Which career-making early song did Robert Plant once dismiss as “well meaning, naive”? Who did Jimmy Page really want to front Led Zeppelin? What insult did John Paul Jones hurl at his contemporaries in the Rolling Stones? Learn all of that, and more, as we explore the initial days of their legendary career with a list of 20 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Early Led Zeppelin.
Jimmy Page didn’t always want to be a rock star. In fact, during an appearance on a 1957 episode of the U.K. children’s talent show ‘On Your Own,’ a 13-year-old Page said he wanted to grow up to work in “biological research” studying germs.
John Paul Jones had been known by the stage name of John Baldwin, until Andrew Loog Oldham — later manager of the Rolling Stones — suggested he take a new moniker from the title of a popular movie starring Robert Stack. He said he had no idea who John Paul Jones was; he just liked the sound of it.
Jimmy Page has said that their first album was recorded in 30 hours. The second one took more than eight months, largely because of nonstop touring.
The piecemeal approach to recording ‘Led Zeppelin II’ between concert dates meant that John Bonham’s drum solo for ‘Moby Dick’ was spliced in from a different session than the rest of the song, as was the unaccompanied guitar solo in ‘Whole Lotta Love.’
‘The Battle of Evermore’ from ‘IV’ was played only a handful of times on tour, with John Paul Jones taking over Sandy Denny’s vocal parts.
John Paul Jones was responsible for the string arrangement on the Rolling Stones’ ‘She’s a Rainbow’ but came away unimpressed, saying about the band, “I just thought they were unprofessional and boring.”
Jimmy Page first approached singer Terry Reid, not Robert Plant, about fronting Led Zeppelin, who were still known as the New Yardbirds at the time. But Graham Nash had already talked manager Mickie Most into signing Reid as a solo act. It was Reid who actually ended up recommending Plant for the gig.
Steve Marriott of the Small Faces was also on Jimmy Page’s list for possible singers. But he was reportedly met with this response from Marriott camp: “How would you like to play guitar with broken fingers?”
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page bonded over Joan Baez’s version of ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ from her ‘In Concert’ album during their first meeting in 1968. They’d rework the song for Led Zeppelin’s debut.
Jimmy Page’s affinity for both electric and acoustic guitars grew out of early session work he was unhappy with. Swan Song Records executive Alan Callan said he went home and practiced on the acoustic nonstop for two months.
Not long after Robert Plant was asked to join, he ran into Paul Rodgers — who was then fronting Free. He asked Rodgers for advice, saying he’d been offered “either 30 quid a week or a percentage” to join. It was Rodgers who told him to take the percentage. (Rodgers would later co-found the Firm with Jimmy Page.)
Jimmy Page also asked Aynsley Dunbar, who later played in both Journey and Jefferson Starship, about coming on board as Led Zeppelin’s first drummer. But Dunbar was more interested in launching his own band, the quickly forgotten Retaliation.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Robert Plant is said to have pushed for John Bonham to join the fledgling group not because of his legendary prowess at the drums, but because he was also from the British Midlands — better known as the Black Country. Jimmy Page knew them both from the Band of Joy.
‘Led Zeppelin II,’ like Zeppelin’s first album, used a vintage photograph for its cover — only this time with some key alterations. A graphic designer took a World War I-era photo that reportedly included the legendary Red Baron, then replaced the heads with those of Zeppelin band members.
John Bonham is said to have obtained the distinct bongo-like sound of ‘Ramble On’ by swapping his drums for a plastic garbage pail.
Jimmy Page was so concerned with losing artistic control of Led Zeppelin, after suffering through management’s efforts to turn the Yardbirds into a pop group, that he financed Zep’s debut album himself.
Little Richard played an unwitting role in the creation of the classic ‘Rock and Roll’ when John Bonham began playing a cadence he’d picked up from ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ one day in the studio. Soon, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were adding a riff and lyrics.
Early on, Robert Plant attempted to buy a shirt he liked on Carnaby Street, and was asked for ID when he tried to pay with a check. Without one, Plant retreated to his car and returned with a copy of Led Zeppelin’s first album as proof of his identity.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
‘Going to California’ blended Robert Plant’s new crush on Joni Mitchell — the girl with “flowers in her hair” — with a growing fear of working on an active fault line. There was, in fact, a minor earthquake during the mixing process for ‘Led Zeppelin IV.’
Robert Plant has been known to downplay Zeppelin’s most famous moment, calling ‘Stairway to Heaven’ a “nice, pleasant, well meaning, naive little song.”
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