July was hot. Too hot for any heavy thinking. I put a my literary novel back on the shelf and picked up the sleaziest rock and roll biography I could find, Stephen Davis’s 1997 history of Led Zeppelin.
Jimmy Page had found lucrative work in the early to mid-sixties as a studio musician. Turns out that many of the British Invasion bands (the Kinks, Van Morrison’s Them) couldn’t actually play very well, so many of the most distinctive licks from that era were his. Hired to play bass in the Yardbirds, he took over lead chores when Jeff Beck left.
When the Yardbirds dissolved in a toxic stew of booze and hallucinogens, Plant recruited another old studio pro, John Paul Jones, and discovered the siren-voiced (in both senses) Robert Plant, a country boy who’d jumped on every fad to come down the pike, from mod to rocker to glam to hippie. Plant’s neighbor John Bonham filled out the lineup, a sweet guy those rare times he was sober. Drunk, he and thug manager Peter Grant liked to grab passing men by the crotch, squeeze, and ask, “how’s yer nob?”
“Gradually Zeppelin’s avowed Apollonian intent reverted to a Dionysiac bawdiness.” Salacious details involve drugs, ,girls, wrecked hotels, and the Satanic rumors that author Davis mocks, but keeps returning to. Girls and drugs were provided by the sleazoid flunky Richard Cole, not above booking live sex shows for the band, or helping himself, for that matter.
Anyway, it’s quite a story, and an excuse to revisit the soundtrack, turned up loud.