The dominant rock band of the 1970s, and the blueprint for many of the heavy metal act thats followed, was Led Zeppelin. Of course there were precursors and influences, such as the Yardbirds, Cream and the Jeff Beck Group, and there were others travelling the same path, but Led Zep was the biggie.
The band was the brainchild of Jimmy Page
, its guitarist, producer and main songwriter, but from the off this was a collective venture, and every member – vocalist Robert Plant
, bassist John Paul Jones
and drummer John Bonham
– made a defining contribution to the Led Zeppelin sound.
Page had been one of the busiest London session players until, disenchanted with the direction popular music was taking, he joined the Yardbirds in 1966. When that band broke up, in July 1968, he decided to put together a new group, under the name of The New Yardbirds, to play a scheduled tour of Scandinavia and to allow him to progress his musical ideas.
He’d originally approached a completely different set of musicians to join the band, but for one reason or another they declined the offer. However, Terry Reid, the prospective vocalist, recommended Plant, who in turn introduced his friend Bonham, while Jones, another busy session man who had played with Page on countless studio tracks, put himself forward as bassist when Yardbirds bassist Chris Dreja opted out in favour of becoming a photographer.
While the new band played some old Yardbirds material, notably Dazed and Confused
(available on the Lick Library DVD/CD Jam with Led Zeppelin
), its dynamic was very different from its predecessor. In recognition of that (and to avoid any legal challenge to Page’s rights to the name) it soon changed from The New Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin (which had first been suggested by The Who’s Jon Entwistle, who thought that Page’s supergroup concept would go down like a lead balloon). The band began playing dates in October 1968, starting to tour in earnest at the beginning of 1969.
Led Zeppelin was an instant success – with the public – though reviewers (notably John Mendelsohn in Rolling Stone
) slammed their first album, released in January 1969). That album made number 10 in the American charts, and has, to date, sold more than eight million copies in the US alone. The follow up, released the same year, went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic, and the two together (along with the Zeppelin stage show) virtually set the blueprint for the heavy metal
acts that sprang up in their wake.
Page’s playing (along with Bonham’s drumming) have also been hugely influential, acting as a template for aspiring learners
with Led Zep tracks such as Heartbreaker, Immigrant Song, In My Time Of Dying, Ramble On and Whole Lotta Love among the most popular downloadable DVD lessons from LickLibrary.com. The mix of styles Page employs on these tracks – ranging from heavy electric riffing to screaming soloing to fingerstyle-based acoustic and 12-string backings – provides an object lesson
in thoughtful arrangement and layering of guitar textures.
Page’s guitar work might not always be perfect, but particularly on the early material it is always exciting and frequently innovative, as is his production, with pioneering techniques such as reverse echo and ambient mic placement. And Led Zep also had a distinctive sound through Plant’s unique vocal style, plus a rhythm section in Jones and Bonham that was less jazzy and fluid than Bruce and Baker had been with Cream but every bit its equal in technical proficiency. And, as purveyors of a more straight ahead form of music, Led Zeppelin reaped even greater rewards, becoming the world’s biggest act in the ensuing decade.
The band called it a day upon the death of Bonham in 1980 save for a couple of reunions for special functions – the most recent of which was at the tribute concert for Ahmet Ertegun, boss of Atlantic, Led Zeppelin’s record label, in 2007. Although the three surviving members have continued to work after 1980, both on solo projects and, occasionally, in collaborations, unsurprisingly none of their subsequent ventures have touched the heights of Led Zeppelin. It hardly matters – Led Zeppelin, and its fan base, is still huge.