This article was published just weeks before the release of “Physical Graffiti”, their sixth studio album and the one with “Kashmir” on it. And you better not tell me that you haven`t heard that song… This album is among a lot of music critics regarded as one of the very best in the history of rock. Here is a report from the start of their tour in the USA, where they later sold eight million copies of the aforementioned double-album, awarding it 16x platinum in 2006.
Enjoy this report from the frontlines.
“Karen Carpenter couldn`t last ten minutes with a Zeppelin number.”
Does this statement look interesting to you? It DOES? Then you must be a LED ZEPPELIN fan. Hi there! And welcome to our centre spread. Your tour-guide this week is LISA ROBINSON and sandwiches will be provided at half-price.
Last time I was in Chicago was in 1969 when I stayed with The Stooges at the Skid Row Holiday Inn.
Chicago. They say they do things they don`t do on Broadway, but I doubt it.
Led Zeppelin are holed up in the fadingly elegant Ambassador East Hotel (“fadingly elegant” means that the telephones don`t work) where the main attractions are the chi-chi Pump Room and the Buttery Disco.
The hotel brochure describes the Buttery as “The (new) Buttery, dramatic NOW (sic) discotheque, for the smart young set, is an after dark magnet. Compelling music for dancing and listening seven nights a week lures the chic and the celebrated. That blazing aggregation, “The J. B. Polks” headlines the show Tuesday through Sat. from 9 until ?”.
John Bonham put on a suit to go and check the place out one night and returned five minutes later. “So much for that,” he said.
The hotel is boring and pretty calm, but Zep`s presence is felt. Although the celebrated Mr. Onoko (the man who hid in the jungle for 30 years) is staying here, the guards discreetly lurking here and there are for the band. Just in case.
It`s pretty early in the day, but Robert struts and preens around his expansive suite, happy and ever-willing to pose for photos.
“Don`t count them all as my taste,” he warns, as I rifle through the LPs scattered on his coffee table. Margie Joseph, Aretha Franklin, Danny O`Keefe, Otis Redding, The Guess Who.
“Except for Danny O`Keefe and The Guess Who. The Guess Who are great.” He twinkles. “Really. They`re my favourite group right now. I mean, that guy who used to be the singer – we-e-ell, I just thought he was doing Robert Plant imitations. But the one now is terrific.
“What happened to the other guy? Randy who? BTO? Oh yeah? Are they a big group here?
“Excuse me,” he grins, fondling his crotch just a bit.
Ohmigod! Ahem. The tour, Robert.
“I`ll tell you. At that Chislehurst Caves function I realised I really missed the unity of the four of us. I realised that above everything else, above record companies, above films, we were Led Zeppelin – above everything.
“From that moment on we started rehearsing, and getting into full gear. Some of the new tracks already sound better than they do on the album. They`re really building.
“So once again we recorded at just the right time – because everybody felt the same way. We worked really hard, we worked ourselves almost into the ground. I mean, despite the fact that we don`t see each other every day and that Bonzo lives right down the road and half the time he`s at Hereford Market selling bulls, it still seems that at the right time we got together and we write something that keeps us all satisfied – musically.
“I love the album. There are some real humdinger, roaring tracks on it – and then there are some others that are going to take a while…and then people will see.”
Last time we spoke you mentioned something about this disc being a bit more, um, groinal.
“Well,” he smiles, “some of the lyrics are a bit more `groinal`, if we can start using that phrase.”
I like it.
“It is nice, isn`t it? Wonder what it means?
“I know what Nick Kent said about the stuff we can `do in our sleep.` And I can transpose that from his rather campish pen – obviously half the time he uses invisible ink – but that track “Wanton Song”…he`s right. This is what Zeppelin has been all about, which is so groinal…
“We`re really playing well now, we`re quite mature, you know. We can play stuff like `Black Dog` – which is the Zeppelin that comes out of our ears – but we can also alter the mood with things like `Kashmir` or `The Song Remains The Same` or `No Quarter` where the mood changes so beautifully.
“In a big auditorium that`s so fabulous – to take the mood and change the whole thing.”
“I was really nervous before the first gig,” Plant confesses, suddenly. “We`re always so nervous. I dunno why – I think it`s because we`re so self-critical.
