Friday, June 21, 2013

A Brief History of Rock Legends Led Zeppelin

Cover of "Led Zeppelin IV (aka ZOSO)"
Cover of Led Zeppelin IV (aka ZOSO)
by Martin P. Coleman

When you think of hard rock music, heavy metal or guitar driven music, it's not long before you'd think of Led Zeppelin.

Formed in London during 1968 as the brainchild of legendary guitarist Jimmy Page, Zeppelin was a ferocious touring band until 1980 when the band dissolved after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham.

Jimmy Page was an accomplished studio musician in London, England during the 1960's.

Page's guitar work appeared on a wide variety of tracks and hits from artists like the Who, Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones, Donovan, Brenda Lee and Van Morrison.

Through this studio experience, Page absorbed and took in all he saw, and in 1965 began producing as well.

Towards the middle of the decade, Page was growing tired of life in the studio, and was unsatisfied playing on some of the more mundane muzak style tracks that came along. While the pay was great, he yearned for more.

So in 1966, Page joined the Yardbirds to replace their bass guitarist Paul Samwell-Smith. Page played electric bass for a bit before switching over to co-lead guitar with his friend Jeff Beck.

Page had actually been offered a spot in the Yardbirds a few years prior to replace Eric Clapton, but turned it down due to his career as a session musician. It was Jimmy Page who suggested that Jeff Beck join the group instead of him.

A few years later, Page would be sharing the stage with Beck. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page ... all came up through the same group. Simply amazing.

Once Jeff Beck left the Yardbirds, Jimmy Page was then the default lead guitarist. Page and Beck appeared on three Yardbirds recordings together, one of which was "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago".

This track also featured a session musician on bass named John Paul Jones. Jones would also play with Page and Beck on Jeff Beck's solo track 'Beck's Bolero', which also featured Who drummer Keith Moon.

This session gave page an idea to form a supergroup, featuring himself, Moon, Beck and Who bassist John Entwistle.

Keith Moon suggested the name 'Led Zeppelin' for the project based on some comments from Entwistle. The group never materialized, however, due to contracts and scheduling conflicts. However, Jimmy page would still get his supergroup in another way.

The Yardbirds stayed a foursome after Jeff Beck left, and recorded the album 'Little Games' with Page as the main guitarist. The album was a flop, but during this time the Yardbirds live performances were becoming spectacular.

Page excelled at improvisation on stage, and began experimenting using a violin bow on his guitar during the song 'Dazed and Confused', which he would bring with him into the Zeppelin repertoire.

In 1968, the Yardbirds split up after the departure of Keith Relf and Jim McCarty. However, there were still some contractual obligations to fulfill for shows in Scandinavia, and Page needed a band.

Jimmy Page's first choice for a singer was Terry Reid, who declined due to a commitment to go on tour with Eric Clapton's Cream as an opening act. However, Reid suggested Page seek out a young singer named Robert Plant, who fronted the Band of Joy.

Plant had the looks to compete with the other blonde haired frontmen of the time, like Daltrey and Rod Stewart. When Page recruited Plant, Plant convinced Jimmy Page to check out his former bandmate John Bonham to become their drummer.

Page agreed, and was blown away by Bonham's prowess behind the kit. When John Paul Jones heard about Page's new group, he phoned Page and asked to get in on the action.

After one jam session, the band knew it had something special. The first song they played together was 'Train-kept-a-rollin', and all 4 members felt the magic in the air.

The foursome toured Scandinavia first as 'The New Yardbirds', but received a cease and desist letter from former Yardbird Chris Dreja, stating that Page could not use that name. So, the group then became Led Zeppelin officially.

Along with tough manager Peter Grant, Zeppelin foraged ahead, and recorded their first album in just 9 days without any record company backing. Page acted as producer, and Grant then was able to secure an advance from Atlantic Records based solely on Page's reputation.

Record companies were snatching up British Blues Rock acts at that time, and Zeppelin seemed like a home run to Atlantic. Grant secured a deal for Zeppelin that was unprecedented at the time.

The group would get complete control over all of their recordings, including the frequency. They also got complete control over all album artwork and freedom on album promotion.

Led Zeppelin I would be released in the US during January 1969, and featured songs like "Dazed and Confused", "Communication Breakdown", a take on Joan Baez's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", and the epic "How Many More Times".

The album was a commercial success, and boosted Zeppelin's concert attendance. Their live shows were spectacular right from the start, and the band would jam out on many of these songs from the first album, adding in new parts, improvising and giving audiences a unique experience at every show.

Zeppelin I was followed up by Led Zeppelin II during the same year. Zeppelin II was recorded during their extensive North American touring schedule, and they'd find free days and open studios where and whenever they could in order to complete the record.

The efforts paid off and Zeppelin II reached #1 on the Billboard charts, knocking out the Beatles Abbey Road, and catapulted the group into stardom.

Hits like "Whole Lotta Love", "Heartbreaker" and "Livin' Loving Maid" made Zeppelin II a success, while the bluesy riffs of "Bring It On Home" and "the Lemon Song" offered fans more blues based rock like Zeppelin I.

