Led Zeppelin: The Biography …by Bob Spitz

This is the second Led Zeppelin book I’ve reviewed in a row…hope you are not getting too tired of it. I’m moving on to something else with my next book.

This is a good book about Led Zeppelin by Bob Spitz. This book surprised me when I read it. The reason is that Spitz wrote a biography of the Beatles that felt uninspired with no new info…I was thinking this one might be the same. Well, I was wrong…this book is the best book I’ve read on Led Zeppelin and that includes Hammer of the Gods and others.

The book uncovered things I didn’t know and gave a different point of view on instances that happened. There are constants about the band that run through every book about them. John Paul Jones was the constant professional and multi-instrumentalist of the band. John Bonham was an incredible drummer but could flash in a violent rage at any minute. Robert Plant the optimistic never say die singer who would change after his family’s bad car accident. Jimmy Page was the absolute leader of the band until he couldn’t function in that role because of the different chemicals he was taking.

Below is a Swan Song band Detective with a weary Jimmy Page asleep on the couch behind them.

Detective Band
Detective… A Swan Song band with Jimmy Page fast asleep at the photo session.

One thing that was known about the band is that they had an inferiority complex about The Rolling Stones. This is explored more in this book. They couldn’t understand why the press and celebrities hung out and liked the Stones and not them… although Zeppelin outsold them. The answer to that was pretty obvious…other bands such as The Who could shrug off bad reviews and go on…Led Zeppelin would call the critics out from the stage. The press was also threatened by manager Peter Grant and touring manager Richard Cole to give good reviews. Zeppelin also barred the press for years…so it wasn’t a big mystery here except to them.

On the 1977 tour the press was given some rules by the band:

  1. Never talk to anyone in the band unless they first talk to you.
  2. Do not make any sort of eye contact with John Bonham. This is for your own safety.
  3. Do not talk to Peter Grant or Richard Cole – for any reason.
  4. Keep your cassette player turned off at all times unless conducting an interview.
  5. Never ask questions about anything other than music.
  6. Most importantly, understand this – the band will read what is written about them. The band does not like the press nor do they trust them.

Hmmm….wonder why they weren’t as liked as much as the Rolling Stones by the press and public? They also became more separated from their audience in the later 70s.

The book also focuses on their vanity label Swan Song. Drugs had taken over by that time and no artists were really cared for except Bad Company who was hot right out of the gate. Any questions from a Swan Song artist would fall on deaf ears because no one was really running the label. By this time, Grant carried a bag of cocaine and dipped it out with a bowie knife. He stayed secluded at his mansion surrounded by his security cameras… like in a scene out of Scarface.

The band was the top band in the world but in 1975 it all changed with Robert Plant’s car accident that left him recouping for months while his wife was hurt more seriously. In 1977 a guard that worked for Bill Graham stopped a kid from getting a Led Zeppelin sign off their door…all hell broke loose. That was Peter Grant’s son. Grant rounded up his “security” people and beat the guard and they almost popped his eye out.  After that happened they played what was to be their last show in America. A few days later Robert Plant’s son Karac died of a respiratory virus.

All in all, it was a good book and I would recommend it to any rock fan. I am a fan of the band, especially the albums between Led Zeppelin III and Physical Graffiti. I wasn’t a big fan of the bombastic blues songs as much as the light-heavy moments. The book tells you how management built walls around them while being surrounded by violence, threats, and later on drugs.

Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin, and Beyond–The Story of Rock’s Greatest Manager… by Mark Blake

I had a business trip this past week driving a car for at least 10 hours to and from Atlanta and finished up this audiobook about the legendary manager Peter Grant. I have read one book about Grant by Chris Welch but I like this one better. Both of Grant’s kids were interviewed by author Mark Blake and they gave a perspective and info that has never been shared.

Grant had been a van driver, bouncer, stagehand, wrestler, and Don Arden’s assistant. He was 6’3″ and at one time over 300lbs… He road managed the tough and a little crazy Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, and The Animals before he took over the Yardbirds which then turned into Led Zeppelin.