“As we walked up to the stage that night Jimmy turned to me and said `This is really deja vu, you know?`, we have been here before…as the heart went into the mouth.
“And of course, if Jimmy gets sick or anything goes wrong with him it affects me too.”
What are you looking forward to most on this tour?
“Oh dear. Well. I`ve already had the biggest turn-on I could imagine, and that was going to watch Buddy Guy and Hound Dog Taylor last night. I mean, really – the blues isn`t dead. Al Green is great, but underneath all the shim-shim, there`s a town called Chicago…and Buddy Guy is still fantastic.
“You know you`re getting to where the music is when the FBI guy in the front seat locks his car door…You can just sit there and literally shiver listening to that man, and he`s playing a cafe and his amplifier is on top of a pinball machine.”
And the old road fever?
“You`re talking to The New Robert Plant. My perspective has changed on a lot of things. I`ve been through so many tours that now I see that there are ways and means of making it more enjoyable without having to rush into anything or burning yourself out. If there`s any raping or looting about…well, it`s done with good taste, I suppose…
“We still manage to entertain ourselves like a right young bunch of executives.”
“I`d like to have it publicised that I came in after Karen Carpenter in the Playboy drummer poll,” roars John Bonham as I enter the dressing room before the first show.
“She couldn`t last ten minutes with a Zeppelin number,” he sneers.
Bonzo`s leaning back against the couch wearing a splendid suede patchworked winter coat – bought new in Chicago out of necessity. Only John Paul Jones came prepared for the weather, bringing along a maroon fur the same colour as was his wife`s hair last tour.
Jones is still fairly reticent – but he smiles more now, so I go up to him in the bathroom where he`s combing his carefully tailored hair (long, spikey sideburns and ducktailed in the back) and ask him why he doesn`t do interviews.
“Awh…they want to interview the stars, not the rhythm section.”
Can I quote that?
“No! My first quote in six years? It isn`t going to be that.”
“Did it sound snide?”
No, it`s funny.
“Oh,” he says, disappointed. “It was supposed to sound snide.”
Of course, personal manager Richard Cole is there. Backstage, as everywhere, he sees everything.
Although he speaks with a bit of longing about getting on to New York and the Oyster Bar (“Oh, they`ll see me coming. Here`s old golden pen again…”), right now he`s keeping careful watch on the backstage area of the Chicago Stadium. Someone dreadful approaches. “Do you remember me from 1973?” the boy asks. “I was very close with John Paul…”
Richard`s eyes roll towards the heavens. He doesn`t want to know.
Rapidly, he hands the kid two tickets – the most polite way of telling anyone to piss off I`ve ever witnessed.
Three girls race in, chilled by the freezing cold.
“RICHARD, RICHARD!!” they squeal. “Thank GOD you`re here!”
And – with remarkable finesse, Cole smiles, hands them three tickets, and sends them on their way – all in the time it`s taken him to mutter “Oh, Christ” under his breath.
Zeppelin just couldn`t do a tour without him. It`s that simple.
The group goes onstage to the roar of 20,000 kids. “Rock And Roll” bursts forth, followed by the new “Sick Again”.
By the time the band have got into “Over The Hills And Far away,” it seems that something`s wrong.
“We`ve got a couple of predicaments,” Plant apologises. “First, my inability to come to terms with the climate – and second, our guitarist broke his finger.” (More on that later.)
“When The Levee Breaks”, “The Song Remains The Same,” and “Rain Song” take us to the new and obviously powerful “Kashmir”. By the time they`ve done “In My Time Of Dying” and “Stairway”, the kids are responding hysterically enough to demand two encores: “Black Dog” and “Communication Breakdown”.
Here, the tour de force of the elaborate and impressive lighting system comes in to play. The band`s return is to the accompaniment of the legend “LED ZEPPELIN” lit up in four foot high letters at the rear of the stage.
As they come offstage, they`re wrapped in red terry-cloth robes for the limo ride back to the hotel.
“Now they`re called Red Zeppelin,” cracks Danny Goldberg, but the mood is pretty low.
The second night is something else altogether. As the lights dim, the crowd start to cheer and backstage Robert smiles and says: “They`re playing my song.”
