It occurred to me the other night that Led Zeppelin was, at the height of their career, the world’s best JAZZ band! Of course the concept began began with, and revolved around, Jimmy Page. Onstage he was the lead soloist of a combo that would sometimes do 30-minute versions of Zeppelin studio material/cover songs. In the studio, whether as a guitarist or producer, he constructed Zep’s body of work with the precision and care of Mozart or Wagner, layering instruments and tracks into sonic artworks of beauty, power, mystique and awesomeness. Everybody knows all that already, but approaching it from the angle that they weren’t really a rock band means you might hear something different the next time you encounter a Zeppelin tune. I’ve been listening to them since the 1970s and believe it or not, this happened to me recently. So let’s have a go! (as they say in the (UK)
As the Yardbirds were dissolving in 1968, Jimmy Page and Peter Grant came up with a strategy for the group that would become Led Zeppelin based on what they had seen in the USA on the Yardbirds’ final tour – music that was outside the milieu of the radio-friendly singles market. Both Grant and Page thought that the group that would be Zeppelin could take on American heavies like Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly and do way better with the same formula. Interestingly enough, as related in Hammer of the Gods, Page had been considering a group in the Pentangle mode, because of his love and respect for artists like Bert Jansch, in particular, and acoustic music in general. Page is quoted as saying, “At one point, I was absolutely obsessed with Bert Jansch. When I first heard that LP, I couldn’t believe it. It was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing. No one in America could touch that.” However, once Page heard and saw John Bonham play he quickly scotched the acoustic idea (at least full-time) and heard everything Zeppelin would become. From the beginning, Zeppelin focused on albums in the studio and explored a wide range of improvisations live. Many of these improvs were blues-based but because of Page’s wide range of influences and the outstanding abilities of Jones and Bonham, the music careened into many different directions with dynamics, including acoustic-based music, that would eventually be known as Zeppelin’s Light and Shade. Robert Plant would also help take the band into interesting directions as he became a more confident frontman and writer. As the group was in the process of launching their career, the world’s first supergroup, Cream, was calling it quits. Not only was Cream lauded by fans in the same way that Zeppelin would be soon (for their ability to just play), they were also taken to task by critics for their “excesses”, which would become a major point of attack by critics against Page and Zeppelin as the 60s gave way to the 70s.
Led Zeppelin has never said their approach had more to do with jazz than pop music, which was still the only alternative at the time. CLASSIC ROCK didn’t exist and even though The Beatles had been successful releasing a 7 minute single (Hey Jude), they were The Beatles and had earned the right to do that. Conventional wisdom at the time dictated that music be produced in the conventional format and many bands like The Yardbirds and Cream, were constantly pressured by management that valued hit singles over a sound or a good album that would’ve sold in the newly emerging markets. Led Zeppelin didn’t have to worry about this because their manager, Peter Grant, never pressured the band for music and took anyone who did to task. He was savvy enough to see where the money was in the coming decade and left Jimmy and company alone to do what they wanted. While there are some to this day who view Grant as a gangster and bully because of his tactics, he was the first manager who ensured that the artists he represented got a huge percentage of the credit and compensation for their music and performances. Page insisted on complete creative control as a bargaining chip for Zeppelin’s record deal and Grant made sure he got it. He was the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and was a major factor in their success and has been recognized as a major game-changer in the history of popular music. With his help the band racked up album and concert sales that blew away everyone’s expectations. Not only was the writing and playing good enough to swing multiple generations of fans into Led Zeppelin’s corner, the band took their improvisation ethic to new heights and their live shows became an ever-changing exercise in a variation on a theme. This isn’t what most people think of when JAZZ is discussed, and heavy rockers and serious jazz artists would be equally offended by the term, but the basic drive and aspirations of Miles Davis and Jimmy Page or any of a number of ALT artists, which Zeppelin definitely were at the time, are primarily the same. It matters little what ends up on the disc. So much of that genre classification is all about selling units to consumers. A Led Zeppelin concert from the early days always had “songs”, but the highlights of the show were long improvised workouts on certain studio recordings — How Many More Times, Dazed and Confused, Trampled Underfoot, No Quarter, Whole Lotta Love,Moby Dick and whatever Jimmy picked as his “solo” spot (White Summer/Black Mountainside). As time went on the band was able to create long pieces that didn’t contain the same amount of improvisation but were arranged and conceptualized extended pieces of art: Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same/The Rain Song, Kashmir, Ten Years Gone, In My Time of Dying, Achilles Last Stand. None of this stuff is really ROCK music even if it sounds like ROCK music. It’s played with rock instruments and played at high volumes but the combination of instrumental prowess and artistic vision in the writing and live interplay produced something more than what most bands, even of that era, were capable of. It really does compare favorably to the best jazz and how the best jazz bands functioned without sacrificing any of the heaviness or youth signals (lyrics, stage theater, drama) that fans responded to.
