Led Zeppelin

Left with The Yardbirds name, the support and counsel of Peter Grant, and a head full of ideas, Jimmy Page retreated to his converted Victorian boathouse by the Thames, in Pangbourne, in Berkshire, to think things over.

The news that he was planning to form a new group spread quickly on the musicians' grapevine, and before long he got a call from John Paul Jones. Jones, like Page himself two years earlier, was eager to get away from the session scene. And Page, well acquainted with Jones' talents as an instrumentalist and arranger, was just as eager to have him.

Mid 1969

First choices for the positions of vocalist and drummer were Terry Reid, whom Page had admired with Peter Jay and The Jaywalkers, and B.J. Wilson, Procol Harum's drummer.

Both were unavailable, but Reid was able to recommend another young vocalist called Robert Plant, who had recently been down in London looking for a break.

Page and Grant travelled up to Birmingham to see him play at a teacher training college with his band, Hobbstweedle. They were suitably impressed and, after a few days at Pangbourne, Plant was in too.

He in his turn recommened John Bonham, but as Bonham was on tour with Tim Rose, getting hold of this last piece of the jigsaw proved rather difficult. Finally, Plant caught up with him in Oxford and discovered he wasn't the only one after the drummer's services.

John Bonham: Joe Cocker was interested and so was Chris Farlowe, along with Robert and Jimmy. It was baffling. I had so much to consider... When I first got offered the job, I thought The Yardbirds were finished because in England they had been forgotten. Still, I thought "Well, I've got nothing anyway, so anything is really better than nothing". I knew that Jimmy was a good guitarist and Robert was a good vocalist, so even if we didn't have any success it would at least be a pleasure to play in a good group. I already knew what Robert liked and Jimmy told me what he was into, and I decided I liked their music better than either Farlowe's or Cocker's.

Even with Bonham's agreement, however, the problem's weren't over. His home didn't have a telephone, and no fewer than 40 telegrams had to be dispatched from Grant's office before he could be summoned to begin work.

Return to the Clubs Tour, 1971

Rehearsals began at Page's London flat, with the group working on a repertoire of new tunes, old blues and R&B numbers, and a couple of songs from The Yardbirds days. "The Train' Kept A 'Rollin'", which has never appeared on a Zeppelin album though often played on stage, was apparently the first song they ever played together.

Things went sensationally right from the word go. Plant recalls: "You just couldn't walk away and forget it. The sound was so great". Which was just as well, because within three weeks of meeting, the group was en route to its first date in Copenhagen, at the start of a 10-day Scandinavian tour.

This tour, and a few early gigs in England, were done as The New Yardbirds to fulfil old contractual obligations. But the group's real name had already been decided.

The precise origin of the Led Zeppelin name has become a cause of slight controversy.

John Entwistle: There were several occasions with The Who when both Keith Moon and myself were going to leave the band. Once when we were in New York, I sat down with Keith and our chauffeur, a guy called Richard Cole, and tried to come up with possible new names for the band we were going to form. That's when I flashed on Led Zeppelin, and I also came up with an idea for a first album jacket with a Zeppelin going down in flames.

Not long afterwards Richard Cole, the chauffer, went to work for Jimmy Page and Peter Grant and he must have told them the idea. But I was definitely the one who thought of it. Later on Keith Moon claimed that he came up with it, which made me very angry. When I heard Jimmy was going to use it, I was a bit pissed off about it, but later on I didn't care that much.

9th U.S. Tour, 1973

Jimmy Page: Well, I don't know about that at all... to start with, the thing about the cover is completely wrong. We did that quite separately. The other - well, Keith Moon gave us the name. We've always credited him with that. Maybe John Entwistle did think of the name and told it to Keith Moon, in which case I suppose he might have cause to be a bit angry.

Whoever had the original idea, though, it began as Lead Zeppelin, and only got shortened when Peter Grant realised that punters across the Atlantic, might mispronoune it.

Back from Scandinavia, the band went into Olympic Studios at Barnes, South London, to record their debut album. Recorded in 30 hours, it cost a mere 1,782 pounds (including the cover) and by 1975 would gross 3,500,000 pounds.

Jimmy Page: It was easy because we had a repertoire of numbers all worked out and we just went into the studio and did it. I suppose it was the fact that we were confident and prepared which made things flow smoothly in the studio, and - as it happened - we recorded the songs almost exactly as we'd been doing them live. Only "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was altered, as far as I can remember... it was partly an attitude of "let's get the job done and not mess about having a party in there", but it certainly wasn't a first take effort. We went on until we were happy with each number.

