Wouldn’t you have liked to have been a “fly on the wall” as a member of Led Zeppelin’s touring entourage during the legendary band’s peak in 1975? The American leg of Led Zeppelin’s tour of that year is documented in “The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 Tour LZ-75” by Stephen Davis, author of Hammer of the Gods. It is a revealing look at life on the road, sold out shows, less than stellar nights performance-wise, groupies, alcohol, drugs, violence and the music that shook up the world.
Davis, who covered the band’s 1975 tour for the Atlantic Monthly, a high brow publication, lost the spiral notebook that contained his free form journal on the period of January to March ‘75 with the mighty Zeppelin. This goldmine of material was serendipitously found by his friend in 2005 and led to Davis embarking on the task of putting these notes into book form. As Hammer of the Gods, his Led Zeppelin treatise touches on the ’75 tour, this effort dissects it, night by night, day by day, warts included. It is a fascinating look at touring with Rock ‘n’ Roll Gods and puts you in Led Zeppelin’s inner circle, a place where a select few, including press, could reside at that time.
Davis manages to put you in the heads of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham as a reader viscerally takes in everything. The highs and lows are clearly shown with the preparation for an appearance in front of 50,000 rabid fans and the difficulty Page had in coming down (post concert) from the emotional high and psychological pedestal it put the band members on. According to Davis, Page wouldn’t sleep for days, ate minimally, was in a hazy drug phase and used his candlelit hotel room as a base for dalliances with such well-known band aids (a groupie moniker at the time) as Lori Maddox, Bebe Buell (Liv Tyler’s mom) and the mother hen of groupies, Pamela Des Barres.
Bonham’s mood swings, longing for home and Droogie (Clockwork Orange reference) behavior that included an arrest and harassing members of the press that were on the band’s private Jet (Starship), made a him a true Jekyll and Hyde in character. His longing for his wife and kids back in England led to his erratic escapades on the road which included buying cars on impulse, blasting records in his hotel room all night and alcohol binges and drug use.
Plant, who famously class himself A “Golden God” on a hotel balcony, plays early shows on the tour with the flu and gives Davis a sought after interview that is written about in the book. This is extremely relevant because from its inception, Led Zeppelin was clearly not a darling of the press, particularly Rolling Stone magazine.
John Paul Jones was clearly a man on the fringes who played the gigs, but sometimes couldn’t be found in between shows. As all of these anecdotes reveal these rock ambassadors were human with frailties that all of us possess. Add on the road perks of unlimited drugs, women and adulation and this could be a dangerous combination.
This ’75 tour as the author states was a pivotal one in the 11-year whirlwind career of Led Zeppelin. Their fame and reputation in the rock world was firmly established, but this tour and the Earls Court shows in their native England put them into another stratosphere.They were at their peak musically with Page’s sorcerer –like command of his instrument, Plant’s banshee vocals, Jones’ yeoman keyboard /bass styling and Bonham’s thunderous drum attack. Though they stood atop the rock world until Bonham’s premature death on September 25, 1980, it would never reach these dizzying heights again.
Another unique feature of this rock ‘n’ roll road primer is the day by day tour account. Unlike other books of this genre, Davis gives the reader a mini-review of each nights show whether he attended or not. You read about the set list, the level of the band’s performance (more solid and steady as the tour progressed) and assorted pre-show and backstage happenings (The L.A. Forum shows were star-laden). The book contains archival photos taken by Peter Simon, some never seen before, that enhance LZ-’75. There are also the aforementioned Plant interview and rare (at the time) talk with Jimmy Page.Other tasty nuggets are an incredible Iggy Pop anecdote, what went on in The Hyatt House (nicknamed the “Riot House), Led Zep’s home base on the West Coast and inside information on the writing of Led Zeppelin songs, “What is and What Should Never Be” and “Black Country Woman.”
Though the book has Led Zeppelin as its focus, there are many other interesting “players” who took part in the group’s journey in the early part of 1975. Danny Goldberg, publicist and Vice President of Swan Song Records (the band’s record label) is an interesting, spiritual emissary for Davis who guides him as he navigates such road essentials as press access, living accommodations on the tour and the highly anticipated interviews with Plant and Page. Peter Grant, the Svengali/manager who negotiated never before heard of record and concert deals for the band, is gargantuan in stature ( a former wrestler and scene double for actor Robert Morley), but even bigger in heart as his love for the four members of the band was a major ingredient in their monumental success. Road manager Richard Cole, who wrote his own tell- all “Stairway to Heaven,” comes across as a stickler for all road essentials (tour itinerary, flights and hotel bookings), but also as an enforcer who was the “evil twin” to Bonham’s “Hyde.” In addition, the author’s own anecdotes are poignant, humorous and point to his professionalism and dedication as a journalist.
Davis has managed to give a reader a backstage pass to life on the road with arguably one of the greatest bands in classic rock history. From plane, to hotel, to concert, you are there taking it all in and getting a glimpse into an era that will never be relived again. The power and the glory of the Led Zeppelin juggernaut and “the hammer of the gods” in full display is all here for the reader who wants to spend a few months on the road with legends.