer. “We didn’t record at all this last tour,” revealed Robert. “There’ve been many attempts to capture what we consider to be Led Zeppelin on stage, right? And even with all the modern mobile recording equipment, we haven’t been able to capture the magic of it all. I mean, you might as well buy a bootleg, and they’re really bad. But you’ve got to capture the magic, and if you don’t capture it, there’s no point in doing a live album. To me, live albums in the past have always been an excuse to get a record out when you’ve got no material. We have all the material in the world, and if we can’t capture the vibe on a live record than why bother?”
The alternative? The band dragged along a film crew for the last half of the itinerary dates for an upcoming movie.
Now that the monster tour is over, the band has entered a period of what Plant wistfully calls “sleep”, as the quartet breaks up for a well-deserved rest until they enter the studios once again for a new LP. One possible project arising in the interlude before the sessions may be a Yardbirds reunion album involving Jimmy Page. Even Alice Cooper has publicly pined for a reappearance of the group and now, according to Page, something special may be brew-ing.
“I’ve got good memories of the band,” Jimmy agrees, “I mean, there were obviously ups and down and personality conflicts, but it was a great time in my life. If a reunion album happened, and it was presented in the right way, it would be really good. But somehow, I just can’t see Jeff Beck doing it. I think everybody else might do it, I don’t know about Jeff, though. He just doesn’t like to give credit to anybody else. He’s a silly boy.”
Yet when it comes to silly boys, Led Zeppelin had more than enough blowzy, sensational tales circulating about their last tour to fill a set of encyclopedias. “Well,” deadpanned Plant after a very long pause, “I’m a family man.” One of the group’s roadies, sitting in the room, burst out in hysterics. “What can I say?” Robert shrugged. “We’re not hooligans. We had a good time, that’s all. I don’t think we ever hurt anybody.
“I mean, girls who showed us their knickers in clubs only showed them because they wanted them to be ripped off and sniffed. It’s a game, isn’t it? And you all have a laugh when the game’s over . . . but of course,” Plant tried his best to stave off a laughing fit, “it’s usually one of our roadies that rides along with us and then gets us a bad reputation with his shenanigans.”
“Okay,” the roadie chuckled, “next time you need two motorcycles and a live octopus at three in the morning, go ask someone else.”
On the day of the band’s feverishly anticipated reunion gig, Germaine Greer recalls a concert at the Albert Hall in 1970 which converted her from cynic into believer
I love Led Zep to this day, I don’t know how it was that I got to see Led Zeppelin live on stage at the Albert Hall. What I do know is that I wouldn’t have bought a ticket. In the circles I moved in, if you weren’t invited to a rock concert and didn’t have a backstage pass, you didn’t go.
I certainly wasn’t invited by anyone connected with Led Zeppelin, who were never to be seen hobnobbing with other musos and their molls at the Speakeasy or anywhere else.
As far as the wider rock and roll community was concerned, Led Zeppelin were a commercial operation put together by the most professional session musician in the business, but then they also thought that David Bowie was a useless hanger-on. Somehow I did get to see Led Zeppelin, and that legendary foursome, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, did blow my cynical disbelieving mind.
Far from being in the wings or backstage, I was miles away on the very top rung of the Albert Hall, where the backstage staff used to come to catch some of the gig in between chores. So how I got there I’m blest if I can remember, but I shall never forget what I witnessed.
The Albert Hall acoustic is peculiar: the sound came up to me with a force that pummelled me breathless. No other band ever managed to make a sound like that. It was certainly loud, but it was also driving, pushing along with incredible energy.
In the centre was the skinny figure of Jimmy Page, shrouded in a cloud of black hair, working on his guitar like an engineer shovelling coal into this express train of a band. I was used to virtuoso guitar from Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix; Page was different because his sound was thoroughly integrated into the whole sound.
The key was the man who could have been choirmaster at Winchester Cathedral, the bassist John Paul Jones. Jones was even better educated musically than Page so, rather than duelling with his lead guitar, he listened and responded. Page also listened to him, as carefully as violin and cello listen to each other in a classical string quartet.
The result may have been less spontaneous than lead guitar and bass bouncing off each other as usual, but it was far more musical. Incredibly the whole band were in tune, which meant that harmonies and dissonances could build and interact to produce Zeppelin’s characteristic depth of sound, even more striking in performance than on record.
Up there above the heaving crowd, I couldn’t believe the transcendental noise I was hearing. Robert Plant was certainly screaming the place down, but his was a real tenor yell, right up to the highest notes.
Most of the lead singers I knew had hardly more than a single octave and sang their high notes falsetto, usually out of tune; indeed, one of the most successful British bands had a lead singer who was utterly tone deaf. Most rock and roll vocalists don’t sing but shout. Inside the bony cavities of his outsize head Plant created real resonance so he could really sing.
Like most drummers, Bonham is best known for battering solos, and he was allowed his 32 bars, but more importantly he always hit the middle of the beat. He could cross it, bend it, twist it, but he never forgot where it was.
The result was power. All rock and roll bands were after power, but most of them were too disorganised to arrive at it. Led Zeppelin used discipline and concentration to become the Wagner of rock and roll.
What was also obvious was that the Led Zeppelin sound was nourished by the best of urban rhythm and blues. I didn’t know enough to recognise all the riffs I heard, but there were quotations from everywhere, some part of the shared musical tradition, from Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Big Bill Broonzy and all, some from much closer to home.
As Page had worked on two thirds of the pop music recorded in British studios in the mid-’60s, it wasn’t surprising that some things sounded familiar; what nobody knows to this day is who was responsible for what. Caught up in that storm of mighty melody, I wasn’t about to get mad on behalf of the Small Faces and the Yardbirds. Led Zeppelin had done what they didn’t do: they had got it together.
For 10 years, rock and roll had been working towards something that would combine the extraordinary capacities of electronic instruments with the anarchic energy of youth, and there in the Albert Hall on January 9, 1970, I found it. The spring god Dionysus had arisen and was shaking his streaming red-gold mane on stage.
In these four figures spinning in their vortex of sound, male display was transcending itself. There really never was anything quite like it. The Rolling Stones might have been closer to the marrow of rock and roll, but Led Zeppelin were its super-toned muscle.
In 1972, when Led Zeppelin toured Australia, I was in Sydney and, having time on my hands, decided to gate crash a reception at the Sebel Townhouse and say hi to the biggest band in the world. And I found that they were big, physically, not boys but men.
Jimmy asked me if I would be going to their concert. To tease him, I said his wasn’t my kind of music, “too commercial”. And bless me if he didn’t question me closely, as I gulped his champagne, for all the world as if he cared what I thought.
This was more than I had bargained for, and I eventually had to confess that I understood only too well why, after years of contributing the best bits to bestselling albums, he had decided to get out there and show them how it was done.
The band were to discover over the years that theirs was a pact made with the devil, but, in 1972, as four British lads on the razzle in Sydney, their frolicking was more innocent than debauched. The legendary excesses must have come later, if ever.
12:01AM GMT 10 Dec 2007