Led Zeppelin: Rising Stars
Page and Dreja stuck together initially, with the plan of drafting some new players and keeping the Yardbirds going. Page also formed a close alliance with Peter Grant at this time. During a famous conversation in Grant’s car, while stuck in a London traffic jam, Page told the manager that he had some ideas for a new band and that he would like to produce the music himself this time. Grant jumped on the idea. It’s probable that he was eager to get rid of Most at this juncture, and if Page really could handle the production end of things, Most would then become less necessary.
A deal was struck: Most would work with Beck on his solo recordings, while Page would produce the new band he would assemble, which at this point was slated to be named the New Yardbirds. Grant would manage both acts. Beck fared better with Most than the Yardbirds ever had. With Rod Stewart on vocals, Beck released his admirable solo debut, Truth, in 1968, a classic album generally acknowledged as another key heavy metal precursor.
Meanwhile, Page and Dreja set off in search of a new drummer and lead singer. For the latter, Page had in mind a wailing, R&B belter like Steve Marriott of the Small Faces, and later Humble Pie, or Paul Rodgers who was just getting started with Free at the time. Page set his sights on an up-and-coming singer named Terry Reid, but Reid had just signed up to make a solo album (produced by none other than Mickie Most). However, Reid was able to recommend another singer to Page, a total unknown at the time by the name of Robert Plant.
Plant came from the English Midlands region near the industrial city of Birmingham, far from London both geographically and culturally. Though he had a solid grounding in R&B and blues, Plant was also deeply obsessed with the San Francisco psychedelic bands of the day, particularly Moby Grape and the Jefferson Airplane. The young singer had been in a local group called Band of Joy that hadn’t gone very far. At the time when Page first contacted Plant, he was performing with another Midlands group called Hobbstweedle, a name very redolent of the elfin/Druid strain of British hippiedom born of a counterculture fascination at that time with J.R.R. Tolkien’s literary fantasy trilogy Lord of the Rings.
Plant was quick to recommend his friend John Bonham as a potential drummer for the group. Another Midlands man, Bonham had also passed through the Band of Joy’s ranks and had also had some success as a road drummer for Joe Cocker, Chris Farlowe and Tim Rose. His relentlessly solid drumming would become the granite foundation of the band soon to become Led Zeppelin.
Right around this time, Chris Dreja dropped out of the picture. According to some accounts, he was less than thrilled with Plant’s voice, but he’d also decided to pursue a career in photography and quickly began to meet with success in that endeavor. (He would take the back cover photo for the first Led Zeppelin album.) The bass slot left vacant by Dreja didn’t remain open for long. Page had already been contacted by his old session pal John Paul Jones, who was very interested in joining the new group he’d heard Page was forming.
Jones would prove to be a great asset to Page’s new band. Not only a superb bass player but also a classically trained organist, Jones was Page’s equal when it came to studio experience. He’d played bass and keyboards on countless sessions and done quite a bit of arranging—everything from Donovan’s hit “Sunshine Superman” to orchestral charts for crooners like Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck. All of Jones’ considerable skills would be put to use in Led Zeppelin. The bassist was quickly admitted to the ranks and, by August 1968, the quartet that would shake the very foundations of rock music was firmly in place.
Using his deep studio connections, Page got them all a session gig backing Texan singer P.J. Proby on an album project. (Plant played tambourine.) This gave Page’s new group an opportunity to gain some experience working in a studio together. Following this, the fledgling band were off on a Scandinavian tour, fulfilling a Yardbirds commitment that was still on the books. Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones played their first live show together on September 7, 1968, in Copenhagen. For this tour they were billed as “The Yardbirds, Featuring Jimmy Page.” On the road in Scandinavia, Page worked to mold his new quartet, much as he’d molded the Yardbirds on tour.
On September 28, 1968, Page, Plant, Jones and Bonham settled into Olympic Studios in London to begin work on their debut album.
The project was financed entirely by Jimmy Page with funds he’d saved from his session work. He paid £1,782 (roughly $4,300 at the time) for 30 hours of studio time. Page knew he could nail the album in that tight time frame. He was fully in charge this time. There was no more Mickie Most to trip over.
“I wanted artistic control in a vise grip,” Page recalls, “because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these fellows. It wasn’t all that difficult, because we were well rehearsed, having just finished a tour of Scandinavia and I knew exactly what I wanted to do in every respect. I knew where all the guitars were going to go and how it was going to sound—everything.”
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