Before I started playing jazz music I always thought the version of Dazed and Confused (from The Song Remains the Same movie) was a bit too long and went through one too many “movements”. If it had been up to me, I thought there were two that could have been cut without losing anything from the performance (and this still might be true…improvisers are always in the process of editing and perfection is completely relative). Watching it recently, I thought the band’s performance was and is completely phenomenal. I’ve never liked the “fantasy” sequences in this movie because the band’s ability to take an audience through a half hour of music, power, drama and performance is totally cool and would certainly have been enough even in 1976. Is some of the drama silly? Of course, but the band didn’t take themselves as seriously as everyone else did and the limits of what could be done in a live performance were still expanding. Throughout the song Jimmy Page employs power chord thud, blues and country fills, dramatic wah-wah arpeggios and harmonics, slashing funk chords, avant-garde bowing and noise ripples and plenty of ripping riffs and zipping lines. When he was at his best Jimmy, like all of the great guitar improvisers, was a great synthesizer of all his influences and whatever was floating in his imagination at the time. By 1973 not only was the band firing on all cylinders live, their confidence level was completely off the charts. There is also maturity seen (and heard) in these shows that doesn’t exist in the early days and there is none of the dissipation and exhaustion that creeps into the band by later in the decade.
In 1973 Dazed and Confused was still a major centerpiece of Zeppelin shows. Typically, it occupied the 10th slot of the set, preceding Stairway to Heaven. In 1997 artist and Led Zeppelin bootleg expert extraordinaire Luis Rey analyzed Dazed and Confused in his book Led Zeppelin Live: An Illustrated Exploration of Underground Tapes. He split the song (1975 live version, which ran even longer than 1973) into 12 basic sections as a means of identifying the changing parts and progression of the piece. You can check the Wiki link for the actual sections and I think they’re pretty close in general to this version, at least the overall substance. Obviously some of this was rehearsed prior to the tour and Zeppelin played the set they rehearsed pretty much at all shows on a tour with only the encores varying from show to show. BUT…as was said at the time and what is obvious if you listen to enough copies of shows from their tour, within the general framework, there was plenty of room for improvisation and spontaneity, especially as far as Page is concerned and he certainly took advantage of that freedom.