For their 3rd album, Plant and Page took time off from touring to settle into a country cottage called Bron-Y-Aur in Wales. The album is mainly folk and acoustic in nature, and showed that Zeppelin was more than just a hard rock act.

Led Zeppelin III surprised many fans and critics, as most were shocked that the group had strayed from its heavier side.

Tracks like "Gallows Pole", "Tangerine", and "Friends" showed that the group was coming into its own, and the opening track and single "Immigrant Song" showed fans that Zeppelin was not abandoning their electric side.

The album artwork for Zeppelin III featured a functioning spinning wheel.

During the 1970s, Led Zeppelin became one of the world's biggest groups. They enjoyed massive commercial success, set concert attendance records, toured in a private jet, and started their own record label Swan Song. The group began to develop a reputation

In November of 1971, Zeppelin released their fourth album. Recorded at Headley Grange, the album artwork featured no mention of their name, only 4 mysterious symbols that represented each member of the band.

This album is often referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, Zoso, Zofo, Four Symbols or Runes. The album became Zeppelin's biggest to date, and featured "Stairway to Heaven", widely considered their most popular songs, and perhaps one of the most played songs in FM radio history.

Other hits like "Rock-N-Roll", "Black Dog" and "When the Levee Breaks" are still stalwarts of classic rock radio today. The band would tour on this album for nearly 2 years.

In 1973, the foursome came back with the release of Houses of the Holy, which was recorded at Mick Jagger's estate on the Rolling Stones' mobile studio. It was Zeppelin's first album to feature an official title that wasn't Led Zeppelin (insert number here).

The album was another chart topper across the globe, and songs like"The Song Remains the Same" and "The Ocean" became concert favorites. Zeppelin also paid homage to the Godfather of Soul James Brown with their take on his funky style on the track "The Crunge".

Houses of the Holy also showcased the keyboard virtuosity of John Paul Jones. "No Quarter" became an ever evolving canvas for Jones to show his skills. The track also featured one of Jimmy Page's most hypnotic and slinky guitar riffs.

Houses was followed up with a double album entitled Physical Graffiti.

It was released on Zeppelin's own Swan Song label, and features the hits "Kashmir", which was influenced by a trip Page and Plant took to Morocco, "Trampled Underfoot" and the song "Houses of the Holy", which was recorded earlier for the album of the same name but left off. Physical Graffiti also featured the epic blues jaunt "In My time of Dying", with Page playing some nasty slide guitar leads.

Zeppelin took a brief holiday in 1975 and planned to get back on the road later that year. However, plans went awry when Robert Plant & his then wife Maureen were injured in a car accident.

This put Zeppelin on hiatus from touring until 1977, but allowed the band to finish its concert film 'the Song Remains the Same' featuring video footage from a 1973 Madison Square Garden performance.

The film was not well received, but still allowed many new fans to embrace the band that may not otherwise have been able to get to a concert. The hiatus also afforded the band a chance to write material for their next album Presence.

Presence featured one of Jimmy Page's finest guitar performance on "Achilles Last Stand", and not to mention some serious drumming from John Bonham on the same track.

Other notable tracks off presence include "Hots on for Nowhere", and an old blues number reinvented called "Nobody's Fault But Mine". The production on Presence still sounds crystal clear, like it was recorded 30 years later.

Led Zeppelin hit the road again in 1977, and set a record for attendance at their show at the Pontiac Silverdome on April 30.

The rest of the tour was troubled, and included John Bonham and several of the Zeppelin road crew being arrested for fighting. The tour then had to be cut short when Robert Plant learned that his 5 year old son had passed away.

Led Zeppelin returned to the studio in 1978 to record In Through the Out Door. It is widely rumored that this album was largely influenced by Plant and Jones, because Page and Bonham were battling with substances.

However, Page's playing is masterful on this record after a close listen, and his solo on the hit song "Fool in the Rain" speaks to that directly. Plant penned the emotional "All of My Love" for his lost son Kerac, and it remains one of Zeppelin's most heartfelt songs years later.

Zeppelin's final triumph may have been their 2 headlining shows at the Knebworth Music Festival in 1979. The shows marked their return to the stage in England.

On September 24, 1980, tour manager Benji LeFevre and John Paul Jones found John Bonham dead in his room. Bonham died from asphyxiation from vomit while he slept after a night of extreme alcohol consumption.

Following Bonham's death, Zeppelin announced they could not go on without their friend. Years later they would reunite for a few performances with Bonham's son Jason filling in for his old man.

The album Coda was Zeppelin's final studio album released in 1982, and was filled with outtakes from their past records.

Led Zeppelin still reigns supreme today. Their records continue to sell, and their songs continue to be heard. Their influence can be heard in many acts that still grace the stage today. In 1995, Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Martin Coleman is a Led Zeppelin fan from Western New York, and runs the site To see the lyrics to stairway to heaven please be sure to visit the site. Thanks.

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