The Grateful Dead met Led Zeppelin once – in January 1969, Zeppelin were playing at the Fillmore West, and they went to Herb Greene's photo studio in San Francisco for a photo session. The Dead were visiting the studio at the same time for their own session. Pigpen had a pistol, which he started firing at the ceiling.
Tom Constanten wrote in his book, “Pigpen made Led Zeppelin awfully nervous with his six-shooter once at a photo session, drawing a bead on weather vanes and cupolas visible from Herb Greene’s San Francisco loft. Didn’t hit anything, but he looked so mean…it had to crack you up if you knew him.” Weir explained, “He was just fuckin’ around. He wasn’t trying to get on anyone’s nerves, he wasn’t trying to scare anybody.” Nonetheless, Led Zeppelin fled the studio - as Weir said, they left so fast, “we didn't even see them leave. 'Hey, what happened to those guys?'” [McNally 285]
Herb Greene has written about the incident:
“The session was rolling along when I got a phone call. It was Rock Scully, telling me, "we got a new band member [Tom Constanten], so we need a picture right now – we're downstairs!"... I told him that I was kinda in the middle of something, but they came up anyway... Pigpen was wearing a little .22 revolver, in a holster, and he pulled it out and started firing it off into the theater seats. I guess I was almost done with the session when all this happened, because it was pretty disruptive, ha ha! Actually, it freaked Zeppelin out. They exclaimed, "these westerners and their guns!" In fact, Led Zeppelin got so distracted, that they quickly left and didn't pay me…
In retrospect, when the Dead called, I maybe thought OK, this is great, hands across the seas, we'll have a party, but that didn't happen. The Dead didn't want to hang out, they were just there to get a photograph. There was no interaction at all between them, no curiosity. Garcia didn't want to talk to Page, and I don't think Led Zeppelin even knew whom the Grateful Dead were.”
The Dead didn’t know who Zeppelin were, either. Jimmy Page was known from the Yardbirds, but the rest were unknowns in America. Zeppelin had only been together a few months, and this was their first American tour, so the Fillmore audiences didn’t know what to expect apart from more Yardbirds-type music. Zeppelin’s approach at that point was not so different from other noisy blues-rock bands like, say, Ten Years After or the Jeff Beck Group, very similar predecessors. (Vanilla Fudge, a popular loud band at the time, were also an important influence on Zeppelin’s sound.)
But Led Zeppelin had an immediate seismic impact on audiences, who went wild over them. Somewhat amazingly for a new unknown band whose first album was only released that week, most of their run at the Fillmore West was actually taped! So we have most of their sets from the January 9-12 run. (In contrast, not a single known audience member bothered taping the Dead at the Fillmore West in early '69.)
Much like what had happened with Cream, these first San Francisco shows would be an important point in the band’s history. The shows were the longest Zeppelin had played, as the audiences encouraged them to stretch out. Plant in particular was digging California, and told the audience on the 11th, “We’ve decided that we’re gonna come and live here, cause you’re so nice!”
Jimmy Page remembered, “We got to San Francisco and…we really started to play from that point on. We were playing all right before, but from that point it was really gelling more. The rest of the boys had gotten more accustomed to the American audiences… They felt they could relax more on stage. Right there is when it started happening. From then on we could see that there was some sort of reaction to us, but still, nobody ever expected it to get into a really big thing… We got standing ovations for each set for the four nights at the Fillmore West. It was really unbelievable.”
John Paul Jones called the Fillmore shows “the first milestone. I remember when we started the show there were just a lot of people standing there thinking, ‘Who the hell are you?’ We turned a very indifferent crowd into a lot of warm and receptive people.”
Page later said, “It was in San Francisco when we knew we’d really broken through… After the San Francisco gig it was just – bang!” He compared Zeppelin to the other San Francisco bands: “We were aware of dynamics at a time when everyone was into that drawn-out West Coast style of playing… The concept of psychedelic music was about roaming and roving, but never actually coming together. That’s why Zeppelin succeeded. There was a real urgency about how we played. Everyone would be getting laid-back, and we’d come on and hit ‘em like an express train.”
Country Joe & the Fish were the ones unfortunate enough to be playing after Led Zeppelin at the Fillmore. (Taj Mahal opened the shows.) Their loose jamming was quite a contrast from Zeppelin’s intense assault. One set was released as the Live! Fillmore West 1969 CD – the liner notes describe their long jams, “joined sporadically with an actual ‘song’… Flying High is played instrumentally and then somewhere in the middle of the piece, Joe counts it in and the song ‘starts’. On other occasions a song flows into a long extended collection of songs, sometimes with lyrics and sometimes without.”
Since these sets were recorded for a possible live album, we know that a couple Dead members jammed with Country Joe on those nights. On one night, Mickey Hart joined them at the end of a set to jam on Flying High. The Jerrysite notes that “KSAN-FM in SF once broadcast the final number of either 1/9 or 1/10, an awesome Flying High with Mickey Hart and Dave Getz sitting in.” Garcia, Hart, and others came on 1/11 or 1/12, for an almost 40-minute Donovan’s Reef jam (released on the CD) to end the show.
So it’s quite possible that Garcia and Hart heard Zeppelin’s set, and also that Zeppelin (if they hung around the Fillmore) heard these long jams. No telling what Garcia thought – of course, loud blues-rock and proto-metal groups were quite common in those days, and Zeppelin might not have struck him as anything new. (After the run, on January 13 the Dead would jam with Fleetwood Mac at their rehearsal space, as Zeppelin headed to San Diego.)
At least one member of Zeppelin seems to have paid some attention to Country Joe’s sets. John Paul Jones was asked about these shows in a recent interview –
Q: In 1969, [my father] went to the Fillmore West in San Francisco to see his favorite band, Country Joe and the Fish. [Jones starts laughing. Led Zeppelin was the opening act.] He went to see a calm concert. Led Zeppelin started burning guitars and breaking things.
Jones: No, we didn't do that! We were musically just bloody noisy, and musically we were fairly abrasive.
Q: Not at all like Country Joe and the Fish.
Jones: Although, I think we shared similar attitudes. So if you went for a quiet evening of a silent protest and some country music, we wouldn't have sounded very good. Country Joe and the Fish liked us.
Q: You got along with those guys?
Jones: Yep. We got along with them fine… To be honest, most of what Country Joe was doing was just a band of friends going on stage. They would play, start a song and drift into another song, which sounded really great. And we would just go on and go "bang, bang, bang" with three driven songs with solos, and people must have thought, "What did we just see?" And there was nobody else doing that at that time. I'm sure it had a lot to do with the success. We got four numbers in by the time most bands had tuned up.
