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THE BAND

Jimmy Page - born James Patrick Page,  Jan. 9, 1944, Heston, England -  guitars.
John Paul Jones - born John Baldwin, Jan. 3, 1946, Sidcup, England -  bassist.
Robert Plant - born Aug. 20, 1948, Bromwich, England - vocals.
John "Bonzo" Bonham - born John Henry Bonham, May 31, 1948, Redditch, England, died Sep. 25, 1980, Windsor, England - drums.

Formed London, 1968, as gigantic a presence as their name would suggest, Led Zeppelin transcended the hard rock/heavy metal label slapped on them by some. Indeed, they epitomized the synthesis of multiple influences that characterized the best of 70s rock, while producing music that was stamped with their own dynamic identity.

It wasnít just Led Zeppelinís thunderous volume, sledgehammer beat, and edge-of-mayhem arrangements that made it the most influential and successful heavy-metal pioneers, it was their finesse. Like its ancestors the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin used a guitar style that drew heavily on the blues, and its early repertoire included remakes of songs by bluesmen Howliní Wolf, Albert King and Willie Dixon. But what Jimmy Page brought to the band was a unique understanding of the guitar and the recording studio as electronic instruments, and of rock as sculptured noise; like Jimi Hendrix, Page had a reason for every bit of distortion, feedback, reverberation, and out-and-out noise that he incorporated -- and few of the many bands that try to imitate Led Zeppelin can make the same claim.

Page and Robert Plant were grounded also in British folk music and fascinated by mythology, Middle Earth fantasy, and the occult, as became increasingly evident from the bandís later albums (the fourth LPís title is composed of four runic characters). A song that builds from a folk-baroque acoustic setting to screaming heavy metal, "Stairway to Heaven," fittingly became the best-known Led Zeppelin song and a staple of FM airplay, although like most of the groupís "hits," it was never released as a single. Though critically derided more often than not, Led Zeppelin was unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history, selling over 50 million records.

When the Yardbirds fell apart in the summer of 1968, Page was left with rights to the groupís name and a string of concert obligations. He enlisted John Paul Jones, who had done session work with the Rolling Stones, Hermanís Hermits, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, and Shirley Bassey. Page and Jones had first met, jammed together, and discussed forming a group when both were hired to back Donovan on his Hurdy Gurdy Man LP. Page had hoped to complete the group with drummer B. J. Wilson of Procol Harum and singer Terry Reid. Neither was available, but Reid recommended Plant, who in turn suggested John Bonham, drummer for his old Birmingham group, Band of Joy. The four first played together as the session group behind P. J. Proby on his Three Week Hero. In October 1968 they embarked on a tour of Scandinavia under the name the New Yardbirds. Upon their return to England they recorded their debut album in 30 hours.

Adopting the name Led Zeppelin (allegedly coined by Keith Moon), they toured the U.S. in early 1969 opening for Vanilla Fudge. Their first album was released in February; within two months it had reached Billboardís Top Ten. Led Zeppelin II reached #1 two months after its release, and since then every album of new material has gone platinum; five of the groupís LPs reached #1. After touring almost incessantly during its first two years together, Zeppelin began limiting its appearances to alternating years. The bandís 1973 U.S. tour broke box-office records (many of which had been set by the Beatles) throughout the country, and by 1975 its immense ticket and album sales had made Led Zeppelin the most popular rock & roll group in the world. In 1974 the quartet established its own label, Swan Song. The labelís first release was the bandís Physical Graffiti (#1, 1975), its first double-album set, which sold four million copies.

On August 4,1975, Plant and his family were seriously injured in a car crash while vacationing on the Greek island of Rhodes. As a result, the group toured even less frequently. That and speculation among fans that supernatural forces may have come into play (Plant believed in psychic phenomena, and Page, whose interest in the occult was well known, once resided in Boleskine House, the former home of infamous satanist Aleister Crowley) also heightened the Zeppelin mystique.

In 1976 Led Zeppelin released Presence, a four-million seller. The group had just embarked on its U.S. tour when Plantís six-year-old son Karac died suddenly of a viral infection. The remainder of the tour was canceled, and the group took off the next year and a half. In late 1978 they began work on In Through the Out Door, the bandís last group effort. They had completed a brief European tour and were beginning to rehearse for another U.S. tour when, on September 25, 1980, Bonham died at Pageís home of what was described as asphyxiation; he had inhaled his own vomit after having excessively consumed alcohol and fallen asleep. On December 4,1980, Page, Plant, and Jones released a cryptic statement to the effect that they could no longer continue as they were. Soon thereafter it was rumored that Plant and Page were going to form a band called XYZ (ex-Yes and Zeppelin) with Alan White and Chris Squire of Yes; the group never materialized. In 1982 the group released Coda (#6, 1982), a collection of early recordings and outtakes.

Plant and Page each pursued solo careers. Jones released a soundtrack album, Scream for Help, in 1986, and has worked in production. The band has reunited three times: once in 1985 at Live Aid (with Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums), and in May 1988, Plant, Page, and Jones performed with Bonhamís son Jason on drums at the Atlantic Records 40th-anniversary celebration at New York Cityís Madison Square Garden. They also played at Jason Bonhamís wedding and at the bandís 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Led Zeppelinís concert movie The Song Remains the Same (originally released in 1976) is still a staple of midnight shows around the country, and Zeppelin tunes like "Stairway to Heaven," "Kashmir," "Communication Breakdown," "Whole Lotta Love," and "No Quarter" are still in heavy rotation on classic-rock radio playlists. In 1990 a St. Petersburg, Florida, station kicked off its all-Zeppelin format by playing "Stairway to Heaven" for 24 hours straight. (Less than two weeks later, the station had expanded its playlist to include Pink Floyd.)

As of summer 1994 there were rumors that the surviving three might reunite for a tour, though not under the name Led Zeppelin, and that fall Page and Plant participated in the No Quarter album. Jones, who was not invited to join them, was by then working and touring with Diamanda Gakis, with whom he recorded 1994ís The Sporting Life.  More recently, CD compilations Remasters and the Led Zeppelin box set, digitally remixed by Page, have brought them renewed popularity. Page and Plant have also since reunited, but that is another story.

Albums:

1969 -- Led Zeppelin (Atlantic); Led Zeppelin II
1970 -- Led Zeppelin III
1971 -- Untitled (known as the Runes album or Zoso or Led Zeppelin IV)
1973 -- Houses of the Holy
1975 -- Physical Graffiti (Swan Song)
1976 -- Presence; The Song Remains the Same
1979 -- In Through the Out Door
1980 -- ( - Bonham)
1982 -- Coda
1990 -- Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)
1992 -- Remasters
1993 -- Led Zeppelin-Boxed Set 2; Led Zeppelin-The


 

 

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