SUE’S SUNDAY SOJOURN: Each week I will showcase a particular artist or band during my entire two hour set. Each week, prior to the set, there will be a blog post where I will write about my memories, favorite stories or share other interesting tidbits. The idea here is not to tell the story of the band or play two hours of their greatest hits. The idea behind Sue’s Sunday Sojourn will be to spend time with Sue, down in her music vault. As she puts together the set, she will reminisce and share special memories. “I remember when this came out,” or, “I recall hearing this for the first time and I thought…” She might share little known facts, favorite memories, fun stories or maybe even some personal experiences.
The sets will have plenty of the big hits but be ready for a few obscure tunes that may be her personal favorites. She will probably include a few rarities or possibly unreleased material, along with other sundry curios. So join her every Sunday night from 7-9 as she lets you into her world.
The song that first attracted me to Led Zeppelin was the Immigrant Song. It was 1970 and they had just released their third album appropriately titled, Led Zeppelin III. Oh my God! The sound of those Viking war cries just went right through me. Of course back then I didn’t know they were Viking war cries, but still. I recall hearing that song and becoming hooked on that sound. Led Zeppelin would become one of my all-time favorite bands.
I had seen both Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II in the record stores but like happened so often with me; I had to go out and get this new album because of that song. I didn’t know the title so I actually bought Led Zeppelin II first by accident, but soon grew to love that one too. I bought the first album soon after and had all three albums in my collection. I was officially a Zep addict and would buy every album as it was released from then on.
I have always been a fan of cover art and I feel it has become a lost art of bygone days with the much smaller format of compact discs. The first three LZ albums all had amazing covers. Led Zeppelin (1969) had the Hindenburg going down in flames emblazoned across its front cover. That cover made all sorts of statements about the music contained therein. Led Zeppelin III’s (1970) front cover consisted of a cardboard wheel sandwiched between two square pieces. It was riveted in the center so the wheel could be turned from where it stuck out along one edge. There where round windows cut out of the top piece with the cover art and as you turned the wheel, different pictures would appear in the widows allowing you to change the cover art with many possibilities.
|Led Zeppelin's first three album covers (click to enlarge)|
Led Zeppelin II (1969) had a really interesting cover in my opinion. [Yes, LZ released both of its first two albums in the same year.] When I first saw it, I assumed, like I’m sure many others did, that the photo depicted a German Zeppelin crew and the photos of the band members’ faces were airbrushed in. I would later learn that I was close and the photo used was of a World War I German Air Force unit. You can tell, looking at the photo below that all of the faces had been replaced. All sorts of identifications have been made for the other faces in the album. The gentleman of color looking up in awe at the abstract image of a zeppelin flying overhead in the album art has been identified as various people including Miles Davis and Blind Willie Johnson. The woman has been erroneously identified as Lucille Ball or Phyllis Diller, both of which are incorrect but she may be Mary Woronov, a crony of Andy Warhol. The face just above Robert Plant has often been identified as Astronaut, Neil Armstrong. Closer inspection shows that it is actually Astronaut, Frank Borman, who commanded the historic Apollo 8 mission less than a year before the album’s release.
|Close-up detail of the Led Zeppelin II cover with the original photo shown in the inset (click to enlarge)|
I always found their name quite fascinating as it seems to describe their music. Here is how it came about. They originally called themselves the “New Yardbirds.” Jimmy Page was the last member of the Yardbirds standing and had gotten permission to use that name, or so he thought. Chris Dreja, who had legal rights to the name “Yardbirds,” contacted Page and forced him to call his new band something else. It turns out the permission was only for certain concert appearances that had already been booked.
Supposedly it was Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, who heard them and said that they were about as good as a lead balloon. Someone had the idea that if they replaced the word “balloon” with the word “zeppelin,” that it could make for an awesome name. Zeppelins had been used by the Third Reich to show their dominance and air superiority, and inspired awe in all who laid eyes on them. They also changed the spelling of the word “lead” to “led,” so no one would mispronounce the name of the new band as “Leed Zeppelin.”
The next album that Zeppelin came out with had more awesome music, including Stairway to Heaven. It also caused a lot of controversy and confusion when it was released in 1971. The first thing one notices is that there is not a bit of writing ANYWHERE on this cover, including the spine! This was completely unheard of and to add to the confusion, the title of the album was four symbols, shown below, which appeared on a sticker on the cellophane wrapper. People like DJ’s needed to have a name that could be pronounced so they often resorted to “Zoso,” which the first symbol seems to be saying. It has also been called “Runes,” though technically those symbols are not runes. The name that eventually won out and we use pretty exclusively today is “Led Zeppelin IV,” though you may still see “untitled” used. It was the natural progression from the previous three records, Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III.
|True title of Led Zeppelin IV|
The story behind the symbols as I recall is this. Jimmy Page brought out a book of esoteric symbols and their meanings. He asked each of his bandmates to pick one they felt represented them. The first represented Page himself, the next Jones, then Bonham and finally the sheaf of wheat (not a feather) for Robert Plant. No one has ever, as far as I know, ever identified the origin of Page’s symbol and it was not in the book. Plant has said that Jimmy told him once but he was too drunk to remember. Jimmy Page has remained mum on this ever since the release.