We can compare Zeppelin’s bootlegged sets with the Country Joe release (the Zeppelin shows are up on youtube, although the sound quality is really poor). Zeppelin play the material from their first album: they aren’t quite as hard-hitting as they’d later be, and the songs are shorter than they’d become, with the improv kept reined-in. They sound crude and raw, and there’s a dark, tumultuous feeling to their blues sets, Plant wailing and blowing harmonica over Page’s intense solos. Aggressive, dramatic stuff – they had a talent for pulling in the audience’s attention with their threatening sound.
Coming after that, despite some fiery guitar playing and thunderous Jack Casady bass, Country Joe sounds pretty loose and unfocused. It’s very representative of a San Francisco night – “a band of friends going on stage,” as Jones observed, jamming and drifting through songs in a succession of long-winded solos; what Page called “that drawn-out West Coast style of playing.” Much of it’s still hard-rocking – even Zeppelin-like at times! – but it’s a set like this that Page heard as “roaming and roving, but never coming together.” It’s a different perspective – for all the musicians involved, the Donovan’s Reef jam flows quite well and even gets downright hypnotic.
There are claims that Led Zeppelin had opened when Country Joe toured Scandinavia in November ’68, but this is not so – Zeppelin were playing in England at the time. However, Country Joe did play again with Led Zeppelin at a couple Scandinavian shows in March 1969. This time, Country Joe opened! A Swedish newspaper reviewer was not too impressed: “Led Zeppelin Better Than Tired Country Joe: Even though Country Joe & The Fish was the big name at Friday night’s concert in Stockholm, Led Zeppelin did a much more interesting performance. If one was disappointed at Country Joe & The Fish, one was happier to hear Led Zeppelin.”
The Dead and Zeppelin did not cross paths again. Zeppelin played the Atlanta Pop Festival two days before the Dead in July 1969. (Zeppelin were also invited to play at Woodstock, but their manager declined.) And on 9/19/70 while the Dead were playing the Fillmore East in NYC, Zeppelin were playing one of their best shows of the year over at Madison Square Garden. Both bands also toured through the South in May 1977, but managed to avoid playing the same cities. (Although dedicated fans in Alabama could’ve seen the Dead in Tuscaloosa on the 17th and Zeppelin in Birmingham on the 18th, just an hour’s drive apart…)
Also, in 1973, Led Zeppelin played Kezar Stadium on June 2, one week after the Dead had played there. It was a noisy occasion that pretty much ended music concerts at Kezar Stadium! But one of the bands that opened for Led Zeppelin that day was the Tubes, with Vince Welnick…
One unfortunate band did get to play after both Zeppelin and the Dead, in the same week. Poor Iron Butterfly never knew what hit them – not only did they have to follow Led Zeppelin at the Fillmore East at the end of January ‘69, then they had to follow the Dead at a couple midwest shows in early February! Iron Butterfly couldn’t quite compete with their underground openers – a couple attendees of the Dead shows on the Archive have mentioned, “Iron Butterfly was put to shame that night,” and “the contrast between the two bands was something to behold.”
Bear said of the 2/5 Kansas City show, “We had to help the Butterfly’s marginally competent roadies with setting up their gear. The IB fans who filled the hall were in such a state of shock after the opening set by GD that it was nearly halfway through their beloved Butterfly’s set before they came round and starting jumping.”
The situation in St Louis on 2/6 was even worse – one Archive witness writes that the Dead’s set “was supposed to end with Lovelight. But…after listening to the Dead burn the house down, Iron Butterfly didn't want to come out. So, the Dead came back on to play a "few more minutes" and proceeded to add insult to IB's injury with the Cryptical sandwich & Feedback…” [On the tape you can hear the Dead decide to keep going after Lovelight when Iron Butterfly doesn’t come on.]
This followed the even more humiliating evening at the Fillmore East on 1/31 – you can hear on the audience tape, midway through the set when Plant says the band has to “cram as much as we can into the next twenty minutes,” someone in the audience shouts, “To hell with the Butterfly!” After Zeppelin’s set (Mick Wall writes) “the crowd began stamping their feet and chanting, ‘Zeppelin! Zeppelin! Zeppelin!’” According to the LZ Concert File, “Iron Butterfly waited a full 45 minutes before taking the stage… ‘When they finally appeared it was anticlimactic to say the least.’” Iron Butterfly had actually asked that Zeppelin be dropped from the bill, fearing this would happen; and when they finally dragged themselves on, Peter Grant recalled, “The audience was still going ‘Zeppelin! Zeppelin!’ when Iron Butterfly started their set… [They] were very despondent about following us on stage.” Supposedly, Iron Butterfly refused to play the following day.
(To add to the band’s troubles, Iron Butterfly was invited to play Woodstock that year, but got stuck at an NYC airport, and nobody at the festival bothered to pick them up! Iron Butterfly had the last laugh, though. Their In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida album sold more than probably most of the Dead’s albums put together, and they are still playing it live to this day.)
It’s interesting to wonder how the Dead would have responded if they’d been on the same bill with Led Zeppelin. In early ’69 the Dead were still in noisy-rock mode much of the time, playing fast & furious sets ending with bouts of feedback.
The Dead had certainly played next to British hard-rock groups before. They’d gone through something of a trial by fire following the Who at Monterey in ‘67. As the Who set off smoke bombs and smashed up their equipment, Lesh had said, “We have to follow this?” But the Dead acquitted themselves well, playing a distorted, hard-driving set.
The Dead also had to open for the Jeff Beck Group at the Fillmore East in June 1968. Far from being humbled, they played the intense, fiery set of 6/14/68, doing their best to match Beck’s guitar pyrotechnics.
Zeppelin, in turn, never mentioned the Dead, if they ever even noticed them. The one most likely to be in sympathy with the Dead was Robert Plant, who’d always yearned for the SF scene. Before joining Zeppelin, “I really just wanted to get to San Francisco and join up… I just wanted to be with Jack Casady and with Janis Joplin. There was some kind of fable being created there, and a social change that was taking place, and the music was a catalyst in all of that.” His band before Zeppelin specialized in covering California bands – Love, Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, etc. Page commented, “It was stuff that I didn’t personally like very much. He was a Moby Grape fanatic, and the group was doing all of these semiobscure West Coast songs.” Even Zeppelin would often cover For What It’s Worth or Scott McKenzie’s San Francisco in the middle of live versions of Dazed & Confused. (When Zeppelin did get to California, paradoxically they found Los Angeles much more to their taste, and made it their ‘second home’ in America.)