Dazed and Confused was originally “picked up” by The Yardbirds after seeing Jake Holmes perform it in New York City when he opened for the band in summer of 1967. The title, bassline and general vibe of the song were lifted intact, but the lyrics were rewritten and even before Led Zeppelin came into fruition it served as an instrumental vehicle for all of Page’s guitar wizardry. (In 2010 Holmes filed a copyright infringement suit and is credited with inspiration and no doubt got a bunch of cash as the writing credit remains with Page). Zeppelin started playing Dazed at its first rehearsal and did a brisk 6+ minute version on their first album. But the song was in a constant state of evolution and serves as a very good barometer of how the bad grew over five years. As the song begins the confidence level I was talking about is evident in the dramatic intro and sung verses. Nothing is rushed and Bonham’s drum punctuations keep the song from being a dirge. Notice how Page varies the main riff every time he plays it, either with different phrasing, bends or playing the harmony notes of Jones’ bass riff at one point. At about the 4 minute mark the band is off!! and the camera starts to focus on Bonham and then Jones and Bonham as they follow and react to what Jimmy is doing. Along with all of his many other talents, John Bonham was easily one of the most reactive drummers that ever rock and rolled and Jones is also amazing. The fact that all of his brilliant lines are finger-picked also adds a layer of fluidity and depth to the song. Notice how Jimmy breaks his first set of riffing with some funky slash chords, setting up his next high-register solo. That’s improvised composition in action. As the song comes to it’s first breakdown the camera catches Bonham and Jones trying to puzzle out where Jimmy is going (5:38). Even though the band has been playing this song for 5 years at this point, but there is obviously no formula employed here. It’s called spontaneity and there was never a band as heavy as Zeppelin who pulled off this type of spontaneity so well. I love the interaction between Jones and Bonham at the 6 minute mark — it shows the essence of what I’m talking about so well. As guitar players we are usually told to “sing” our lines to make better improvisation. Notice how Bonham seems to sometimes “sing” his hits (6:19-6:25). You can hear snatches of the 3-years in the future riff for Achilles Last Stand in the arpeggios that set up the “San Francisco” bit. Excellent casual flamenco-esque strumming by Page on the “San Francisco” bits before bringing the wah-wah to lead to another heavy crescendo. Up and down the band goes, bringing everyone in Madison Square Garden with them. Isn’t this exciting? Robert Plant’s various vocalizations (scatting) have the same dynamic spontaneity throughout the song. He knows when to sing and then drop out and let the band play again. The “I Knows” that he brings in to accentuate the heavy part that comes in around 7:50 don’t mean anything and he isn’t really singing. His voice is just another instrument in the mix that adds another layer of excitement as the final bit of CRUSH and the segue before the song devolves into complete and total weirdness (and I mean that in a good way). Same with the “Aahs” and “Oohs” as the bass and drums are dropping out. The band leaves as Jimmy takes over on bow at about 9:00. So far the song has been paced beautifully highlighting the band’s talents for improvisation and live drama. Ethereal swoops and echo feedback replace the power of the band and it becomes a completely sonic “event”. The “song” has been left far behind. At 10:20 the Tolkien theater or Mars the Bringer of War (whichever you prefer) is in full effect with bow smacks on an echo-driven guitar with accompany send-outs to the audience. While I’m sure this was the inspiration behind Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel” violin solo“, it doesn’t look as silly in hindsight as it was made out to be. Sure, it’s not a 4 minute rock song, but John Cage and others outside the mainstream were doing stuff like this for years and Led Zeppelin’s fans, while maybe not classical music aficionados, ate it up. You don’t hear anyone screaming or heckling or any audience noise at all until Page does the dramatic slaps… and there is much rejoicing!! As Page continues bowing [the fantasy takes over and] Plant joins him with vocal accents as they fill the Garden with horror movie sounds that I’m sure were pretty awesome to an audience looking for a trip to another world (and under the influence of whatever they could get their hands on before the concert). See the internet and smart phones didn’t exist then kids. The rest of the band joins in with ambient noise effects before they return with the crunch and the blast at around the 16 minute mark. Once again the segue, helped by those little touches of Jones’ and Bonhams’ ambiance and impeccable timing, is perfect. There is another shot of John Bonham as the song kicks into the familiar riff that leads into the guitar/vocal interplay between Plant and Page. Bonham looks like such a serious (and sober) drummer on this performance doesn’t he? Very attentive to what Page and Jones are doing. A whole bunch of awesome, rapid-fire Page soloing follows on the same rhythm gallop. Back in the 70s this is what earned Page universal acclaim as the best guitarist of the era and it’s pretty impressive even today. The song breaks down into a funky rhythm that employs a prominent Hendrix-y 9th chord as it’s anchor. Jimmy has been playing guitar for almost twenty continuous minutes and has yet to repeat himself. Another dramatic major, happy sounding break leads into a different interaction with Plant (along with a bit more theater that totally pleases the audience). And once again Page is off with an Over, Under, Sideways Down-style riff and Jones and Bonham follow him until the song breaks again for another interaction with Plant in a higher register. The scene with the longhair is puzzling and says to me “we don’t have the film of that part of the performance.” Why that bit is chosen or what it’s supposed to represent I’ve never been able to puzzle out. At about 23 minutes the song breaks down again and goes into something that sounds vaguely like Black Sabbath before climaxing into chaotic noise and spiraling to earth and the final familiar strains of Dazed and Confused as you know it from the record are heard again. On the familiar outro figure Page once again takes off with screaming obbligatos and fleet-fingered wah chording and Jones and Bonham turn the rhythmic vibe into something that gets them smiling at each other (26:35-26:50) before a final burst of feedback and Plant’s echoes signal the ending chord slam and Bonham drum thrashing that finishes the song. While there was probably some post-production employed to really tighten the song up, other versions from the tour are extremely close and sound almost as good. Silly or dated as this might seem to some there is literally no one else in the history of rock who pulled this off as well, then or now.
