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40 Years Ago Today

My how the time flies!

It was 40 years ago today, November 8, 1971, that Led Zeppelin released their long-awaited followup to Led Zeppelin III, the appropriately named Led Zeppelin IV (It wasn’t until 1973’s Houses of the Holy that they actually named the albums).  It featured “Black Dog”, “Rock and Roll”, “The Battle of Evermore”, “Stairway to Heaven”, “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Four Sticks”, “Going to California”, and “When the Levee Breaks”.  The recording sessions also produced “Down By the Seaside”, “Night Flight”, and “Boogie With Stu”, but they didn’t make the album.

The decision to not name the album was a conscious one.  They didn’t want to trade on the “commercial entity” that had become Led Zeppelin.  Even the image on the outer sleeve was a commentary on commercialism:  An old man and a city in decay.  It was, according to Page, “a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it.”  While it peaked at #2 on the U.S. charts, it became the biggest and most durable seller in their catalog. 

I was able to meet and work with Led Zeppelin many times during their career and this period was particularly exciting and fruitful.  I can remember them doing a stretch at The Forum in Inglewood, California.  I shot many concerts at the Forum, but shooting Led Zeppelin’s were like working in a room full of static electricity:  hair constantly standing straight up.  They sold out both nights at The Forum in about 3 1/2 hours.  Keep in mind, this was before the Internet and smart phones!

Call it Led Zeppelin IV, or The Fourth, or The Four Symbols, or The Hermit.  The name doesn’t really matter.  It was and is Rock and Roll, and I call it one of the best albums ever created.

It Was Never Quiet at the Riot Hyatt

I got a phone call on a quiet Monday in February of 1973 from Led Zeppelin’s publicist.  I had been working the rounds in Los Angeles and between the PR guys and record companies I had made a few good contacts.  I had run into the publicist for Led Zeppelin a few weeks earlier and asked if I could have some time with the band the next time that they were in town.

The band had just come from a tour of England and was taking a month to relax before starting a big U.S. tour.  They had four eponymous albums on the charts and were waiting for the release of number 5, Houses of the Holy.  The album had hits in No Quarter and The Song Remains the Same.  While it departed from much of their blues influences it had funky tracks in The Ocean and D’yer Mak’er.  It also had a beautiful acoustic based track, The Rain Song.  Much of the initial buzz, however, was about the risqué cover featuring young, naked children.

The call from Zeppelin’s people invited me to meet them at The Continental Hyatt House on the Sunset Strip.  The Continental Hyatt had become a base of operations for many up and coming bands as it was close to the Whiskey-A-Go-Go and the many clubs and recording studios in West Hollywood.  After spending a few evenings with bands at the Hyatt my friends and I began calling it The Continental Riot House.  Led Zeppelin did much to bring about this nickname.

The lads of Zeppelin would typically rent out several entire floors for their antics.  Keith Richards became famous for throwing a television out of one of the windows.  Keith Moon threw a larger one out of one of the windows.  Never one to be outdone, John Bonham liked to unwind with a ride on a Harley Davidson…down the hallways between the suites.  Orgies with Jimmy Page, groupies chasing Robert Plant, John Paul Jones’ reserved debauchery, to Bonham being Bonzo; if you’ve read it it’s probably true.

I had hoped to catch the band for dinner and establish a rapport but when I arrived at 6:30 the night’s revelries were obviously well under way.  I followed a hotel bartender with a crate of liquor and found a mostly incoherent Robert Plant holding court.  I started talking to him about my ideas for some shots but found myself getting nowhere so after a half hour or so I grabbed a drink myself.

I had just about given up on an organized shoot when Peter Grant lumbered in.  At 6 foot 5 and well over 350 pounds, I knew Grant’s reputation for getting things done and enlisted his help in making photography happen. 

Any pictures of the band that I had seen up until this point had either been stage shots or big horizontal panoramas and I began looking for props to create something different.  I found an ugly orange armchair in one of the rooms and asked Grant to help me round up the lads.  My idea was a vertical grouping of the band.  Newspapers and magazines would love it for the ease of a print layout and it was different than all of the other photos that I’d seen.

