They may not have pleased John Paul Jones very much, but the Jimmy Page and Robert Plant tours of 1995/96 and 1998 were as close to Led Zeppelin reunion tours as the world ever saw. They were billed as Page and Plant and there was a studio album of new material in 1998, but the vast, vast majority of songs they played each night came from the Led Zeppelin catalog. They sold out nearly everywhere they played even though they didn’t play “Stairway to Heaven” a single time. All seemed to be going well until Robert Plant abruptly pulled out of a planned Australian tour in 1999. “I didn’t know how many more English springs I would see,” he said.
An incensed Jimmy Page teamed up with the Black Crowes the following year, though they had to pull out of a tour with the Who in 2000 when the guitarist began experiencing major back pain. Page and Plant were completely dead until the summer of 2001, when it was announced they would perform at Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival. The annual festival was honoring the Sun Records artists of the 1950s that year and, with Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun playing a huge role in the festivities, they couldn’t say no.
“It’s a very special moment for me to present two of the people who have been most important in reviving black American music to the whole world,” Ertegun told the crowd. “They are among some great people in the history of rock & roll. They are, and still remain, the greatest friends and, even though I am introducing them, I am part of the audience. I am honored to be part of the audience tonight to hear Plant and Page.”
Many in the crowd were probably hoping for a Zeppelin-heavy show, but their eight song set was centered around rockabilly classics like “Good Rocking Tonight,” “Baby Let’s Play House” and “My Baby Left Me.” Midway through, Plant did pause to reminisce about his old band. “It’s almost 30 years since Jimmy and I came here with Led Zeppelin,” he said. “When we arrived, we came with all this information to daydream about American Fifties rockabilly and blues and the work of Sam Philips and the musicians who worked out of Tennessee. This is a song that came from the Presence album. It leans very heavily in that area. Apologies to Johnny Otis, it’s called ‘Candy Store Rock.'”
Led Zeppelin had never played the 1976 track in concert, and this was the first time it popped up at a Page and Plant gig. It turned out to also be the final Page and Plant show. The next time they played together was the one-off Led Zeppelin reunion in December of 2007. They have been forced to come together this summer to defend themselves against allegations that they plagiarized “Stairway to Heaven” from the 1960’s band Spirit.