Fifteen seconds onstage and everyone knows it`s going to be hot. Perhaps the first night letdown`s done some good in that they`ve had to really try harder – it`s amazing how much they care. After all, they`re making the same amount of money. They`ve sold out everywhere.
But they`ve been truly depressed and confused all day about the first Chicago show.
No matter; tonight they`re playing with that old black Zeppelin magic again, and the audience go wild. “Trampled Underfoot” is magnificent. With a “Come Together”-like rhythm and real rocking guitar, it sounds as if the Beatles battled the Stones in a parking lot – and Led Zeppelin won.
A roll of toilet paper is thrown onstage and Peter Grant mumbles “Uh-oh. That doesn`t mean Bonzo shit himself, does it?” Bonzo, meanwhile, is dressed in a white boilersuit and black bowler hat. His roadie, Mick Hinton, is dressed identically (“It`s a double act,” says Cole); in addition, however, Hinton has one very carefully painted Clockwork Orange eye…
“We`d like to dedicate this next song to all the people who came to see us without our having a record out,” Plant announces as the strains of “Stairway” begin.
Cheers, roars, hoo-ha. There`s no doubt that this is the American Zeppelin favourite.
“Of course,” he adds, “it`s not that we haven`t been busy. We`ve just been starting a record company, and making a film, and jerking ourselves off…”
At noon the following day Jimmy Page comes to my room for breakfast. (Eek! – Ed.).
He`s in a really good mood because he got five hours sleep (a lot, for him) and he knows last night`s show was great.
He describes his broken finger.
“I`m having to develop a three-finger style,” he laughs. “But it`s a drag. It happened when I was on a train in England – on my way to rehearsal. I was at the front of the train planning to rush off and grab a taxi, when the train stopped abruptly. I must have grabbed at something, and the finger got caught in the hinge of the door.
“I was just totally numb – numb with shock. I just looked at it and said…`Oh, no`…I mean it`s the most important finger for a guitarist: third finger, left hand. The wedding ring finger…
“It`s the one that does all the leverage, and most of the work, and it really came as a blow because I just couldn`t play with it, I`m still not really playing with it. Last night I used it on a couple of chord changes, but it still hurts.
“I`m starting to master a three-fingered technique, though. I may start to work at this at home – work out three and two -finger techniques so that whenever there`s another accident – which I`m bound to have, at the beginning of an important tour! – I`ll be ready for it.”
He orders scrambled eggs with ketchup, English muffins, and tea – which, although he`s been mixing a lot of vitamin enriched banana daiquaris in his room, is the most he eats in a day on the road. “I`m off eating, I`m trying to photosynthesize – like a plant,” he laughs.
Page, perhaps more than the others, suffers from the rigours of the road.
“But this time I`m going to get some Afghani hangings and my rooms are going to look like – well, like mosques. You get loads of carpets and lay them on top of each other and have everything candlelit.
“My home`s like that, you see, and I`d like to bring my home on tour. But I can`t – so I have to try this.
“The situation with the house now is that when people come to the door, if they`ve got anything worthwhile saying, they`re allowed in.
“If they`re idiots, or cranks or fanatics, they`re welcome to walk around the grounds.
“You`d be surprised though. Some people really have a lot to say.
“The reason I got the bookshop together was because there was not one bookshop in London with a good collection of occult books and I was so pissed off at not being able to get the books I wanted.
“And, whereas I can`t ever see that shop making money, there`ll be a bit of publishing there – astrology books and things like that.”
Discussing the Zeppelin film, Page describes his solo sequence.
“Mine`s a fantasy sequence of The Hermit – The Hermit tarot card that`s on the fourth LP. Lots of laboratory work – ageing faces and things like that.
“I was exhausted at the end of it because I had to stand up all the time…absolutely rigid, my eyes unblinking, totally constant. I really had to bring out all my yoga training for that.
“The hardest bit was when I had to hold the lantern out.
“Anyway, it`s an interpretation of The Hermit card and, when people see it, they`ll understand what it`s all about. It all ties in with the violin part of `Dazed And Confused`.
“The movie`s a musical. It starts in England, shows the total tranquility of England with just natural sounds, and then goes to the last U.S. tour. The way that it changes is really amazing, the whole pace of the tour really comes in.
“I imagine it`ll come out by the summer. We haven`t got much to finish – just mixing the soundtrack.
