The History of the Band


Led-Zeppelin was formed out of the ashes of the Yardbirds. A British blues rock act that featured the guitar playing of Erich Clapton, Jeff Beck and finally Jimmy Page in succession. After continued years of maintaining an underground following but lacking any commercial success the Yardbirds folded and played their final concert together in July 1968 but were still committed to a string of concert dates in Scandinavia in September. The remaining members of the Yardbirds signed over all rights to the band name and the required concert dates to guitarist Jimmy Page, who then set about forming a new group. Beginning with searching for a vocalist, Page reportedly tapped several singers of the time for the new group, like Steve Winwood, Steve Marriott and finally Terry Reid. All of who declined, the last of which, Terry Reid, suggested to Page a young, then unknown singer from the Midlands named Robert Plant. After seeing Plant preform and approaching him about the prospect of joining the group, Plant and Page spent a weekend at Page’s house on the Thames discussing similar musical interests in early rock n’ roll, folk and the blues as well as possible directions musically to take a group featuring the two. Supposedly an early arrangement of Babe I’m Gonna Leave You was formulated between the two. Upon leaving Plant remarked that Page should not select a drummer before hearing his old best friend play. John Bonham, a longtime friend and on and off bandmate of Robert Plant had just settled into his first steady gig as drummer with a performer named Tim Rose, when Page and former Yardbirds manager Peter Grant, who had offered to continue working with Page after the dissolution of the Yardbirds, went a watch John Bonham perform they were immediately taken aback with his immense power and dynamics while playing and were deadest on his joining the group. But Bonham was apprehensive at giving up his first reliable job and income. After his reluctance Plant was reported to have sent eight telegrams to Bonham’s local pub, where he took his calls and messages as his mobile home didn’t have a phone, and Grant sent an upwards of 40 telegrams. In the end Bonham was convinced and agreed to join. The final position of bassist was filled by bassist, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones, who was convinced to contact Page by his wife after hearing rumors of Page forming a new band after the Yardbirds. Page and Jones’ paths had crossed numerous times while the two were both working as session musicians in London in the mid-sixties, with the two often working together on the same sessions. Page knew of Jones’ talent as not only a bassist and pianist but also as an arranger and a classically trained musician, he eagerly accepted Jones’ offer to join thus completing the line-up. The band first gathered together to rehearse together in a basement below a record store on Gerrard Street London in late August 1968, with the first song played together being Train Kept A-Rollin', a "jump blues" song originally played by rockabilly singer Johnny Burnette that became a popular staple of the Yardbirds live set.

The Beginnings: 1968-1970

The band completed it’s first tour in Scandinavia, playing together for the first time in front of an audience in Gladsaxe, Denmark on September 7th, 1968. Later that month the band reconvened at Page’s house, propelled by the success of their initial performances, they began routine their live set and began work on what would become their first record, Led-Zeppelin I. Being recorded and mixed in just thirty hours over the course of nine days. The record, when completed, was brought to Atlantic records and with the business-savoy of manager Peter Grant, got Led-Zeppelin a monumental advance of $143,000, the biggest deal of its kind for a new band, the contract also allowed Led-Zeppelin, and Page to maintain artistic control over the music, the album design and contents and also when they would tour and how to promote releases and tours, another unprecedented feet for the time. Led-Zeppelin was signed also without Atlantic executives having ever seen or heard Led-Zeppelin perform. They continued to tour the UK in the end of 1968 and began their first of many tours of America on December 26th, 1968. Throughout the duration of 1969 Led-Zeppelin completed four US and UK tours, released their debut album on January 12th, towards the start of their first American tour, they also wrote and recorded their second album, almost entirely on the road, Led-Zeppelin II, which was released on October 22nd 1969. The album continued the format of the previous album, expanding on the hard-hitting blues rock numbers as well as featuring psychedelia experimentation and elements of folk. The second album, like the first received mostly negative press, as did Led-Zeppelin but their live performances were just the opposite, audiences became larger and larger as word of mouth spread until Led-Zeppelin would cease to perform with a supporting act or as a supporting act by the end of the year. After the release of the second album, they went on to complete several more US tours, increasing the size of the venues played. After the breakneck pace of ’69, Page and Plant retired to the Welsh cottage of Bron-Yr-Aur and began writing the third record. After rendezvousing with Jones and Bonham and rehearsing and recording the album, Led-Zeppelin III was finally released on October 5th, 1970 and featured a noted departure in sound from the first two albums. While still featuring some hard rock and blues numbers, the album overall saw an increase in folk and acoustic textures as well as influence and experimentation in world music. This change in style proved even more unpopular with the music press and some fans but concert continued to sell out as the venues got larger and larger and the concerts ran longer and longer. 1970 also saw several more tours of American and the UK as well as mainland Europe and Iceland.

