Photographer Herb Greene had barely heard of Led Zeppelin when they came into his San Francisco studio in the first weeks of 1969 for a photo shoot. The group's debut album hit shelves that same month and they were in the midst of their inaugural American tour, opening up for Country Joe and the Fish during a four night stand at the Fillmore West. "I knew about the Yardbirds," he says. "I knew nothing about this new band with Jimmy Page. But they booked a session because they wanted some 8-by-10 glossies, as they used to say in the trade." Greene estimates he spent less than an hour with the band, but during that time he snapped off an incredible series of photos of Zeppelin that have been rarely seen until now. This is Zeppelin before the tight pants, the private jet and the swarms of mad groupies. Click here for more information.
Greene shot Zeppelin at a dilapidated, three-story building on the west side of San Francisco that used to house a theater. "I didn't give them much direction," he says. "These guys were on the road and really didn't want to be there. I had 40 minutes, so I took individual portraits and a group shot. In those days, it was easier to just plop a tripod down and start shooting a band."
"They're obviously looking out a window," says Greene. "They were looking down at the parking lot of an abandoned grocery store. This was a neighborhood full of buildings that were later torn down. There were junk shops and places full of windows and banisters, great for shooting photos."
"You can see Jimmy holding a Zap Comix in this one," says Greene. "The room we're in was huge. At one end was the guy that printed Zap Comix. He used a cheap, offset press in a little glassed-in room and I guess Jimmy picked one of them up."
"I constructed a rather crude black background for this one," says Greene. "That studio was also a hotbed of activity. I remember this one time a guy came in there to shoot a porno film. It was a one-on-one deal and I remember him telling this girl what to do. I was like, 'What the?' I didn't shoot there for long because some kid burned the building down not long afterwards."
"I took separate photos of all four guys," says Greene. "My whole intent was to make people look smart. All these guys I encountered were pretty charming and intelligent. They were not fools and well they were artists on multiple levels."
"I always tell people not to smile," says Greene. "All my portraits reflect that. I tell them to look at the camera and really focus on the lens."
"I recently saw a documentary about Led Zeppelin," says Greene. "They were in Sweden around the time as these photos and they were in the exact same clothes. This is real early in their career and there just weren't many photos taken of them around this time."
"The show that Zeppelin did at the Fillmore were really important for them," says Greene. "I was at that first one. The whole thing was just overwhelming. It felt so huge. They were like monsters. The San Francisco bands didn't have that thing going. The Dead would get up there and everyone would face the drummer. The Airplane were subdued in comparison to those guys. Led Zeppelin were just all over the place."
Towards the end of the shoot, Greene discovered that the Grateful Dead were downstairs and wanted pictures with their new keyboardist Tom Constanten. "When the Dead came in, Pigpen shot a gun off," says Greene. "The guys in Zeppelin were horrified. If that happened a few years later, they might have take out Uzis, but back in 1969 they were just scared."