LED ZEPPELIN / LIGHT AND SHADE
by Cameron Crowe from www.led-zeppelin.com
Hollywood, 1973. It was only the second day of Led Zeppelin's stay in Los
Angeles. Already, the word was out. Hordes of fans prowled the hallways of
their hotel, the infamous Continental Hyatt House. The lobby was filled with
photographers, groupies teetering on platform heels, even an impatient car
salesman who'd come to deliver a hot-rod to drummer John Bonham.
The cold steel elevator door slid open to reveal the ninth floor. Two beefy
security guards stood there, demanding a note of authorization. One had already
reached in, ready to smash the button marked "lobby." Luckily, I
had a note.
Nine floors up, there was no sense of the furor downstairs. Robert Plant,
fresh from the shower, strode to the window of his suite and looked out at
the billboards of Sunset Strip. He noticed the gloriously run-down hotel, the
Chateau Marmont, where Zeppelin had first stayed upon their arrival in America
back in 1968. Plant joked to Jimmy Page, the guitarist leader of the group,
that his innocence looked like it needed a paint job. Page had something else
on his mind. A representative of their record company, he said, had just called
to report that the sales of the new album, Houses of the Holy, were spectacular.
Page had been officially told that Led Zeppelin were the biggest-selling group
in the world. A silent moment of triumph passed between Plant and Page. Across
the hall, an Al Green record played on Jones's portable stereo.
"Well," said Jimmy Page, turning to the visiting writer. "What
do you want to know?" I wanted to say "everything." As a fledgling
journalist still working at a record store, I'd fought for the opportunity
to cover Led Zeppelin for the L.A. Times. The band had provided the soundtrack
for my own adolescence, but I kept that to myself. I had a notebook full of
questions, and as our interview progressed, Page and Plant seemed to warm from
their notoriously press-wary stance. In the coming years, they would invite
me to tour with them. We conducted innumerable interviews. Not many journalists
were ever offered a front-row seat to the Zeppelin experience, and years later
my files are still bulging with volumes of transcripts and passionately-scribbled
notes I can barely read.
The Zeppelin attitude had something to do with Peter Grant, their brilliant
and imposing manager. A little bit to do with the wicked humor of Richard Cole,
their road-manager. Something to do with John Bonham thundering down the aisle
of the Starship, performing Monty Python routines. With John Paul Jones, lost
in dry-ice, playing "No Quarter." It had a lot to do with
Page and Plant, side-by-side, sharing a single spotlight, ripping through "Over
The Hills and Far Away."
The reverberations from those days run through most of what passes for rock
and roll in the 1990's (and beyond). Led Zeppelin has never been more popular,
more pervasive, more omnipresent. They broke up ten years ago, but you wouldn't
know it by listening to the radio. Not since Elvis joined the Army has an audience
so completely refused to acknowledge an artist's nactivity.
after their formation, the warm glow of myth surrounds Led Zeppelin. Few other
than Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones remember what a truly difficult
road Led Zeppelin traveled in their time.
London, 1968. Noted British session guitarist Jimmy Page had taken an offer
to join the Yardbirds, only to see the group splinter on an American tour.
He'd vowed to continue the band as The New Yardbirds, and set about rebuilding
the group from scratch. Fellow sessionmate, bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones
read an article in Disc Magazine after prodding from his wife and called Jimmy.
Page had also gotten a hot tip on a young blues-singer from Birmingham, and
he traveled there to see him perform. "His vocal range was unbelievable," recalls
Page. "I thought, 'Wait a minute. There's something wrong here. He's not
known." Page laughs. "I couldn't figure it out. I thought, 'he must
be a strange guy or something.' Then he came over to my place and I could see
that he was a really good guy. I still don't know why he hadn't made it yet..."
At Page's home, they explored each other's tastes by playing favorite records—everything
from Buddy Guy to the Incredible String Band to Muddy Waters and Elvis. Then
Page broke out an odd choice. It was Joan Baez's dramatic version of the ballad, "Babe
I'm Gonna Leave You." Page outlined a plan for a band that could
play a song like that. "I'd like to play it heavy," he said, "but
with a lot of light and shade."