"The Biggest Band In The World": 1971-1975

Led-Zeppelin continued to tour unrelenting from spring 1971 until the end of the year, following the recording of their fourth album. The Untitled Fourth album or more simply Led-Zeppelin IV, released on November 8th, 1971, was the first of Led-Zeppelin’s remaining releases to be released without a title, the band’s name, a track listing or any identifying markings, in part due to the negative treatment they received from the press, especially for Led-Zeppelin III and also due to being labeled a “hype” band. They believed the music would stand on its own. The album would go on to become one of the best-selling albums in history and helped cement the band as the biggest musical act in the world. 1971 also saw the band tour American again, mainland Europe once, the UK twice, one of which was labeled a “back to the clubs” tour, as a thank you to the fans, as well as the band’s first tour of Japan which was also a success.

The band carried on its frantic touring schedule into 1972, which featured its first journey to Australasia, another tour of Japan, an American tour that was then the biggest of it’s kind that saw the band consistently selling out arenas and stadiums without the support of the press and AM radio, with most concerts lasting three and a half hours and some reaching four hours. It was during this time the band began performing material that would soon be released on their fifth album. Recorded between December 1971 and August 1972, Houses of the Holy was released, after some delay, on March 28th, 1973. The album topped charts across the world and the increased experimentation and lighter sonic textures helped thaw the musical press’ attitude towards the band. Following a warmup tour of Europe in early 1973 the band set out on a full-scale tour of American in support of the new album. The subsequent tour broke concert attendance records across the country, in Tampa the band broke a previous record held by the Beatles for the largest audience attendance for one single act in history, the tour culminated in three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York City that were filmed for a concert movie that would be released years later. Before the final night’s performance, $180,000 of the bands touring earnings was stolen out of the bands safe deposit box at their hotel, the theft was never solved but despite the minor setback, Led-Zeppelin ended 1973 on a high note, with British music press declaring Led-Zeppelin had overtaken the Beatles as the most popular rock act in England.

In 1974 the band took a break, their first year off from touring since they formed. During this year the band launched its own record label, Swan Song Records, that would handle releasing the bands albums as well as other up and coming acts of the day like Bad Company, the Pretty Things, and Maggie Bell. Also, during the early part of the year Led-Zeppelin began recording their sixth album, eight songs were written and recorded at the English manor house Headley Grange, where the band had lived and recorded at before. But the eight songs exceeded the runtime of one album, so the decision was made to make the record a double album and include previously unreleased material from the third and fourth album as well as Houses of the Holy. In a move that was describe as professional suicide, Led-Zeppelin’s double album Physical Graffiti was a resounding success when released, on February 14th, 1975. When it entered the charts upon release all previous albums also reentered the charts again as well. The album had been described as Led-Zeppelin’s bid for artistic respectability. With the new album soon to be released Led-Zeppelin began 1975 with a full tour of North America, then the largest they had done after two warm up shows in the Netherlands and Belgium. The tour saw the band reached new heights of performing, including sophisticated light and screen effects as well as greatly lengthening their set which continued to feature heavy improvisation between the band members. The band ended this first leg of support for Physical Graffiti with a five-night residency at London’s Earls Court arena, then the largest stadium in Britain, which featured a return of an acoustic set in the middle of the concert, which hadn’t been done since 1972.

Troubles, Hiatus, and Return: 1975-1977

Following the band’s successful tour of America and appearance in England, the band aimed to take a small break in the middle of the year before resuming touring later, with a proposed world tour to commence in the fall. But in August of ’75, while on holiday in Greece, Plant and his wife, Maureen were involved in a serious car accident that also included their children. Plant’s wife, Maureen was gravely injured with a blood transfusion saving her life while Robert’s ankle was crushed. The tour that was soon to commence was immediately canceled. Unable to tour or walk for at least a year, Plant retreated to the Channel Island of Jersey, where he was joined by Page, they then moved to Malibu, California, where most of the material for proposed album was written. An album that wasn’t planned to be was then written and recorded in the final months of 1975, being recorded, mixed and mastered in just under three weeks, the quickest recording turnaround since the band’s first album. Page and Plant were joined by Jones and Bonham in Malibu before moving to Germany to record the album. The album featured a stark departure in the band’s sound, due in no small part to the adverse circumstances faced by the group. It was the only Led-Zeppelin album to feature no keyboards, piano or strings from Jones, and save for a lone, almost inaudible rhythm track on one song, no acoustic guitar. The album, Presence, was released on March 31st, 1976, with most of Plant’s vocals being recorded from a wheelchair.

