I saw Led Zeppelin nine times while I was on MM, second only to The Who but they were a country mile ahead with 30-odd concerts. My best Led Zep experience was the weekend of October 28 & 29, 1972 at the Montreux Pavilion where they played a couple of warm up shows before a period of extensive touring.
On the Saturday afternoon I sat in the Pavilion stalls, virtually alone apart from staff and roadies, watching a Led Zep soundcheck during which they played only early Elvis songs, loads of them, and it was fabulous; Jimmy doing note-for-note Scotty Moore, Bonzo tapping away on his rims and snare like DJ Fontana, JPJ on an electric stand-up bass and Robert mimicking The King. They took enormous pleasure in playing songs that had inspired them in their teens, a decade and a half before Led Zeppelin came into being. That pleasure just shone out from the smiles on their faces, the fun they were having, and I wished Elvis was there to watch. (I also wished I taped it!)
When they’d finished I asked them if they’d play a set like that at my wedding (not that I was planning on getting married) and manager Peter Grant laughed and said, “It’ll cost yer!” Very good natured it all was, and then Jimmy demonstrated to me how to use a new state-of-the-art stroboscopic electronic tuner he’d just acquired. Then he picked up his Martin acoustic guitar, the dressing room went quiet and for a few minutes he played some lovely improvised finger style.
On the Saturday evening, after the show, we all went out for dinner; all of us and their friend, the local promoter Claude Nobs, sat at a long table in a fine restaurant, and because some of their wives were present everyone was on their best behaviour, even the normally boisterous Richard Cole.
“Led the good times roll!” I reported for Melody Maker. “Zeppelin are a tremendous live force. They’ve lost none of the energy that characterises a band who need to work to gain recognition, but the energy has matured into a confidence that allows them to spring off into spontaneous directions during their shows. A nod, a wink, a drum roll or a wave of a fretboard and Zeppelin can turn a number back on its heels into songs totally unexpected. Who would imagine, for example, that ‘Whole Lotta Love’ could end up as ‘Heartbreak Hotel’? It can, and it does when Zeppelin fly.”