By Pat Prince
Denny Somach has long been immersed in the wonders that are Led Zeppelin, so much so that he has devoted a brand-new coffee table book, “Get the Led Out,” to all things about the band.
Most of the interviews were conducted by Somach himself — every band member (yes, even John Bonham) and a long list of insiders, including tour manager Richard Cole and the Yardbirds’ Chris Dreja. But there also interviews with Jake Holmes, the original songwriter of the song “Dazed and Confused,” and other Zeppelin biographers, including renowned hard-rock author Mick Wall. There is even a down-to-earth chat with Jimmy Page and an interview by peer musician Long John Baldry.
Goldmine chatted with Somach about the lingering controversy over Zep’s adaptations of blues songs, the scoop on an upcoming reissue project and whether he thinks there ever could be a Led Zeppelin reunion tour (you’ll have to scroll to the bottom of the article to get his rationale and insights). The images you see throughout this article are featured in the book and courtesy of Sterling Press, the book’s publisher.
The first part of Somach’s book is based on the successful radio program, with a chronology of interesting Zeppelin facts and tidbits. The rest is comprised of intriguing interviews, beautiful illustrations by famed rock artist Ioannis, larger-than-life historical images and rare memorabilia (mostly ticket stubs, handbills, posters, etc) — all wonderfully designed in this lush volume.
Goldmine: With the success of [the radio show] “Get the Led Out,” it is surprising that a book like this hasn’t been published before.
Denny Somach: That’s a very good question. There have been a lot of books published before on Led Zeppelin, and I found that most have been written by people who A) Never met them; B) Never saw them live; or C) Were never even alive when they were out. And I found the world’s largest Zeppelin collector, who lives in Virginia. We made an arrangement where I can come to his house and shoot his entire collection, which is what we punctuated the book with, which is one of the other reasons why it looks so great. He had everything. There’s stuff in this book I’ve never seen before. Instead of having tickets for a Japanese show, he had all the tickets to the Japanese shows. It was one of those things. He must have had a couple million dollars worth of stuff in his house.
GM: How did you hook up with the illustrator, Ioannis?
DS: He’s a very well-known album art director. He’s done stuff for Allman Brothers. He does all the Uriah Heep covers. He’s got over 175 covers. I said to him, “I want you to create some artwork that means Led Zeppelin 21st century.” That’s all I said to him. And that’s what he came up with. And what’s surprising, if you look at all the packaging that Zeppelin is using now by Shepard Fairey, it’s not that different. Ioannis is a very gifted artist. It really didn’t go through that many different variations before he really hit on it. We’ve chosen four images, including the cover, that are going to be made into limited-edition lithographs that Ioannis is going to sign.
GM: The interviews are vast in the book, from John Bonham to the John Baldry interview with Jimmy Page.
DS: The one that I was so happy about was the John Baldry interview with Page from ’77. I’ve only been able to use bits and pieces of that interview, and I think it’s one of the most candid interviews Page has ever done, because he’s talking to one of his contemporaries and someone who had actually been in a band he was in in the early ’60s. Well respected. And [Page] just really lets loose and lets his hair down when he gave that interview.
GM: Right. There aren’t any canned answers.
DS: Exactly. And it’s really not so much an interview with Page as it is really the history of the whole British blues thing, Spencer Davis and all that stuff we always really wondered about, and they mention people’s names that even I didn’t know who they were.
GM: Page is probably the most elusive of all the members, isn’t he?
GM: Talking to collectors, they’ll tell you Page won’t even autograph things anymore.
DS: Yeah. He’s too caught up in this, “Oh, you’re gonna sell it on eBay,” whole thing.
GM: And you’ve met all the members of Zeppelin, right?
DS: All of them except Bonham.
GM: Did you have a favorite, personalty-wise?
DS: I thought John Paul Jones was a great guy to connect with. Robert [Plant] is just like a regular guy, to be honest with you. And Jimmy is very elusive. I’ve interviewed him once in London and once in L.A. But he definitely is very well guarded and very careful what he says, and really almost impossible to get an interview with. Even when Page has an album out or something or tour, you know, he may only do one or two things. He really doesn’t care.
GM: Do you think that the group has given enough credit to the blues players that they based their songs on?
DS: No, and I think that’s an ongoing controversy that will probably not get resolved in our lifetime. Although one song at a time appears to be, as you will notice, that the credits appear to be changing. Like, even on the new DVD [“Celebration Day”], Jake Holmes finally gets a credit on “Dazed and Confused.” It doesn’t give him a full credit. It says “song inspired by.”
GM: After reading the Jake Holmes interview in the book … How could this guy be so unaware that Led Zeppelin’s version of “Dazed and Confused” was such a centerpiece of their live show?
DS: Well, it happens. Yeah, I was a little surprised myself. But Jake insisted that it was many years later … And the real reason is — according to him — is that he wasn’t involved in the music business. He left to become a jingle writer, and he left to become one of the most successful jingle writers of all time. Of course, in the interview it’s all in there, but he wrote “I’m a Pepper,” “Be All You Can Be” for the Army, and lots of amazing stuff.
GM: I had always heard that after a show that the Yardbirds had shared with Jake Holmes, Jimmy Page went to the record store and bought the Jake Holmes album [with “Dazed and Confused” on it]. But when I interviewed Jim McCarty, he claimed it was actually him.
DS: Yeah, it was Jim McCarty. Jimmy Page, after hearing Jim McCarty’s album, then went out also and bought the same record. But it was Jim McCarty that did it first, and then Chris Dreja also bought it. In fact, Chris still has his copy — a little dog-eared, but he still has it.