I doubt the Dead paid much attention to Zeppelin’s type of music (at least they never said so). Garcia was an open-minded fellow, though – the New Yorker article in ’93 mentioned him listening to “anything from Haydn string quartets to the Butthole Surfers,” and in ’78 he admitted to really liking Cheap Trick and the Ramones.
On the other hand, Garcia sometimes spoke out against fast, flashy guitar players. For instance, he did not like John McLaughlin’s playing; and in the ’85 Obrecht interview he was asked if he ever listened to Eddie Van Halen: “Not seriously, no. Because I can hear what’s happening in there. There isn’t much there that interests me. It isn’t played with enough deliberateness, and it lacks a certain kind of rhythmic elegance that I like music to have, that I like notes to have. There’s a lot of notes and stuff, but the notes aren’t saying much – they’re like little clusters. It’s a certain kind of music which I understand on one level, but it isn’t attractive to me.”
He could have said the same about Page’s playing, as it points out one difference between their styles – while Garcia played fluid, elegant long lines, Page played fast little clusters. Plant’s playing and stage presence was a lot flashier than Garcia’s, but he’s often accused of having more flash than substance.
Among hard-rock bands, Garcia especially admired the Who. He even went so far as to say, “The Who are one of the few truly important architects of rock ‘n’ roll. Townshend may be one of rock’s rare authentic geniuses.” To some extent, Zeppelin were patterned after the Who – from the lineup & aggressive style to the long show-closing medley, it's but a short step from Live at Leeds to a Zeppelin show from the same period. The musical similarities are so great, perhaps Zeppelin wouldn’t have been entirely alien to Garcia’s taste. On the other hand, as a Who fan he might’ve seen Zeppelin as being more derivative in their style and second-hand influences, copycats compared to the older, more pop-oriented Who.
Garcia once spoke about his introduction to the Who at Monterey:
“We were scheduled to go on after the Who. They had been out at our motel all the previous night trying to get Pigpen to come out. 'Cause they’d heard about Pigpen and they wanted to party with the Pig. He wasn’t having any, he wasn’t opening the door for no English guys. Anyway, we’d heard a little about the Who by reputation but we had no idea what their act was like. So we’re standing there watchin’ and their music is good, they’re playing solid and Daltrey’s singing good. Then they do ‘My Generation’ and do their destructo routine. We didn’t realize they’d made an art of blowing shit up. It wasn’t just something they did, they were good at it. So we’re standing there amidst the debris and smoke and it’s time for us to go on. I don’t think anybody even saw us, they were still recovering from the Who. So we went on and played our set and then Jimi came on and just annihilated the place and then he destroyed all his shit, too. We might as well not have been there.”
But strange as it seemed, disparate as their styles were, the Who & the Dead respected each other and played together again in October 1976. Kreutzmann writes, “After the Dead’s set the second day Pete came up to Jerry and told him that he was amazed that after watching two different shows the Dead had not repeated one song. The Who had been doing the same show for the last year and a half, Townshend told him.” (Zeppelin could have said the same thing.) Funnily enough, Townshend seems not to have been too familiar with the Dead’s music – he invited them to play with the Who on 3/28/81, but when he guested in the Dead’s show, he had some difficulty with the songs. “He was surprised at having trouble keeping up at some points because he thought the Dead never rehearsed.”
Garcia spoke about the same conversation with Townshend in a ’78 interview, when asked about the Who: “They’re great; I have a lot of respect for them and I admire what they do. However, I spoke to Pete Townshend before their set, and he was telling me that they’ve been playing the same show for four years. I mean, the same show… He was depressed about it – to have to do exactly the same numbers in exactly the same order for four years in a row, it’s not exactly a sign of progress. The guys are capable of more than that, they’re capable of better things.”
While it’s hard to imagine a “Day on the Green” between Zeppelin and the Dead (I shudder to think how the rowdy Zep fans would have treated the deadhead crowd), there are a few interesting parallels between the two bands, despite their lack of musical or personal connections.
Some young newcomers to the Dead in the '70s thought that, with a name like "the Grateful Dead" and all the skull imagery, they must be some Zep-type metal band!
(You have to admit, the What A Long Strange Trip cover with its blood-red Gothic letters over the black background does look pretty satanic…)
In 1970, Zeppelin started billing their shows as “An Evening With Led Zeppelin.” On some tapes of Led Zeppelin's March/April 1970 shows, the announcer starts the show by saying, "We present an evening with Led Zeppelin." And by Aug/Sep 1970, they were using "An Evening With Led Zeppelin" on their posters. The idea was that a Zeppelin performance would be not just a show, but an Event: there would be no opening act, and Zeppelin would play for as long as they wanted (often 2-3 hours). As Richard Cole wrote, “The band felt liberated… As the sole act on the bill, they would have full control of the entire show. And the idea excited them. Some nights, they felt like playing til morning.”
The Dead were thinking along the same lines, and they very quickly adopted the term as well for “An Evening With the Grateful Dead,” starting in May 1970. They may have heard of Zeppelin’s usage, or it may have been a common show-business term that they thought of independently. At any rate, their shows were even longer than Zeppelin’s (though including generous intermissions) – they really did play til morning several times in 1970, while I’m not sure Zeppelin ever did. (I think the longest known Zeppelin show was said to be four and a half hours.)
http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2009/12/garcias-unidentified-guests.html (see comments)
Zeppelin and the Dead were both famed for playing long shows, but Zeppelin seems to have felt more trapped by this than the Dead did. John Paul Jones said, “Things got extended a lot… Every tour we tried to cut it down, especially in the later years. We’d say we’re only going to play an hour and a half. After a week, it would creep back up to two hours. By the end of the tour, it’s three hours!” Some tours did follow this pattern, as the marathon shows became ever longer til they approached four-hour lengths – versions of No Quarter or Dazed & Confused could be over 40 minutes long as the band wandered in endless solos. By their last 1980 tour though, Zeppelin were keeping things more concise and managed to keep their shows to about two hours long.
Both bands also did acoustic sets in their electric shows. The Dead started doing acoustic sets in December 1969; Zeppelin didn't start doing the 2-or-3-song acoustic interlude in their shows until about August 1970. The Dead’s acoustic sets were very rare (mostly confined to 1970 and a brief period in 1980) – Zeppelin’s acoustic segments, while shorter and usually limited to the same four songs, were more frequent, though they still came and went through the years. Zeppelin always placed their acoustic songs as a little breather in the middle of the show, the way the Dead did for a couple months in early ’70. “It was nice to have a rest, and it worked well for the dynamics,” said John Paul Jones. And while the Dead had to bring on David Nelson or David Grisman to add mandolin to their acoustic sets, Zeppelin already had a mandolin-player in Jones!
