Blues guitarist Rory Gallagher moved to London from his native Ireland in late 1967 with Taste a band constructed firmly in the three-piece shape of the Experience and Cream. But it was Fleetwood Mac and, in particular, their guitarist Peter Green who gave Taste the confidence to follow their hearts, Gallagher later reflected — a debt he repaid shortly before his death in 1995, when he contributed a couple of tracks to the Rattlesnake Guitar Green tribute album.
“You cannot overestimate Fleetwood Mac’s importance at that time,” producer Mike Vernon agreed. “They brought the blues back into focus and rejuvenated the whole scene.” Vernon signed the infant Mac to his own Blue Horizon label, and admits it was the band’s immediate success that allowed the label to flourish as it did, becoming the primary staging ground for virtually every homegrown blues band of the era.
…And so back to Rory Gallagher, the man Jimi Hendrix once called the best guitarist in the world. Two studio albums attest to Taste’s brilliance, both released in the wake of Led Zeppelin I and both learning its lessons; Taste and On the Boards, two slabs of archetypal blues rock shot through with some astonishing detours. “some of the tracks,” affirmed Gallagher’s nephew and archivist, Daniel Gallagher, “could almost be very early metal, with that very deep, almost guttural bass. They tried to handle everything — tracks are country, the amazing jazz stuff they did on On the Boards — and that took a lot of attention away from that dark, brooding sound. It was brilliant. And if Rory had allowed ‘What’s Going On’ to be released as a single after [they played] the Isle of Wight Festival, when they were really flying, a lot could have changed.”
Keep reading this excerpt on Shadowplays.com!
If You Like Led Zeppelin… is the unique story of how Led Zeppelin came together not just as players, but as influences and ideas. It unearths the music that the musicians themselves were listening to, to open up an entire new world of experience and excitement for both casual and committed fans. It then travels beyond Led Zeppelin, to the bands and artists who in turn took their own lead from the Zep.
Happy birthday, Robert Plant!
The following is an excerpt of If You Like Led Zeppelin… by Dave Thompson (Backbeat Books), which will be on sale Sept. 2012.
To rock fans of a certain age, there are certain intros that need no further introduction.
Der-neh-der-neh-NEH (der-der-dum der-der-dum)
De-de-de de-dii-de-de …
Okay, that last one’s trickier. But if you got even one out of the three, chances are you could attempt to phoneticize a whole bunch more, and gaze in pitying astonishment at anyone who wasn’t as instantly au fait as you are.
Across a lifetime that spanned thirteen years, nine LPs, one double live set, and a posthumous compilation, and which has only sporadically been added to since then, Led Zeppelin recorded and released just eighty-five songs. Yet those eighty-five not only set the bar for every rock band of their generation, they became the benchmark for every band that followed.
Between the fall of 1968, when they arose from the ashes of the Yardbirds and taped their first album in a matter of days, and September 1980, when the death of drummer John Bonham rang down the curtain on their career, Led Zeppelin did not simply establish themselves as the biggest rock band in the world. They grasped that throne for all time, because, no matter how successful the groups of the past three decades have been—no matter how readily the financial, attendance, and sales records Zeppelin once set might be smashed—not one of those record-breakers has even threatened to match the sheer weight of influence that Bonham, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones exerted on their surroundings.
No, Bono, not even you.
This is not the place to ponder the reasons why; to analyze the fortuitous confluence of musical streams and strains that Zeppelin, alone of the massive pack plowing the fertile valleys of late-sixties rock, was able to seize upon; to consider the sheer bravado with which manager Peter Grant set about building the legend of a band that wasn’t simply untried, but completely unknown; or to pick apart the monstrous marketing machine that allowed Zeppelin to crush all opposition and reinvent rock in their own image.
The fact is, they achieved it and, even more remarkably, they did so by eschewing almost every one of the shortcuts other bands have relied upon. For as long as there had been rock ’n’ roll, a hit single was the way to break into the mainstream, and even those late- sixties rockers who claimed to despise the things were not immune to the advantages a smash 45 could bring. Vanilla Fudge, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, Hawkwind, Argent, bands whose very raison d’être was built around the long- playing statement—they all scored hit singles, and their profiles rose accordingly.
Not Led Zeppelin. Throughout most of the world, they did not even issue singles and, while their American label, Atlantic, did insist on sneaking the 45s out (and scored hits with them), they did so in the knowledge that the band would not be promoting them.
Because that was the other shortcut Led Zeppelin avoided. They would not appear on television, not after a handful of performances early on in their career left the musicians bored and frustrated with the demands of the medium. Led Zeppelin was a live band; therefore, Led Zeppelin would play live. And if you wanted to see them, you had to catch them live as well.
And there’s more. Throughout the sixties and seventies, the primary conduit between artist and fan was the music press, a printed medium that devoured several rain forests’ worth of trees every month to fill the average fan’s appetite for hot news and info. In Zeppelin’s British homeland through much of that period, there were no fewer than five music papers appearing every week (Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Sounds, and Record Mirror, plus shorter- lived enterprises like Disc and the appallingly titled National Rock Star). There was the biweekly Street Life and a slew of monthlies too. Plus an ever-changing roster of magazines dedicated to the teenybop market.
The United States had less to choose from, but the best of the bunch remain legends to this day—Creem, Circus, Rolling Stone (in the days when its music coverage came first and was generally better than anyone else’s). All sold by the bucket-load, all were savagely independent, and all were essential reading. A front-page story in any one of those was worth a gold disc before the new album was even released.
Led Zeppelin ignored them. Not completely, and certainly not exclusively. But interviews with the band were nevertheless at a premium, as manager Peter Grant laid out an unspoken dictate that flew in the face of all commercial common sense. Yes, you could talk about the band as much as you liked. But you’d be very, very lucky if you got to talk to them.
Any one of these dictates could easily have backfired. The press could have turned against the band, the record buyers could have shrugged with disinterest, the couch potatoes could have remained on the couch.
But they didn’t, because Led Zeppelin had one thing no other band of the age could come close to possessing. It was called mystique, and that is so unquantifiable that, again, we will not even try. Put simply, however, people trusted Led Zeppelin.
Trusted them to make a great album without wanting to hear a three-minute snippet before they laid down their cash.
Trusted them to put on a great show, without needing to catch a sanitized highlight on American Bandstand.
And trusted them to have something to say, without having to wade through three thousand words of edited conversation in search of John Bonham’s thoughts on the Nixon administration.
But there was something else that made Led Zeppelin special, that raised them above the hue and cry of the rest of the rock pack, and established them on a musical plateau that—again—has never been scaled by anyone else. And that was their openness to influence, their willingness to listen, and their ability to seamlessly assimilate so many personal fascinations into what became a very public whole.
If You Like Led Zeppelin… is the unique story of how Led Zeppelin came together not as players, but as influences and ideas. It unearths the music that the musicians themselves were listening to, to open up an entire new world of experience and excitement for both casual and committed fans. It then travels beyond Led Zeppelin, to the bands and artists who in turn took their own lead from the Zep.
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