Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour - Stephen Davis

The last time Stephen Davis tackled the subject of Led Zeppelin, the result was Hammer of the Gods, a tabloid fodder biography of the 70’s superstars that was a bestseller due to it’s sensational content, but that is often reviled by Led Zeppelin faithful, for the same reason.

His newest Led Zeppelin tome, LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour, due for release in Canada on Tuesday Nov 2nd, should inspire neither the same sales nor passions. While LZ-’75 is marketed as a book about Led Zeppelin, it’s really a book about Stephen Davis, with Led Zeppelin playing a significant supporting role.

lz-75Stephen Davis was a prominent rock journalist in 1975, a former editor of Rolling Stone, who was invited by Swan Song Vice-President Danny Goldberg to tour with Led Zeppelin. While it sounds at first blush that Davis travelled from the get go, it’s not so. He joined the 1975 Led Zeppelin tour in New York, then travelled with it to Los Angeles. The rest of America somehow managed to see Led Zeppelin without Stephen Davis.

The truth is Davis joins the tour at chapter 12, a third of the way through the book. Before that it’s Davis personal history with Led Zeppelin, i.e. as a young fan in 1969 he loved them, as an Editor at Rolling Stone he ignored them. By 1975, Davis was having to reacquaint himself with the band. He therefore, spends the early chapters giving the reader the bands history, and if there’s any revelations in the book, they emerge here. A couple of pieces that were news to me: Robert Plant had secret vocal chord surgery sometime after the 1973 tour, leaving him unable to speak for a couple of weeks, and his voice an octave lower than it had been; Physical Graffiti was delayed in the early months of 1975 in part because they were waiting for some Indian musicians to add backing tracks to Kashmir - they never did. I can’t help wondering, what would Kashmir sound like with Indian instruments layered on?

Any mention of drug use comes up in the early sections as well, and nothing outrageous.

Jimmy Page:
Jimmy Page was spent from long nights spent mixing the tapes for Zeppelin’s new album, which he had finished only the previous November… Jimmy was also said to be using heroin, which left him weak, anemic and spectrally thin.

John Bonham:
And then there was John Henry Bonham, also known as Bonzo or (behind his back) the Beast. Led Zeppelin’s brilliant drummer… was miserable about leaving his wife and two children and his cozy farm in the wintry English midlands for three months of touring in America. He was drinking a lot and had put on a ton of weight. He… looked fat; drank more than usual; may also have been dabbling in heroin

And although John Paul Jones isn’t reported to be on drugs, he isn’t spared a shot:
John Paul Jones had reportedly gone to Peter Grant… and told him he wanted to leave the band… Jones arrived at the next Zeppelin session and said nothing about leaving, but to the others he seemed sullen and more withdrawn than usual.

Outside of these examples, the negatives are kept to a minimum.

The early part of the tour is reported second hand, as Davis is not on the tour, but following it through the press. Once he joins the tour in New York, the book becomes a first hand account. You are privy to what Davis saw, whom he talked to and how he travelled (hint: sometimes, in a Led Zeppelin entourage limo and on the Starship).

You get a conversation in Jimmy Page’s hotel room and an interview with Robert Plant during the infamous “I am a Golden God!” photo session. He meets Mick Hinton, John Bonham’s drum tech, who gives him a tour of the drum set pre-concert. He meets groupies, cocktail waitresses with stories, roadies in bars, and Lori Maddox:
“That’s Lori Maddox,” he (Danny Goldberg) said. “She was Jimmy’s girlfriend when she was fourteen, which was only about three years ago… Since then Jimmy’s moved on, but she’s like a mascot, and they all like her, so she’s always around when the band is in town.

The books most damning part comes from a day Davis spent hanging around the Swan Song offices while Led Zeppelin were performing in the south. The receptionist was wading through a pile of fan mail, opening it to check for contraband, mostly the odd joint thrown in. The letters were then thrown out. Davis grabbed a stack of the letters, and he reprints one here. The fact that the letters are treated so shabbily, reflects badly on how Zeppelin treated their fan base. The letter reprinted is so earnest, if innocent, “I’m also ‘into’ black magic and playing guitar, so we have a lot in common,” that it deserves better than the garbage. Thousands of fans, in good faith, sent letters to the band they loved, and every single one of them was pillaged for goods and disposed unread.

Overall LZ-’75 is quick, easy and pleasant read. Nothing outrageous is reported, but neither does Stephen Davis pull any punches. If you are big time Led Zeppelin fan, you will likely find it an entertaining way to kill a winters afternoon. If you are Stephen Davis’ mother, you will be interested to know what Stephen was getting up to. However, if you are a marginal Led Zeppelin fan and wonder “who the fuck is Stephen Davis?” this book is probably not for you.
...(Led) Zeppelin (is) alone in the virtual arena as still reigning champions of rock.

Some say that, like many great champions, Led Zeppelin retired undefeated.

I don't think Robert Plant feels that way

LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour.
Davis, Stephen 1947 -

A note about the edition: This book was released world wide on October 28th, 2010. Jaw droppingly, it is unavailable in Canada until tomorrow, Nov 2. As I live in Canada, yet the 21st century - unlike the book publishers - I downloaded a Dolby Digital Editions copy from an American book seller. Some hoops had to be jumped through to get the book, more to get it to function on my Kobo e-reader.

E-editions really don't do pictures well yet, so I can't comment on the quality of the pictures in the book (all by Peter Simon), except to say they are of terrible quality in the e-edition. That is, however, a limit of the technology at it's current stage of development.

You would think book publishers would have learnt from the music industry. Now that their works are being digitized, they are becoming easier to attain through illegal means. Making it harder for your customers to buy the product than to just take it is idiotic. Releasing the product in most, but not all countries, is begging potential customers to take what they might have bought.


Scieber King said...

How does Davis know that it was the band who was behind the "order" to rifle and pillage through fan mail? It could have been the receptionist who was into drugs.

toronto maple leafs typeface pics said...

Extraordinary review. Keep up the great work.