Given the nature of the above song and performance, Led Zeppelin has a lot in common with other “jamming” bands like The Grateful Dead, Cream and The Allman Brothers, much more than most “headbangers” would give them credit for. It’s interesting that many of the heavy bands that Zeppelin influenced picked up on the heaviness and the occasional acoustic ballad, but were not adept at either live improvisation or long orchestral-like pieces of music. All of that more or less faded out with the 70s. Eddie Van Halen, Randy Rhoads and everyone who followed into the 80s did not play 30 minute songs and did very little improvisation, except for their feature solos. That whole approach to writing and performance became strictly the domain of “jam bands” most of whom descend from the California sound of the 60s and 70s. Coincidentally, there is a lot of that to Zeppelin as well — Robert Plant in particular was a huge fan of San Francisco bands and it definitely shows in his Zeppelin lyrics and his solo material. This is probably why Page and the rest of the band take umbrage of the title Heavy Metal to describe their music, because they weren’t, especially when compared with what came along in the 80s and beyond. (Notice that most of the time Page isn’t using that much distortion live compared to heavy guitarists of later years). The heaviness that Zeppelin brought was always balanced with nuance and other elements, which is very clear by analyzing Dazed and Confused, always one of their heaviest songs. Guitarists of the next generation would by and large take the obvious and simplest elements of Zep’s heavy music and make it louder, heavier, faster and, in some cases, more intricate and in the process lose the elements that gave Zeppelin’s music it’s timeless depth, dynamics and (live) spontaneity.
Of course, I was and am a big fan of the later heavy music and have seen many of those bands and played more than a few of those longs in my own bands. However, there is something slightly intense and magical about the ability of a group of musicians being able to improvise or approach music with the type of dynamics and movement inherent in the Led Zeppelin catalog. Call it rock, call it jazz, call it what you like, there comes a point when the quality of the music or performance renders all description and classification useless because there ain’t enough adjectives to really convey what goes on!
Lately I’ve been listening to and playing a WHOLE LOTTA Led Zeppelin. Killin’!! Was there ever a more awesome band? I think not. They’ve been in the news lately for a multitude of reasons, not that this is the reason for my listening party. I’ve never really stopped ever since that first blast a million years ago when I was a wee lad with long hair and an attitude. So much has been written and said about them you’re probably thinking, what could I possibly learn from reading another line? Well, hehehe, actually, I dunno. At the very least there will be some cool links to the far corners of the online Zeppelin universe, some personal anecdotes, and maybe some of my usual stupid humor. Hey you got a couple minutes! That’s why you’re here. Unlike other stuff where I’ve written one LONG post, I’m gonna break this up into dispatches, almost like I’m Carl Kolchak or something. Be honest, when’s the last time you thought about that guy…The NIGHT STALKER? The 70s were pretty flippin’ rad if you were there, weren’t they?
Of course the undisputed kings of 70s rock music were Led Zeppelin. 40 years later and they still have the power to excite, as they did in 2007 at their first BIG reunion concert ever (except for Live Aid in 1985, but Phil Collins played drums at that show so it can’t possibly count). Many people were under the impression that a tour and possible new music was going to emerge from the joint efforts of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham, the son of the late, very great John Bonham. However, 7+ years later, the world and 3/4 of “Led Zeppelin” are dismayed that Robert Plant isn’t interested. This has annoyed Jimmy Page to no end, but Jimmy has been annoyed since Live Aid as we will see in a later installment. I respect Robert Plant for his decision. Outside of Pete Townshend, (maybe) I can’t think of anyone from those years who has actually managed to have as interesting, successful and varied career (Roger Waters? Don Henley?). The easiest thing for him to do would be to say “sod it, I’m onboard”, but he won’t, or hasn’t thus far. Some have estimated that a Zeppelin world tour would be the first BILLION DOLLAR (yes that’s with a “B”) tour ever. That’s pretty amazing for a band that hasn’t existed since 1980, isn’t it? The might Zep has been getting a lot of long overdue accolades and they even appear on television shows and stuff now. (Dave Letterman must think there are people in his audience who doesn’t know the Zep story or who “Sonny Boy Williams” and other blues musicians are).
