I’m a portion of the way through LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour, Stephen Davis’ new autobiographical read on Led Zeppelin’s 1975 tour of America and, more broadly speaking, Led Zeppelin’s 1975, and something is bothering me. In 1969 Davis saw Led Zeppelin at Boston’s famed Tea Party, and was impressed by the young, early rockers.
Between then and 1975 he worked as an editor at Rolling Stone (not the whole time), America’s premiere music magazine. So what does Davis do before heading out with Led Zeppelin? Familiarize himself with the Led Zeppelin catalogue. Familiarize himself, because working for the #1 music magazine means not being familiar with the top selling band, the top concert draw of the last five years?
Taking my assignment seriously, I had to familiarize myself with Led Zeppelin’s music… I had never even listened to 1973’s Houses of the Holy…
My brother Chris is eight years younger than I. In 1975 he was still in the clutches of ardent Zeppelin fandom. He told me I had to hear the Led Zeppelin bootleg records because the mystical connection between the band and “the kids“ was a bout a communion forged by their intense love shows.
Yes kids, in 1975 you could be one year out of a Rolling Stone editorship and never listened to a Led Zeppelin album that had been #1 on Billboard, Cashbox and the UK album charts. You never need to wonder again why Led Zeppelin so mistrusted the “rock” press.
That Led Zeppelin mistrusted, even hated, the press is an important part of the story of LZ-’75. Stephen Davis was invited to travel with Led Zeppelin, courtesy of Led Zeppelin, in a proactive attempt to get better press for the band. Stephen Davis, in short, didn’t do his job for five years, and was rewarded with the gig of a lifetime. His superior attitude that the stoned kids who liked Led Zeppelin were, “in the clutches of ardent… fandom,” runs throughout the narrative.
Yet for that, LZ-’75 is an enjoyable read. Once Davis has familiarized himself, and given Led Zeppelin’s history up until 1975, the book settles into a nice memoir of the band and it’s extended family.
Because he knew he would be covering Led Zeppelin during part of their 1975 tour, Davis kept newspaper reports of the early days of the tour. Whether it’s the fans in Boston in near riot during the lead up to the tickets going on sale, or the early shows and the various problems they encountered, Davis covers the history of the 1975 tour. But it is when Davis joins up with Led Zeppelin in New York that LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour comes to life. The book shifts from historical record to personal, first person behind the scenes account of the tour.
It is, however, the Los Angeles portion of the tour that makes LZ-'75 worth the money. Whether it is chance encounters with Jimmy Page's ex-girlfriend Lori Maddox, ("Lori is a legend along Sunset Strip,") or Ron Wood's wife Chrissie, "who ran off with Jimmy before the tour started," (Wood is reported to have asked Jimmy at an after concert party in New York, "how's our bird?"): The Hyatt House, known as the Riot House; the groupies; the kindergarten teacher who wants to be a groupie, for one night at least; Iggy Pop selling heroin; John Bonham jamming, at full volume, to Alphonse Mouzon's 1975 album Mind Transplant at 3AM; or Robert Plant on Davis' hotel balcony, yelling "I am a Golden God!"
Add in an interview with Robert Plant (during which the aforementioned balcony scene occurs), and a meeting in Jimmy Page's hotel room where the exhausted(?) Page lies around in darkness, the room barely lit with "a dozen white candles." Davis has a meeting with the kindergarten teacher, The Prairie Princess, and two roadies at the bar.
Outside the Continental Hyatt House, Davis travels with the band on The Starship - including a harrowing trip through a storm, hangs out backstage, examines John Bonham's drum-kit with Bonham's faithful roadie Mick Hinton, to the concerts themselves.
LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour is overall, an easy, comfortable read. Many of the stories herein will be familiar to a Led Zeppelin fan, but weaved together they tell an interesting tale of a top flight band at the apex of their career. Their Achilles Heel, drugs, was just beginning to show itself and the band would change irrevocably in the aftermath of 1975.
Dotted throughout with fabulous black and white pictures by Peter Simon, many of them never before seen, LZ-'75 makes a perfect winter's afternoon read in the big comfortable chair.
I previously reviewed LZ-'75 from an e-book version here.