Page was a producer, a task for which he was well prepared by his years of watching Britain's top producers at work. And seven if the nine songs were credited to various members of the group, although Robert Plant's name doesn't appear as a writer because he had a publishing contract elswhere.

(October 15, 1968 - The world debut of Led Zeppelin at Surrey University.)

U.S. Tour rehearsals, 1975

While this was going on, Page was still doing occasional sessions, including Al Stewart's "Love Chronicles" and Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends". It was quite important that he did, as he was having to subsidise the others in the early days, but before long the spare time for such extra-mural activities would become very limited indeed.

Between gigs, Peter Grant set off for New York, carrying live tapes, album tapes and the sleeve artwork, with the aim of securing a worldwide deal. He got one. Not with Epic, the subsidiary of Columbia who had rights to The Yardbirds in the States, but with Atlantic.

Dick Asher (Columbia executive): We at Columbia felt that Epic had done a really good job in promoting The Yardbirds... We thought we'd done very well on Jimmy Page. When we heard that The Yardbirds had split up and Jimmy Page had formed Led Zeppelin, we naturally assumed that the rights to Page would go automatically to Columbia, the other three being subject to mutual agreement...

So Grant and Weiss (Zeppelin's attorney) duly arrived in Clive's office (Clive Davis, President of Columbia) and we all sat down. It was Clive's first meeting with Peter Grant and we talked and talked and talked about all sorts of things. It just went on and on but there was no mention of Led Zeppelin. Finally Clive said: "Well, aren't we going to talk about Jimmy Page?" Grant replied "Oh no, we've already signed the Zeppelin to Atlantic". Grant explained that Jimmy Page had never been signed as an individual, only as part of The Yardbirds group.

Final U.S. Tour, 1977

Clive just went beserk... and I think with some justification. The Yardbirds had been one of his pet projects. We were all stunned - especially after all we had done for the group.

The five year contract which Grant had negotiated with Atlantic included a rumoured advance of $200,000. This was the highest ever paid to a new group, and a quite astonishing sum, considering the record company had never seen them.

Perhaps more important, however, was the unprecedented degree of independence that Grant won for his charges. Having set up production and publishing companies a few weeks previously, they were now responsible for every creative aspect of their career, from record production right through to publicity pictures.

When the rest of the music business found out about it, it started a small revolution in company/artist relations.

Jimmy Page: You can develop a tremendous insecurity if your management isn't totally reliable. I know that money is a dirty word is this business, but the fact remains that if you have success, you're going to have royalties coming in. Many groups who have been working for years and years end up with nothing because they've been screwed all the way down the line. That sort of thing is heartbreaking. We're very lucky in that respect because we've got Peter Grant, who is like a fifth member of the group.

Knebworth, 1979

Peter Grant: Before we got the LP, we couldn't get work here in Britain. It seemed to be a laugh to people that we were getting the group together and working the way we were. I don't want to name the people who put us down and thought we were wasting our time, but there were plenty of them.

Jimmy Page: It was just a joke in England. We really had a bad time. They just wouldn't accept anything new. It had to be The New Yardbirds, not Led Zeppelin. We were given a chance in America.

(December 26, 1968 - Led Zeppelin's US debut in Denver, Colorado.)

John Paul Jones: We played for hours (at the Boston Tea Party), and we only had an hour and a half act, so if anyone knew more than four bars of any tune, we would go into it. We did old Beatles numbers and Chuck Berry numbers. It was the greatest night. We knew that we had definitely done it by then.

Zeppelin's first american tour, arranged by Premier Talent, the top rock agency in the States at that time, was carefully planned to make maximum impact.

Tour Over Europe, 1980

From touring with The Yardbirds, The Animals and others, Peter Grant knew which cities and which gigs would be most helpful in breaking the band. Special emphasis was given to dates on the West Coast, where The Yardbirds had enjoyed a particularly strong following.

Jimmy Page: I can tell you when I knew we'd broken though... San Francisco. There were other gigs, like the Boston Tea Party and the Kinetic Circus in Chicago, which have unfortunately disappeared as venues, where the response was so incredible we knew we'd made our impression. But after the San Francisco gig it was just - bang!

Paul Kendall - 'A Visual Documentary'


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