It all made sense to Plant, who suggested they add his hometown pal and former
bandmate, drummer John Bonham. The group's first get-together was in a tiny
room below a record store on London's Gerard Street. The building has since
been torn down, and the district reshaped as the city's Chinatown district,
but Page remembers it vividly. "The room was about 18 x 30," remembers
Page, "very small.
We just played one number, 'Train Kept a Rolling,' and it was there
immediately. An indescribable feeling...." They rehearsed for several
weeks at Page's home at Pangborne, on the River Thames. First on the agenda
was a two-week tour of Scandinavia, a mop-up of some old Yardbirds commitments.
Still playing under the name the New Yardbirds, they soon entered London's
It was Robert Plant's first time in a full-service recording studio. "I'd
go back to the playback room and listen," he recounts. "It had so
much weight, so much power, it was devastating. I had a long way to go with
my voice then, but the enthusiasm and sparking of working with Jimmy's guitar...it
was so raunchy. All these things, bit-by-bit, started fitting into a trademark
for us. We finished the album in three weeks. Jimmy invested all his Yardbirds
money, which wasn't much, into our first tour. We took a road crew of one and
off we went...."
Their first British show took place October 15th, 1968 at Surrey University.
They performed under a new name, Led Zeppelin, coined by the Who's drummer
Keith Moon. (As in "you'll go over like a...") An early staple of
the live show would be the song "Dazed and Confused", which
featured an electric Page solo played in part with a violin bow. The bow later
became Page's famous solo-signature, and it's an interesting historical footnote
that the idea was first suggested to him during a session by the violinist
father of actor David McCallum, of Man From U.N.C.L.E.
performed their intense, bluesy show at several stops around England. The response
from the press was mild. America beckoned. Manager Peter Grant had a keen sense
of U.S. audiences and the vast underground movement that was sweeping the country.
Grant saw an opportunity when the Jeff Beck Group, managed out of the same
office, cancelled out on an American tour with Vanilla Fudge. He called the
upset promoters and talked them into a new group instead. Now all Grant had
to do was convince the members of Led Zeppelin to leave their warm homes at
the last minute, on Christmas Eve, for parts unknown. They agreed with gusto.
Page and Jones felt like warriors embarking on a new campaign. For Plant and
Bonham, it was a long long way from the hills of the Black Country. The band
flew straight to Los Angeles for a series of shows at the Whisky A Go Go. They
drove to the Chateau Marmont, and came upon a good omen. Keith Webb, a friend
from Terry Reid's band, was standing out front in the 80 degree weather. He
extended glasses of champagne.
"Oh I say, chaps," Webb intoned. "Come on in, welcome to America,
and Merry Christmas."
"Bonzo and I were amazed," Plant recalled in 1975. Seven years later,
the sensations were still vivid. "We'd barely even been abroad, and here
we were. It was the first time I saw a cop with a gun, the first time I saw
a twenty-foot long car. The whole thing was a complete bowl-over. It was Christmas
and Christmas away from home for the English is the end of the world. I went
wandering down the Sunset Strip with no shirt on. There were a lot of fun-loving
people to crash into...and we started out on a path of positive enjoyment.
Frank Zappa's girl group, The GTO's, were upstairs. We threw eggs, had silly
water battles and had all the good fun that a 19 year-old boy should have.
We met a lot of people who we still know, a lot of people who've faded away.
Some of them literally just grew up. I don't see the point in growing up...."
The first reviews of the album were surprisingly skeptical. It was a time
of "supergroups," of furiously-hyped bands who could barely cut it,
and Led Zeppelin initially found themselves fighting upstream to prove their
authenticity. A critical drubbing by Rolling Stone would remain painful for
years. It set an ominous tone for the group as they left Los Angeles and headed
up to San Francisco to begin their tour.
Manager Peter Grant had a game plan. He'd avoided releasing any singles, and
had studiously booked the group into key hotspots for progressive music. This
group would not compete on AM radio with Gary Puckett or the Fifth Dimension.
Led Zeppelin was more about an entire album. It would be a private experience,
a word-of-mouth affair, something to be passed between friends like a good
joint. The key piece of this plan would be their show at San Francisco's Fillmore
"The important thing," Plant said recently, "was that Peter
told us if we didn't crack San Francisco, we'd have to go home. That was the
place that was considered to be essential, the hotbed of the whole movement.
