By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: In keeping with the trend of celebrating double shot anniversaries like the 11th, 22nd , 33rd and so forth, let us celebrate the 44th anniversary of the release of one of rock’s watershed album – Led Zeppelin- that was made available to the public on Jan 12, 1969.
It wasn’t till more than a month later that I heard of the album after receiving a letter from my brother who was studying in the UK. He wrote that a friend of his had brought the album from the US (it hadn’t been released in the UK as yet- even though Led Zeppelin is a British band) and everybody was ranking the band up there with Cream, The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. In April, after the album was released in the UK, my brother sent it to me through a relative.
As soon as I received it, my friends and I huddled together and listened to this ground-breaking album. Our minds were totalled with the first track “Good times , bad times”. The whole album was superb and that is an understatement! Their track “Dazed and Confused” definitely rendered us completely dazed and confused. And on the flip side we got a bonus- a short instrumental including the tabla called “Black Mountain Side”.
By then I had received my early admission letter to Cornell University in the US and I knew I was definitely going by September. I made it my resolve to see this band when I landed there. In October that year, the band released their second album- Led Zeppelin ll – which was more widely acclaimed and influential than its predecessor with their opening track “Whole Lotta Love” receiving unparalleled praise and airtime from all DJs.
However it was not until August 15, 1970, on the 1st anniversary of the fabled Woodstock festival that I got to see them at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut. What struck my friend’s and my eyes were that three members of the band – Robert Plant (frontman), Jimmy Page (guitarist extraordinaire), John Bonham (wild drummer) – all sported beards and looked unlike any photos we had seen of them. Only John Paul Jones (organs) was clean shaven. It was a mind-blowing experience as we heard live for the first time Plant gutting out his immortal lyrics “gonna give you EVERY INCH of my love” and “squeeze me baby, till the juice runs down my leg” making lewd gestures at the same time.
Every person showed off his musical prowess, with Page famously playing the guitar with a VIOLIN BOW and creating unreal psychedelic sounds and Bonham smashing away on his drums! My friend and I were transported to rock and roll heaven!
We were so taken in by that awesome experience especially with Jimmy Page’s wizardry on his axe(guitar), that when we got back to campus we told all our friends about how he rivalled Hendrix (who we had seen just a few weeks before) and 5 of us decided to go see them at Madison Square Garden the following month.
On September 19, the day after the greatest guitar god, Hendrix, passed away, we drove down from Ithaca, New York, to New York City. On the six-hour drive, we put on all the radio stations possible to hear who the DJs said would replace Hendrix as the next Zeus of guitars. We were so sure we would hear Jimmy Page mentioned but not one of the radio stations we tuned into (and we tuned in to several) blurted his name. Most of the time we heard Pete Townsend of The Who and Eric Clapton (who was the original God until Hendrix took over). Even Carlos Santana, Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) and Alvin Lee (Ten Years After) were bandied about.
Anyways, that did not stop us from enjoying Led Zeppelin that amazing evening as we were once again transported into nirvana as the band started with the hard driving ‘Immigrant Song’ from their yet to be released 3rd album! Plant’s singing, Bonham’s drumming and Page’s guitar freak-outs did not fail to impress the 50,000 strong crowd as the whole auditorium went wild with not one soul sitting down throughout the concert, not even for their exceptional ballad tune ‘Thank You’ that saw standing couples making out with French kisses galore!
Even though I saw Led Zep several times after that, it wasn’t until a short visit to Bombay, India in 1972 that I had my 3rd super memorable encounter. My friends and I were sitting on the wall behind Radio Club enjoying the sea breeze and rock music- Clapton, Jethro Tull, The Doors etc.- blaring from cars, when a friend comes running up to us yelling – ‘hey man, Page and Plant are at Slip Disc, come on, yaar!’ We tore down the road and around the corner where Slip Disc, Bombay’s (Mumbai now) most happening disco (as clubs were called then) was and there in front of us like 10 feet away were Led Zeppelin’s defining members- Jimmy Page and Robert Plant! Then followed the most amazing impromptu concert that Bombayiites (as we were called then) ever saw as both Page and Plant let it all hang down and jammed with a couple of Bombay’s musicians on the drums and bass. This was as magnificent as it gets!
Led Zeppelin went on to be noted as the world’s greatest rock and roll band ever, staging their most memorable concerts over three nights at the Madison Square in 1973 which has been documented on DVDs, CDs, video tapes and vinyl as ‘The Song Remains The Same.’ After John Bonham the drummer passed away in 1980, the band decided not to tour as Led Zeppelin ever again.
However, in Dec 2007, they got together with John Bonham’s son, Jason, on the drums for a one-off concert in London at the O2 arena. That concert broke all records for solicited tickets. There were 20 million plus requests for tickets for a venue that holds a maximum of 23,000!
That alone speaks volumes for the band’s enormity and popularity. ‘Nuff said!
(Lachman Balani is a Toronto-based financial consultant)