9.12.21

RICHARD COLE

Richard is seen here between Jimmy Page and Peter Grant, in a picture taken by Bob Gruen on February 3, 1975, at a post-concert party held by Atlantic Records at the Penn Plaza Club in 
New York’s Madison Square Garden. 
Your man from Just Backdated, wearing shades, can be seen in the background 
above Richard’s left shoulder.

Richard Cole, who has died aged 75, was the fearsome and once much feared tour manager for Led Zeppelin for almost all of their career. As second in command under the group’s equally formidable manager Peter Grant, Richard – known to his many friends as Ricardo – was not only responsible for the day-to-day business of ensuring their many tours ran smoothly but also for keeping the quartet amused during the long periods of boredom that occur while travelling. In this latter capacity he was celebrated as a weapons-grade hell raiser, the instigator of much of the hedonistic excess for which the group became notorious. 

        Such indulgences led to Richard becoming an alcoholic and heroin addict but, in a remarkable turnaround, he rehabilitated himself completely in the 1990s, and for the remainder of his life became a model of sobriety, the most affable of men, taking afternoon tea with old comrades, swimming regularly and attending AA meetings. Among his passions was buying flowers and his regular companion was a fluffy grey and white cat he named Puss Puss. 

        Richard was an old friend and in recent years we communicated regularly via Facebook. While in years gone by he was an occasional foe, we long ago buried any hatchets that may have been raised over his antipathy towards the music press. I first met him while covering Led Zeppelin concerts for Melody Maker in the early 1970s but he was a bit suspicious of journalists in those days, as were the group, all bar Robert Plant, after Rolling Stone in America was stubbornly critical of their music. I, in turn, was a bit wary of Richard. 

        Once, in 1976, he tried to put the make on my female dining companion at Ashley’s bar and restaurant in New York, and when I remonstrated he swung a punch at me that missed, and in the melee that followed he was ejected from the premises. Robert, hovering nearby, apologised profusely on behalf of his employee, explaining that Ricardo had taken rather too much refreshment on a flight from London earlier that day. Evidently the actor Telly Savalas, a fellow passenger in first class, had also endured a bit of ill-treatment from Richard over the Atlantic. All this was long forgotten in later years when Richard approached me to publish a memoir of his time working for The Who and others but I declined because I felt it was insufficient to fill an entire book. He didn’t seem to mind. 

        Born in 1946 in Kensal Rise in north London, Richard left school at 15. His first job was welding handles to milk churns at a dairy, for which he was paid £3 12s a week. He later worked at a motor scooter repair shop, delivered crates around London for a food wholesaler and became a scaffolder on building sites which toughened him up no end. His entry into the music business came one night in 1965 when he offered to help the group Ronnie Jones & The Nightimers with moving their equipment, and this led to similar employment with Unit 4+2, The New Vaudeville Band, who were managed by Grant, and The Who, in the latter case as driver for Keith Moon and John Entwistle until his driving licence was revoked for speeding.

        When Jimmy Page assembled Led Zeppelin in 1968, Grant became their manager and recruited Richard for the arduous job of running their tours, marshalling the road crew and acting as a sort of concierge-cum-security-guard for the musicians. “When I went for the job interview I was not asked to sit so I stood in front of Peter to wait for his questions,” Richard wrote in that unpublished memoir. “He looked me up and down and came straight to the point. ‘How much do you want?’ ‘Thirty pounds, take it or leave it.’ Peter was taken aback by my answer. He later told me that anyone who spoke to him like that was not going to have a problem getting a band’s money from dodgy promoters.”

        The 11 years that Richard spent working for Led Zeppelin brought him considerable notoriety in the world of rock music. Peter Grant had learned his trade when the rock’n’roll business was run by spivs and strong-arm merchants who grabbed the cash and ran. Grant, however, saw a more profitable future in treating his management clients honestly while strong-arming everyone else. Taking his cue from his mentor, Richard was never shy about physically confronting anyone who sought to profit at Led Zeppelin’s expense or otherwise break their stride. A former Mod, he took pride in his appearance and was among the first in his line of work to adopt a trim hairstyle at a time when everyone else wore it past their shoulders. The suit and tie he occasionally wore, along with a ring in his ear, only added to his air of menace. 