It was the acid test, forget the Kool-Aid, and if we weren't convincing, they
would have known right away. I said `I've been singing for years. I'd be happy
to sing anywhere.' But he had his eyes set on something I couldn't even imagine."
band was sharing the bill with Taj Mahal and Country Joe and the Fish. They
arrived to find they'd been advertised only as "Supporting Act." The
mission was clear—do or die—and Led Zeppelin took the stage that
night with a vengeance. Jimmy Page could feel something happening in the audience,
even from the stage. "It felt like a vacuum and we'd arrived to fill it," he
explains. "First this row, then that row...it was like a tornado and it
went rolling across the country."
By the time the band hit New York, they were headliners. The first album went
top ten and stayed on the charts more than a year. They would tour the US three
times in 1969 alone.
Led Zeppelin II was largely written and recorded on the road, no
small feat considering the pace of their touring. The album sported more of
a band personality—they were getting to know each other—and Plant
had honed his vocal approach. "Whole Lotta Love," the explosive
first single from the album, would be the first big hit.
Today, none of the band members is sure when the monster "Whole Lotta
Love" riff first appeared. John Paul Jones ventures that it probably
came from a stage improv during "Dazed and Confused." Says
Plant: "Wherever it came from, it was all about that riff. Any tribute
which flows in, must go to Jimmy and his riffs. They were mostly in E and
you could really play around with them. Since I've been playing guitar myself,
I've realized more than ever that the whole thing, the whole band really,
came straight from the blues. Everything."
By 1970, Zeppelin's popularity had spread to England and parts beyond. They
had even unseated The Beatles in the prestigious annual Melody Maker readership
poll. Singles were rarely released in the US, never in the UK. Concert ads
were rarely taken. To be a fan of Led Zeppelin was to be a member of an exclusive
club. The information traveled not in newspapers, but in the back of cars,
on the telephone and on the radio. "My basic attitude toward performing
live is the same now as it was then," he told me in 1990. "I don't
know if you can put it in print, but it's this—shit or bust. You do it.
No nerves...you just do it."
Led Zeppelin toured for two-and-a-half years straight before finally taking
a break. When a vacation was planned, it was a working vacation. Plant had
the idea of traveling to a cottage in the mountains of Wales for a songwriting
session with Page. (Plant: "I thought we'd be able to get a little peace
and quiet and get your actual Californian, San Franciscan, Marin County blues
without ever actually going there.") The name of the cottage was Bron-Y-Aur,
so-called for the stretch of sun that crossed the valley every day. "Bron
Y-Aur" would become a title for a certain kind of Zeppelin music—acoustic,
bluesy, and soulful.
"It was the first time I really came to know Robert," says Page. "Actually
living together at Bron Y-Aur, as opposed to occupying nearby hotel rooms.
The songs took us into areas that changed the band, and it established a standard
of traveling for inspiration... which is the best thing a musician can do."
Led Zeppelin III contained echoes of Sunset Strip, of the Byrds and
the Buffalo Springfield, of-Joni Mitchell and Moby Grape. Crossbred with their
essential blues foundation, this was a new direction that truly pushed the
envelope of hard-rock. They were rewarded with their least-selling album yet.
It didn't matter to Jimmy Page. The stage shows expanded to feature the new
material in an acoustic set.
Led Zeppelin's concerts became legendary affairs. "Dazed and Confused," still
the roller-coaster centerpiece, could last as long as 45 minutes. When the
floodgates opened, it was sometimes difficult for Page to close them again.
Likewise for John Bonham's nightly solo, "Moby Dick." The "boogie" section
of the show came late in the set, and it tended to feature whatever music the
band was listening to at the time. (Some of the surprise songs played by Zeppelin: "Woodstock," "Shaft," "Feelin'
Groovy," and "The Star Spangled Banner.") There
were few effects, no tapes, just brute musical strength. Zeppelin live was
a direct descendant from Elvis's early shows. Raw, direct, a reminder of when
rock was young.
by the sales of the third album, Page kept to his original goal of bringing
hard rock and musical drama to an essentially acoustic base. It was all about
depth of feeling, he says today. In 1990, it's that same depth of feeling that
keeps the many Zeppelin imitators just that. Like with a great comedian, you
can retell the jokes but the laughs just aren't the same.
