Led Zeppelin’s Real-Life ‘Spinal Tap’ Seattle Hotel Debauchery
As much as ‘This is Spinal Tap‘ accurately lampooned a rock band on the road, it more or less left out some of the juicier aspects that take place on tour, such as wild sex with groupies and trashing hotel rooms. Fortunately for fans of the movie, there are the ‘Real-Life ‘Spinal Tap’ Stories‘ of Led Zeppelin.
In his new book, ‘I Killed Pink Floyd‘s Pig: Inside Stories of Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll,’ former radio executive Beau Phillips collected 35 first-hand tales of rock excess. One of its stories deals with a couple of experiences Zeppelin had at Seattle’s Edgweater Hotel, even after they had been banned following one of the most infamous stories in rock history. Phillips gives us this exclusive excerpt below and we encourage you to check out the rest of his fine book, which includes a foreword by Sammy Hagar. You can learn more about it at his website, PinkFloydsPig.com.
When a band heads out on a concert tour, it can last months, sometimes years. Before long, the routine of being on the road gets old and cities all start looking the same. Band members spend countless hours in hotel rooms, and that’s when the craziness happens. With plenty of down time with which to amuse themselves, bands often seek out a little mischief.
In 1964, the Beatles’ tour passed through Seattle, and killed time by fishing from their windows at the Edgewater Hotel. True to its name, the Edgewater is perched on the water’s edge, built on a pier that extends over Puget Sound. At one time, the hotel encouraged guests to fish from the hotel rooms and even stocked a bait shop in the lobby. During their stay, the Beatles did some fishing, but came up empty.
After the Fab Four’s visit, the Edgewater became a local Beatles landmark, and the hotel took full advantage. The management removed the carpeting from the Beatles’ rooms, cut it into small squares and sold the remnants as souvenirs. The Edgewater still maintains a Beatles-themed suite and has hosted several Beatles-related events over the years.
Fast forward to 1969. The mighty Led Zeppelin was riding high following the release of its debut album. Robert Plant and Jimmy Page became instant rock heroes and set out on their first American tour. Like the Beatles, when the band rolled through Seattle, Led Zeppelin chose to stay at the Edgewater Hotel. And like the Beatles, they fished from their windows. A tale is told in days of old that the band reeled in a small fish, reportedly a mud shark. What happened next is permanently etched in rock lore.
Zeppelin’s road manager, Richard Cole, recalls an evening of rock n’ roll debauchery of mythic proportions. There are several accounts of what actually happened. But everyone agrees that the “mud shark incident” included naked groupies, fish, and body cavities. Cole is quoted in the Led Zeppelin biography ‘Hammer of the Gods’ as saying, “A pretty young groupie with red hair was disrobed and tied to the bed. Led Zeppelin then proceeded to stuff pieces of shark into her vagina and rectum.” Accounts vary as to who was responsible [Editors note: In Gavin Edwards' 2006 book, 'Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John,' Carmine Appice of the Vanilla Fudge claims he and keyboardist Mark Stein were the main participants, with members of Led Zeppelin watching]. But when a mud shark was hauled into Led Zep’s hotel room, it got the attention of the hotel’s management. Not surprisingly, the fishing kerfuffle earned the group a lifetime ban from the Edgewater Hotel. Shortly after Led Zeppelin’s visit, the Edgewater Hotel closed its bait and tackle shop and ended their “fish from your window” campaign.
One thing is certain. The Beatles made the Edgewater Hotel famous. But Led Zeppelin made it infamous.
In 1977, eight years later, Led Zeppelin returned to Seattle and quietly checked into the Edgewater Hotel in the dead of night…while the city slept.
Wait! What about their lifetime ban?
The hotel manager at the time was named James Blum. He told me, “Somehow Led Zeppelin reserved rooms at the Edgewater and we didn’t catch it. There were no computer systems back then. And the band didn’t use their real names when booking rooms. So it got past us. Once the band’s entourage had checked in, we couldn’t just kick them out.”
