The Life and Death of Led Zeppelin Manager Peter Grant
Rock 'n' roll lost one of its biggest characters – figuratively and literally – with the Nov. 21, 1995 death of legendary Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant.
He was perhaps the quintessential artist handler of his era, and a complex man to say the least. Grant could be 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.
Before he met Led Zeppelin's architect and guitarist Jimmy Page during their 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 weighed more than 300 pounds), 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 he displayed the sort of heavy-handed management techniques that he'd later put to good use for Zeppelin.
Grant negotiated Led 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, Bonham’s tragic death from alcohol abuse closed the book on Zeppelin’s career in 1980. It also 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 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 at the wheel of his car with son Warren by his side, having lived 60 remarkable years worthy of immortality alongside Led Zeppelin themselves.