"We knew we were good. At our best, we thought we could be a match for any band on the planet. And at our worst, we were better than most of them."
John Paul Jones
In the summer of 1968, weary from years of touring and recording, seminal British blues-rock group the Yardbirds decided to call it quits following a final gig in Bedfordshire. Rights to the band's name, as well as a string of concert obligations, fell to their lead guitarist, Jimmy Page. Once one of Britain's most in-demand session guitarists, Page served the last incarnation of the Yardbirds after Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. He saw the breakup as an opportunity to put together the blues-based band of his dreams.
Touring with the Yardbirds and playing in underground clubs had given Jimmy the chance to glimpse a new rock scene developing in the States. FM radio stations had begun playing whole album sides, which affected sequencing and how one song flows into another. Jimmy's eyes were opened to the possibilities. What he envisioned for his group was a new heavy rock that was a combination of Fifties roots, folk and psychedelia, and that was charged with hypnotic guitar riffs. He wanted to aim for the album market, eschewing the singles-oriented AM radio. Jimmy Page wanted to put together an influential group. In the process, he built the mother of all bands.
Page enlisted bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, who had done session work with acts like the Rolling Stones and Herman's Hermits. He and Jones first met and discussed forming a group when both were hired to back Donovan on his album The Hurdy Gurdy Man
. Jimmy had hoped to complete the lineup with drummer B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum ("A Whiter Shade Of Pale") and singer Terry Reid, but neither was available at the time. At Reid's recommendation, he traveled to Birmingham to scout a then-unknown 19-year-old singer named Robert Plant. When Plant agreed to come on board, he in turn suggested Jimmy take a listen to John Bonham, drummer for Plant's old Birmingham group, Band of Joy.
When Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham came together, they captured lightning in a bottle. All four band members use the word "magic" when recalling their first rehearsal in a basement in Chinatown, London, in August 1968. "I've never been so turned on in my life," Plant told Rolling Stone
in 1975. "Although we were all steeped in blues and R&B, we found out in the first hour and a half that we had our own identity."
Billed as the "New Yardbirds," the newly formed band fulfilled the Yardbirds' contractual obligations in Scandinavia before heading back to England to begin work on their first album together. In a matter of months, they would morph into Led Zeppelin and set out on their quest to be the biggest, baddest, best band on the planet.
During their 12-year reign, Zeppelin released nine albums, sold an estimated 300 million units worldwide, shattered concert attendance records, and scored the third best-selling album in US history for Led Zeppelin IV
). Whatever alchemy went into creating them, there were a few key principles that Zeppelin adhered to from the get-go that played a role in their phenomenal success. Lets take a look how they did it, and what you can learn from their example."YOUR TIME IS GONNA COME"
(Fake It Till You Make It)
We are accustomed to seeing Zeppelin as the rock 'n' roll beasts they were in the '70s, but the band didnt arrive on the scene as fully-formed musical giants. It took guts as well as talent to achieve what they did. Check out Zeppelin playing a gig
in March 1969, eight months into their career. Listen to the sound of a band attempting something on a vast scale. See the inklings of what was to come in their stage presence.
Robert Plant was barely out of his teens when he accepted the position of Zeppelin frontman, but that didn't stop him from being a god onstage. In a radio interview, Plant made a revealing comment about his transformation from talented singer to rock legend. In 1969 Zeppelin supported the band Vanilla Fudge. Watching the Fudge perform, Plant says he realized that compared to them he had a great big "excuse me" written across his face. To become a top performer, he had to strut his stuff with confidence and make fans believe he was already rock's golden god.
To excel at anything, you must first believe you can. "FOUR STICKS"
There are many top-notch bands with a superstar or two who are the main source of creative output, while other members may seem as replaceable as parts on a bicycle. In many bands talent is not distributed all that evenly.
Led Zeppelin were different. Like table legs, the four band members bore the creative load equally. Each contributed to the group's songwriting. Plant, with his compelling voice and flowing locks, was the archetypal frontman, while the phrase "guitar god" seemed tailor-made for Jimmy Page. John Bonham was a larger-than-life character whose drumming was a distinct part of the Led Zeppelin sound. Just as vital to the success of the group was John Paul Jones' contribution on bass, keyboards and mandolin, not to mention his imaginative approach to songwriting and arrangement.
Be mindful of weak links, and yes, that includes you. Everyone should pull their weight. Take a good look at what skills remain undeveloped in you and work hard on them before you look to others. "NO QUARTER"
(Stand Up for Yourself, Dammit!)
Led Zeppelin took an uncompromising attitude to every aspect of their work, including the business side of things. Their manager, Peter Grant, was almost as legendary as the band itself. In 1968 he secured a $200,000 signing fee from Atlantic Records. It was the most lucrative signing fee that had ever been paid for a new band. The terms of the contract also gave the band control over the contents, design, and release schedule of all their albums, as well as their touring schedule. Grant is reputed to have ensured that the band received a staggering 90% of the takings from their concert tickets.
Peter Grant also enforced the band's strict no-singles policy in the face of enormous pressure to cash in on Zeppelin's popularity. Zeppelins reputation as an albums band helped to boost their respect among serious rock fans who looked down their noses at the pop charts.