Another interesting item is that the estate of former and late Spirit guitarist Randy California and ex-Spirit bassist Mark Andes are suing Jimmy Page and the band for ripping off the Spirit song Taurus to create the initial theme of Stairway to Heaven. Randy had a pretty cool career in his own right; playing for Jimmy James (later Jimi Hendrix who gave him the name “California”) in New York before Jimi made the trip to England and rock and roll stardom. While still a teenager Randy co-founded Spirit, who headlined on various dates in 1968 and 1969 with the up and coming Led Zeppelin. Randy died tragically in the Pacific Ocean in 1997 while rescuing his son. The actual court filing is kind of a trip and can be viewed here. One thing that strikes me is that a lot of the allegations on how Stairway came about have been pulled from 3rd party books on the band or music magazine interviews. I guess maybe info of that nature is pertinent and would be admissible in court. (I found this on ACHILLES LAST STAND, one of the longest-running and best Zep websites on the net) So is there a case? It’s a good thing Zep’s former manager Peter Grant is no longer in the land of the living because I’m sure there would be hell to pay!
You can listen to the two intros side by side below. The operative word in that sentence is, of course, intro. Stairway, as everyone knows, goes through multiple movements and is a completely different song from Taurus. The other thing to remember is you can’t copyright a chord progression — the descending minor figure played in both songs is not exactly the same. The bass notes are identical from the “A” to the “F#” but in Stairway there are counterpoint notes on the high E string that don’t exist in Taurus. After the “F#/D” chord the progressions and songs are completely different. So basically we’re talking about an A minor chord with a descending bass note run. Personally I’m not sure that California deserves a writing credit on Stairway to Heaven for that. So much of music is recycled and there were probably at least 15 contemporaries of Fernando Sor who played similar lines back in the 1800s. It’s interesting to note that the lawyer bringing the case, one Francis Malofiy, was “admonished by the judge” in another case involving a copyright lawsuit against Usher and 19 other people. Judge Paul Diamond suggested Malofiy should be “considered for disbarment” and the case was thrown out of court. Ruh Roh!! I’m not a legal pro but this lawsuit would have been way more topical and appropriate in, I dunno, 1975 maybe?
Finally, Led Zeppelin I, II, and III were re-released last year as deluxe editions, with new outtakes, and songs/performances never heard, except on bootlegs. Jimmy’s money quote to Rolling Stone was:
“Everything is being transferred from analog to a higher-resolution digital format,”…”That’s one of the problems with the Zeppelin stuff. It sounds ridiculous on MP3. You can’t hear what’s there properly.”
Umm…Jimmy, babe, dude, whatever…perfectionism is great and all, but my mp3s of the mighty Zep sound just fine. But I guess if you got the jack to spend on the umpteenth reissue of any of these albums, go for it! Me I’ll watch this instead:
Iwas looking for something in my closet the other day and came across this magazine. Always loved the cover art. Brilliant! It’s hard to believe this almost 21 years old already (it was the 12/93 issue). How time flies. But the Song Remains the Same doesn’t it? The mystique, magic and music of Led Zeppelin continues to hold up to the present day. A quick glance at the other names on the cover yields some nods of recognition and maybe even a few “oh yeahs”, but it’s not like the legacy of Smashing Pumpkins or White Zombie is setting the world on fire. I guess people still buy magazines (do they?). I’m so out of touch since I found this here internet thing. Like much of the print world, I do believe most printed publications are also available to be viewed online or people just don’t bother anymore since there are exactly zero musicians in the western hemisphere who can’t be found online in some form or another. The other attraction, at least back in 1993, was that songs were tabbed out with painstaking detail, which, in the case of a song like Zep’s Ten Years Gone, was a bit of an undertaking best left to the professionals. However, even this feature, along with gear and music reviews has been usurped by advances in computer applications and the mighty online community. It is a nice little reminder of what used to be and inside were other reminders of things that used to be.