The next album, "Led Zeppelin IV", was a watershed moment
in the band's history. The LP slipped into stores in 1971 with little fanfare.
Here was a more "mature" work that also rocked as hard as any of
their previous efforts. It was remark able music for a band that was still,
essentially, a trio with a great singer.
Bonham and Jones had begun to feel their confidence. It was Bonham who spontaneously
interrupted work on another (never-finished) track by playing the drum-part
from Little Richard's "Keep A-Knockin'." And Jones had brought in
another idea, inspired by the Muddy Waters album Electric Mud.
"I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part," Jones
recalls, humming the part. "But it couldn't be too simple. I wanted it
to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled
with the turn-around, until Bonham figured out that you just count four-time
as if there's no turn-around. That was the secret. Anyway, we titled it after
a dog that was wandering in and out of the studio. The dog had no name, so
we just called the song 'Black Dog."
The highlight of the album, of course, was "Stairway to Heaven." The
most-played track in radio history, it began like many Zeppelin classics...on
a tape from Page's home studio. Recording at Headley Grange, a converted poorhouse
in Hampshire, Page first played the track to John Paul Jones. "Bonzo and
Robert had gone out for the night, and I worked really hard on the thing. Jonesy
and I then routined it together, and later we ran through it with the drums
and everything. Robert was sitting there at the time, by the fireplace, and
I believe he came up with 80% of the lyrics at that time. He was just sort
of writing away and suddenly there it was....
Plant picks up the story: "Yeah, I just sat next to Pagey while he was
playing it through. It was done very quickly. It took a little working but,
but it was a very fluid, unnaturally easy track. It was almost as if uh-oh—it
just had to be gotten out at that time. There was something pushing it, saying
'you -guys are okay, but if you want to do something timeless, here's a wedding
song for you."
Houses of the Holy came next. Released in May of 1973, this richly
atmospheric album was not an easy first listen. ("It usually takes people
a year to really catch up to our albums," Page once said.) The band hit
the road again with the new material. Their popularity was now so great that
they served as a test-case. They were selling out massive stadiums that had
never hosted rock and roll before.
were breaking at every stop, yet in 1973, it was the Rolling Stones who were
getting all the magazine covers. Led Zeppelin was still rock's best-kept secret.
In the entire history of the band, they had never even hired a publicist. The
lack of press accessibility had kept the band mysterious, but the mystery cut
both ways. What press reports did reach the papers usually centered on a) riots
over concert tickets, or b) motorcycles-in-the-hallway type road behavior.
Peter Grant found himself involved in constant crisis management.
(Once introducing himself to Bob Dylan at an L.A. party, Grant offered a warm
handshake. "I'm Peter Grant, manager of Led Zeppelin," he said. Dylan
replied, "I don't come to you with my problems, do I?" It was the
only time I'd ever seen Grant at a loss for words.)
The roguish reputation dogged Led Zeppelin for years. In 1972, Elvis Presley
wanted to meet the band. Their mutual promoter at the time, Jerry Weintraub,
took Page and Plant up to Presley's Las Vegas hotel suite. For the first few
minutes, Elvis ignored them.
Page—who had first picked up a guitar after hearing "Baby Let's
Play House" on overseas radio—began to fidget. What was
going on? Did he really want to meet them? Should they say something? Elvis
finally turned to them. "Is it true," he said, "these stories
about you boys on the road?" Plant answered, "Of course not. We're
family men. I get the most pleasure out of walking the hotel corridors, singing
your songs." Plant offered his best Elvis impersonation. "Treat
me like a fool, treat me mean and cruuuuel, but looooove me...." For
a moment Elvis Presley eyed them both very carefully. Then he burst out laughing.
Then his bodyguards burst out laughing. For two hours he entertained them
in his suite. He had never heard their records, he said, except for when
his stepbrother played him 'Stairway to Heaven'. "I liked it," said
Later, walking down the hallway from the hotel room, Page and Plant congratulated
themselves on a two-hour meeting with the King. "Hey," came a voice
from behind them. Presley had poked his head out the door. "Treat me
like fooool...." The double-lp Physical Graffiti was recorded
over several months at Headley Grange. The intention was to make a straight-forward
rock album. One song stood out early on. The album was planned to culminate
in the hypnotic new track, "Kashmir." Fifteen years later, all three
members point to this song as quintessential Zeppelin, the truest of their
many recordings. "It's all there," explains John Paul Jones, "all
the elements that defined the band..."
