Led Zeppelin - Biography





It wasn't just Led Zeppelin's thunderous volume, sledge-hammer beat and edge-of-mayhem arrangements that made them the most influential and successful heavy metal pioneers--it was their finesse. Like their ancestors the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin used a guitar style that drew heavily on the blues, and their early repertoire included remakes of songs by bluesmen Howlin' Wolf, Albert King and Willie Dixon. But what Jimmy Page brought to the band was a unique understanding of the guitar and the recording studio as electronic instruments, and of rock as sculptured noise. Like Jimi Hendrix, Page had a reason for every bit of distortion, feedback, reverberation and out-and-out noise that he incorporated -- and few of the bands that imitate Led Zeppelin can make the same claim.

Page and Robert Plant were grounded also in British folk music and fascinated by mythology, Middle Earth fantasy and the occult, as became increasingly evident from the band's later albums (the fourth LP is entitled in druidic runes). A song that builds from a folk-baroque acoustic setting to screaming heavy metal, "Stairway to Heaven" fittingly became the best-known Led Zeppelin song and a staple of radio airplay, although like most of their "hits," it was never released as a single.

When the Yardbirds fell apart in the summer of 1968, Page was left with rights to the group's name and a string of concert obligations. He enlisted John Paul Jones, who had done session work with the Rolling Stones, Herman's Hermits, Lulu, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey. Page and Jones had first met, jammed together and discussed forming a group when both were hired to back Donovan on his Hurdy Gurdy Man LP.

Page had hoped to complete the group with drummer B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum ("A Whiter Shade of Pale") and singer Terry Reid. Neither was available, but Reid recommended Plant, who in turn suggested Bonham, drummer for his old Birmingham group, Band of Joy. The four first played together as the session group behind P.J. Proby on his Three Week Hero. In October 1968, they embarked on a tour of Scandinavia under the name the New Yardbirds. Upon their return to England they recorded their debut album in thirty hours.
They had a unique sound, at least in part because of the four musician's disparate tastes: As Robert Plant put it, "This is how the band was influenced. Jimmy was country/blues and rock & roll. John is soul. There's not a lot to do in the suburbs of London. Where can you go? So I used to spend a lot of my time glued to the radio. A lot of loud string music."

Eventually, they took their name from a flippant remark made by Who bass player John Entwistle concerning supergroups. In the fall of 1966, Entwistle and the Who's drummer Keith Moon had been involved in a recording session with Yardbirds guitarists Page and Jeff Beck and session pianist Nicky Hopkins that produced the song "Beck's Bolero." At the time, there was a discussion of forming a group, which never came to fruition. Later, however, Entwistle and Moon were still unhappy about being in the Who, and Entwistle, speaking to Yardbirds tour manager Richard Cole, brought up the idea of the supergroup again, saying they should call it Lead Zeppelin because it would go over like a lead balloon. Page, of course, heard about the name from Cole, and eventually used it for the new group (with a slight spelling change).

Led Zeppelin toured the U.S. in early 1969 opening for the hippie psychedelic-flavoured San Francisco band, Vanilla Fudge. Their first album (Led Zeppelin) was released in February; within two months it had reached Billboard's Top Ten. It was an amalgam of various styles. According to Jimmy Page: "The music that influenced the first Led Zeppelin album was Muddy Waters, [Pete] Townshend, [Joan] Baez, a lot of rockabilly."

Their second album (Led Zeppelin II) reached #1 two months after its release, and after that every Led Zeppelin album ever released went platinum (one million records sold in the U.S.). By 1975 their immense ticket and album sales had made Led Zeppelin the most popular rock'n'roll group in the world. In 1974, they established their own record label, Swan Song.
On August 4, 1975, Plant and his family were seriously injured in a car crash while vacationing on the Greek island of Rhodes. As a result, the group toured very infrequently. That, and speculation among fans that supernatural forces may have come into play (Plant believed in psychic phenomena, and Page, whose interest in the occult was well known, resides in the former home of infamous satanist Aleister Crowley) also heightened the Zeppelin mystique.

In 1976, Led Zeppelin released Presence. They toured America in 1977, but the tour was cut short by the sudden death of Plant's young son, Karac. The abrupt end of the tour would also mark the end of an era for the band. When Zeppelin re-emerged in September, 1979 with In Through The Out Door and played their first concert dates in years, they were clearly not the cocky, heavy metal heroes who had previously ruled stages and album charts for a decade.

In 1980 tragedy struck again. On September 25, drummer John Bonham died at Jimmy Page's Windsor home of what was described as asphyxiation; he had inhaled his own vomit after having consumed alcohol and fallen asleep. That December, Zeppelin released a cryptic statement to the effect that they could no longer continue as they were. Soon thereafter, it was rumored that Plant and Page were going to form a band called XYZ (ex-Yes and Zeppelin) with Alan White and Chris Squire of Yes, but the group never materialized.

Aside from recording the soundtrack to the film "Death Wish II" in 1983 and appearing in the brief ARMS tour (to benefit former Small-Faces member Ronnie Lane, who suffered multiple sclerosis), Jimmy Page was barely heard from in the first few years of the 1980s. He finally saw the light of day at the beginning of 1985 with a new band called The Firm, an outfit he led with former Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers (Bad Company had been signed to Swan Song, Led Zeppelin's own record label). In 1988 he issued the mostly instrumental Outrider LP as a solo effort, but so far he has been unable to rekindle the flame of this Zeppelin past.
Led Zeppelin was a magic combination of artists in just the right place at just the right time. To have held the band together so successfully for so long is a rare achievement in itself. But the amount of influence they have had on the course of rock'n'roll puts them in a class of a very select few, now and forever.

Looking back is an odd phenomenon for those who lived those heady times. Jimmy Page feels now that "whatever happened, happened. When you look back, you become analytical. And when you analyze an entire piece it has something to do with the mood you're in or the condition you work under. And I was very intimidated. I don't know, maybe I had a complex or maybe I was neurotic, but I always thought, 'This is all too much. Am I really here?'"

As for their feelings about the band now, Plant wants "to maintain the dignity of the group. I think that the way that it is now, whatever it was that people loved, is not going to be spoiled. I think the active Led Zeppelin was bold and brave and honest, and it took risks and chances which are no longer possible if you start from scratch. It captured all of the wonderful elements of music to which we'd been exposed. We begged, borrowed and stole and then made something that was particularly original, and by which a lot of other music has been measured. And I'm very proud of people being so enchanted by it."

The biography was written by Joy Williams and taken from http://www.artistwd.com/joyzine/music/ledzep/zeppelin.htm