Plant and Page arrived and mulled participation.  Jones was in another mood and Grant physically put him in place for me.  Page and Plant began laughing and plopped down on either arm of the chair.  Seeming to sense that he was being left out, Bonham wandered in, smoking a cigarette, and threw his arms around them.

I began furiously working my two cameras, an old favorite loaded with color and my newer Nikon with black and white.  I managed to get almost 20 shots before the peace dissolved and chaos returned.

A few days later I was able to get my shots to Led Zeppelin’s publicist and they chose one of the black and whites.  Through them I was contacted by Grant who made an offer to buy the whole lot of the color shots.  He wanted to buy them all but I saved the best one and never showed it to them.

Since that night I’ve gone on to see the black and white in numerous books about Led Zeppelin.  It’s been in magazines and even VH1’s Behind the Music.  I’ve had a devil of a time tracking down publishers and receiving photographer credits but one thing is for sure.  None of those guys ever had an evening like mine with Led Zeppelin at the Continental Riot House.

 

 

Robert Plant With A Dove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kezar, San Francisco

11×14 Print: $600.00
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John Bonham of Led Zeppelin on Drums

1974 at The Forum, Los Angeles

11×14 Print: $600.00
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Led Zeppelin on Stage

1974 at The Forum, Los Angeles

11×14 Print: $600.00
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Jimmy Page on postage stamp

It’s interesting to see Jimmy on a stamp, check the link out below. In the interview, he disses the book by Mick Walls out that enhances and exaggerates the Zeppelin interest in the occult and Aleister Crowley. The truth will never be know, as Jimmy Page shows little interest in revealing anything. He says he gets along fine with Robert Plant, even though Plant does not want to tour. Good article!

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/music/article6979627.ece

Them Crooked Vultures

This is a great article about how Them Crooked Vultures came together as a mixture of Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age.

Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones had tried to find a singer and carry on without Robert Plant, and then Dave Grohl brought John Paul Jones and Josh Homme together under a heavy veil of secrecy. So Jones went on with this project, and the rest is history.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/arts-ents/music-features/it-s-like-the-titanic-is-going-down-and-the-band-is-still-playing-1.992164

John Paul Jones Article- Butthole Surfers?

This is a great overview of John Paul Jones, bass player for Led Zeppelin till they collapsed. I did not know he produced an album for the Butthole Surfers (a Texas band), that really shows a wide range of taste in music. It mentioned how his career post Zeppelin equals or exceeds Page or Plant in scope and quality. Great photograph of Them Crooked Vultures, a reference to the music industry. Note: Butthole Surfers had an album they called “Sympathy for the Record Industry,” obviously a slur on the Stones song that hits the music biz.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/dec/10/john-paul-jones-them-crooked-vultures

Stairway to Heaven and Cigarettes

This article below says that one of the reasons for the big success of Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin was its 8 minute length, in which DJs had enough time to smoke a cigarette. So the more addicted a DJ was, the more often it got played. Back then, you did not have the fancy digital equipment to program multiple songs, you only had vinyl. So a song that was not only brilliant, but one that allowed you to have a smoke, was huge. Jimmy Page’s brilliant lead riff at the end, and Robert Plant’s final words was no doubt the signal to stub out the butt and head back in the studio.

http://blog.merlinmoon.com/home/2009/12/led-zeppelins-stairway-to-heaven-successful-by-accident.html

The song also had an intense, almost religious effect on America’s youth, to the extent it was the main song that was used for suicides. For the kids that were not really interested in church, the mystical and beautiful song was so important they made it the last music they ever heard. Little did people know that a major role in this legendary song’s exposure was simply a desire to smoke cigarettes.

Led Zeppelin Site Extraordinaire

I really like the effort that is made to put this site together, fascinating archive of history about one of the world’s greatest bands ever.

http://onthisdayinledzeppelinhistory.blogspot.com/2002/10/mighty-atom-smasher-launched.html