Can you believe this image? Have you ever seen anything like that? No, not Robert Plant playing guitar, although I don’t think there are many pics of him out there playing an axe at what looks to be a LZ session (maybe the “outdoor” recording of Black Country Woman). (Both pics are courtesy of Eddie Kramer) I mean the very crappy text/image spacing between Robert’s picture and the text at left. I didn’t manipulate, that’s how it is in the magazine. What’s really funny is a guy named Michael Chatham is given a “typography” credit at the beginning of the article. There’s something you don’t see very often, but maybe it wasn’t his fault. Blame the temp who was doing paste-up or whatever. Anyhow, this interview with Andy Johns and Eddie Kramer details recording the band at various times during their career; Kramer on II and then Johns taking over for III and IV before Kramer came back for Houses of the Holy. Interestingly enough, according to Kramer, III started out at Electric Ladyland in New York but a roadie affiliated with the band spilled Indian food on one of the studio carpets and refused to clean it up. This led to a row between Kramer, who had a major role with Jimi Hendrix in planning and getting Electric Lady built and the band who backed the roadie. So long-story-short, they told each other to piss off for a few years. Another interesting tidbit involving Kramer and Page is that the middle section of Whole Lotta Love was mixed basically the same way as the “sound paintings” (1983) on Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland record. “…we just flayed, around the console twiddling every knob we could. While the Altec console might have limited our options, especially the panning effects, we somehow managed to stretch our limitations and create a very effective mix.” (The Altec console used to mix Whole Lotta Love had exactly 2, count ’em, 2 pan pots. Wow!) Both engineers gave Page high marks as a producer and as a band, Zeppelin were very quick in the studio once the arrangement was set and the tricky bits of timing had been worked out. Neither Bonham on the basic tracks or Plant on the vocals took more than a few takes to get what everyone hears and has heard over the past 40+ years. Jones and Page would overdub as much as was necessary to fill the song out and because the band, especially Bonham were so easy to record, the mixing was almost never a laborious process either. Johns recollections of IV include Stairway coming in as a finished piece, placing mics on a stairway landing and then adding heavy compression and a bit of reverb to the drums for the very awesome When the Levee Breaks, which Bonham was very happy about and not getting Four Sticks right even after 3-4 tries at the mix. Although they found something they could live with, he blamed too much initial compression during the recording and this was the one regret of an otherwise perfect set of sessions.
In one way I think I’m the typical Zep head when it comes to their albums — I through Physical Graffiti are as close to perfect as a band can get. Presence is ok, In Through the Out Door was less than ok and a harbinger of THE END. Overall, my favorite album is probably Houses of the Holy, not so much because of the songs, even though they are all good and several are fantastic. No it’s that shimmering brightness combined with CRUNCH that wasn’t really captured as well on any other album. Houses of the Holy was recorded at Mick Jagger’s mansion, Stargroves, in the English countryside and maybe it was the mood the locale created or maybe because it was the band approaching the pinnacle of their career or the sounds they were able to get from the rooms that were used. While Kramer didn’t have much to say in this issue about the recording of Houses of the Holy, he recalled in the infamous book Hammer of the Gods that all four members of the group were dancing in a line on the lawn as they listened to the Dancing Days playback. As others have said, “the album sounds orange” (a reflection of the color of the cover art) and I agree. Those who go more for the Zeppelin blooze riff-fests don’t like this record as much and I like those albums too, but sometimes the sound, especially on Physical Graffiti has a very muddy quality to it. Some of the tracks for Graffiti had been recorded at the Houses of the Holy sessions which is why they sound a bit different, but the tracks recorded specifically for the record (Kashmir!) suffer from a lack of clarity. Just my opinion.