GM: It’s just funny, because when I asked McCarty [why they took the song as their own], he simply said they were in search of more songs to play. I’m surprised Jake Holmes doesn’t feel as much anger toward the Yardbirds as Jimmy Page.
DS: Well, the Yardbirds [version] didn’t really mean anything to him, and they broke up. That was their last tour. And it wasn’t really the Yardbirds that stole it. I mean, it ended up appearing on “Live at the Anderson Theatre” , but that got pulled and didn’t go anywhere.
GM: Some of the best interviews in the book are the ones with lesser-known people involved behind the scenes. You agree?
GM: I always refused to pick up the Richard Cole book [“Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored”]. I just thought it was going to be much of the same crap about trashing hotel rooms and orgies. Was I wrong?
DS: You know what? I glanced through it. I never read it. But because he was the main source for “Hammer of the Gods” [by Stephen Davis], so it’s hard to decipher whether his book is the real one or whether he made up stuff for “Hammer of the Gods” just for the money. It’s hard to say. I did interview Stephen Davis, but he’s not in the book. Obviously, “Hammer of the Gods” is the gold standard of rock books. It sold over a million copies.
GM: I agree, but that book seems to be my least favorite, just because you really don’t know what’s true in there. Actually, my favorite Zeppelin biography is from another one of your interview subjects, author Mick Wall.
DS: Oh, yes. Mick’s, I thought, was tremendous.
GM: “When Giants Walked the Earth” had a very creative spirit in it unlike other biographies, trying to get into the head of, for instance, Jimmy Page. I thought that was a wonderful biography.
DS: Yep, I agree with you.
GM: Now, you said that you interviewed Stephen Davis for the book …
DS: Yeah, but I didn’t include him.
GM: Was there a reason for that?
DS: I had already delivered 38,000 more words than my publisher wanted, and some of it had to go. And since we already had Mick Wall and Dave Lewis, and since his book was so huge, I just felt like I didn’t want to shortchange the interview, because it was a great interview. But there was just something I had to cut out. I had to cut Bill Harry, who was their publicist for the first couple years and the guy who worked with The Beatles. And, you know, you get edited.
GM: Is there some way someone can read the Davis interview? Will you be featuring it somewhere?
DS: I featured it on the radio show. We feature him a lot on the radio show, and maybe if there’s a second volume, that’s where it would be.
GM: Listening to Carol Miller’s radio show growing up in the ’80s, she played many Zeppelin songs that were never played on the radio before. I mean, how many times can the listener hear “Stairway to Heaven?” “Stairway” has been recognized too much. It’s probably the song people think about when they think of Zeppelin.
DS: I’m surprised somebody hasn’t done a story on the roots of that song in the Spirit song “Taurus.” Zeppelin’s first date in America was Dec. 26  in Denver, and it was Vanilla Fudge, Spirit, Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin. And also if you go to the Led Zeppelin live DVD from a few years ago, there is — I think it’s in “Whole Lotta Love” — there’s a Spirit medley with “Fresh Garbage” and “Mechanical World.” They were big Spirit fans, so even it was unconsciously lifted …
GM: Have you spoken to the members of Zeppelin about it?
DS: No. I haven’t. Unfortunately, Randy California, who wrote it, is dead. Ed Cassidy, the drummer, just died. But I did speak to Randy’s mother, Pearl, who’s in California, and she was trying to get someone to get behind her to help her reopen the case. She’s in a wheelchair, and there’s not much she can do, but if someone were to go interview her, that would be amazing.
GM: Maybe that’s your next project.
DS: I am working on a project called the “Cold Cases of Rock ’n’ Roll,” which is all about stuff like that. It’s in the development stage right now, but it should be ready to go shortly. I don’t know if it would be a book, an Internet program or what it will be.
But we’ll be starting the fifth year of the radio show [“Get the Led Out”], and we’re going to have some very exciting things, because Zeppelin is going to release a box set based around each album. There will be a lot of extra tracks and all that kind of stuff. Some of the songs will have different mixes and a few unreleased tracks. That’s going to keep us very busy on the radio show because we are going to have unique access to it. I think before anybody else.
GM: I don’t think Led Zeppelin have given a really good explanation for not reuniting, to be honest. They don’t have to do it. But as a fan myself I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pissed that they are not reuniting for a tour. I never had a chance to see them live — and I’m not talking about the Page/Plant thing in the ‘90s — I mean all three [remaining members]. It would be a great gift and, quite frankly, an unselfish one. Kind of a ‘thank you’ to the fans.
DS: Yep, I agree. And here’s what I think: I think there will be some dates. I think people forget that Led Zeppelin is younger than the Stones, and I think they are watching what the Stones are doing. They’re not going to do a 60-day tour, but I would be willing to bet that [later this year] they have announced some dates that they will do, like a handful of dates in New York, maybe in London, maybe in L.A., whatever.
GM: Well, you might be among the minority.
DS: No. Most people think they’re gonna do something including people like Danny Goldberg and everybody else and what they usually tell me is — and this I think is correct — every time Robert does something that doesn’t gel, like the Band of Joy, he says to himself ‘Now, should I revisit Zeppelin? What should I do next?’ And, of course, Jimmy Page — and this is total fact — is actually just sitting at home waiting for Robert to call. It’s true. Absolutely true.
GM: So it’s not just a Zeppelin fan’s pipe dream?
DS: I think they’re gonna do it. It’s all up to Robert. It’s when Robert decides to do it. And then it will happen. Obviously he’s got the hardest job, hitting some of those notes. Jimmy can still play his stuff. And Jonesy is unbelievable and Jason’s got the DNA.