“I feel that there`s so much to do in such a short time, you know. I`ve had that feeling closing in on me for the last few years.
“I realize that I`ve been playing for ten years – I don`t know if people realize that. I think some of them think I`m just starting!
“I`ve enjoyed it, though. I`d like to play for another twenty years. But I don`t know, I just can`t see it happening. I don`t know why. I can`t explain it in words.
“It`s just a funny feeling…A foreboding…Vultures.”
Peter Grant sits on a brocaded couch in the living room of his ornate suite. (“It`s the only suite that Zsa Zsa Gabor will stay in when she comes to Chicago.”)
Peter`s willing to talk to me about a possible British date for Zeppelin, but he`s conservative about it.
“There is something planned, but it`s not finalized. It`s not an outdoor festival. I can tell you that. It is a big place, in London – and will be over several nights.
“If everything goes fine it will be in May. I`m not being secretive, it`s just that it`s not finalized yet.”
“We really don`t get much flak about Zeppelin neglecting Britain in favour of the States,” Grant continues thoughtfully. “Because we haven`t been here so long. In the beginning there was some of that – but you have to realize that when the band started (and I know it was the same for the Beck band and Ten Years After as well) the British promoters weren`t really interested. They`d rather put on a reggae disco.
“So you had to come over here to get to people. When Zeppelin came to the States and started doing really well, it suddenly dawned on them that something good was happening.
“But we will do three or four days in London. An indoor site.
“We`ve wanted to play a really good gig in England for some years,” Page interjects. “The problem has always been the site. Like with that Knebworth Park thing – it was never finalized, and they put us in a situation where they tried to force us to do it, and that was unforgivable.
“So the kids felt that we`d let them down, and I suppose in a way we did let them down – but we didn`t mean to.
“I`m on in Wolverhampton every Saturday afternoon,” Plant laughs.
“I go to see Wolverhampton Wanderers every Saturday afternoon. The public is always aware of my presence and my voice is always exercised to its fullest as I cheer on one of the finest football teams the country has ever known.”
It`s not the same as doing a concert though.
“What?” he shrieks. “They brought international football to England in the 1950`s – they are a superb team. You should hear some of the notes I reach…”
After the third show, everyone feels like going out.
Assembling in the truly dreary Buttery (a bar-mitzvah band is playing “Can`t Get Enough”), everyone makes for the Bistro, Strobe lights, B.T. Express, Labelle`s “Lady Marmalade”, “one monkey don`t stop no show” and all.
Robert dances, Jimmy (who seems to be wearing some kind of charcoal eye makeup) is sitting in a booth with Gee, Cole. Clive Coulson (who`s come over for Bad Company tour negotiations). Lots of Dom Perignon, and some girl tries to show Clive how to do The Bump.
“See, don`t I take you to the best places?” laughs Richard Cole.
Bonzo`s sitting in a booth at the Bistro, not feeling too well. He`s been having stomach problems and thinks it`s nerves. Sitting there, quietly talking about his wife (“We met when I was 16, got married when I was 17…I was a carpenter and got up at 7 a.m. and then had to change for a gig that night in the van…I think that has a lot to do with why I`m the way I am”), he does seem amazingly – as he put it – “softhearted”.
“I don`t know,” he mumbled later, getting into the elevator at a sleepy 3 a.m. “I just don`t feel much like raving about these days…”
Zeppelin mellowing? Well, Robert was surveying the Bistro`s local talent without much enthusiasm.
(To be sure, most of the local talent was maintaining a slim hold on masculinity, but still…)
What can you say about a six-year-old band that has America in the palm of its hand?
It`s just begun, really – and yet Zeppelin has already managed to make every other rock news/concert/whatever pale by comparison.
And meanwhile the plane – the super Starship, all red, white and blue with white stars and the words LED ZEPPELIN painted on the side – waits patiently at Chicago`s O`Hare Airport to bring the lads to New York City and the rest of the country.
The tour is underway.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: Lowell George (Little Feat), Alan Hull (Lindisfarne), Kiss, Doobie Brothers, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Bruce Springsteen, Marc Bolan, John McLaughlin, The Soft Machine, Bob Pegg, Little Milton, Ian Bairnson (Pilot).
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