Still unable to tour, the band would not return to the stage in 1976, instead worked on finishing the then unreleased and unfinished concert film that had been recorded in 1973, the film and its accompanying soundtrack, The Song Remains the Same, was released on October 20th, 1976. While the film would achieve a cult following in the coming years, it was particularly poorly received by the press.

By early 1977 Plant was given the okay to return to the stage and rehearsals immediately began in early ’77. The massive tour of North America was the largest the band had staged and commenced to break attendance records the band had previously set in the years before. The tour was also the longest the band had embarked on and began on April 1st after having been postponed from February after Plant had contracted laryngitis. This set back was the first of what would include several happenings that cast a dark shadow on what was supposed to be a triumphant return. Despite the tour being a huge financial success, audience riots, fights between Zeppelin’s road crew and venue staff as well Page and Bonham’s deepening drug addiction and Plant’s strained voice and still healing ankle hampered the band’s onstage performances. These unfortunate events came to a head when the band checked into their hotel in New Orleans for a July 30th performance at the Louisiana Superdome, a phone call from Plant’s wife brought news that Robert Plant’s son, Karac, had died from a stomach virus. The remaining leg of the tour was immediately canceled and Plant and Bonham but not Page, Jones, an Manager Peter Grant, returned to England. Leaving the future of the band in question.


The End: 1978-1980

Following an almost year and a half long hiatus, during which the future of the band was left in question due to Plant’s retreat from the life of Led-Zeppelin and returning to his family, the group reconvened in September 1978 to begin rehearsals for an album and a possible return to the stage. The group then traveled to Stockholm, Sweden to begin recording. The album that emerged, In Through the Out Door, would eventually be released on August 15th 1979. Upon its release all seven of the band’s previous albums reentered the Billboard Top 200 with the new album at number 1. Like the previous album, In Through the Out Door featured further sonic experimentation but in the opposite direction of Presence. This release featured Jones’ keyboard and string arrangements extensively, compared to the diminished input from Page, attributed to his worsening drug addiction. Despite this the album was a commercial success and in late July 1979 Led-Zeppelin staged two low-key warm up shows in Denmark and follows those by two monumental concerts headlining the Knebworth Festival in England, the band’s first concerts in their home country since 1975. Despite the band’s sometimes rusty performance and some on-stage P.A. issues the concerts were a success in the eyes of the fans, with claims these were some of the largest crowds the band had ever performed to, with some estimates claiming 200,000 people were in attendance. Afterwards, with the band’s spirits partially renewed a small, stripped down tour of Europe was scheduled for mid-1980, with manager Grant hoping the scaled back and intimate nature of the concerts would win Plant back over for another major tour of America, something Plant expressly stated would not happen upon returning to the band after the death of his son. While the tour was marred by on stage issues with Page and Bonham, attributed to problems with drugs and alcohol, the scaled back nature of the performances served to refresh the bands attitude, especially Plant’s and a full-scale North American tour was scheduled, sold out and slated to begin on October 17th, 1980. On September 24th, with rehearsals in full swing, the band were rehearsing at Bray Studios Berkshire, England and when rehearsals were halted late that evening the band and crew retired to Page’s nearby house in Clewer, Windsor where Bonham had continued to drink heavily, as he had been since the morning. After midnight Bonham was take to bed and placed on his side and was found dead the next morning by John Paul Jones, who had come to rouse him for continuing rehearsals. The coroner’s cause of death was listed as asphyxiation following Bonham’s body rejecting all the alcohol consumed.

The planned North American tour was canceled and on December 4th, 1980 the surviving members released a press statement that said: “We wish it to be known that the loss of our dead friend, and the deep sense of undivided harmony felt by ourselves and our manager, have led us to decide that we could not continue as we were.” Signed simply “Led-Zeppelin”.