My 2008 Led Zeppelin biography, When Giants Walked The Earth, has just been published in the UK/Ireland/Australia/New Zealand in a new, vastly updated anniversary edition – the 10th anniversary of the book, the 50th anniversary of Zeppelin forming and making their first album. It has an additional 40,000 words, some of it added to the original text, including a brand new start to Chapter One, see below. Some of it updating the story to cover the past 10 years. It also features brand new interviews with a great many people that I didn’t get to speak to first time around, including Jason Bonham, former Atlantic Records chief (and later manager of both Plant and Page) Phil Carson, plus the late Chris Squire, Paul Rodgers, Kevin Shirley, Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, Eddie Kramer, Lemmy and many, many more.
Here is an extract from the new book , beginning with that new beginning to Chapter One. You can buy a copy by clocking onto the link at the side of this page.
Saturday night in New York: 30 March 1968 – the summer of hate almost upon us. Five nights later Martin Luther King Jr. will be shot and killed in Memphis. Two months later Bobby Kennedy will be similarly assassinated. By the end of the year Richard Milhous Nixon will be elected 37th President of the United States. ‘Hey Jude’ by The Beatles may be the biggest-selling single of the year but it’s the record’s B-side, ‘Revolution’, that speaks loudest to the generation of longhairs and head-trippers lining up outside the Anderson Theatre on 66 Second Avenue this cold spring night. Here to see The Yardbirds – Britain’s grooviest band. Or what’s left of them. Three dates into their eighth US tour in four years, though guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist Chris Dreja don’t know it yet, this will be the last tour the band will ever do.
‘We lost enthusiasm for it,’ says Yardbirds drummer and co-founder Jim McCarty now, speaking from his home in France. ‘We couldn’t really … we just didn’t have the energy for it. If we’d had a long break and sat down and had a rest and taken time to think of new songs, it might have been an idea. But everything back then was based on working, playing every night.’ He sighs. ‘They thought if you had six months off no one would recognise you any more.’
Nevertheless, it seemed a strange time to call a halt to what had been one of the most inventive, famous and influential bands of the Swinging Sixties. The world may have been going to hell – aka Vietnam’s Mekong Delta – but rock music was fast approaching its apotheosis. When serious music fans weren’t out on a Magical Mystery Tour in chase of an under-clad Mrs Robinson, they were tripping in a White Room listening to Janis screaming for them to take another ‘Piece Of My Heart’, or leaning over wide-eyed at innocent passers-by telling them ‘Hello, I Love You’, while all the while Two Riders Were Approaching.
The Yardbirds – famous for proto-psyche hits like ‘For Your Love’, ‘Shapes Of Things’ and ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ – had also been home to the three best guitarists in England: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and, now, Jimmy Page. The Yardbrds had appeared in seminal art-house flicks like Antonio’s Blow Up. They were worshipped by up-and-comers like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Gary Moore, Tom Petty… The Yardbirds were walking, talking history – even by 1968. But instead of sticking around for the transformation into album artists that would propel contemporaries like The Who, The Kinks, Cream and the Stones into global superstars in the late sixties, The Yardbirds were about to throw in the towel. Why?
The trouble, says McCarty, was ‘we were desperate. We didn’t want to do another Yardbirds tour.’ He and singer Keith Relf had been talking privately about splitting for months. ‘About doing something completely different. We wanted a change – to do some other kinds of songs, some different music. Something refreshing. After playing that heavy stuff night after night, in the end it wasn’t going anywhere…’ A wry chuckle: ‘But they wanted to carry on.’
‘They’ were Dreja and Page. And yes, they bloody well did want to carry on.
Or Jimmy Page did anyway…
It was a real sliding doors moment that night at the Anderson Theatre. You only have to listen to the live recording of the show – immortalised for the first time officially with the 2017 release of the Yardbirds 68 album, produced and digitally remastered by Page himself, and now available on various formats through his official website – to grasp what might have been had McCarty and Relf not wanted out so badly. It’s not overstating the case to describe this as proto-Led Zeppelin. And there’s no shame in wondering exactly what this band would have achieved had Jimmy Page not had to go out just three months later and find a new singer and rhythm section to play with – in what was originally announced at the time as being The Yardbirds Featuring Jimmy Page. Then, just weeks later, The New Yardbirds, and then, even more suddenly, spookily, a whole new other thing – supposedly – called Led Zeppelin.
In fact, listening to the live Yardbirds 68 album, The New Yardbirds really would have been a more accurate description of the outfit that Page pulled together in the months that followed that Anderson Theatre show. Because, baby-baby, it’s all right there in New York in March 1968. Not just the sonic templates of ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’, ‘Dazed And Confused’ and ‘White Summer’ – but in the whole smart-arse, don’t-try-this-at-home, we-are-your-overlords vibe. The Yardbirds had always been fantastically flash, inscrutably cool, fabulously out of reach. Their early shows were self-described as ‘rave-ups’ – wild, hair-down, knickers-off parties for the wilfully far out, the fashionably fuck you. They weren’t dirty rockers but they were photographed riding Harleys, they weren’t poncey mods but they dressed to the nines, part King’s Road, part Haight-Ashbury.
‘You couldn’t touch them,’ Lemmy of Motörhead would tell me years later. ‘Especially the line-up with Jeff Beck in it. It was the same feeling I got when I later saw the MC5 – they just attacked you, went for the jugular. When Page joined it became a bit more experimental but it was still the same sort of vibe – very daring. I always liked that. And the fact they always had a lot of good-looking birds at their gigs.’ Indeed, the musical journey The Yardbirds undertook in their short but adventure-filled five years together went through so many twists and turns their career seemed to nutshell the melting-pot atmosphere of the sixties as clearly as did that of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.