I should mention that acoustic sets were not entirely unique in 1970. One of the biggest groups of the day, Crosby Stills & Nash, split their shows between acoustic/electric portions, as did Neil Young; and probably other bands I’m forgetting. (Dylan had perhaps been the first to do this, starting back in late 1965.) So it was kind of a trend of the times. Zeppelin were the surprise in this bunch, being the last band fans in 1970 would expect to yank out acoustic guitars onstage – it was a sign they would be more diverse than people had first thought. Plant reported at the time, “We’ve got a few [new] things, and it’s all acoustic, folks! You can just see it, can’t you: ‘Led Zeppelin go soft on their fans,’ or some crap like that… It shows we can change. It means there are endless possibilities and directions for us to go in.”
Zeppelin took fans aback when they included so many acoustic songs on their third album, though they’d had some acoustic pieces from the beginning. Plant said, “The idea of using acoustic guitars and developing much more of a textural thing came about…[since] Whole Lotta Love had been such a statement, it was definitely time to veer over to the left and see how far we could take it in another direction.”
The Dead had also done an abrupt change of direction with Workingman’s Dead, when they left the jinglebell-rainbow world of psychedelia and embraced Americana. But in the case of the Dead, it helped make them more successful and increased their fanbase – at last, they’d gone mainstream and could be played on normal radio stations! With Zeppelin, though, their third album was one of their least successful, as listeners had been hoping for more hard-rock anthems and were confused by all the new folky stuff.
Page said in 1970, “We’ve started doing the acoustic things onstage and it’s been going off well…some places, though, it’s been a bit of a shock… The audience is hearing them fresh [since the album hasn’t come out yet] and there have been mixed reactions. They’ve always gone down OK, but you get the feeling that people prefer to hear the heavier stuff; which is a bit of a mistake because there’s a lot you can give, and the best thing is to show them what you can do altogether.”
Page griped to Cameron Crowe in ‘75, “The key to Zeppelin’s longevity has been change. We put out…a third LP totally different from [the first two], and on it went… A lot of reviewers couldn’t understand why we put out an LP like Zeppelin II, then followed it up with III with That’s the Way and acoustic numbers like that on it… Album-wise, it usually takes a year for people to catch up with what we’re doing… When the third LP came out…Crosby Stills & Nash had just formed…and because acoustic guitar had come to the forefront, all of a sudden [reviewers said]: Led Zeppelin go acoustic!”
Plant also admitted, “Led Zeppelin III was not one of the best sellers because the audience turned round and said, ‘What are we supposed to do with this? Where is our Whole Lotta Love Part 2?’ They wanted something like Paranoid by Black Sabbath! But we wanted to go acoustic, and a piece like Gallows Pole still had all the power of Whole Lotta Love, because it allowed us to be dynamic.”
There were countless acoustic segments in which Plant had to plead with the audience to calm down & be quiet. Zeppelin crowds tended to be considerably noisier and more rambunctious than the Dead had to face. Early acoustic songs were often interrupted by audiences whistling and shouting; Plant sighed in one show, “We’ve had a lot of abuse in the midwest, every time you sit on a chair and pick up a mandolin.” In another show he complained, “There’s such a thing as listening to what’s going on!… There’s a lot of people who are making a racket so nobody hears what’s going on… If the guy next to you is trying to listen, you’ve got to respect that and be quiet!” And in another show, he reminded everyone, “The essence of these numbers we wanna do now is silence. Remember that! The crying of voices doesn’t really take us back to the Welsh mountains. Now cool it!” The Dead, of course, also had some trouble with rowdy audiences who wouldn’t cool down during the acoustic sets; but generally their audiences were more patient, knowing a long night was ahead.
Both bands also had important hiatuses in their tours. The Dead burned out on touring in late ’74, and took a break for nearly two years while Garcia tirelessly edited the film of their “farewell” shows. Zeppelin had done the same thing a year earlier, filming their last Madison Square Garden shows in 1973 for a movie & album, then taking a break for a year and a half, tinkering with solo sideprojects and coming back in early 1975. (Zeppelin also started their own record label in an effort at artistic independence, which turned out to be more successful than the Dead’s attempt!) “We’ve been coming to different conclusions and decisions, and we’ve got mixed up in a rather gargantuan film,” Plant said; “nothing’s preconceived right now. We’ll work a bit and then we’ll take a break.”
After the ’75 tour, Zeppelin were forced into yet another hiatus when Plant was injured in a car crash, leaving them off the road until 1977. And after ’77, Zeppelin’s career was more like a permanent hiatus interrupted by a couple short tours, as deaths, drugs and disasters finished them off. (The Dead, in contrast, were determined to stay on the road year after year no matter what happened, and never again stopped touring for more than a few months.)
The film of the ’73 shows, The Song Remains The Same, also offers a parallel to the Grateful Dead Movie. Both films took three years to finish and release (Zeppelin’s film coming out in ’76, and the Dead’s in ’77). Despite the obvious differences, both were meant to be more than mere concert films, but more complete portraits of the bands. The Dead turned the focus toward their deadhead audience, while Zeppelin went for strange fantasy scenes instead… The Dead’s film holds up better in artistry today, though it’s still a slog for non-Dead fans.
Zeppelin’s soundtrack album, by the way, doesn’t represent the band at their best any more than Steal Your Face did for the Dead (though it does represent an average show, while Steal Your Face was a haphazard selection). The band was not thrilled with its release; but with the long break from touring and the film coming out, there had to be a soundtrack. “It wasn’t necessarily the best live material we had, but it was the live material that went with the footage, so it had to be used,” Page said. “So it wasn’t like a magic night. But it wasn’t a poor night. It was an honest sort of mediocre night.”
Despite this, it would take Page many, many more years before he could bring himself to release any more live Zeppelin – in sharp contrast to the Dead. (Though one advantage the Dead had over Zeppelin was a much larger catalog & longer lifespan, so their live releases could be much more varied.) Page often talked about releasing a chronological live album covering Zeppelin through the years, but put it off for decades. The Dead were similarly reluctant to release ‘vintage’ shows until the ‘90s.
