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Led Zeppelin: 1: Yardbirds. Session guitarists Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones recorded with Yardbird Jeff Beck in 1966. As they cut Beck's Bolero, Page and Beck thought of forming a band, possibly adding The Who's rhythm section of John Entwistle (bass) and Keith Moon (drums), who weren't happy at the time. For vocalists, they liked The Small Faces' Steve Marriott or The Spencer Davis Group's Stevie Winwood. Nothing came of the group at once. Page instead joined the Yardbirds. When later Beck quit, Page was left in charge, though he didn't have rights to the name.
2: New Yardbirds. Manager Peter Grant and Page started a tour with The New Yardbirds. The Scandinavian gigs of 1968 made it clear they weren't the Yardbirds any more and a new moniker was needed.
3: Very Heavy Lead. When Page's band visited New York in 1968, road manager Richard Cole was hanging out at the Salvation disco with Moon and Entwistle, by now openly saying they too wanted to form a band with Page and Winwood, who had moved to Traffic.
Author Steve Davis quotes Cole: "Entwistle said, according to Cole: 'Yeah, we'll call it Led Zeppelin. Because it will fucking go over like a lead balloon.' Moon roared out his maniacal bray and Cole told Jimmy [Page] the minute he got back to the hotel."
Entwistle, up to his death, maintained the phrase was his. Many sources, also quoting Cole, attribute the remark to Moon. Cole is sticking to the Entwistle version - while saying the alternative is not implausible because Moon used a similar phraseto describe disastrous concerts. Page and Jones also thought it was Moon - although, if Cole is to be believed, they weren't there at the time. They later asked Moon if they had his permission to use it for a band different in composition to the one he first proposed. Moon, pleased to be approached, said it was fine. He also maintained, throughout his life, that the phrase was his.
Everyone thought a Cream-like supergroup would be heavy not just with talent but with egos, personality clashes and differing styles. It could have flown, crashed or been too heavy to ever get off the ground. Page compromised and had recruited Jones, along with two promising, unknown Birmingham men: singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham.
4: Led Zep. Page was again thinking of names and came up with Mad Dogs - the moniker was later used by Joe Cocker - then Whoopee Cushion. If he'd chosen this ludicrous name, history might have been different.
It was only then that he remembered the zeppelin comment. He told Davis in the book Hammer Of The Gods: "It had something to do with the expression about a bad joke going over like a lead balloon. There's a little of the Iron Butterfly light-and-heavy connotation."
It also fitted imagery such as the Blind Faith album cover of a rocket. Led Zep soon had its own album imagery featuring Graf von Zeppelin's airship.
The "Lead" was respelled by Grant because (1) it would not be pronounced as "Leed Zeppelin" and (2) "nobody can spell in America, so they won't notice." (Cf Def Leppard.) They were soon simply "Led Zep" or "the Zeps".
5: Four Symbols. By the time of their fourth LP, Zep became known by various runic symbols, thereby pre-dating the one adopted by Prince.
Page chose the symbol usually rendered as "Zoso". The glyph is similar to the alchemical symbol for amber. Unflattering derivative: Led Wallet - their first rehearsal ended with the rich Page asking the hard-up Brummies to chip in for beer.
Jones': symbol: Three ovals cutting through a circle representing confidence and competence.
Bonham's symbol: Three interlocking circles. He was dismissive of runes idea but his logo, also from a book of runes, represents man, woman and child. It also resembles three drums and looked like the Ballantine drinks company logo. Bonham's son Jason has drummed with Zep for reunions after his father's death. Bonzo, Bonham.
Plant's symbol: A feather in a circle, designed by Plant and representing his lyrical-writing, derived from a sign of the Mu civilisation. 'Percy' had been singing with the ridiculously-named Hobstweedle (a Tolkien reference), Black Snake Moan and The Crawling King Snakes. At one stage he might have joined Slade, which again would have made history different.
6: Other names. On tour in Copenhagen in 1970, the band was confronted by Eva von Zeppelin, a relative of the airship designer. She said: "They may be world famous but these shrieking monkeys aren't going to use a privileged name without permission." Zep appeared for the night as The Nobs. Fears of court action proved groundless.
Unflattering derivatives: 'Dead Zeppelin' - referring either to Bonzo's death or their flagging "dinosaur" appeal in the aftermath of punk. 'The Stairlifts To Heaven' - referring to their reunion at more advanced age playing Stairway To Heaven.
Tribute bands include: Dread Zeppelin, Fred Zeppelin and the all-female Lez Zeppelin.
7: Aftermath. Spinoffs: The Firm, The Honeydrippers, The MacGregors, Unleded.
8: Afterword. Zeppelin took off quickly and flew high to success, so proving the name ironic. Page said the name didn't matter as long as the music was accepted: "We could have called ourselves the Vegetables or the Potatoes ... What does a Led Zeppelin mean? It doesn't mean a thing."
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