C O N T E N T S Preface xiii Personae Gratae xxiii PART 1 ALL SHOOK UP 1 1 Surbigloom Blues 5 2 The Impenetrable Brotherhood 19 3 Walking into Stourbridge 31 4 The Freakout Zone 44 5 Happenings Fifty Years’ Time Ago 60 6 Turning to Gold 74 PART 2 IN THE LIGHT 85 7 Whatever Jimmy Wants 87 8 Atlantic Crossing 105 ix.
P r e f a c e In Through the Out Door: “The Biggest Unknown Group in the World . . .” Led Zeppelin was unobtainable and unattainable, and we very seldom talked about it. Basically, the myth propagated itself.
P e r s o n a e G r ata e : V o i c e s i n t h i s B o o k Justin AdAms World music–steeped guitarist and Plant’s principal ’90s sideman sAm Aizer Worked at Swan Song’s New York office, mainly with Bad Company steve Albini Produced the 1998 Page and Plant album Walking into Clarksdale Keith AlthAm Interviewed Jimmy Page, the Yardbirds, and Led Zeppelin for NME, Record Mirror, and other publications Kenneth Anger Black Arts–dabbling director of Lucifer Rising, for which Jimmy Page supposedly failed to complete a soundtrack miKe Appleton Producer of BBC2’s Old Grey Whistle Test and mate of Zeppelin’s dicK Asher Epic Records chief in the late ’60s, snubbed by Page and Peter Grant in favor of Atlantic JAne Ayer Publicist at Atlantic Records’ L.A. office and Zeppelin confidante xxiii.
P A R T 1 All Shook Up B efore there was Led Zeppelin, there was a plethora of pre-Zeppelin bands, only one of which could be said in any meaningful sense to have made it. That was the Yardbirds, a blues boot camp for three legendary axmen who came out of the so-dubbed Surrey Delta south- west of London: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, the latter pair overlapping in the lineup for a few electrifying months between 1966 and 1967.
1 Surbigloom Blues They come from quiet towns and near suburbs, terraced houses thrown up in the aftermath of German bombs. Places you don’t see until you leave them, and why would you want to leave them, the same roses on the same trellises? —Zachary Lazar, Sway (2008) ALAN CALLAN (president of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label in the U.K., 1977–1979) In 1977, I was at the Plaza Hotel in New York with Jimmy Page, and we were going out somewhere. It was absolutely piss- ing down as we walked out through the side door of the hotel to where the limo was waiting.
2 The Impenetrable Brotherhood The artists were the least important people, because they didn’t write the songs. You would much rather have the session singers and the session musicians than the guys who’d just about learned their three chords.
4 The Freakout Zone The groups come from all over England, and if they make it at the Marquee, that’s the big break. The management here has recording studios and can help and promote a favoured group. The hipless boys from Birmingham have gone over about seventy per cent this evening. —Jane Wilson, “Teenagers,” from Len Deighton’s London Dossier (1967) JOHN CRUTCHLEY (guitarist in Plant’s pre-Zeppelin band Listen) One Monday night in 1965, there was a DJ playing records at Oldhill Plaza. Things like “Land of a Thousand Dances,” some Stax and Motown stuff. After we’d nearly finished our set, he asked if he could come up and sing with us. It was Robert. So we started to look forward to Old- hill on a Monday. He’d jump up and do “Everybody Needs Somebody” or “Smokestack Lightning.” So we said, “D’ya wanna come in as the singer?” He was a breath of fresh air.
5 Happenings Fifty Years’ Time Ago The English, I think, have always had a better idea of the multi-voiced nature of performance than Americans. They were able to view the blues as theatre, which it was and still is.