        As Led Zeppelin rose to become the highest earning rock band in the world, Richard brought to the party a cornucopia of earthly delights, teenage groupies, class A drugs and an attitude of invincibility that, eventually, became their Achilles heel. The most infamous incident under his watch occurred at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle in July 1969, when an American groupie stripped and allowed herself to be pleasured with a fish, a now legendary episode in rock folklore. As the 1970s progressed, everyone in the group’s inner circle apart from Richard became immensely wealthy, a factor that no doubt led him to become involved with, and benefit from, two salacious books published after the group broke up.  

        Included among the stories would have been the time he rode a motorcycle along the corridors of the Continental Hyatt House hotel – the “Riot House” – in Hollywood. In 1969 he commissioned a lady of the night, armed with whips and a pair of handcuffs, to pay a surprise visit to the New York hotel room of an MM colleague, informing her that the more he resisted the more he would enjoy her services. It took a great deal of effort on his part to finally eject her. Some of his escapades, however, got out of hand. 

        On July 23, 1977, Richard, along with Grant, drummer John Bonham and renowned London tough guy John Bindon, unwisely recruited as extra security, were involved in a violent altercation backstage at the Oakland Coliseum in California. A member of promoter Bill Graham’s crew was seriously injured in an unprovoked attack and for a while it looked like all four might end up in jail. The upshot was that Led Zeppelin never toured America again. Richard was still working for the group when they performed before 200,000 or more at Knebworth two years later but by their final tour of Europe in 1980 he’d been relieved of his duties over his unreliability, this in part due to his various addictions. At the time he was languishing in an Italian prison on charges of terrorism, later dismissed. 

        After Led Zeppelin’s demise he worked for Lita Ford, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Uhuru, Fem 2 Fem, Three Dog Night, The Gypsy Kings, Fu Machu and The Quireboys, splitting his time between London and Los Angeles where he lived in Little Venice. He retired in 2003 and thereafter lived quietly in a small flat in London’s Notting Hill Gate, having weaned himself off drugs and alcohol through Alcoholics Anonymous. Now completely reformed, his hair turned white and his preferred dress was a blue blazer with brass buttons over collar and tie. Occasionally he visited the French Riviera, tanning himself beside the Mediterranean and looking extremely toned for his age. He reminded me of a retired army colonel, the sort of genial old buffer who might be found propping up the bar at a provincial golf club sipping gin and tonic. He was a revered figure in Led Zeppelin fan circles, happy to reminisce when friends came calling.  

        In the meantime, however, Richard had co-operated with Stephen Davis on the controversial 1985 Led Zeppelin biography Hammer Of The Gods, the first book that made public the hedonistic lifestyle they enjoyed in their pomp. Relations between Richard and his former employers suffered as a result, and weren’t helped when he cowrote (with US journalist Richard Trubo) his own tell-all memoir, Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored, published in 1992. Page later said he felt “completely ill” when he was shown extracts. Nevertheless, while no one from the Zeppelin camp has ever sued publishers over any scurrilous books about the group, the thought remains that had they been a bit more generous to Richard over the years such books might never have been published in the first place. It’s not as if they’re short of a few bob. 

        Time healed the wounds, however, and both Page and Plant resumed cordial relations with Richard over the last two decades, welcoming him as a guest at the group’s 2007 Reunion Concert at the O2 in London. Both musicians are reported to have visited Richard at his home during the illness that eventually claimed him, and after his passing both paid tribute and expressed their condolences through social media. 

        Richard died from cancer and is survived by his daughter Claire.

        Richard Cole, tour manager; born 2 January 1946; died 2 December 2021.



No comments: