LED ZEPPELIN, MOTHERSHIP. TABLATURE
It was a modest announcement, a two-page press release issued in November 1968: "Atlantic Records has signed the hot, new English group Led Zeppelin to a long-term exclusive recording contract. Although the exact terms of the deal are secret, it can be disclosed that it is one of most substantial deals Atlantic has ever made."
Most of what followed was quick biography-Jimmy Page's history with The Yard birds, where he had succeeded Eric C1apton and Jeff Beck as lead guitarist, and as one of the best and busiest session musicians in Britain; bassist John Paul Jones' success as an arranger of hit records for Donovan and The Rolling Stones, among many others. There were references to drummer John Bonham's already notorious solos as a member of American singer Tim Rose's touring band and to Robert Plant's blooming reputation as "one of England's outstanding young blues singers."
There was a promise too. "Top English and American rock musicians who have heard the tracks," the release said, referring to Zeppelin's imminent debut album, "have compared the LP to the best of Cream and Jimi Hendrix and have called Led Zeppelin the next group to reach the heights achieved by Cream and Hendrix."
That was audacious talk, a fat power chord in the face, at a time when Hendrix still walked the Earth and Cream were a fresh memory-the latter played their farewell shows that ,'ery month at London's Royal Albert Hall. In comparison, when Lcd Zeppelin opened their first North American tour in Denver, Colorado, on December 26, 1968, they were third on a bill to Vanilla Fudge and Spirit and treated like a doormat. The promoter, Plant told me years later, deducted the cost of the backstage grub" this four-Ioaves-and-fivc-fishes thing"-from the band's pay.
At other dates, Plant operated Zeppelin's PA. system himself, onstage, and Bonham often played without miking his kit (a minor annoyance as he was loud enough without electricity). In Detroit a local newspaper ad for Zeppelin's three-night stand at the Grande Ballroom announced the appearance of "Led Zeptlin." But as Page said later, recalling that tour, "You could feel something happening-first this row, then that row. It was like a tornado, and it went rolijng across the country." By the end of 1969, Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham had torn through North America four times, each time to bigger, sold-out audiences. In Britain, where they had been in clubs as The ew Yard birds as late as October 1968, Zeppelin quickly followed Cream into the Royal Albert Hall, ftlling it in June 1969 (and again in January 1970).
In that first whiplash year, Led Zeppelin also released two of the most exciting and important rock albums ever made, Led Zeppen fill and Led Zeppelin II-together, the fundamental bones of hard rock and heay\ metal for the next four decades.
From the start, Led Zeppelin were working warriors. They toured like dogs-albeit in wild-boy luxury, fiercely protected by their manager, Peter Grant-and made eight studio albums (one a double LP) at a pace that now seems superhuman. Page claimed the total recording time for Led Zeppelin was 30 hours. The band made II on rare off days berwcen shows in the summer of '69, in nearly a dozen different studios. "I remember we did vocal overdubs in an eight-track studio in Vancouver where they didn't even have proper headphones," Page rccalled in a 1977 interview with Dave Schulps for the American magazine Trails-Oceanic Trouser Press. "Can you imagine that?"
Actually, yes. Even the band's harshest critics-and there were armies of thcm at the time-could not deny that Led Zeppelin had a rare drive to excel and conljuer. "So many people are frightened to take a chance in life," Page told Rolling Stone's Cameron Crowe in 1975, "and there's so many chances you have to take." Jones did not hesitate to give up the regular, lucrative checks from his studio gigs to be in Led Zeppelin; as soon as he heard about Page's plans for a new group, in the late summer of '68, he called Page and asked to join. Page himself was throwing dice when, on the recommendation of Terry Reid (who turned down Page's offer to be vocalist), he checked out and hired Plant, just 20 and unknown beyond the club grind in England's industrial Midlands. Page then took Plant's advice and grabbed the singer's friend, Bonham.
"It was a series of intense, dynamic crescendos, one right after the other;' Plant told me, describing Zeppelin's first American shows in 1968 and '69. "There was no room for the letdown."
That is also a perfect description of the power, confidence, and desire-the lust for liftoff-in these songs and performances. Led Zeppelin wanted everything, in record time. And they were afraid of nothing. Mothership--the peak of their canon-is what No Fear sounds like.
The first four songs here, all from Led Zeppelin, are the work of a new band racing against clock and budget to connect their individual histories and collective passions into a new, huge music.
The roots are unmistakeable, the combination unprecedented: the blues, twang, and holler of America's Deep South and black urban neighborhoods, especially anything bearing the classic Chess, Sun, and Atlantic labels; the British folk renaissance; California Day-Glo psychedelia.
