100 Greatest Artists

14

Led Zeppelin

Illustration by Mark Stutzman

By Dave Grohl

Heavy metal would not exist without Led Zeppelin, and if it did, it would suck. Led Zeppelin were more than just a band — they were the perfect combination of the most intense elements: passion and mystery and expertise. It always seemed like Led Zeppelin were searching for something. They weren't content being in one place, and they were always trying something new. They could do anything, and I believe they would have done everything if they hadn't been cut short by John Bonham's death. Zeppelin served as a great escape from a lot of things. There was a fantasy element to everything they did, and it was such a major part of what made them important. It's hard to imagine the audience for all those Lord of the Rings movies if it wasn't for Zeppelin.

They were never critically acclaimed in their day, because they were too experimental and they were too fringe. In 1969 and '70, there was some freaky shit going on, but Zeppelin were the freakiest. I consider Jimmy Page freakier than Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix was a genius on fire, whereas Page was a genius possessed. Zeppelin concerts and albums were like exorcisms for them. People had their asses blown out by Hendrix and Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, but Page took it to a whole new level, and he did it in such a beautifully human and imperfect way. He plays the guitar like an old bluesman on acid. When I listen to Zeppelin bootlegs, his solos can make me laugh or they can make me tear up. Any live version of "Since I've Been Loving You" will bring you to tears and fill you with joy all at once. Page doesn't just use his guitar as an instrument — he uses it like it's some sort of emotional translator.

John Bonham played the drums like someone who didn't know what was going to happen next — like he was teetering on the edge of a cliff. No one has come close to that since, and I don't think anybody ever will. I think he will forever be the greatest drummer of all time. You have no idea how much he influenced me. I spent years in my bedroom — literally fucking years — listening to Bonham's drums and trying to emulate his swing or his behind-the-beat swagger or his speed or power. Not just memorizing what he did on those albums but getting myself into a place where I would have the same instinctual direction as he had. I have John Bonham tattoos all over my body — on my wrists, my arms, my shoulders. I gave myself one when I was 15. It's the three circles that were his insignia on Zeppelin IV and on the front of his kick drum.

"Black Dog," from Zeppelin IV, is what Led Zeppelin were all about in their most rocking moments, a perfect example of their true might. It didn't have to be really distorted or really fast, it just had to be Zeppelin, and it was really heavy. Then there's Zeppelin's sensitive side — something people overlook, because we think of them as rock beasts, but Zeppelin III was full of gentle beauty. That was the soundtrack to me dropping out of high school. I listened to it every single day in my VW bug, while I contemplated my direction in life. That album, for whatever reason, saved some light in me that I still have.

I heard them for the first time on AM radio in the Seventies, right around the time that "Stairway to Heaven" was so popular. I was six or seven years old, which is when I'd just started discovering music. But it wasn't until I was a teenager that I discovered the first two Zeppelin records, which were handed down to me from the real stoners. We had a lot of those in the suburbs of Virginia, and a lot of muscle cars and keggers and Zeppelin and acid and weed. Somehow they all went hand in hand. To me, Zeppelin were spiritually inspirational. I was going to Catholic school and questioning God, but I believed in Led Zeppelin. I wasn't really buying into this Christianity thing, but I had faith in Led Zeppelin as a spiritual entity. They showed me that human beings could channel this music somehow and that it was coming from somewhere. It wasn't coming from a songbook. It wasn't coming from a producer. It wasn't coming from an instructor. It was coming from four musicians taking music to places it hadn't been before — it's like it was coming from somewhere else. That's why they're the greatest rock & roll band of all time. It couldn't have happened any other way.

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