The ground shifted under both bands with the arrival of punk & new-wave music – suddenly, older bands from the ‘60s were regarded as out-of-date dinosaurs. And bands that played bloated, indulgent half-hour songs were the dullest of the lot! Zeppelin still had their legions of fans, but were sneered at by the punks; the Dead were less in the public eye, but were generally considered so uncool they were off the map.
The Dead’s albums did not help. While Page was a good producer who did excellent work creating Zeppelin’s studio soundscapes, Garcia & co. were rarely able to pull off a decent studio album, always sounding flat and lifeless. And they took a nosedive in the late ‘70s, each album worse than the last, as the Dead vainly pursued the latest trends and tried to sound slick and up-to-date.
Page made an amusing comment on Zeppelin’s lame last album in ’79: “It’s not like we’ve felt we had to change the music to relate to any of the developments that have been going on. There’s no tracks with disco beats or anything.” A rather disingenuous statement, considering how much of that album is smooth synth-pop very much of the time, even verging on disco in one song. (The Dead, meanwhile, were eagerly embracing synths and disco!)
Occasionally Zeppelin could stray into Dead-like territory, as in this Mountains of the Moon-type song:
In the other direction, the Dead’s early, fiery-crunch renditions of the Other One wouldn’t have been out of place in a Zeppelin show – it was their most metallic composition. The Dead also shared with Zeppelin a prog-rock tendency at times, as with the Weather Report Suite or Blues for Allah.
But the Dead’s closest approach to the Zeppelin style may have been the song Terrapin Station. In live versions it’s actually pretty similar to the later Zeppelin songwriting approach, a long quasi-narrative ballad that starts quietly and swells through different sections, ending with a bombastic riff repeated numerous times. (The longer album version even has an orchestra to make it more Zeppelin-like…)
Both bands had diverse influences, and they even shared a few, leading to some curious intersections. As guitarists, Page and Garcia naturally had a few of the same idols – Page had kind words for Clarence White (calling him “absolutely brilliant”). And, like Garcia, he worshipped Django Reinhardt: “Just fantastic. He must have been playing all the time to be that good – it’s horrifyingly good.” And both of them took the rock basics from Chuck Berry, and closely studied the black electric blues guitarists of the ‘50s.
Otherwise they had different inspirations – Page revered early rock guitarists like Scotty Moore, James Burton & Cliff Gallup (“the early rockabilly guitarists…were just as important to me as the blues guitarists”). Garcia, meanwhile, was more into bluegrass and country pickers. Garcia immersed himself in the American folk tradition, mainly as a source of songs; but Page focused on English folk guitarists and their technique. “People would tell me about Sandy Bull and I would say, I don’t know about Sandy Bull, you want to start listening to some of these people over here: Bert Jansch, Davy Graham…” (Actually, Page should’ve known about Sandy Bull, as they were doing some similar things!)
Though Zeppelin followed the Yardbirds, Cream and other British bands in rocking up American blues, American folk didn't have much influence on them - with a few exceptions, like taking Babe I'm Gonna Leave You from Joan Baez. (Garcia was soaked in American folk and old-time music, and he probably wouldn’t have been caught dead using Joan Baez as a song source!) American country left a few vague traces here & there in their music, but Page was more of a rockabilly person, and bluegrass didn’t really enter his scope.
British folk had a large presence in Zeppelin’s music, though – most specifically, Bert Jansch strongly influenced Jimmy Page's guitar-style, and Page took Black Mountain Side from him. He gushed about Jansch in ‘77: “He’s the one who crystallized all the acoustic playing, as far as I’m concerned. Those first few albums of his were absolutely brilliant… I really think he’s one of the best… As much as Hendrix had done on electric, I think he’s done on the acoustic. He was really way, way ahead.”
Naturally, Page is said to have been a fan of Jansch’s band Pentangle. They were not so impressed by him – Jacqui McShee talked about Black Mountain Side in a 1970 interview: “I think it’s a very rude thing to do, pinch somebody else’s thing and credit it to yourself. It annoys me. In all the English papers at home he’s always talking about Bert; says he’s influenced. I mean, why say that and then put something on an LP and [credit it to] Jimmy Page?”
Garcia was also impressed by Pentangle, when they played with the Dead in '69:
Robert Plant was especially interested in the Celtic-music style, which started slipping into Zeppelin’s work. He was also a Fairport Convention fan – Plant even invited folk-goddess Sandy Denny to sing on Battle of Evermore (“my favorite singer out of all the British girls there ever were”), kind of an early precursor to his recent work with Alison Krauss. The two bands were friendly, and Zeppelin also jammed with Fairport Convention in LA when Fairport were recording their House Full live album in 1970, the same night as Zeppelin’s famous “Blueberry Hill” show. (The Zeppelin show was their first bootleg; the jam with Fairport was taped but has never been heard since.)
Plant was also quite impressed by the Incredible String Band, and some elements of that snuck into Zeppelin's music. “This’ll probably sound strange, but ultimately, I can envisage Page and myself doing a whole Incredible String Band type of thing together, very gentle stuff,” he said in ’72. Incredibly, Plant even wanted to try ISB's "Very Cellular Song" - which includes 'I Bid You Goodnight'!
"The one thing we always wanted to do in Led Zeppelin was to finish off the show with the String Band's A Very Cellular Song - the bit that goes 'I was walking in Jerusalem just like John, goodnight, goodnight.' But Bonham said something very like Fuck Off!"
Both bands were quite interested in Indian music and used it in their own songs. The Dead were most influenced early on, adapting Indian stylings for the Viola Lee jams, or working on different time signatures for jams like the Eleven. Zeppelin also sometimes borrowed from Indian music – as early on as the Black Mountain Side instrumental, which mimicked a sitar/tabla raga. (Page had played a sitar sometimes in the ‘60s, but never used it on a Zeppelin track.) Later on they tried recording Friends and Four Sticks with Indian musicians: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a70Mzk1Kn3A
And of course there’s Kashmir, though it seems not to be specifically Indian-influenced but more vaguely ‘eastern’ in feel. (Indeed, it was inspired by a trip to Morocco, which is nowhere near Kashmir.)
William Burroughs had an interesting conversation with Jimmy Page in 1975, in which they brought up the subject. Burroughs wrote:
“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco… We talked about trance music. He had heard the Brian Jones record from recordings made at Joujouka. We discussed the possibility of synthesizing rock music with some of the older forms of trance music that have been developed over centuries to produce powerful, sometimes hypnotic effects on the audience. Such a synthesis would enable the older forms to escape from the mould of folk lore and provide new techniques to rock groups.”