The final interesting bits of the magazine’s profile of LZ are thus: An interview with Robert Plant that sounds like it could have been done yesterday, or in 1984 and some quick musical tabs of some of Jimmy’s best riffs. At the time it was great to see the latter. I literally smacked myself on the side of the head when I realized how overcomplicated I had been trying to make the outro to What is and What Should Never Be. It really is dead easy and any of the footage now available shows how completely simple it is. The Albert Hall 1970 is a good place to start. The interview with Robert is funny in that he pokes a bit of fun at Jimmy Page and the idea of “going to prison to go around the world playing Black Dog”. Of course around the time he was giving this interview plans were being made for the big Page/Plant reunion that would commence recording during the following year. The project was acoustic and very different than a straight-up reunion, including a limited long-term commitment, which was probably part of the attraction. Plant says as far back as 1993, “I don’t think of myself as a rock singer anymore”, and part of the reason is he can’t. All of the wild screaming that many associate with Zeppelin (from hearing the records, especially the early ones) is no longer doable. The guy is closing in on 70, so he deserves some slack. In the 20 plus years since this interview he has been a very successful solo artist and collaborator and has earned much respect outside of the Led Zeppelin milieu. While there is definitely some attraction to playing great music with top-notch musicians like Page, Jones and Jason Bonham, he’s a guy who can pretty much call anyone he wants to a session, so the avoidance of a big reunion (then or now) is completely understandable, even though it’s still a hot topic.
One of the strangest most far-out rumors that dogged Led Zeppelin throughout their career was the one that alleged they (minus John Paul Jones) had made a pact with Satan, dark master of all things heavy. This surfaced in the mainstream in books like Hammer of the Gods and most people, including the band, wrote this off as silly legende right out of the realms of Anton LaVey and the Manson Family. When I wrote about Gimme Shelter I explored some of the very strange connections between famous rock stars and people who maybe felt a little too comfortable on the dark side of the street. These “satanic” rumors also dogged the Stones for years and having a very popular song titled Sympathy For the Devil can lead to a whole lot of misunderstandings. Some (referencing Hammer of the Gods again) believe that by Presence and specifically Nobody’s Fault but Mine, Robert was looking for a way out from what he saw as the intensely negative vibe that was starting to surround the band and his life. Statements he made after the 1977 tour (notable for it’s junkie overindulgence, sub-par performances and ultra-violence) and the death of his son Karac hint that these feelings had only increased. Childhood friend John Bonham’s death was supposedly the final nail and ever since then Led Zeppelin as it was has ceased to exist for Robert Plant. Or so the story goes. Personally, I don’t believe that Robert and the rest of the band signed anything in blood to Satan, but maybe there is a case for a more nuanced reading of “dark forces”. I found out a couple days ago that during the period Peter Grant was negotiating Robert’s first solo record deal in the early 1980s, Robert sold all of his rights to the first 10 Led Zeppelin albums away to an unknown buyer. He retains creative control and the whole issue of what he gets from reissues and new product like the 2003 DVD is not so clear, but think about that! You want to talk about cutting the cord! Was it a financial decision? Was it about wanting to make it completely on his own post 1980? I dunno, maybe. The figure he got for his rights (and you can read an informative thread on the official Led Zeppelin forum) was $7 million. Obviously he would’ve made much more than that had he hung on to them; this was before compact discs came into existence. But Robert is quite wealthy and has succeeded in his quest to be a respected bona-fide artist outside of the realms of Led Zeppelin. Perhaps that was his only consideration. Perhaps, he wasn’t (and isn’t) entirely comfortable with Led Zeppelin’s legacy, especially outside the music. While the Zeppelin Devil Pact is silly and unsubstantiated, the band’s image as egocentric, intoxicated barbarians was earned and well-deserved. Some of it was all it good fun and one would be hard-pressed to find a band in the 70s that didn’t indulge in mindless hooliganism from time to time. But since the better half of Robert has always cultivated an intelligent and spiritual vibe, it is possible that he made a decision in the early 80s to close the door, let go and move on…permanently, as in “I’m not that guy anymore”. If nothing else, there was probably an intense desire to not let those crazy days be the complete Robert Plant legacy and he has certainly spent the last 30+ years ensuring that Led Zeppelin would not be his whole story. But it will forever be a huge part of his history and legend and as he says in the following clip, The Song Remains the Same!