Robert Plant in 1975, at Led Zep's pinnacle. (Peter Simon / Gotham Books )
Why did Stephen Davis write "LZ-'75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin's 1975 American Tour" (Gotham: 218 pp., $22.50)? He's already the author of the band biography "Hammer of the Gods"; what more does he need to say? One reason, he explains here, is his rediscovery of old notebooks from his travels with the band: He just couldn't resist telling a few more fables of excess.
A more significant reason, however, is offered at the book's end in a "zeppilogue." Davis describes a 2009 visit to the former Hyatt House on Sunset — scene of so much 1970s rock 'n' roll craziness that it was known as the Riot House — and finds much of it changed, renovated, redone. The infamous balconies known for being the launching pads of many a television onto Sunset Boulevard? Now, the place is all covered up, enclosed, Davis reports, with the hotel's façade "encased behind a trendy glass curtain wall," and the "famous balconies," he laments, turned into "enclosed sunrooms."
"Over time," he says, "Led Zeppelin also was encased under glass, encased in legend and lore." This slender new book, then, is one more effort to break that glass: Davis gives us lively stories of Led Zeppelin's day-to-day goings-on in the year many music critics consider the band's pinnacle. Not always flattering to the Led Zep legend, "LZ-'75" tells stories of groupies and amp malfunctions, Robert Plant's outrage at security for beating up a stoned concertgoer and a shaky ride on the band's plane, Starship, during a storm.
The rock monsters weren't always on their game: At a show in Long Beach, Davis writes, John Paul Jones nearly put the audience to sleep with a 20-minute piano solo on "The Rain Song" that was full of "the most banal clichés of the cocktail lounge pianist." In Dallas, Plant yells at a bored audience, "Come on! Why don't you all … wake up? … It feels terrible to look out at an audience where everyone is … so flat-faced."
Do we really need this book? Mick Wall published an excellent bio last year, "When Giants Walked the Earth," and recent coffee table-size books by Charles Cross ("Led Zeppelin: Shadows Taller Than Our Souls") and Chris Welch ("Treasures of Led Zeppelin") include photos and facsimile memorabilia (backstage passes, concert posters and tickets). At first, one wants to tell Davis, OK, enough is enough. On the other hand, the recovery of old notes like his — especially when Plant and Jimmy Page are visible these days in various ventures — couldn't have been better timed.
— Nick Owchar