Page later recalled the conversation: “We had a lengthy discussion on the hypnotic power of rock and how it paralleled the music of Arabic cultures. This was an observation Burroughs had after hearing Black Mountain Side, from our first album. He then encouraged me to go to Morocco and investigate the music first hand, something Robert [Plant] and I eventually did.”
But otherwise Arabic music didn’t really show up in Zeppelin’s work, despite their interest in Morocco. (Plant was especially keen on Moroccan music due to its ancestry to early American blues, but this was a passion that wouldn’t really flower til the post-Zeppelin days, especially on “Unledded.”) The Dead, on the other hand, took the plunge in their trip to Egypt and invited Hamza el-Din to play with them several times, even joining in some performances of Ollin Arrageed, a classic case of east-west fusion.
Page and Jones were both admirers of classical music, but, the violin bow aside, it didn’t enter overtly into Zeppelin’s music very much. Frequently in live shows, though, Page would quote a little Bach snippet in the Heartbeaker solo, or Jones would play part of a Rachmaninoff piece in his No Quarter solo. Page admired Segovia, but classical guitar style wasn’t a big part of the Zeppelin repertoire; and the violin bow was used more as a sound effect than for classical allusions.
However, when doing the long bow-solos in Dazed & Confused, a couple definite classical quotes were used. Most famously, Page would play Gustav Holst’s ‘Mars, the Bringer of War.’ (This is a much-covered piece among prog & metal bands; in fact Page might have got the idea from King Crimson. I’m not sure which band did it first, but they both started playing it in ‘69.)
It also seems Page was thinking of a modern avant-garde composer – Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.’ Page has sometimes said he was influenced by Penderecki in that piece, and mentioned of his guitar-bowing, “Sometimes it would sound like that Hiroshima piece by Penderecki, and other times it would have the depth of a cello.”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzOb3UhPmig (this is just the kind of piece Phil Lesh would love!)
One engineer recalled that Page wanted Zeppelin’s music to keep changing and broadening into new areas of music. “He wanted to keep going, keep expanding. He would talk about rhythms, and people like Bartok, Stockhausen, or John Cage. He was totally into Indian classical music, Irish folk music, all sorts of things.”
Jones suggested that classical music influenced some of Zeppelin’s song structures, in a few of the longer tracks that grew through several movements: “Both Jimmy and I were quite aware of the way a track should unfold and the various levels that it would go through… I suppose we were both quite influenced by classical music, and there’s a lot of drama in the classical forms. It just seems natural for music to have that, as opposed to everybody starting and just banging away and finishing. That’s part of song structure.”
The Dead and Zeppelin were both big fans of the '50s Chess blues style, but covered the blues in different ways. Zeppelin were notorious plagiarists of course, who tended not to credit their song sources, but besides that, they tended to turn their blues covers into screechy frenetic hard-rock, emphasizing the sexual side of it. (This was pretty common in late-‘60s blues-rock bands.)
Pigpen, in contrast, was quite the blues traditionalist, trying to sing his covers just like the originals. The transformation of Viola Lee Blues aside, the Dead tended to cover blues songs pretty faithfully, but used a couple different approaches. With Pigpen, they would sometimes expand a song with long instrumental sections (as with Lovelight, Midnight Hour, Same Thing, Smokestack Lightning), but most other blues songs were done short & straight (the way Weir would generally do them in later years).
So the Dead hit a balance between doing blues songs authentically and doing them acid-rock style. Perhaps their most conventional cover in the usual blues-rock mode (the way Zeppelin did I Can’t Quit You Baby or Since I’ve Been Loving You) was Garcia’s cover of Death Don’t Have No Mercy, full of groaning vocals and aching guitar solos.
While Zeppelin didn’t play blues songs as traditionally as the Dead, they were coming from a different tradition themselves – a line of descent from English groups like the Yardbirds and Cream who reworked classic blues songs into modern rock interpretations. While the Dead could do that occasionally (in older acoustic tunes like New Minglewood Blues, Big Railroad Blues, or Samson & Delilah), they preferred to stick more closely to the originals.
Weir told Blair Jackson in 1992, “My favorite of all time is Robert Johnson… I’m a huge Willie Dixon fan.” The Dead covered many of Dixon’s songs (mostly via Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters), generally in authentic style – and of course, Led Zeppelin were also Willie Dixon fans, using many of his songs in new guises. But it wasn’t their purpose to be faithful to the originals. It’s hard to imagine Jimmy Page cowriting a song with Dixon, as Weir did!
Occasionally the two bands could cross paths, though – the Dead often trotted out their cover of Walkin’ Blues (orig. Son House, via Robert Johnson), and Zeppelin once did a relatively straightforward version of Johnson’s Traveling Riverside Blues. (For once, Zeppelin actually sounds somewhat closer to the original style.)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgjw4hnPvIg (Son House, Walkin’ Blues)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ecwW2fX1Yew (RJ, Traveling Riverside)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtEAp-Rybl0 (LZ, Traveling Riverside)
Zeppelin also differed in having one guitarist, so their blues songs tend to be dominated by the lead solos. This was standard for most blues-rock groups, who centered themselves around their lead guitar player. Page reminisced about the brief period when he and Jeff Beck both played guitar in the Yardbirds: “The Stones were the only ones who got into two guitars going at the same time, from old Muddy Waters records. But we were more into solos, rather than a rhythm thing.” Page and Beck worked on playing “a lot of harmonies” in their twin-guitar solos, though none of that was recorded. (Shades of the Allman Brothers?)
The Dead, with two guitarists, focused more on the group interaction in the original blues recordings. Weir told Blair Jackson in ‘92, “Way back early we developed a lot of our blues chops from listening to the Rolling Stones, those first couple of albums. Then, right on the heels of that, we started digging a little deeper and listening to Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, that little quartet they had, and Howlin’ Wolf, and we started to develop some of those blues chops as well… [Our playing] is almost a Dixieland style. But if you listen to a lot of those old Chicago Chess recordings, there’s a fair amount of that going on in there… When you get somebody like Muddy Waters playing secondary support lines behind another guitarist, you get those nice counter lines. That’s a major influence on our style of playing blues.”
Blues songs always remained an important part of Zeppelin’s repertoire. The case was different with the Dead – though they started out as a largely blues and r&b band, over the years their blues numbers diminished to a token few songs, almost all done by Weir. Weir complained in ‘92, “I wish Garcia would pick up a few new blues tunes. I think Garcia is kind of hesitant to sing blues tunes because he doesn’t feel qualified… It’s some peculiar neurosis he has, I think. That’s my only guess: otherwise why doesn’t he do some? I sing at least a few blues tunes; he doesn’t do any.”