This band had it all and was the epitome of the filthy rich rock star lifestyle that would become cliché. This band partied hard every night and paid for the damages the next morning. They even owned their own Boeing 737 to tour in instead of the traditional bus. It was with all this money that Jimmy Page made a purchase that I found interesting.
Jimmy had always had an interest in the occult and was a big fan of ceremonial magic, especial the works of Aleister Crowley. In 1970 Jimmy bought Crowley’s old manor on Loch Ness, Boleskine House. Though never identified, Page’s symbol, mentioned above, does resemble some sort of sigil, a symbol used in ceremonial magic. Of course Page’s silence created a void and it was quickly filled with speculation, including that he had sold his soul in a pact with the Devil for Zep’s success.
There was supposedly further proof of this in that if you played Stairway to Heaven backwards, the line, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on,” becomes, “Here’s to my sweet Satan.” I’ll play this bit forwards and backwards a few times during Sunday’s set and you can decide for yourself. When this sort of thing is usually done, it is done by recording something forward and then overdubbing it into the recording backwards. It is called “backwards masking” and many bands did this. [I will cover some great examples in coming SSS sets.] I don’t think this was a product of that process and it is just coincidence it says anything backwards. I’m sure if I played enough records backwards, I could find the line, “Donald Trump is smoking dope in my hovercraft.” Where do people find the time?
Stairway to Heaven became a very popular slow dance number at high school dances across the country. This may have contributed to its popularity with a generation as it became “THE” dance of the night at eight minutes long in school gyms everywhere. For me, it became special because it was filled with beautiful pagan imagery that sang to my soul.
I bought each album as it was released and dreamed of one day seeing them live. Finally I got tickets to see them at Madison Square Garden in New York City in June of 1977. At the last minute my transportation fell through leaving me stranded and I did not get to go to the concert. I was inconsolable.
On September 11, 1980, it was announced that Zep would tour North America again. This was to be a scaled back tour and there were no New York dates among those announced, however they would be playing at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. That wasn’t that far away and I would finally get to see my beloved Led Zeppelin live. Alas, 14 days later their drummer, John Henry Bonham, passed away and there would be no Led Zeppelin tour. To say I was heartbroken was a major understatement.
This was basically the end of Led Zeppelin as no one could possibly fill the shoes or live up to the three rings that made up the “symbol” that Bonham displayed so prominently on his bass drum. Well, there was one person and he has played drums for Zep for most of their few reunion shows. This is John Bonham’s son, Jason Bonham. In the Zeppelin movie, The Song Remains the Same, there is a poignant scene in which a very young Jason is playing a little drum set next to his father and his full sized kit. It was fitting that as an adult that he would take his father’s place during those few shows, even displaying his dad’s symbol, three rings, on his bass drum. Jason would later release an album with his own band, the Jason Bonham Band, in 1997 entitled, In the Name of My Father. On it, the Jason Bonham Band covers many of the great Zeppelin tunes.
It was soon after John Bonham’s death that I saw a bootleg that became probably their most famous. It was a recording of their appearance at Knebworth, located in Hertfordshire, England, during August of 1979. I soon got my copy and there was one song included on it that was rather curious, Stairway to Gilligan. This was obviously not Led Zeppelin but some band trying hard to sound like them. They were playing Stairway to Heaven but were singing the lyrics to the Gilligan’s Island Theme. It is an amusing curio and I would later learn that the band behind the recording was really Little Roger & The Goosebumps. I’ll play this curio Sunday night. The rest of the record was excellent live Zep.
I never got to see Zeppelin proper but I came close in 1995. Page and Plant were touring to promote an album they had done together, No Quarter. The album was acoustic and used many instruments and musicians of Middle Eastern influence. I toyed with the idea of going but decided not to. It wasn’t Zeppelin and I wondered if it would just hurt too much. A number of friends got together and paid a hefty penny to get me tickets behind my back to go see Page and Plant at the Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey on April 7, 1995.
I was on the floor, about 20 rows back from the stage. The Arena went dark and then there was Plant, center stage as he let out a great Viking war cry with no instrumental accompaniment. It was the same war cry that had gotten me hooked on Zeppelin 25 years earlier. Every hair on my body, especially on the back of my neck, stood on end. Then he let a second war cry fly, even greater than the first, if that was possible. The crowd erupted and roared as Jimmy Page and the rest of the band jumped right into the Wanton Song, one of Zep’s most hard driving tunes with the prominent bass and drums. There was a message here and it was saying, “This is going to be a Led Zeppelin concert!”