The "Kashmir" riff first appeared on Page's home-studio
work tapes. It was first a tuning, an extension of a guitar-cycle that Page
had been working on for years. (The same cycle that would produce "White
Summer," "Black Mountain Side," and the unreleased "Swan
Song.") "The structure of it was strange, weird enough to continue
exploring," remembers Page. Jones had been late for the sessions, and
Page used the time to work on the riff with John Bonham. Plant added the middle-section,
and Jones later added the ascending bass riff in overdubs and all the string
Originally called "Driving to Kashmir," the lyrics were
inspired by the long drive from Goulimine to Tan-tan in Southern Morocco, the
area once called Spanish Sahara. "the whole inspiration came from the
fact that the road went on and on and on," Plant explains. "It was
a single track road which cut neatly through the desert. Two miles to the East
and West were ridges of sandrock. It basically looked like you were driving
down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it.
'Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams...' It's one
of my favorites...that, 'All My Love' and 'In The Light'
and two or three others really were the finest moments. But 'Kashmir'
in particular. It was so positive, lyrically.
"I remember at the time there were a lot of musicians who were really
insensitive about their audience's interpretation of their work. You'd get
all this negatively coming out, as if to be mysterious is to be negative, to
be dark. Mystery is not about darkness. It's about intrigue. There's a fine
line in between, of course. Not even a fine line... it's a gossamer thread.
"How on earth do you want to purport yourself? I believed that it had
to be Light. Lyrically, you have to stand by your words! There was a lot of
gloom purported by guys who went back and took off their stage-clothes and
played golf. And I didn't want to be one of those guys. I wanted whatever I
was saying to represent what I was doing. But 'Kashmir' was tremendous for
the mood. A lot of that was down to Bonzo, what he played. Page and I couldn't
have done it without Bonzo's thrift. He was a real thrifty player. It was what
he didn't do that made it work...."
There are many successful bands who function like co-workers. They clock-in,
they clock-out, they exchange cards at Christmas. Thank you, and see you on-stage.
In my time around them, Led Zeppelin functioned like four very different brothers.
It was the kind of closeness that allowed for friendly competition, for privately
griping over another member, and for fiercely defending that same person in
the next breath. Their camaraderie stood in direct opposition to the often-heavy
image of Led Zeppelin.
Once on the road, Robert Plant popped into a McDonald's for lunch. Slowly,
the patrons began to recognize him. The room began to tilt towards him. Before
long he was surrounded by young fans, and it's a tribute to his disarming personality
that soon they were treating him not as Robert Plant, but as a co-conspirator
and a fellow fan of the band.
"Hey, what's Jimmy Page really like?" "He's my mate," Plant
this day, Page remains an inscrutable presence. He is ethereal, yet extremely
forceful. Steely, yet soulful. Jimmy Page is one of the more powerful figures
ever to be over-described as 'fragile.' One afternoon in Chicago in 1975, Page
let the room go dark as the sun set. He quietly, defiantly, described his future.
"To be able to fuse all these styles was always my dream in the early
stages," he said, "but now the composing side of it is just as important.
I think it's time to travel again....it could be a good time for that now.
We've been in all these hotel rooms, touring. The balance has got to swing
exactly the opposite, to the point where you've got an instrument and nothing
else. I think it's time to travel, start gaining some really right in there
experiences. There's always this time thing. Everything, for me, seems to be
a race against time. Especially musically. I know what I want to get down and
I haven't much time to do it in. I've got a real wanderlust right now. I want
By July 1975, Zeppelin had accomplished all they'd dreamed of. The world
tour had been a mash. Physical Graffiti was a big hit, and all five
albums re-entered the charts. The band had lived in each other' pockets for
years, and their spirit was still strong. Now it me to travel, to recharge.