Nobody’s Fault But Mine was one blues song Garcia still did very occasionally in the ‘90s (about once a year). It’s the only song that both Zeppelin and the Dead covered, but I find Zeppelin’s version quite long and unpleasant. Though the Yardbirds had done their own blues covers of songs like Smokestack Lightning or Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Zeppelin dispensed with those, so they didn’t share any other blues covers with the Dead that I know of, save for some snippets in their long ‘50s/blues medleys.
For instance, Zeppelin played bits of Turn On Your Lovelight a couple times in the Whole Lotta Love medleys. Most surprisingly, Zeppelin also played brief snatches of Donovan’s There Is A Mountain a few times in 1969, inside other medleys:
http://www.ledzeppelin-database.com/geekbaseweb/songpage.aspx?songid=273&sort=0 (has audio sample)
You can hunt around that site for other examples – Zeppelin zipped through Johnny B Goode and King Bee just one time each (and Around & Around just once at a soundcheck); and though Page shared Garcia’s fondness for Hideaway or Feelin’ Groovy, he would only quote them briefly for a few seconds before moving on. Among the songs Garcia played, Zeppelin did That’s All Right Mama many times, and Mystery Train acoustically a couple times in ’77. (When doing oldies from the ‘50s, Zeppelin tended to prefer Elvis, while the Dead preferred Chuck Berry.)
Once Whole Lotta Love came into being, it became the standard closer at Zeppelin shows, swelling to ever-increasing lengths as the band threw everything but the kitchen sink in it. The Dead’s equivalent was Lovelight, another anthemic song adapted from the blues and adored by the fans which kept getting ever-longer (often over a half-hour), extended by Pigpen’s raps on how to get some. (Not so different in tone or spirit from Plant’s raps!) The Dead would end it in true rock & roll fashion by building up to a crashing crescendo of chords & screams & drumshots, not so different from a Zeppelin climax.
After Pigpen left, Not Fade Away or Sugar Magnolia might substitute in the same slot, but weren’t quite the same – Weir lacked Pigpen’s charisma as a frontman, and his screeches are rather painful to take. The band remembers Pigpen doing funny little dance steps onstage, but no video survives of this. At any rate, Pigpen was the closest the Dead got to having a Plant-like sex symbol singing about love & lust to lonely souls in the audience.
Both groups were legendary for their live shows. While Zeppelin had a lot more success in terms of album sales and widespread popularity, they were generally critically scorned, and it was mainly by word of mouth that their live fame grew. As John Paul Jones said, “That’s how we got our reputation. The press hated us in the early days. Our only way of promotion was to play a lot of live shows… It used to spread by word of mouth.” Audiences would be pummeled into a frenzy by three-hour shows, then tell everyone they HAD to see this band, as they went back time and again. (I haven’t heard of any Zep-heads following the band on tour, though – apparently it wasn’t quite that addictive!)
Zeppelin "peeled the paint off the walls" in different ways than the Dead - in the beginning they were all about the hard riffs & high energy & testosterone. Not very spacy, except in the depths of some 40-minute Dazed & Confused... But Jimmy Page droning on with his bow isn't much like Garcia doing his wah-wah warbles!
They did get pretty indulgent in live shows, with their lengthy instrumental sections & drum solos – which the Dead were also notorious for. Jimmy Page said, “Right from the very first live performances there were these stretched-out improvisations.” Plant concurred: “The thing about the group was the extension of the instrumental parts, and that was in full fling by the time we even made our first record.”
Though Zeppelin’s jams were very different from the Dead’s – the setlist on any given tour tended to be static, and the improvs within songs tended to be either spontaneous medleys of ‘50s covers, or playing through a set series of themes or prepared riffs within an instrumental section – nonetheless, they shared the philosophy of playing very long shows where you wouldn’t know quite what was coming next, and the next night could be played differently.
As Page observed, “Every show we did was different. You never knew when you went onstage what you might do by the end of it ... Once a song was recorded, and it went into the set, it began to mutate. The whole improvisational aspect, the riffs coming out of the ether ... it was a magical vehicle collectively soaring into the stratosphere. And as more albums came out, the set got longer and longer.”
And: “The beauty of playing in the band was that when we went onstage we never actually knew what was going to go on within the framework of the songs. They were constantly changing. New parts would come out on the night. The spontaneity was on the level of ESP, which meant it was always exciting.”
John Paul Jones recalled, “You had to be on the ball in those days, especially in the improvised parts, because the stuff would change all the time. You’d have to watch each other for cues. There was a lot of eye contact…we’d watch each other’s hand movements all the time. There would often be seemingly amazing unrehearsed stops and starts. We’d all go bang – straight into it. The audience would think, ‘How did they do that?’ It was because we were paying attention.”
But there were plenty of inconsistent nights as well, where the band just couldn’t come together on some numbers. Often they took a long time to warm up; Plant’s voice could be painfully hoarse or completely shot; Page could be very sloppy & erratic; or the band could get disjointed and lose each other at times – then recover nicely later on in the show. Plant remembered, “We often used to take off and get lost. We were quite ramshackle at the best of times. People who tell you we were always good or always bad are wrong – it was always on a wing and a prayer.”
One thing Zeppelin collectors enjoy is hearing how some songs develop over time. Tunes might be played in different versions before their album release, or new sections might be added to them later on. Sometimes as the band jams on riffs during Whole Lotta Love or Dazed & Confused, you can hear future songs being previewed in embryo. As Dave Lewis writes, the long jams “became a breeding ground for new riffs and ideas to develop…which were later used in the studio.” The Dead used this technique sometimes as well; Weir claimed that he’d come up with songs in Dead jams. He told David Gans, “We’ll go back and listen to the tape, and by god, there’s the basis of another song there… About half the songs I write have their basis in some jam somewhere.”
Page was very proud of the improvisational side of the band, and spoke of it often. He told Guitar Player in ‘69: “Led Zeppelin’s music never duplicates itself. We might use the same pattern, but it’s always changing. By now a tune may be entirely different from when we first started. The only thing which will remain the same is the first couple of verses. Although we’ve got cues when we cut in, the idea is to get as much spontaneity as possible. But to get yourself out of trouble, you’ve got certain keys you can use to come in. Otherwise it can be chaotic. Usually we just start the song off and then go in different tangents, change it four or five times, and then come back to the original song.”