And it was a Zeppelin concert from beginning to end, except a couple of soft tunes in the middle to pay homage to the new album. The show ended but the house lights hadn’t come up yet and the best part was yet to come. After they returned to the darkened stage, the spotlight fell on Robert Plant as he gestured to the giant black curtain that had acted as a back drop for the stage throughout the show. He said, “Please welcome warmly your very own New Jersey State Symphony Orchestra.” The curtain opened revealing the far end of the Arena and there seated was the complete New Jersey State Symphony. There were cellos and strings; there were bassoons and woodwinds, and yes, Jaz, there were horns.
The cellos jumped right in and began to play Kashmir. The song was recorded with heavy orchestration originally and the cellos always played a big part. Now to hear these two great bands working together to bring us the Zeppelin classic was amazing. I can’t put it into words. The song ended and the crowd went wild.
I thought my evening had ended and I was satiated, but like they say in those commercials, “But wait, there’s more!” As the applause continued to thunder, Robert plant could be heard belting out the following line, “Hey, hey mama said the way you move, gonna make you sweat, gonna make you groove.” This was answered by Pages guitar. They were doing Black Dog! So was the NJ Symphony! They were swaying back and forth in time as they played the last Zeppelin song you’d ever expect to have an orchestral accompaniment. It was completely unbelievable.
So, did I really see Led Zeppelin? It was a Zeppelin concert but it was only half of Led Zeppelin. Bonham had been dead almost 15 years and where was John Paul Jones?
Led Zep and the Tarot…
Jimmy Page had a fascination with the Tarot, much like Aleister Crowley, whom he admired. Led Zeppelin IV contained artwork inside and when you opened the gatefold it depicted the Hermit (#9) from the Major Arcana of the Tarot. There is another card of the Major Arcana represented in the painting too. Rather small, in the lower right corner, is a young person looking up at the Hermit as if he is trying to reach him. This is the Fool (#0) and most people who have studied the Tarot will assert that both are one and the same person. In the picture below, I have shown the album fully opened to show the artwork. I have the area shown on the lower left of the drawing in red, in much larger scale to the left. Here you can plainly see the young man in detail and if you continue following the arrows, you can see the Fool as depicted on the Tarot card. I have included an arrow from the Hermit in the drawing to the corresponding Hermit card to the left. (All Tarot cards shown here were scanned using my own deck that I have owned for well over 40 years.)
|Details of the drawing inside the gate-fold of Led Zeppelin IV along with the two Tarot cards depicted (click to enlarge)|
I have never seen them portrayed in this way together but it shows you what every student of the Tarot already knows. The fool, as depicted on the card is young and carefree, not a care in the world. You can see that he walks in the mountains, approaching a precipice, and could care less about the danger it might hold. Through his life he strives to gain wisdom and once he is old he becomes the wise hermit, holding a beacon of light to those who wish to follow. They are one and the same man. The young man in the album drawing looks up to the hermit, as he looks to his goal and admires what he has/will become. The hermit also envies the young man, the fool, and wishes he can be as care free and young again, unburdened by all he has seen and learned. Ultimately he will transcend all of this and he will learn the lesson of true enlightenment and becomes both wise and carefree.
The Fool and the Hermit were quite obvious but there was another Tarot card that many of us started noticing on this album cover. The ratty old picture on the tattered wall, shown on the front of the album bore striking similarities to the Ten of Wands from the Minor Arcana. Though not a precise depiction, you can see both men are burdened by their sticks or wands.
|The Ten of Wands depicted on the front cover?|
There is one more hidden element on the inside picture of this album. If you mirror it, as shown below, you can see some sort of animal or beast. I’ve depicted the area with a red rectangle. Some say it’s a horned beast and some say it’s a black dog, depending on exactly which elements (rocks) you wish to include. Those that say that it’s a horned beast often use it as further proof of diabolical occult associations. Black dog is the title of a song on the album and this animal in the picture is often called the “Black Dog.” However one should remember that in old European folklore that a black dog by the side of the road was often a form the Devil took.
DJ Sue’s Vault…
Two quick ones from my personal collection. Above is my copy of Led Zeppelin IV, personally signed by bassist, John Paul Jones. Look to the left of the picture frame and it is signed large and in blue Sharpie Marker.
Below is a close-up of the vinyl next to the label of Led Zeppelin III. This is the runout section after the last song and clearly etched into the vinyl is “Do what thou wilt.” This etching was engraved directly into the plate used to press the records during manufacturing. The quote is from Crowley’s Philosophical Law of Thelema. The full quote is, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law, love under will. There is no law beyond do what thou wilt.”
|Runout detail on Led Zeppelin III|
There is so much more I wanted to go over but time and room prohibit me. I wanted to tell more Zeppelin stories like when I worked at the radio station and I mixed John Paul Jones’s voice over Stairway to Heaven to make a Save the Children PSA. Oh well, they can wait for another day.
|Led Zeppelin with their very own Boeing 737 jet airliner|