ignited the fiftieth anniversary of Led Zeppelin IV and “Stairway to Heaven,” veteran journalist and book author Bob Spitz set out to write the definitive novel for one of rock’n’roll’s most legendary bands.
Previous bestselling author The Beatles: Biography, And Abbey: The Wonderful Life of Julia Child, Spitz was not deterred by over 100 books already on Zep, most of which are nonsense by the way. He took his time to make things right. “I’ve spent five years tracking down people and writing this book, following every introduction, and there are 35 pages of source notes at the back of the book, so the reader will know exactly where every quote and detail is coming from.”
I spoke with Bob about why he’s a primary Zip biography, why they aren’t “golden gods,” and why he was, he says, the “perfect” person to write this book.
Spin: Why a book on Led Zeppelin in 2021?
Bob Spitz: The easy answer is that it’s the number 50NSmemory LZIVand “Styraway.“But the more complex answer is like why I’m writing the Beatles. There were 700 books written about the Beatles when I started researching, but they were all based on Hunter Davis’ book and Paul told me that they wrote half of these stories to protect their families, wives, and girlfriends. From some of the more subtle details. So, I set out to set the record straight by speaking to every eyewitness and source, 355 in total. Voila: It produced a completely different story than anyone has ever heard, and it’s all based on facts, not myth.
With Zep, I read a bunch of stuff written about them (about 130 books, etc.) and found most of them either written by fans or hackers. The credibility of Richard Cole’s book has been largely lost, and gods hammer It is nothing more than an account of bad behavior in which the “author” places himself at the center of the stories. None of these books have been obtained, so we have no idea where any of these quotes came from or even if they are reliable. And many of Zep’s more “reliable” books included “recreations” of scenes based on what the “authors” had imagined.
Zeb needed a final solution, trusted Personal Biography. I started from scratch, with Jimmy Page, of course, and found his best friend/next-door neighbor who bought all the blues records Jimmy learned to play from and was there when 16-year-old Jeff Beck came knocking on his door, and he was at Jimmy’s first party. I spoke to Glenn Jones who also grew up a few streets from Jimmy and “produced” (the real story in the book) the first Zep album. I spoke with several artists who were session players with Jimmy and Shel Talmy who hired Jimmy to play on his early Who and Kinks singles. and to Terry Reed, who initially chose Jimmy as the vocalist for Zip but was instrumental in bringing Robert and Ponzo into the band. And everything happened from those beginnings.
So what’s new in your book?
This book takes you behind the scenes of the band’s entire history, from their earliest teen bands to the formation of LZ to every single one of their recording sessions, their tours, and every important meeting they’ve ever had. It relies solely on eyewitness accounts. It is the first book in which the reader is with the band while they compose their music at rehearsals and in the studio.
And because I’m a musician, I’ve been able to explain how music has evolved in general terms. I also listened to the album with other musicians – for example, Carmine Appice showed me from the perspective of a drummer how Bonzo played those great pieces. Roger Meyer, inventor of the fuzz box (and Jimmy’s childhood friend) detailed how he created the effect (now standard for all guitarists) for Jimmy and Jeff Beck. I even spoke with historian Marshall Amps who gave me incredible insight into how UK rock ‘n’ roll transformed from Vox Amps to Marshall Stacks (responsible for much of Zep’s sound).
There are a few gems everywhere: for example, you’ll be with Jimmy Page the night he meets Mick and Keith (pre-Rolling Stones) when they go listen to a guitarist who calls himself Elmo Lewis (really Brian Jones!), Which is the night Mick and Keith Bryan meet, too. You’ll be with Robert and Ponzo as they jump from band to band in the Midlands, along with characters from Moody Blues, Fairport, and Fairport Convention, as well as Jim Capaldi, Stevie Winwood, Dave Mason, Steve Gibbons, Brian Ferry, and the unsung “Losers”. They can have a Saturday night party, Ozzy and Tony (later Black Sabbath). Jerry Greenberg explained exactly how Peter Grant and Jimmy got to Atlantic Records. (Clive Davis explained how he and Columbia Records were taken advantage of by them!)
Phil Carson, who was Atlantic’s liaison with Zip, guided me through their entire history of the label and his days on the road with them. Maggie Bell gave me a detailed account (no pun intended) of her relationship with the band. journalists from rolling rockAnd NMEAnd Melody Maker, which covered Zep, explained their interactions. Five people spilled beans on whoever stole the Drake’s hotel safe. The attorney who represented John Gotti and Frank Lucas described how he managed to get Peter Grant and Richard Cole out of trouble. And yes, she spoke to many famous groups whose adventures with the band became a legend. You’ll be in Peter Grant’s hotel room with the squad after the infamous Auckland attack when they made plans to skip town but are later captured. She will be in the darkened bedroom with Benji Lefevre when he discovers Bonzo’s body. There is more new material – much more – but then I must start charging you with the word! ($4 a word, the amount Bob Guccione’s father, Jr. paid me when I wrote to him that day).
Seriously, I hope this gives you a taste.
Do you know the band personally?
No, I don’t know them. They were ready to talk to me when #MeToo landed, and suddenly they didn’t talk to anyone anymore. But I’ve always felt that musicians, who live in a bubble, are the most reliable narrators. I left it up to everyone, those who were with them every step of the way, to fill in the details. Of course, I was desperate to lose the band members, but I was reading a copy of David McCullough John Adams When I realized he didn’t talk to Adams! So, it’s time to get down to business and track down about 250 eyewitnesses to Zep’s story.
If Led Zeps were formed today – would they be successful?
Who can say? They were the sound of the ’70s and define that era well, just like The Doors, Love, The Spoonful, The Beatles, etc, were the sound of the ’60s, and how Billie Eilish and Taylor Swift sound today. I think each band is a history of their era, not only in terms of the music but the cultural context as well. Will The Temptations be successful in the hip-hop era? Your guess is as good as mine
Did Jimmy Page express awareness of the inappropriateness of his relationships with underage girls?
This is not what I’ve heard before. It’s a topic he carefully avoids. Many people associated with Led Zeppelin go on to say, “These girls followed the band, not the other way around.” or “These girls got what they wanted.” Rock bands have largely escaped recognition for bad behavior, but as George Harrison wisely observed: “All things must pass.”
What is the biggest misnomer about Led Zeppelin?
They were gods of gold. They worked their way up and hit the rough road so often that it’s surprising that even three guys made it to the finish line and lived to tell it. Being a Led Zeppelin, and maintaining her image, status, and voice, was brutal. They’ve put their backs (and other appendices) into it and this wonderful lyric book they left us is a testament to hard work.
Which of the myths are actually myths?
hard to say. I mean, what are the legends? – that they had sex with underage girls, they took huge amounts of drugs, they tortured a poor sad girl with a mud shark, and their boss abused fans, Jimmy Page indulged in witchcraft, and Ponzo was the “monster?” Guilty, guilty, guilty.
What were your big discoveries when writing the book?
I think I covered this in the answers to your first two questions. But I will admit to this discovery: When my editor asked me to write this book, I had upwards of 20,000 vinyl albums in my collection and not a single Led Zeppelin album. If he asked me to name any of their songs, I might have come up with “Whole Lotta Love” and “Stairway”, but that’s all there is to it. I was on the road with Bruce Springsteen during Zep’s heyday and our musical paths never crossed. Having said that, I was the perfect person to write this book. It gave me a new perspective. At first, I was an empty bowl, without any preconceived notions about the band, letting the facts of their story and music fill me up. I spent months – years! Listen to their music with an open mind, and an open mouth often.
Are there real rock stars today (by LED zip standards)?
No. The prince, unfortunately, was the last.