Grant changed the music business across the board. The promoters would enjoy a 60/40 split and better until Grant. He changed it all to 90/10 split with the artists actually getting the windfall instead of the promoters. His saying was 10 percent of Zeppelin was better than nothing. Now it is an industry-standard. The one other manager that I have read about is Brian Epstein who managed the Beatles. Grant and Epstein were complete opposites except for one thing. There was nothing they would not do for their respective bands. They were both loyal and trustworthy with the band’s finances unlike other band’s managers at the time. That is where the comparison ends.

Grant indeed was loyal to a fault…but he did business by suggestion and intimidation. Pouring water in bootleggers tape recorders, smashing film cameras by fans at concerts, and threating anyone that got in Zeppelin’s way or anyone who might be getting something they shouldn’t. He added to their already dark reputation. He started a Zeppelin label in the mid-seventies called Swan Song and signed Bad Company. He became their co-manager and traveled with them when Zeppelin wasn’t touring. He was even asked by Queen in 1975 if he could manage them…he turned them down because he didn’t have the time.

After Bonham died it became close to impossible to get him on the phone. His drug intake, already heavy, escalated during the early eighties. He did eventually get clean, lose weight, and turn into a living legend and he tried to be an English gentleman.

The book moves at a good pace and it goes over the hype and myths that Grant and Page built for Zeppelin.

If you are a Zeppelin fan or a fan of rock in the seventies it’s a good read. Although Grant could be tough, intimidating, and frankly scary at times…he did have a soft side for his family and of course…Led Zeppelin. I would give it 4.5 stars.

I did learn a new name for a certain drug… “Peruvian Marching Powder”

 

When Giants Walked The Earth…. by Mick Wall

I read this book about Led Zeppelin over a year ago…and recently while waiting for a Beatles book to get released I  went through it again. The book is much better than The Hammer Of The Gods released in the 80s. There are many things in this book that I didn’t know. Overall I liked it…but..

Mick Wall would do these interludes that are supposed to be some kind of interior monologue by the protagonists (but in second person). The book is well researched and he would be going along great and then all of a sudden he would try to get into each member’s head and have a monologue (in cockney many times) on what they were thinking at that moment…I don’t care how much you researched someone you do not know what they were thinking at that time.

He would sprinkle these monologues out so it’s not like they are the entire book but it was totally unnecessary to me…and it was annoying.

Here is a small example of a Jimmy Page interlude…and “G” is Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant.  Now it’s down to just the two of you, Jimmy and G. And of course, the name, for what it’s still worth: the Yardbirds. Or maybe the New Yardbirds – G’s suggestion. That way, at least, it won’t be like starting again from scratch, he says. Not entirely, anyway. And you can still get paying gigs. Keep the wolf from the door until you can come up with something better. That’s the plan anyway, this long, rainy summer of 1968…

From 1968 to 1980 Led Zeppelin were together and left a giant legacy and myth behind. The book is solid and I found out many things I didn’t already know. I am a fan of some of their music…the less indulgent side of them anyway. I’m not the person who wants to listen to a 25-minute live version of No Quarter.

The author does go in-depth about Page’s infatuation of black magic and the dark image of the band. He also goes into the songwriting and about how they got the sound they did…so he covers the personalities, the music, and events that happened.

Things were going great for them until 1975 when Robert Plant was in a car wreck with his family and from that point on everything started to go downhill. This book covers everything you would want and it covers what happened after John Bonham died. They did think about regrouping many times through the decades but it was always Robert who had doubts…and after what he went through I cannot blame him. His wife was almost killed in the car wreck and Plant’s leg was badly hurt…then when he recovered his young son (Karac) died of a stomach virus and 3 years later Bonham died.

After Zeppelin unlike Plant and Jones, Jimmy Page didn’t adjust as well to life without the band. The book was written in 2009 and he does cover the O2 Arena reunion.

If you are a Led Zeppelin fan or a fan of classic rock through the seventies…this is a good book. Out of five stars, I would give it 3.75 out of 5 for the information it gives…without the monologues, I would consider a 5.