The Edgewater manager hoped this visit would be less eventful. The hotel’s reputation took a beating after the mud shark incident, and its image was just recovering. He wanted to avoid any more embarrassment. Blum recalls, “In the spirit of goodwill, I called Led Zeppelin’s road manager, Richard Cole. He picked up his room phone, and I welcomed Led Zeppelin back to the Edgewater. I left it at that. Mr. Cole got the message that I knew they were staying at our hotel, despite being banned.” More than anything, Blum wanted Richard Cole to know that he’d be watching them.
During Led Zep’s return trip, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page didn’t fish. But they did make a big splash…five big splashes. On this visit, the band amused themselves by tossing televisions out of their hotel room windows into Puget Sound, then watching them bobbing in the water 15 feet below.
The former Edgewater manager fills in the details: “Everyone in Led Zeppelin’s entourage seemed to be behaving, as far as I could tell. Then, on the morning they were due to check out, I got a call from Celia, the hotel’s head housekeeper. I asked her, ‘Are the band’s hotel rooms still in good condition?’”
“She replied, ‘Yes, the rooms are fine. But the TVs are gone.’ ” Celia spoke with a thick accent. So Blum wasn’t sure that he’d heard her correctly and asked the housekeeper to repeat what she’d said.
Celia repeated, “The televisions are missing, in all five rooms.”
Blum shook his head and told her, “Stay there. I’m on my way.”
The Edgewater manager ran down the hallway and opened the door to one of Led Zeppelin’s hotel rooms. “I checked it from top to bottom. She was right, the TV was gone. Just then, a gust of wind blew back the drapes, and I realized the window was open. I walked to the window, pulled back the curtain and looked outside to find not one, but five television sets floating in Puget Sound.”
This wasn’t the first time that Led Zeppelin had been suspected of tossing televisions. They earned that reputation in the early ‘70s at the Continental Hyatt House on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, where they reportedly also rode motorcycles down the hallways.
James Blum was speechless. “They did it again!” he muttered. The Edgewater manager walked back toward the lobby and instructed the desk clerk to buzz him when Led Zeppelin came to check out. A few minutes later, Richard Cole walked up to the front desk to settle the band’s bill…and Blum was waiting for him. He wanted to come unglued, but James calmly handed a stack of room bills to Zeppelin’s manager. The total for all of their rooms was about $3,000. The Edgewater manager recalls, “Richard casually reached into his pocket, pulled out a thick roll of cash and peeled off thirty $100 bills. He pushed the pile of cash across the counter toward me like he was buying a pack of gum.”
So far, so good. Blum didn’t want to provoke Cole. But he had to address the missing TVs. He swallowed hard and looked Led Zeppelin’s manager in the eye. In his most pleasant voice, Blum continued, “Mr. Cole, I must also charge you for those television sets that were thrown out of your hotel room windows.”
The road manager smirked and tried to hide his smile. “How many TVs did they toss out?”
“Five,” Blum answered. “At $500 per TV, we must charge you an additional $2,500.”
Blum expected Richard to go crazy. Instead, Cole chuckled to himself, reached back into his pocket and counted off 25 more Ben Franklins. Again, he slid the stack of bills across the counter…like it was nothing.
Meanwhile, the desk clerk was a young guy who’d been watching this transaction. His eyes widened at the sight of Richard Cole’s roll and how nonchalant he was about paying a $3,000 tab, in cash. Then piling up another $2,500. Who carries 55 $100 bills? Apparently, Zeppelin’s manager did. And he still had a few more left in his pocket.
With their hotel bill settled, Cole turned to walk away. Then the young desk clerk worked up the nerve and asked, “Excuse me, Mr Cole. I’ve heard that Led Zeppelin has a reputation for throwing TVs. But I thought it was BS. Can you tell me, what does it feel like to just toss a TV out of your window?”
Richard Cole stepped back toward the desk, stood in front of the young clerk and replied, “Kid, there are some things in life that you’ve got to experience for yourself.” With that, Cole reached back into his pocket and unrolled five more crisp $100s. He laid the cash on the counter, pushed them across to the clerk and said, “Here you go, mate. Go toss a TV courtesy of Led Zeppelin!”
Led Zeppelin’s entourage has not returned to the Edgewater Hotel since then. And I doubt that the hotel management saved the carpet squares from their rooms. But the legend lives on.