18 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Manager Peter Grant Dies
On Nov. 21, 1995, rock ‘n’ roll lost one of its biggest characters — figuratively and literally — with the death of legendary Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, perhaps the quintessential artist handler of the rock era.
A complex man to say the least, Grant was equal parts savvy businessman and savage beast, a mother hen to his clients and bully to those who crossed them. These radical contradictions simultaneously solidified his legacy and cut short his career.
Prior to meeting Led Zeppelin guitarist and prime architect Jimmy Page during their brief shared tenure with the Yardbirds, Grant had worked his way up from a sheet-metal factory to club stagehand and bouncer, with stints as film and TV actor and professional wrestler (he stood 6’5”, and nearly as wide), along the way.
In 1963, he was hired by equally legendary music impresario Don Arden, who put him to work managing artists like Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, the Animals and, eventually, the Yardbirds — all the while displaying the sort of heavy-handed management techniques that he’d later put to good use on behalf of Led Zeppelin.
It was Grant who negotiated Zeppelin’s unprecedented beneficial contract with Atlantic Records, zealously guarded the band’s interests against meddling music-business sharks and bootleggers alike and altered the concert business almost single-handedly by demanding historic monetary guarantees from promoters.
So as Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones collectively grew into the most iconic rock band of the ’70s, Grant too became inextricably linked with not only their lofty creative and professional achievements (acting as executive producer on their albums and director of their Swan Song label, on which he also managed Bad Company’s affairs), but also the group’s dangerous substance abuse and the countless episodes of controversial rock-star excess — many of which have since gone down in rock lore.
Unfortunately, when Bonham’s tragic death from alcohol abuse closed the book on Zeppelin’s career in 1980, it set Grant’s personal and professional life adrift, along with that of his former charges — especially once Swan Song shut its doors in 1983.
Grant spent the remainder of the ‘80s out of the spotlight, slowly piecing his life back together and conquering the demons left over from Led Zeppelin’s olympian flight across rock’s firmament. He eventually came out of his shell to dabble in everything from bit acting roles to speaking engagements at music-business conferences, where his experience and reputation for revolutionizing so many business practices was duly recognized by peers and successors
Grant died of a heart attack in 1995, at the wheel of his car with son Warren by his side, having lived 60 remarkable years worthy of immortality alongside Led Zeppelin themselves.