Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore music from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
The band broke up when John Bonham died after a drinking binge at Jimmy Page’s house on September 25, 1980.
Page was a session musician from 1963-1966, working with Cliff Richard, Burt Bacharach, The Kinks, The Who, and Donovan, among others. Jones was also a popular session player and released a single, “Baja,” in 1964. Plant released two singles (“Our Song,” “Long Time Coming”) in 1967. Bonham was the only member who had not recorded prior to joining the band, but he had earned a sterling reputation playing with a number of bands.
Page formed The New Yardbirds in 1968, which would then become Led Zeppelin.
They got the idea for the name from Keith Moon. Before Page joined the Yardbirds, he got together with Moon (who was upset with his role in The Who at the time), John Paul Jones, Nicky Hopkins and Jeff Beck, and they discussed forming a band. Moon stated that this band would go down like a “Lead Balloon,” and soon thereafter he worked out his problems with The Who and the project fell apart. One song is known to exist from these sessions, and that is the Page written song “Beck’s Bolero” which appeared on Jeff Beck’s first solo album, Truth.
Jimmy Page said, “Those damn Americans will think it’s Lead (Leed) Zeppelin.” So they changed the name to Led Zeppelin to clear up any mispronunciation.
Plant’s 5-year-old son Karac died of a stomach infection in 1977 while Zeppelin was on what would be their last US tour. After his death, Plant almost left the band to become a kindergarten teacher.
Plant helped write many of the songs on their first album, but was left off the credits because he was still under contract with his old record company.
No singles were released in England, and very few in the US. Manager Peter Grant tried to keep the record companies from releasing singles, fearing that it would hurt album sales. Very few Led Zeppelin singles were released in the US, and in the UK, none were released until “Whole Lotta Love” in 1997, some 18 years after it was written. There were several pressings made of “Trampled Underfoot,” but they were all shelved before being released, and are, today, viewed as highly collectable.
Their fourth, untitled album (which we refer to as Led Zeppelin 4) contained symbols representing each band member. Plant was a feather, Page his “Zoso” symbol, Jones a circle with trisecting ovals, and Bonham three intersecting circles, which resembles the Ballantine beer logo.
When Physical Graffiti was released, all five of their previous albums reentered the charts. They were the first band to have 6 albums chart at once.
While on a family vacation in Rhodes, Plant fractured his ankle and elbow in 1975 when his hired car hit a tree. Zeppelin’s world tour had to be canceled.
They toured and recorded away from England to avoid the excessive taxes their home country charged high-income performers.
Their last studio album, In Through the Out Door, was recorded in 1978 and 1979 at a studio in Sweden owned by Abba.
Page was very concerned about packaging for the albums. This would sometimes delay the album’s release, but resulted in some cover and sleeve designs that became collectors items.
A tribute album, Encomium, was released in 1995 featuring Sheryl Crow, Duran Duran, Hootie and The Blowfish and others interpreting Led Zeppelin songs.
They made very few TV appearances, avoiding TV performances because of the poor audio-video quality. According to Robert Plant, no matter how well they performed, they were always at the mercy of the in-house studio engineers, most of whom had no idea how to record a live band. After a June 1969 taping for a French TV appearance, they did no more TV ever; they’d be seen live on stage or not at all from that point on.
They toured relentlessly. Their first US tour was opening for Vanilla Fudge. Here’s what Fudge drummer Carmine Appice told Songfacts: “People can’t believe it now, but when they came over, they were green. They were a brand new band, nobody knew Robert Plant, nobody knew John Paul Jones, nobody knew John Bonham. Their first date with us was Vanilla Fudge and Spirit, and we were already sold out when they were added to the show. When they went on, the audience was yelling, ‘Bring on The Fudge.’ It was hilarious. I remember telling Robert Plant he should move around more on the stage. In March (2004), we went to Europe, played England, and Robert came up to jam with The Fudge. We told that story on stage and we both had a chuckle about it. Then they became so big. I got John Bonham a Ludwig endorsement, the same drums that I had, which were big 26 bass drums – a totally unique Ludwig kit that started all these crazy sizes. Bonzo saw it and loved it, so I got him the endorsement. Six months later when they came back to tour again, we toured together again, but this time it was equal bill. They got so big so fast, then they went on to become the biggest band in the world. We played with Hendrix, Cream, The Who, and at times, we blew everybody off the stage. We were a very hard act to follow, we were known for being very aggressive live and different from anyone else. We were wondering who was going to blow us off – it was Led Zeppelin.”
Page, Plant, and Jones played at Live Aid in 1985 with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums. They refused to allow their performance onto the Live Aid DVD as they considered it such a poor performance.
Along with The Beatles, Led Zeppelin is one of two bands with five diamond albums, meaning sales of more than 10 million each. They are Led Zeppelin 4 (22 mil), Physical Graffiti (15 mil), Led Zeppelin II (12 mil), Houses of the Holy (11 mil), and their Boxed Set (10 mil).
Vinyl copies of Led Zeppelin III were pressed with two Aleister Crowley quotes on the inner groove: “Do What Thou Wilt,” and “So Mote It Be.” Crowley, a practitioner of black magic, was a big influence on Page. In 1970, Page bought a house in Scotland where Crowley used to live. He has since sold it.
They made #1 on Spin magazine’s list of the 100 Sleaziest Moments in Rock for what is known as The Red Snapper Incident. The story goes that on a tour stop in Seattle in 1969, they mixed a redheaded groupie with red snapper.
Regarding the band’s legend for debauchery, Robert Plant said in an interview with Cameron Crowe: “That whole lunacy thing was all people knew about us and it was all word-of-mouth. All those times of lunacy were okay, but we aren’t and never were monsters. Just good-time boys, loved by their fans and hated by their critics.”
Bonham was actually Zeppelin’s second choice for drummer, their first being BJ Wilson, from Procol Harum.
Bonham had his own private quarter mile road so that he could relax by driving his car down it at 250 miles per hour.
They got their first recording contract based on the recommendation of Dusty Springfield. Jones and Page had both played on some of her albums.
They never won a Grammy while they were active, but in 2005 they were given a lifetime achievement award.
They had a huge influence on the next generation of musicians. A good example is Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters, who told Rolling Stone magazine April 15, 2004: “To me, Zeppelin were spiritually inspirational. I was going to Catholic school and questioning God, but I believed in Led Zeppelin. I wasn’t really buying into this Christianity thing, but I had faith in Led Zeppelin as a spiritual entity. They showed me that human beings could channel this music somehow and that it was coming from somewhere. It wasn’t coming from a songbook. It wasn’t coming from a producer. It wasn’t coming from an instructor. It was coming from somewhere else.”
On March 29, 1975, they became the first band ever to have six albums on the Billboard chart at once: Physical Graffiti (#1), Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin III.
It took a while before they sold their music online, but they did eventually allow iTunes to sell their songs. They remain holdouts when it comes to music video games, however.
When crafting songs, Page always focused on the music first as he wasn’t always confident in his songwriting abilities. He told interviewer Daniel Rachel (The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters): “I was very keen on concentrating on the music, and whomever I was going to be working with, for them to be coming up with lyrics. I didn’t think that my lyrics were necessarily good enough.”