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How it all began for Led Zeppelin

Meike Krüger als
September 7, 2018

Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones played for the first time together as The New Yardbirds. The name Led Zeppelin only occurred to them later after a derogatory comment by fellow musicians.

Bildergalerie Robert Plant wird 70
Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

Led Zeppelin are among the pioneers of hard rock, perhaps even heavy metal. They are one of the most successful and innovative bands in music history. Since their founding in 1968, they have sold more than 300 million records worldwide. Even today, many musicians refer to Jimmy Page and his comrades-in-arms as an inspiration.

More frustration than desire

At the beginning of their band formation, the members were frustrated more than anything. The band The Yardbirds was in the process of disbanding. Guitarist Jeff Beck had thrown in the towel just shortly before.

Jimmy Page then took over the management and the responsibility. Even though the last album had been a flop, contracts still had to be upheld and concerts had to be given. So Jimmy Page gathered together new musicians around him.

He could win over John Bonham for the drums, Robert Plant as singer and on bass, John Paul Jones.

In this formation, he wanted to play more radically and uncompromisingly than ever before. "We wanted to start a frontal attack on the ears", Jimmy Page said later in an interview and "just make noise."

Led Zeppelin's first outdoor show at the Bath Blues Festival in June 1969
Led Zeppelin's first outdoor show at the Bath Blues Festival in June 1969Image: picture-alliance/Photoshot

The birth of Led Zeppelin

On September 7, 1968, the four musicians took the stage for the first time in this new combination. Under the name The New Yardbirds, they first toured through Scandinavia.

Legend has it that fellow rock musicians from the group The Who made jokes about the new band, saying they would sink like a lead zeppelin. That inspired the British rock quartet, calling itself "Led Zeppelin" from then on and catapulting its way into history.

In a mere 36 hours, the four musicians recorded the songs for their debut album in one mad rush. After their joint tour, the chemistry was right among them and they all played together well. Even if not all music critics were completely enthusiastic, their progressive sound quickly conquered the rock scene.

Faster success in the US

Although all of the musicians came from Great Britain, the band concentrated first on the US market. The band's immense success developed much faster there than in Europe.

Yet Led Zeppelin avoided television appearances as much as possible, as the medium was simply not cut out for them. Their home was the stage. Led Zeppelin's live concerts were legendary. Due to extremely extensive guitar solos, long songs were played even longer anyway — some up to 30 minutes. Three to four-hour shows were not uncommon.

The image of the band was also legendary. To this day, rumors still circulate that their biggest hit, "Stairway to Heaven," reveals satanic messages when the song is played backwards.

Robert Plant wird 70
Robert Plant (right) was not the first choice as singer for Led Zeppelin, but later made rock history with the band; here, with John Bonham on drumsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Fame and ruin

Though world-famous and celebrated, the band was nevertheless in a bad position by the end of the 70s. There was tension within the band behind the scenes. Jimmy Page and John Bonham were suffering from personal problems. Robert Plant also faced his own crisis when his six-year-old son died from a viral infection. Talk of the band breaking up started to spread.

Led Zeppelin also struggled with an image problem for the first time. The new, anarchic, wild punk movement suddenly made the musicians appear like aging rock dinosaurs.

The tragic low point in the band's history, however, was the death of drummer John Bonham. After a concert and a very boozy party, Bonham suffocated on his vomit while on the back seat of a car, passing away on September 25, 1980. The end was then near for Led Zeppelin.

The band announced its breakup on December 4, 1980.

Just as at the beginning of the band's history, so too was Jimmy Page confronted with the same problem as it ended. Existing contracts had to be fulfilled.

In order to be able to release another album, he assembled old live sessions and studio recordings. It was released two years after the dissolution of the band.

Since then, fans all over the world have been waiting for a reunion, and there have been various attempts. Led Zeppelin's history is definitely over, but they have written rock history.