Photo courtesy of http://www.rock-star-picture.blogspot.com
“We are eagles of one nest; the nest is in our soul.”
By Linda Mitchell
LED ZEPPELIN. Just hearing the name brings visions of massive throngs of fanatic concert crowds, eight-track tapes and albums blasting their distinctively heavy, guitar-driven blues-rock sounds. And for the girls it meant fantasizing about the tall, sexy singer with the glorious blond mane and magical voice. A marriage of blues, rock and roll, soul, rockabilly, folk ballad, jazz, classical and Oriental music, Led Zeppelin is considered the most influential band of the 1970′s and unquestionably the most enduring band in rock history.
From their start in 1968, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and John Bonham were as Plant once said “a tumultuous, amazing combination of friends”. Page was a highly sought after studio session guitarist in the early 1960′s and is widely considered to be one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time. After years of playing with various artists and groups, and after the disbanding of his current band the Yardbirds in early 1968, Page was ready to start his own project – the New Yardbirds. Thus began his search to create a “band that was going to fire on all cylinders”.
John Paul Jones (born John Paul Baldwin) was working as a session musician, completing two and three sessions a day, six and seven days a week. However, by 1968 he was quickly feeling burned out due to the heavy workload: “I was arranging 50 or 60 things a month and it was starting to kill me”. Knowing Page was forming a new group, he asked about the bassist/ keyboard position. Page admits, “I jumped at the chance of getting him”.
Can you even imagine Led Zeppelin without Robert Plant? He was not Page’s first choice! Terry Reid turned Page down, but recommended he check out a singer he knew, Robert Plant. Page stated, “When I auditioned him and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me he’d been singing for a few years already, he hadn’t become a big name yet. So I had him down to my place for a little while, just too sort of check him out, and we got along great. No problems”. Thank goodness for us!
This meeting was an added win for Page because not only did he acquire Robert Plant as lead singer, he was introduced to drummer John Bohnam. Plant and Bonham had worked together in both Crawling King Snakes and Band of Joy. Although Page had several other drummers in mind, once he saw Bonham perform he “was instantly convinced that he was the perfect fit for the new project”. Bonham was esteemed for his speed, power, fast right foot, distinctive sound, and “feel for the groove”. Here is a little known fact; Bonham liked to play double bass, but that was not in Page’s vision for the project, too bad for us. But securing Bonham wasn’t that easy. He was being courted by other bands and initially felt reluctant to join the new project. But after a relentless campaign by Page and manager Peter Grant to snare the drummer, Bonham officially became the fourth member of the group. Page had found the combination that gelled.
The name New Yardbirds however was destined to soon change. Because of a quip of sarcasm by The Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle about the new project going over like a “lead balloon”, the moniker for the band became Led Zeppelin. The name was later considered appropriate contrasting; Led, depicting the heavy side of their music, and Zeppelin the lighter, ‘flight of the butterfly’ style compositions and lyrics.
And the rest is history. Led Zeppelin sold more than 300 million albums worldwide, including 111.5 million sales in the United States. All of their original studio albums reach the U.S. Billboard Top Ten, six of which hit the number one spot. Led Zeppelin was also ranked #1 on VH1′s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock, voted 14th Greatest Rock & Roll Artists of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine and inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Robert Plant was named Greatest Voice in Rock & Roll by Planet Rock in 2009 and Best Lead Singer by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2011. Individually and as a band, the awards go on and on.
There is an endless array of books written by and about Led Zeppelin. I stopped counting after scrolling through seven pages on amazon.com. Recently I picked up one at a local bookstore because I was drawn by the title “Led Zeppelin – The Stories Behind Every Led Zeppelin Song” by Chris Welch, a UK reporter who traveled with the band during the early 1970′s. While I found it an interesting read, I feel the title is misleading. It does give the reader a personal and close up account of life on tour with the group, but I found it did little to tell the stories behind many of their songs let alone every song. You will however, discover more about their personalities. Take Robert Plant for example, and his shyness and nerves before concerts is disclosed by the fact that he made sure to have an ironing board in his room because he liked to iron before concerts to calm his nerves. Surely not the image he projects once he takes over the stage. Also, when asked about his lyrics, Plant said “The essence of my lyrics is the desire for peace and harmony. That’s all anyone has ever wanted”. Indeed. Other tidbits include how Page’s use of the bow on his guitar came from actor David McCullum’s father, who was an accomplished violinist with the London Philharmonic. Also although John Paul Jones persona seemed more subdued, he claims to have indulged in just as many “after concert antics” as the others.
It was the sudden death of John Bonham on September 25, 1980 that brought Led Zeppelin to its knees. Sadly the remaining “tumultuous, amazing, combination of friends” could not go forward without him. So it was in December, 1980 that they issued the bleak statement, “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were”, and so ended the reign of Led Zeppelin.
Today, their music continues to live on and although the possibility of seeing them in concert ended over thirty years ago, you can still experience their brilliance live on stage via the nationally known act, Get the Led Out. Touring since 2003, Get the Led Out does not claim to be a tribute band. As they explain, “GTLO’s mission is to bring the studio recordings of Led Zeppelin to life in concert. In the studio, Led Zeppelin layered many guitars, vocals, keyboards, and various other instruments in a process known as ‘overdubbing’. Quite simply, it is physically impossible for four people to recreate those amazing recordings in a live performance. Zeppelin themselves never attempted replicating their recorded work in concert, as it would have required hiring additional musicians, and they just weren’t about that. Get The Led Out however, is ALL about that! Get The Led Out is the only act out there devoted to painstakingly recreating the songs in all their depth and glory.” With the exceptionally talented, driving GTLO band behind him, singer Paul Sinclair masterfully replicates Robert Plant’s vocals flawlessly. Every song during their two plus hour performance leaves you wanting more. More Communication Breakdown, more Stairway to Heaven, more Misty Mountain Hop, more Whole Lotta Love, more Kashmir…and they deliver.
Fortunately for us Get the Led Out visits the Florida area every year. They are scheduled at the Florida Theater on March 27 and at the Phillips Center in Gainesville, Florida on March 28, 2014. Their complete schedule is available at http://www.gtlorocks.com. This is a “must experience” concert for any fan of Led Zeppelin.
From 1968 till 1980, Led Zeppelin was riding the wave of unprecedented success with their new brand of music methodology. The populace fell under their captivating spell. We weren’t ready for it to end. What if John Bonham had not died? What other inroads in the music world would Zeppelin have charted?
Oh, and it makes me wonder…..