Bear in mind that Zeppelin were operating in an environment where recording artists were routinely exploited by the powers that be in the music industry, so their ability to stand up and fight for what they believed in was one of the things that made them remarkable and added to their mystique.
Dont sell yourself short by undercharging or accepting less than you deserve because you dont want to appear "difficult." Speak up for yourself. Remember it's the squeaky wheel that gets the grease. "THANK YOU"
(Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery)
Artists "borrow" from one another. It's common knowledge that Led Zeppelin were heavily influenced by blues legends such as Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Robert Johnson. They were also strongly affected by mystical English folk-rock, Middle Eastern-influenced exotica, quirky pop and every manner of heaviness. The band drew on a wide variety of genres, including world music and elements of early rock 'n' roll, jazz, country, funk, soul, and reggae, particularly on Houses of the Holy
and the albums that followed. That Zeppelin piggybacked to fame on the shoulders of the blues legends, as some attest, is far too simplistic.
According to blues expert Robert Palmer, "It is the custom, in blues music, for a singer to borrow verses from contemporary sources, both oral and recorded, add his own tune and/or arrangement, and call the song his own." Whether or not Zeppelin took too many liberties with their source material was debated in court on more than one occasion, but it helps to remember that very few artists create in a void. We are all inspired by one another.
Dont be afraid to be influenced by your heroes. But if you intend to borrow from them, be sure you get the gist of what it is they're trying to say or do and then filter that idea through the lens of your own unique creativity. In other words, put your stamp on the material. And be very generous in acknowledging your influences. Robert Plant gives kudos all the time. And I owe a debt of gratitude to Creative Business Coach Mark McGuinness for inspiring this piece."THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME"Not.
(Matters of Creative Integrity)
After the success of Led Zeppelin I
, the group were expected to deliver a third album that was equally as hard rocking. No one, especially industry execs, could imagine the band would retire to a remote cottage in Wales and record an acoustic-flavored album instead. But that's exactly what Zeppelin did.
The key to Zeppelin's longevity has always been change. They were not at all interested in churning out the same old thing. As Jimmy Page tells Guitar World
, "We put out our first LP; then a second one that was nothing like the first, then a third LP totally different from them, and on it went
a lot of reviewers couldn't understand why we put out an LP like Zeppelin II
, then followed it up with III
with 'That's the Way' and acoustic numbers like that on it. The fact was that Robert and I had gone away to Bron-Y-Aur cottage in Wales and started writing songs. That was the material we had, so we used it. It was nothing like, 'We got to do some heavy rock & roll because that's what our image demands.'"
The band's third album was more of a shift of emphasis than a complete change of direction. To many, it was one of Zep's best efforts, despite the panning by critics.
Don't follow the crowd, lead them. Don't bend to trends and expectations, create them. Don't compromise your creativity to appease others. Be yourself. Trust your instincts. Follow the muse where she leads. Go out on a creative limb. Your originality may just surprise you. "NOBODY'S FAULT BUT MINE"
Zeppelins over-the-top approach made them an easy target for critics and comics. Self-indulgent solos, fantasy sequences of a lightsaber-wielding dwarf and a mob rubout, the Hobbit references. Even Robert Plant has said that if he could have a do-over, hed probably reconsider writing lyrics about "the darkest depths of Mordor" and "Gollum and the evil one." But fans loved it.
Too many bands play it safe to avoid criticism. Too many reign in their enthusiasm and imagination for fear of looking silly. There are plenty of bands who choose to play it safe, but you and I have never heard of most of them. Zeppelin were fearless. Jimmy Page once said that the band's motto was "Ever onward." Lightsabers for everyone!
Remember, creativity invites criticism. To be an artist requires thick skin. Whatever you do, somebody, somewhere, will have a go at you. Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen. Then ask what's the best.
Since their breakup over three decades ago with the untimely death of John Bonham in 1980, Page, Plant and Jones have occasionally reconnected at events like the Live Aid benefit concert in Philadelphia in 1985 and the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Show in 1988. Neither of those shows, however, served the band's legacy well.
But on December 10, 2007, the surviving members of Zeppelin took the stage at London's O2 Arena to headline a tribute concert for dear friend and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Eighteen thousand lucky fans were in attendance that night, having secured seats through a worldwide lottery of some 20 million who applied for tickets. What followed was a two-hour-plus tour de force that instantly became part of the legend of Led Zeppelin. John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant were joined by Jason Bonham, son of their late drummer John Bonham, to perform 16 songs from the band's storied catalog, including landmark tracks "Whole Lotta Love,
" "Rock and Roll,
" and "Stairway to Heaven.
Band members have been plagued by rumors of a reunion tour since the O2 show. Although many are frustrated that Robert Plant continues to put the kibosh on what would be a dream reunion, he may be right that recreating a performance of the calibre of the London show, night after night, may be more than he or his bandmates are up for at this point. Five years have already passed since that concert. With band members now pushing 70, they seem to be content to let Celebration Day
serve as a reminder of how things were before they had to be different, and to let the performance stand as a testament that Led Zeppelinboth in their heyday and for that one magnificent night in Londonruled the world.