“LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour” by Stephen Davis, photos by Peter Simon. Gotham Books, October 2010. 217 pp., $22.
Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll: It was a scene right out of Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical “Almost Famous,” a film about a young Rolling Stone writer who tags along with a fictional rock band and chronicles the freewheeling culture that goes with it. In this case, the writer is author Stephen (“Hammer of the Gods”) Davis who, with his former Boston University roommate, photographer Peter Simon, caught the heavy metal brass ring.
It was 1975 when the two 20-somethings got an unusual assignment from the very literate and proper Atlantic Monthly magazine: Spend a frenzied week or so on tour with the iconic rock band Led Zeppelin and write about it.
This Saturday, Nov. 27, the two longtime friends are holding an open house reunion at Mr. Simon’s Vineyard Haven gallery to celebrate Mr. Davis’s book, “LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour.”
Mr. Simon says, “I’d seen a lot of rock and roll, but I wasn’t prepared for the groupies and the drugs and the all-night parties. I was such a naïve hippie at that point. I’d never seen the seamier side of rock and roll, or even knew it existed.”
“The audience went into an orgasmic swoon at the sight of Jimmy Page strapping on the red Gibson double neck guitar… about a dozen teenage girls were hoisted onto their boyfriends’ shoulders as the song went into its final Neanderthal crunch. A girl near the stage took off her T-shirt, another her halter top, and soon half the elevated girls were wiggling bare breasts at Robert (Plant) …”
Mr. Davis, a former music editor at Rolling Stone, confesses neither he nor Mr. Simon were Led Zeppelin fans: “Peter was a Dead Head. We were just in it for the money.”
And Mr. Simon remembers: “Stephen took assiduous notes, handed everything in three months later, and the Atlantic editors said, ‘This is horrible. We won’t print it. Too dirty,’ so Stephen put all of his notes away. We were disappointed, but, what the hell… it was too heavy metal for me. I was more of a folkie.”
Mr. Davis, a family man who lives in Milton and is a longtime summer Islander, stashed away his notes so well they were eventually lost, not surfacing again until 2005 when he found them in “a veritable cardboard 1975 time capsule” along with some eight-track tapes, the keys to an old BMW, a ceramic bong, Led Zeppelin fan letters, press releases, a letter from William S. Burroughs.
The retrieved notes became, “LZ-’75: The Lost Chronicles of Led Zeppelin’s 1975 American Tour.” It is a vicarious ride with the iconic hard playing, hard partying band members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham (“The Beast”), and John Paul Jones. According to Simon, the band essentially ignored the two of them. Robert Plant was “the nicest,” and Mr. Bonham was the most volatile.
Mr. Davis covers the riots and mayhem outside the Boston Garden when fans lined up for tickets, the scene inside the LZ private jet, Starship (“the Flying Gin Palace”), during a lightning storm, and describes Mr. Simon taking the photograph of Robert Plant, arms outstretched, yelling to the world from the balcony of his California hotel, “I’m a golden god.” (A line that was shouted from the roof by Billy Crudup in “Almost Famous.”)
There was the problematic start of a performance: “A day of rest helped Robert recover his voice, which still sounded hoarse two nights later in Cleveland… But Jimmy’s hand hurt less, perhaps because of the quart bottle of Jack he was chugging between songs. The show started cold, with the band playing in a kind of listless fog…. Then something kicked in an hour into the set, and the concert took off like a fire truck, sirens wailing…”
Mr. Simon’s black and white photos are not reproduced to their best advantage, but he is displaying about a dozen of the framed images for sale at his gallery this weekend.
Book Signing Party with Stephen Davis and Peter Simon, Saturday, Nov. 27, 5–7 pm, Simon Gallery, Vineyard Haven.