Within three weeks Page had flown to Marrakesh to meet up with Plant, who
was traveling with his wife Maureen. Veering off the tourist paths, Page and
Plant rented a Range Rover and drove deep into Morocco. The mission was to
discover street music, to soak up the experiences that might enhance the next
album. Bob Marley tapes blasting, they travelled through Ovazazatte, Zagora,
Tafraoute, the Atlas Mountains, moving north through Casablanca and Tangier
to meet up with the rest of the band in Montreux,
Switzerland. Page took a brief break, flying to London to check the editing
of the "Dazed and Confused" sequence for The Song Remains
(The band had all but decided to shelve the 1973 concert film in favor of
something filmed on their upcoming summer tour.) He had planned to catch up
with Plant in a few days. Their wanderlust tour wasn't over yet, and soon they
would be gearing up to perform live again.
Bad luck struck when Plant's car plunged off a cliff on the Greek island of
Rhodes. Plant's wife suffered a fractured skull, and a broken leg and pelvis.
Plant fractured his elbow and broke his ankle. They were taken to a small local
emergency ward. Just how pervasive was Zeppelin's popularity? "I was lying
there in some pain," Plant says with understatement, "trying to get
cockroaches off the bed and the guy next to me, this drunken soldier, started
singing 'The Ocean' from Houses of the Holy."
Plant's accident would thrust the band into their darkest period. For 18 months,
it wasn't known if he'd be able to use his leg again. Plant spent a lengthy
period of time drinking beer and "tinkering on the village piano." Clearly,
Zeppelin needed a new album, and needed to feel their ability to make a great
one. The plan was to record fast, to push the limits, to paint themselves in
a corner and dare themselves to escape.
Rehearsals for Presence began in Malibu, California. It was an odd
sight - Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant in a wheelchair. The band soon moved
to Munich for the sessions. Every waking hour was spent in the studio, located
in the basement of their hotel.
In 1977, Page described the album with a real fervor. "The general urgency
and the pent-up whoa was in all of us. The mechanism was perfectly oiled. We
started steaming in rehearsals. We did a lot of old rock and roll numbers just
to loosen up a bit. 'For Your Life' was made up in the studio, right
on the spot. I particularly enjoyed the guitar playing on the blues things.
The solos never had that coloring before. I was so happy about it... especially
since I have to warm up to solo. I get nervous about that kind of guitar playing.
Really, very insecure about it. But that's the way I can really concentrate.
I'm usually at my best when I'm really exhausted or under pressure or both.
When you're exhausted all you want to know about is what you have to do. The
Golden question is why this was done so fast, and why the others take so long.
The fact is that this one, we lived all the way through... under circumstances
that were extremely frustrating. We weren't sure about Robert, weren't sure
what was going to happen. Everyone managed to pull it all in...it was great."
If each Zeppelin album was, as Jimmy Page says, a concept album detailing
the mental state of the band at the time... then this one was a story of anxiety
and frenzy and blues and pain. Presence, he says, is the most important Zeppelin
album. It's a snapshot of a time when the group was stripped of its legendary
power. They were running on pure heart and soul.
dangerous period of inactivity followed Presence. ("You gotta
keep your mind active," said Page at the time, "you can never just
'go on holiday.") Plant continued therapy on his ankle. Jones tried farming.
Page retreated to Switzerland to produce "Bonzo's Montreux" with
John Bonham. Each member was being asked the same question with alarming frequency—had
the band broken up?
The days of gardening would soon come to an end. Plant's leg improved, and
the band held their collective breath when he elected to get up on stage with
Bad Company at a New York concert. It was a triumphant evening for Plant. He
found he could still move the way he wanted to on a stage. It was a little
wobbly, but it would improve. Yellow lights were switched to green. A Led Zeppelin
tour was planned for the next year.
Meanwhile, rock had changed. Punk was raging through England, threatening
to sweep all the old-time arena-size acts under the carpet. While Page admired
the work of the Sex Pistols and the Damned, he was surprised to see that some
of the younger musicians had their guns aimed directly for Zeppelin. (Said
a member of the Clash: "I don't even have to listen to their music. Just
looking at one of their album covers makes me want to vomit...") After
winning the Melody Maker poll at the outset of 1977, Page had earnestly explained
that "Zeppelin is not a nostalgia band." They rehearsed for two months,
carefully assembling the set that would prove it.