And in ’77: “We always start off shaky and it’s at the end [of the show] when the whole thing builds. Which we build up between ourselves…the ESP aspects of it where you start jamming and entering areas which are open to free-form… A lot of larger bands play it safe with everything just about note-for-note perfect…but they don’t let the solos go on for a long time on purpose so they can really get their teeth into improvising and showing what can really be done.”
But Zeppelin’s idea of improvisation was more limited than the Dead’s, confined either to oldies medleys, variations within a long solo, or to the band jamming on riffs. They did have the ability to turn on a dime, but you don’t really hear them spinning off in new unknown directions like the Dead did. (Sometimes jazz writers will try to claim Zeppelin for their own, but I find such efforts unconvincing.) Then again, their music and purpose was totally different from the Dead’s – a ’69-era Other One would’ve been up Zeppelin’s alley, but never a Dark Star – and it’s perhaps impressive enough that they’d extend tunes like Dazed & Confused or No Quarter to half-hour lengths, when many in the audience would have preferred them to keep things shorter.
While Zeppelin were not very psychedelic, the Dead in turn were not very good at hard rock! After their early years, they’re not the band to turn to for tight, synchronized hard-hitting riffs. Increasingly after ’71, their playing lacked much visceral punch – gentle souls at heart, they preferred shambling to stomping. It can be hilarious sometimes when you can tell they all want to play something in unison, but keep wandering in different directions and can’t stay in time… As one person wrote, “It’s like watching a beetle or a turtle try to get upright.”
As one example of the contrast, there's an amusing comment in this blog-post about the Philo Stomp:
"Phil does this bass chord riffing that is somewhere between a Stones riff and something Peter Hook would do in Joy Division. I SO WISH the band all joined on this in a totally ballsy way. But, being the Dead, Phil is surrounded by some drugged impotents that aren't up to the challenge. If this was, say, LED ZEPPELIN, this would have become one of those awesome head banging riffs they'd go into in the middle of "Dazed and Confused" or "Whole Lotta Love". But instead, Jerry noodles, Bill can't seem to find the "one" and the promise of complete rock and roll satisfaction is dashed."
The Dead got ballsier in ’77-78, perhaps due to the example of other hard-rock bands – lead solos were emphasized more, Garcia’s tone got more distorted and he’d start trilling at the drop of a hat. When you get to a show like 6/25/78, the energy pours out and Garcia rips up NFA>GDTR like there’s no tomorrow:
Occasionally they could even do a funny little Zeppelin imitation, as at the end of the famous 11/6/77 Truckin':
http://archive.org/details/gd77-11-06.sbd.nawrocki.283.sbeok.shnf (after 7min in the Truckin - the Dead challenge Zeppelin on their own turf!)
Coincidentally, Garcia and Jimmy Page both played solo guitar spots in the 1977 shows, though with an extremely different approach – while Garcia played gently wafting solos, noodling hypnotically, Page would play long bursts of rather irritating, jagged noise effects. One random example from 5/21/77:
Compare to track 22 here from 5/11/77, where Garcia goes off by himself:
Page also occasionally played other instruments more identified with Garcia. He played pedal steel on a few Zeppelin tracks – Your Time Is Gonna Come, Tangerine and That’s The Way – and even the banjo on Gallows Pole. (He’d first played pedal steel on an early version of Tangerine the Yardbirds did, which is a surprising listen. Zeppelin had also planned to resurrect Babe I’m Gonna Leave You on the ’77 tour with pedal steel – “it sounds pretty different from the original,” Page said – but they dropped it after rehearsals.) These were just dabblings, though, when he wanted to add color to a song – he definitely didn’t immerse himself in these instruments like Garcia did.
Page told Guitar Player in 1969: “We wanted to use a steel guitar in Led Zeppelin. I have used one for about a month. It’s frustrating to play it, though. You hear those country guys, and they can play it so damn well. It’s such a complicated instrument for someone who doesn’t have that sort of line to begin with, and it’s a struggle for me to play. We used it on our album a couple of times, but nothing really complicated.”
Though this is perhaps not a subject worth dwelling on (as it’s so common among rock guitarists), both Page and Garcia became serious heroin addicts in the late ‘70s. With Page it started in ’75 and continued through Zeppelin’s tenure, to the detriment of his playing, though apparently he kicked it afterwards. With Garcia it started in ’77 and continued, off and on, for the rest of his life. (This, of course, is in addition to the usual blizzard of drugs that most successful bands indulged in.) I just mention it here since in both cases, it led to the other bandmembers complaining that their lead guitarists were withdrawing from the bands and contributing less to the music.
By Zeppelin’s last album, Page seems to have been barely present: “distant, less enthusiastic, and not entirely comfortable, showing particular indifference to Plant’s mellow leanings” (as Dave Lewis writes); perpetually late for sessions, and with little to contribute. The resulting album was largely a Jones/Plant keyboard album in which Page played little part. He later dismissed it as “a little soft… I thought, ‘That’s not us’… I wouldn’t have wanted to pursue that direction in the future.” Plant also felt, “I don’t think it was really a Led Zeppelin record.”
Likewise, Garcia (after a much longer period of burnout) grew uninterested in Dead rehearsals or studio sessions. This wasn’t due to addiction so much as poor health and loss of interest. The Dead’s last studio sessions in November ’94 were dismal – McNally writes, “Garcia sat in a corner grumbling about whatever caught his attention, but never really settled down to work.” Jackson concurs: “Garcia seemed distracted and out of sorts much of the time. He arrived late for some sessions, left others shortly after arriving, and skipped a few altogether.”
When Garcia and Bonham died, the bands could no longer continue. In my view, they both had already been in steep decline, and perhaps should have called it off sooner. But the stage beckoned, the money kept rolling in, and personal habits didn’t change. And unlike the Who, once a core member died, there was no thought of replacing him and carrying on.
Many listeners outgrow Led Zeppelin after becoming Dead fans – once you’ve acclimated to Garcia, it can be hard to admire Page’s guitar prowess and all Plant’s shrieking. I think remarks that Zep are ‘one-dimensional’ are a little off-base though; though they predominantly played hard rock, from the start Zeppelin had more than one style going on, from gentle, intricate acoustic-guitar arrangements to high-speed metal riffs, and later on embracing a diverse range of textures in their music. (Granted, not as diverse as the Dead, but how many bands are?) As with the Dead, I favor early Zeppelin myself, especially the third & fourth albums – for me, the band goes downhill from there.
At any rate, I thought it would be interesting to compare two such different bands, since Zeppelin has rarely been written about from a Dead perspective before! I hope there have been a few illuminating points in this strange endeavor...