THE AFTERLIFE OF
From page 27 of Classic Rock Magazine February 2007
Led Zeppelin didn’t end with John Bonham’s death in 1980 – instead it limped on through a series of big plans and botched reunions.
WORDS: MICK WALL lthough the story of Led Zeppelin ostensibly ended that bleak day in September 1980 when it became clear John Bonham’s inert form could not be roused, new chapters have been added on a regular basis.
The first – the posthumous release in 1982 of the odds-and-sods Coda
album – was meant to have closed the book. Despite modest sales
(a million in the US, compared to seven million for Zep’s final album In Through The Out Door , and only 60,000 in the UK where ... Out Door had sold over 300,000) it added to the curiosity, combing the band’s back catalogue for leftovers and finding plenty to suggest they were far from the spent force that punk-obsessed critics claimed at the time of their demise. “I wanted to do a live album, too,” Jimmy Page recalled. “Picking tracks from different eras. But we could never get it together.”
The early 80s were not kind to the memory of bands like Zeppelin, with long hair as unfashionable as flares, and machines taking the place of bearded, bad-tempered drummers. It didn’t become clear quite how much Zeppelin was missed until July 1985, when the surviving members took to the stage in Philadelphia for their part in the Live Aid concert. While their playing that day – augmented by more-thancapable former Chic drummer Tony Thompson, but ruinously distorted by the unrehearsed arrival halfway through of Phil Collins – was inarguably sloppy, the crowd reacting with uncontrolled hysteria was something none of us who were there will ever be able to forget. There could not have been many more screams and tears if Jesus had come down from the heavens and decided to walk among them.
Even the band admitted they were shocked by the force of the reaction. So much so, they were even prepared to countenance what had previously been considered unthinkable: a full-on Led Zeppelin re-formation, with the redoubtable Thompson taking Bonzo’s place. Rehearsals took place down in Bath – away from the prying eyes of the London media – a few months later. But it all came to nought as Plant began to have second thoughts about working again with Page, who was off drugs but drinking heavily. “The first day was all right,” John Paul Jones recalled. “I had all sorts of ideas for it.” But Plant’s doubts grew; when Thompson was involved in a serious car accident, he took it as an omen. “It just fell apart from then,” said Jones.
Three years later they were all back on stage again, this time with Bonham’s son, Jason, occupying the drum stool. The occasion was the televised 40th-anniversary party for the band’s label, Atlantic. But instead of being a “dream ticket”, Page told me: “It became like my worst nightmare.” The problem, he said, was that the band’s scheduled performance was delayed by several hours, “by which time I’d peaked and I just... lost it.” Certainly his performance has gone down in history as one of his worst. As he admitted: “People saw that and just assumed I couldn’t play any more.”
It wasn’t true, and by 1990, with the four-CD Remasters box-set to promote, Page, Plant and Jones were sitting around a table together discussing the possibility of a Zeppelin reunion, albeit on a strictly temporary basis. Much to his chagrin, Jason
Bonham – who jammed with the trio at his wedding reception earlier that year – was excluded from these discussions, with Plant pushing for the more fashionable Mike Bordin of Faith No More to be offered the job (which he was, in January 1991, during FNM’s appearance at Rock In Rio II). Once again, however, the plan started to unravel, with Plant getting cold feet when the others expressed reservations about using the young, dreadlocked FNM drummer. “What you’ve got to remember,” an insider told me, “is Robert is used to having his own way now. He can’t bear to go back to the days when Jimmy and Jonesy made the major decisions about the music.”
Be that as it may, Plant seemed more than pleased to team up again with Page for their MTV Unplugged performance in 1994. With Jones not even on the guest list, the notion of this being a Zeppelin re-formation in disguise was easily denied. Page, who would have been equally happy bringing Jones in and simply calling the band Led Zeppelin, merely shrugged. If that’s what it took to get Robert on board again, so be it. For as Plant had declared: “I don’t want to go backwards, I only want to go forwards.” But Jones noted with disdain the posters for the subsequent Page & Plant tour which boasted the slogan: ‘The Evolution Of Led Zeppelin’: “I felt that was a bit too close for comfort.” He was also miffed at the title given to the accompanying album: No Quarter was taken from one of his own Zeppelin songs. Jones, who was touring with Diamanda Galás, was asked for his reaction “constantly, and it hurt to have to deal with it. It was a great shame, after all we’d been through together.” Page would find himself on the wrong end of Plant’s wriggling insistence on not reigniting the Zeppelin flame when he announced he would never sing Stairway To Heaven again. “Robert’s probably got a perfectly adequate and eloquent reason for all of that,” he sighed, “but... I don’t know. All I do know is that when we were in Japan [with Page & Plant] we were on a TV talk show and we did a bit of it then, which was unusual. We just did a little bit of it, the opening part of it.” Since then there have been at least two more occasions when Page and Plant have set aside their differences long enough to discuss the possibility of playing together again as Led Zeppelin. The first time, in preparation for the release of both DVD and How The West Was Won in 2003, a plan – to undertake a brief but intensely lucrative US summer tour – was scuppered, insider sources claim, when Plant became more interested in the coincidental release that year of his Sixty Six To Timbuktu solo compilation. The second time, as recently as last year, when a brace of shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden were mooted to mark the 25th anniversary of Bonzo’s death, the plan was scrapped when Plant could not decide whether it would be a good thing to do or not.
Now, sadly, with neither Plant nor Jones choosing to join Page on the rostrum at last year’s televised induction into the UK Music Hall Of Fame, it seems the only person left in Led Zeppelin who would still countenance some form of reunion – however temporary or turbulent – is the band’s original creator.