Led Zeppelin book excerpt: ‘When Giants Walked the Earth’

When Zeppelin hit L.A. now, they practically owned it. No longer content with booking the entire ninth floor at the Hyatt, they now took over the 11th floor, too, just a few steps from the rooftop swimming pool. They had permanently reserved tables at all the best-known Hollywood rock dives, not just Rodney’s but at their other favorite new hang-out, the Rainbow Bar & Grill, where they had their own special half-moon tables roped off at the back. With a fleet of limos waiting curbside, they also attracted star-name hangers-on such as Iggy Pop, sitting cross-legged in the corner of Jimmy’s suite, rolling joints as endless platoons of gorgeous, often very young, girls wandered in and out, happy to trade “favors” in return for access to the Zeppelin magic kingdom.

Rejected by the Laurel Canyon sophisticates — much to Plant’s chagrin — who were offended by Zeppelin’s sleazy reputation, the band simply took over Rodney’s or the Rainbow and treated them as they did the Hyatt: to use and abuse at will. For many chroniclers of the L.A. music scene, this was the beginning of its bleakest period. Nick Kent, another visitor to Rodney’s, claims he’d “never seen anyone behave worse [there] in my life than John Bonham and Richard Cole. I saw them beat a guy senseless for no reason and then drop money on his face.” Even Miss P — still on the scene but now reconciled to a life without Jimmy, except for those occasions when he suddenly remembered her number — would later tell writer Barney Hoskyns: “As much as I really loved Zeppelin, they kind of f**ked things up in L.A.. The magic really went out of rock ’n’ roll.”

None of which fazed Jimmy Page at all, who was entranced by the city’s dark side, boasting to Kent about “one of his Hollywood girlfriends [that] bit into a sandwich that had razorblades in it.” Even Robert began to exult in “the recklessness that for me became the whole joy of Zeppelin … 10 minutes in the music scene was the equal of a hundred years outside it.”

It was now that Page began the most notorious of his on-the-road relationships, lavishing attention on a 14-year-old habitué of Rodney’s named Lori Maddox. Tall, dark, skinny, with huge baby-seal eyes, Lori and her friend Sable Starr were two of the best known ‘dancers’ at the club. Having been turned on by pictures BP Fallon had taken of the young model the previous year, Jimmy once again ditched Miss P and turned his full attention to Lori. She later recalled being “kidnapped” by Richard Cole one night, who took her in a limo to the Hyatt, where she was brought to Page’s top-floor, candlelit suite. “I saw Jimmy, just sitting there in a corner, wearing this hat slouched over his eyes and holding a cane,” she said. “It was really mysterious and weird … He looked just like a gangster. It was magnificent.”

But then, as BP Fallon says now: “The whole world was different then. Better or worse? You choose. The end of the ’60s, much of the ’70s, it was freer then, less uptight, less censorious. For a while, it seemed everything and anything was possible. For many young white people, anyway. And if you were a British band on the road in America — any band in America — it was, quite simply, sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Didn’t mean you were forced to partake but it was there on a plate — or a mirror — if you wanted it. There must be a couple of hundred old geezers dotted around Britain — and more in the States — who for a few years had the time of their lives beyond their wildest, craziest, maddest dreams, travelling and playing rock ’n’ roll and having fun, fun, fun in what was still then the Promised Land. You’d be locked up if you did that stuff now. Underage sex? Forget it, baby. And now at the Hyatt House on Sunset Strip, there are screens over the balconies, so you couldn’t even throw a peanut out the window. Ah, back then through the dented mists of time, rock ’n’ roll was a truly powerful potion! There were fresh, enthusiastic girls everywhere going completely mad for it, and there wasn’t the horror of AIDS. And no one much thought about the longer-term ramifications of doing hard-core drugs. You can see these anonymous old codgers in a pub now somewhere, looking aged by more than time, buying another round and saying ‘Did I ever tell you about these girls in Detroit who called themselves The Nymph Five? It was 1971 and …’ Yeah, yeah, drink up …

He goes on in typically feverish fashion as he recalls what it was like being part of the Zeppelin inner-sanctum. “Well, Zeppelin were the kings of the castle — the biggest, and, if you could believe your eyes and ears, the baddest — and they took it to a whole other level. You can imagine The Rat Pack at their height in Vegas — Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. and their mad mob — all chasing women and going wild and being completely untouchable. Zeppelin were like that, with the volume turned up. There were placid moments but … c’mon! Wonderful. And the music? The music was beyond amazing, and the music’s still here to hear, will be forever, thank God, this Led f**king Zeppelin. You have to dig it. And them. Thank you, gentlemen.”

It wasn’t just L.A. that the band enjoyed themselves. Out on the road, groupies and drug dealers were now everywhere. They all now regarded cocaine as “rocket fuel,” though, wary of attracting too much attention, had begun to employ a full-time “coke lady” — a mysterious Englishwoman whose sole purpose was to administer cocaine with her index finger to members of the band then dab their noses with a pinch of cherry snuff and a drop of 1966 Dom Perignon. None of which was considered addictive, but rather sophisticated, even elegant.

Was that part of the buzz, I asked Jimmy in 2005. That different rules applied? “Sure, yeah, it was part of the reality of it. That’s the point, it’s part of the reality of it, and that was exhilarating, yeah. But it was very apparent that we were right on the cutting edge of everything that was happening.” Did it make it hard, though, for life away from the stage to match that kind of excitement and intensity? “No, I was still celebrating!” He grinned, “No, because things were in a balance. There was the intensity and energy and creativity that’s going on, that was the slot for that. The rest of the time was preparation or recovery. You know, most of it was so cocooned. We used to leave the stage, jump into the cars and get whisked off to the aeroplane, which would fly us to the next gig. Our feet never really touched the ground.” He paused. “There was always a lot of theatre. There always is on rock ’n’ roll tours, though I think we might have pioneered a lot of it. In fact, I know we did …”

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About Patrick Prince

Patrick Prince is the Editor of Goldmine

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