By Ken Sharp
Led Zeppelin had a huge influence on Kiss vocalist/guitarist Paul Stanley. Stanley gets exciting when explaining how much Zeppelin's music meant to him personally and exactly how the band influenced the path of his own professional career in music.
Below is a look into Paul Stanley's admiration for Led Zeppelin: As a band, as a trailblazer and as an iconic template for heavy blues rock. Here are the five key things Kiss' Paul Stanley would like you to know about Led Zeppelin.
PAUL STANLEY'S EARLY MEMORIES OF LED ZEPPELIN
Led Zeppelin’s first show as "Led Zeppelin" was October of 1968, and they were rehearsing before that. The Jeff Beck album came out in August of ’68, so both in a sense were incubating at the same time. It’s interesting to see how much broader and wider Jimmy Page’s vision was of what was possible. Jimmy Page understood the complexities and subtleties of producing and arranging and brought that to his band. As brilliant as Jeff Beck was, that’s something he couldn’t do. Whether it was the limitations of the people he played with, which he himself has said he found frustrating, or just the fact that consistently Jimmy Page turned out to be a visionary. Jeff Beck had to use his phenomenal guitar talents to try and compensate for a lack of interesting, or original, material. At that point Led Zeppelin had gone through a metamorphosis from being the New Yardbirds, which was what they originally toured as, into Led Zeppelin. FM radio in New York one afternoon played the first track off this new album and it was “Good Times Bad Times.” It absolutely stunned me. It was as though somebody had shot adrenaline into my heart. My blood started pumping and I had the sense that the music was going to destroy my speaker because it had such energy and such commitment. And the fidelity and the way it had been arranged and recorded was absolutely brilliant. Everything that came in and was added to that track as the song progressed only made it that much greater. By the time Robert Plant came in it was just mind boggling. My young jaw dropped.
MORE ON LED ZEPPELIN'S FIRST ALBUM
In the late '60s, I think many bands were making statements and their albums were a complete work of which there might be many great songs. Led Zeppelin’s first album was a complete work of music. It was very much of its time, not to have a concept album where you have a story line, but many bands had concept albums because they had a point of view both lyrically and sonically that carried through from the beginning to the end. That wasn’t the case perhaps before the coming of all these English bands. But that's what separated each band at that point. To this day I still play Zeppelin’s first album and it’s still staggering. You have to remember, and this not only goes for Zeppelin but many of the bands of that time, some of those guys were 17 and 18 years old. The thing that’s so staggering at that time was there really was a musical renaissance and the average age of the geniuses was probably 20, 21. (laughs) And it wasn’t a single band, there were numerous bands, although some were leading the parade. I have to say that many that were falling a step behind the leaders were still better than a whole lot of stuff being attempted today. To listen to Led Zeppelin, I don’t think Plant was more than 19 years old or Jimmy Page was probably 22-23. I mean the same thing with (Jimi) Hendrix, you just have to remember all these people were achieving heights that most could never conceive of being twice as old.
PAUL STANLEY ON SEEING LED ZEPPELIN LIVE
I saw Zeppelin live in the summer between the release of their first and second album. I saw them at the New York State Pavilion at the old World’s Fair. My guess was that there were well under two thousand people there. There were no seats, it was just standing. They were the most astonishing band I’ve seen to this day. There’s nothing to this day that comes close to what I witnessed that night. I remember watching them and when it was over my friend and I left the concert. We walked out and looked at each other and said, “Let’s not say anything, it’ll only cheapen it.” (laughs) And we never spoke about it because it was the perfect marriage of all the elements that made great rock and roll. It was sexy, it was ruthless, it was dangerous.
I think Led Zeppelin were the template for everything that came afterwards. There would not be anything that people call heavy metal or blues rock or hard rock without Led Zeppelin. There never could have been a KISS. They wrote the book and everybody else is the addendum or the appendix.
I didn’t have the ability to play those songs the way I heard them being played. What I found myself doing was I’d try to capture some of the essence of what they were doing and interpret it in my own way. So it came out in songs that I would write; although, I didn’t have the musical chops either vocally or playing wise to replicate what they were doing. When I was in school there were actually guys who intimidated the hell out of me ‘cause they could actually sing that stuff and I sure as hell couldn’t. There were some hot shot guitar players in school that could play some British blues rock and I just wasn’t at that level yet. It was intimidating but the music was exhilarating. It was something to aspire to and it wasn’t something to mimic. It was something to try and grab the essence of. Two Kiss songs that carry the flavor of Zeppelin are “Makin’ Love” and “100,000 Years.” Although, again, I was a kid from New York who certainly at that point didn’t have the chops to pull something like that off. All I could do was interpret it and spit it out in my own fashion, vocally and instrumentally. What I was hoping for was intensity. Although we didn’t as a band or me personally have the chops to pull off the musical intricacy of what they were doing. I wanted to at least be able to convey passion and intensity.
When Zeppelin’s first album came out, I hadn’t developed at that point as a singer to do those songs in bands. I didn’t have the balls. Guitar playing could always be left to some flashy guy but if I was going to carry those songs vocally, I just didn’t have the goods yet. So I was hooked and hopelessly addicted to that music although I wasn’t at a point where I could sing it. There was an intensity and the urgency that made Zeppelin so much more than an amped-up blues band. I’ve always felt that there are no limitations in creating good music. Often there is so much going on under the obvious instrumentation that it eludes most people. But they respond to something intangible, something that they aren’t even sure what it is. And it may be the layering and building of a track in terms of adding more instrumentation or adding more chord variations underneath. I learned that very much from Zeppelin. Zeppelin has lasted where others have become a footnote, because their blue print and road map was far more complex than what it appears on first glance.
PAUL STANLEY ON THE MAGIC OF JIMMY PAGE
The great thing about somebody like Jimmy Page is he brought a lot of influences and flavors to the pot. Where other bands attempted things that were similar and fell flat to one degree or the other, he was able to realize that for something to be heavy didn’t mean that it had to be crude; that part of what makes something heavy was the depth and the intricacy or the lightness. Here’s a guy who knew Celtic music, rockabilly, American folk, and international music forms besides the obvious admiration for Robert Johnson and everyone who followed in his footsteps. They were all fans of Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. He understood that for something to be truly bombastic it had to have depth and depth doesn’t come just from cranking up an amplifier. The idea of being able to paint sonically, to paint with light and dark and to see things cinematically almost so that your canvas is large and your color choices…you’re not afraid to use the whole palette. That’s what makes those songs so dramatic. If “How Many More Times” was just one guitar cranked it wouldn’t have anywhere near the drama that it has. To a listener who doesn’t really understand what they’re listening to, that’s what it might sound like. But in fact it’s so much more and that becomes evident when you hear somebody trying to emulate it by just taking a guitar and cranking it up through an amplifier.
PAUL STANLEY ON ROBERT PLANT
The great thing about Robert Plant first and foremost was that incredible voice. It was the voice of a banshee. It really was the voice of a God, some sort of God off Olympus. It was what folklore is made of. It was not of this earth and then when you coupled that with his look. There was no one else who looked like that. He was the template for what a rock frontman could and should look like. I was always safe, because I was behind a guitar. But the great thing about Plant was what he exuded. There was a cocksureness about him and also an elegance and a rampant kind of wild sexuality. So it covered all the bases and he was the pattern that many other frontmen have been cut from.