When Led Zeppelin took off in 1969, the band quickly became rock’s biggest-selling act. At the end of ’69, the industry couldn’t help but notice when the group’s second record (the “Brown Bomber”) displaced Abbey Road as the No. 1 album in America.
After The Beatles went their separate ways, Zeppelin took over as the industry’s cash-cow among music acts. Even the Rolling Stones couldn’t compete with Zeppelin’s sold-out performances and string of No. 1 records (especially in America).
While they couldn’t match the Stones’ celebrity status, Jimmy Page and his bandmates poured everything they had into their marathon ’70s shows. (One L.A. gig reportedly blew away former Beatle George Harrison.)
And as the Stones lined the stage with a horn section and other touring musicians, Zep chose to stick it out with its trio of musicians and Robert Plant. That caught the attention of Stones guitarists Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood.
Richards marveled at how Page played shows without a 2nd guitarist
Led Zeppelin perform live on stage at Madison Square Garden, New York on June 07, 1977. | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns
George Harrison has reason to be impressed by Zep’s three-hour shows. After all, Beatles shows ended in less than 30 minutes. And the Fabs stopped touring after their Rubber Soul period. So the Fab Four’s most complex studio material (from Revolver to Abbey Road) never went on the road.
Zeppelin didn’t shy away from some of these challenges. With Page handling all the guitar parts and John Paul Jones on bass and everything else, the group tackled overdub-heavy tracks like “The Song Remains the Same” on every tour. The Stones guitarists certainly noticed.
In a 1977 Trouser Press interview, Page recalled Richards and Wood coming to see Zep in the mid-’70s. “You ought to get another guitarist,” Richards told Page afterward. “You’re rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business.”
Page thought it was a great line (“quite amusing”) but believed having a rhythm player wasn’t for Zeppelin. “There are times when I’d just love to get another guitarist on, but it just wouldn’t look right to the audience,” he said.
Page and Zeppelin wouldn’t vary from that core 4 of the group
Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin performs on stage at Oude Rai on 27th May 1972 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He plays a Gibson EDS-1275 double-neck guitar. | Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns
Why hasn’t Led Zeppelin ever gotten a drummer and made another hundred million dollars on reunion tours? And why didn’t they record any albums after John Bonham died? In brief, it wouldn’t be Zeppelin without Bonham.
While The Who, the Rolling Stones, Queen, and just about every other band from the classic rock era have soldiered on without original members, Led Zeppelin never did. “There’s certain people you don’t do without in life, you don’t keep things going for the sake of it,” Plant once said.
Plant was blunt about why he wouldn’t accept a substitute for the departed Bonham (still considered rock’s greatest drummer). “No one could ever have taken over John’s job,” he said. “Never, ever!” So Led Zeppelin never went beyond its original four. And at this point, they never will.