So are the ambitions. "Good Times Bad Times" and "Communication Breakdown" are as tightly arranged as any candy-pop 45 Page and Jones played on as hired guns. But the details are explosive: Bonham's ayalanche rolls and Jones' pummeling bass outbursts in "Good Times Bad Times"; the nuclear buckshot of Page's chords behind Plant's arcing wail in ...
To Plant, the essence and promise of Led Zeppelin was in "the quest, the travels and explorations that Page and I went on to far climes well off the beaten track," he told me in a 1988
inten·iew. \X'orld domination obvioush' had its benefits. "I had a dream/Crazy dream/Anything I wanted to know, any place I needed to go," Plant crowed in "The Song Remains The Same" on
1973's Houses Of The Holy'. Except it was no dream. By then, Bron-Yr-Aur, a remote cottage in southern Wales,was famous for the songs Page and Plant wrote there in 1970 and '71; Page and
Plant had also recorded in India with members of the Bombay Symphony. "D'yer Mak'er" may have been tongue-in-cheek reggae (say the title real fast), but the blunt-instrument treble of Jones'
bass was authentic homage to the trull- heavy bottom and primitive fidelity of Jamaican records and rhythm sections. (page often put Jones way up in Zeppelin mixes; in "I houses Of The
Holy," originally cut for that album, the chugging bass is louder and dirtier than Page's guitar.)
"Of course, we only touched the surface," Plant said of those excursions with Page between records and tours. "W'e weren't anthropologists. But we were allowed, because we were musicians, to be invited in societies that people don't normally witness, It was quite a remarkable time, to open your eyes and see how Berber tribesmen lived in the northern Sahara"-a memorable trip that
inspired the thundering march and orchestral sandstorm of "Kashmir" on the 1975 double album Phpica! Graffiti.
Jones' skills as an orchesrrator and multi-instrumentalist, rarely mentioned even in ra\'e reviews of the band's records, were pivotal in Zeppelin's songs of pilgrimage (real and imagined). The
mounting doom of "No Quarter" on Houses Of The Holy starts with the simple, compelling black-liquid ripple of his electric piano.
In "Kashmir" staccato strings march alongside Page's climbing guitar, and long mellotron chords roll O\'er the horizon like clouds of dust. \X'hen I asked Plant, in 1988, about "Stairway To Heaven"
and its status as the definitive Zeppelin song, he immediately corrected me, "It's not," he said, "'Kashmir' is."
Ultimately, everything here is definitive Zeppelin, in some way: the rude, thundering funk of "Trampled Under Foot," driven by Jones' percolating c1a\'inet and Bonham's merciless drumming;
the ferocious, prolonged assault of "Achilles Last Stand" (page told Dave Schulps that he meticulously orchestrated the song's horde of guitars "in my mind," then recorded "all the overdubs in one night"); and the elegant sweep and memorial tenderness of "All My Love."
Then, suddenly, there was no Zeppelin, On September 25, 1980, a day after the group convened to rehearse for yet another Korth American tour, Bonham was found dead at Page's home,
following a mammoth drinking binge. "The band didn't exist," Plant said later, "the minute Bonzo died."
The music and history were left unfinished. On December 4 Atlantic Records issued a one-sentence press release: "We wish it to be known that the loss of our dear friend and the deep respect we have for his family, together with the sense of undi\'ided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were," It was simply signed "Led Zeppelin."
The end came with ironic timing-12 years almost to the day after Atlantic sent out that first announcement in 1968. It also scaled the purity and power of everything Jimmy Page, Robert
Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham wrote and played together in what now seems like a very short time. Led Zeppelin did not last long enough to faiLInstead, they have a unique, eternal life in this music that can never be tainted and will never be topped.
The band is gone. The thrill is not.
Series: Guitar Book
Artist: Led Zeppelin
24 of their biggest hits from the mult-platinum collection, spanning their entire career. Good Times Bad Times - Communication Breakdown - Dazed and Confused - Babe I'm Gonna Leave You - Whole Lotta Love - Ramble On - Heartbreaker - Immigrant Song - Since I've Been Loving You - Rock and Roll - Black Dog - When The Levee Breaks - Stairway to Heaven - The Song Remains the Same - Over the Hills and Far Away - D'yer Mak'er - No Quarter - Trampled Under Foot - Houses of the Holy - Kashmir - Nobody's Fault but Mine - Achilles Last Stand - In the Evening - All My Love.