The 1977 Zeppelin show was a three-hour tour de force. Page's guitar blazed,
Plant's soul was on nightly display, Jones and Bonham swung. It was a thunderous
break in the two-year silence. For the first time, critics and audiences agreed.
This was Zeppelin at their tightest and loosest. The response was overwhelming.
As Plant joked on-stage at Madison Square Garden, plucking up some roses left
by a fan: "I didn't know you cared."
Los Angeles in 1977, Page gave a particularly stunning description of the Zeppelin
alchemy: "The motto of the group is definitely 'ever onward.' If there
ever is to be a total analysis, it's that. The fact is that it's like a chemical
fusion...there's so much ESP involved in it. It sounds pretentious, but it's
true. That's just what it is. When there are three people playing on stage,
instrumentally, and I'm in the middle of a staccato thing, and Bonzo just for
some unknown reasons happens to be there doing the same beats on the snare
drum... that sort of thing is definitely a form of trans-state...it is a sort
of communication on that other plane. People get so scientific about it, I
experience it every day. There is such a creative thing there within all of
us, you just want to keep going. People really bring it down to earth when
they say 'Have you ever really thought of splitting up?'.
But things would never be easy for Led Zeppelin. Tragic news hit as the band
was preparing to leave the U.S. at the end of the tour. Plant's young song
Karac had died suddenly from a virus infection. The effect was devastating.
Plant disappeared into the country to mend the wounds. His bandmates worried
about him, wondered about the future of the group, but within a year Plant
had re-emerged with new dedication.
In November of 1978, Zeppelin flew to Stockholm to begin recording a new LP. In
Through The Out Door was an album of new sounds and wide style-shifts,
odd directions and even the gorgeous Zeppelin ballad "All My Love." "The
whole search is for the unknown," Page once said. "We're always
The band came roaring back to full-power in the summer of 1979. The seventies
had been their decade, and they were closing it out in style. In August, two
huge appearances at Knebworth had turned out to be emotional affairs for the
homeland audiences. The band swept the Melody Maker polls again. "Fool
in the Rain," a rare Zeppelin single, was released in December.
After Knebworth, what would be the next step for the biggest band in the world?
The answer came that next July as the group stealthily began their first European
tour in three years. "Zeppelin Over Europe 80" opened
with little fanfare—it was almost a dream for the Zeppelin faithful.
There was a playful and generous spirit about the show. (Page had even handled
some of the stage introductions himself.) The set opened with "Train
Kept A Rollin'," the first song the band performed together twelve
quietly began for an American tour. The group had acquired a new motto for
the States, "cut the waffle," as in no-frills and fewer solos. In
early September they announced the U.S. dates with a press release entitled "Led
On September 25th, the band was locked in rehearsals at Page's home. The work
was over for the day. John Paul Jones and Zeppelin associate Benjie LeFevre
had playfully decided to visit John Bonham's room "just to watch him sleep." They
found him dead. Bonham had turned the wrong way, accidentally, after a night
of drinking. The tragic sight, according to Jones, looked shockingly arbitrary.
The decision to end the band came instantly. In a group this close, the loss
was immeasurable. When the three members met in a London hotel room, it was
only a matter of wording the statement.
"It was impossible to continue, really," says Page today. "Especially
in light of what we'd done live, stretching and moving the songs this way and
that. At that point in time especially, in the early 80's, there was no way
one wanted to even consider taking on another drummer. For someone to 'learn'
the things Bonham had done...it just wouldn't have been honest. We had a great
respect for each other, and that needed to continue ...in life or death."
On July 13th, 1985, the band performed at Live-Aid, at JFK Stadium. There
were priceless moments, but I'll remember Page's smile when Robert sang his
familiar added-line to "Stairway to Heaven" - "does
anybody remember laughter." It was a look that came from way down deep,
and it carried with it a memory of a hundred Zeppelin shows gone by. In subsequent
years the band would sometimes perform with Jason Bonham on drums, popping
up at the 40th Anniversary concert for Atlantic Records or at Bonham's own
"I look back at it all and laugh," Robert Plant says today. "I
was just 19 when I got off the plane. It's like having a child, and I'm part
of that child. The answer to it all is growing up, developing a balance. So
much of the time was like being in the middle of a knitting pattern which hadn't
been finished. There were no instructions, and the pages were re-written every