Warren Grant, Son Of Led Zeppelin Manager Peter Grant, Talks Documentary, Tribute Bands And 'Stairway to Heaven' Case
Legendary Led Zeppelin manager Peter Grant cast a large shadow in every sense of the term. Both physically and psychologically intimidating, he was notorious for his tough business tactics -- a fairly mild example appears in this segment from the 1976 Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same -- but the artists would be the first to say it was always done in their service, and he was a pioneer in advancing artists’ rights in every aspect of the business.
Grant came up in the rough-and-tumble British music business of the 1960s, cutting his teeth with legendary manager Don Arden -- the late and estranged father of Sharon Osbourne -- who was infamous for his menacing business tactics. At the behest of manager Simon Napier-Bell, Grant began managing The Yardbirds -- featuring Jimmy Page -- in 1966, overhauled the group's finances and focused on touring America. While The Yardbirds splintered in mid-1968 -- Page reformed the group with new members and performed as the New Yardbirds for a few weeks before renaming themselves Led Zeppelin -- Page and Grant used what they'd learned in those years to make Zeppelin the world's biggest rock band.
Grant died of a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 60, but his son Warren, 49, has made his father’s legacy part of his own career by managing the British tribute band Hats Off to Led Zeppelin for four years, working on a documentary about his father’s life, and collaborating with longtime Atlantic executive Jerry Greenberg on various projects. Billboard caught up with Grant, the father of two grown girls, over the phone from England just a few days after the “Stairway to Heaven” case wrapped late last month.
Billboard: I understand you and former Atlantic Records exec Jerry Greenberg are working on a documentary about your dad?
Warren Grant: Yeah, we want to do a documentary that tells the story of what he was like as a father as well as a manager. The reason I want to do it with Jerry is I get offers all the time from various film companies, but I think generally they are really looking to use dad’s story as a means to make a film about Zeppelin. Jerry was very good friends and work colleagues with my dad and I have lots of memories of him from back when -- we used to go out on these fishing boats in Florida and various other places -- and he and I [reconnected] a few years ago when I was [in L.A.] visiting my daughter, who was doing some work for Freeman Entertainment with the managers from Motorhead. With Jerry being so close to him he seems the perfect choice to help me produce this.
Are there directors or anything lined up?
No, we just really talked about it last week. Jerry has to complete his own doc about his career in the music business, then we will get things moving.
What else are you working on apart from managing Hats Off to Zeppelin?
Jerry’s looking at starting a new label, and what I'm trying to do at the moment is look at some new, young British bands and get them across to the States, because at the moment I think there's a lack of young [talent], all the oldies are still going strong on my end, slowly disappearing one by one. We really want to get some new blood going, and I'm going to be looking at some bands, and we hope to sign them to the new label.
I know the early Zeppelin tours were crazy -- they played something like 130 shows in 1969 alone -- so that must've kept your dad out of the house quite a bit.
He was away a lot, but once I got a bit older, in the early and mid '70's, any time a school holiday or something came up, we would normally go out and see some of the shows. I can remember him going on the Starship [Zeppelin’s famous leased private jet] and all that stuff. And fishing off the balcony [at the Edgewater Hotel, the scene of alleged groupie debauchery] in Seattle. One of my fondest memories was, once the show started, we always used to sit with dad on the side of the stage with dad, on a monitor kind of thing, and I'd sit down next to him and we'd watch the show together. And I can remember being in the limos with all the escorts and stuff, and that was just really exciting for me as a kid, f---ing great.
Do you have any special memories of John Bonham?
Yeah, a really nice thing. On the  European tour, just before he died -- I don't know if you know Jason, John's son. Jason used to do a lot of dirtbike riding when he was a teenager, and one day I wanted to have a go. John used to take Jason to a lot of motocross meetings when he could, and I don't remember the exact conversation but I sat down with John and he said, “Well make sure that when you get there you do this and this,” and he gave me a lot of encouragement. I'll never forget it -- that weekend was my first race meeting and John had given me all this advice.
Did your older sister Helen come along on the tours too?
Helen decided to go to [boarding] school, so I don't think she came out quite as often as I did, I don't quite remember. I remember being with Jason a lot when we were kids, we've been friends since we were toddlers.
Was there any sense for you like this was a normal childhood, or did you know this was special?
I get asked this a lot. I knew stuff was different, but I didn't feel special. You know, by the time you're 3 or 4 you start to have a sense of what's going on in the world, and it was just normal for me.
When you were on tour with the band, I assume the debauchery was kept away from the kids?
Yeah, I think they were very careful to make sure we were distanced from that. You would see some drinking, and I guess people were smoking, but that was all whatever. We didn't really see any naked women or lines [of drugs] or anything. Dad always made sure that that was kept to a different room or part of the plane or whatever.
I have to ask what happened during that infamous incident at the Oakland Coliseum, where a member of promoter Bill Graham’s staff allegedly slapped you and then was beaten by Zeppelin security?
I was 11 years old so my memory is a bit sketchy, but I asked this guy for a Led Zeppelin sign that he was holding -- I think to put up on the outside doors of the group’s cabins back stage. He pushed me over, I told my Dad and the rest is history.
Is there any chance it was an accident?
Not from where I was standing.
I assume whatever happened after that took place out of your sight?
I’ve seen videos of your dad and he could be quite intimidating. Was he like that as a dad as well?
Dad was a big softie, let me tell you that. He knew when to push people's buttons at what point in time, or what needed to be done to get the job done. His number-one thing was to protect that band, and he would use whatever means he needed to make sure that his band had what they needed to be brilliant at what they do. He would deal with him [tour manager] Richard Cole and all the other people on board, and people like Ahmet [Ertegun] and Jerry Greenberg from Atlantic Records would deal with all the other stuff. So he had his little team of people that would make sure that the business side of things was kept away from the band as much as possible and that's how dad explained his work to me.
He loved the band, and he was really good friends with all of them. They were always great [to be around] -- even with a lot of kids running around, and that can be quite annoying when you're 30, but I could always speak with them, and we would often stay with them up in the mountains, or the Swiss Alps, and then we just all chill and relaxed, and it was a great time.
Are you still in touch with any members of the band?
Actually I saw Jimmy just a few days ago, because we were both staying in the same place in L.A., he was in town for the court case. We had a quick chat. The last time I think I saw all of them was at the Celebration Day [concert film] premiere a few years back, and then before that was the 2007 reunion. But we don't socialize and hang out in the park or anything.
Speaking of which, what's your opinion of the way that the Stairway ruling went?
I thought it was only gonna be one ruling, and that was the one that was the outcome. They brought up all those things about how that chord sequence had been used even centuries ago -- anyone could look at that and you could say anything, you could say it was a blues track. I think to drag it out like that was -- I think they could've gotten better publicity out of it- I'd ever even heard of the other guy [the late Spirit guitarist Randy Wolfe, who did not pursue legal action against Zeppelin during his lifetime, but the managers of his estate did], to tell you the truth.
What did you learn from him as a manager?
Dad was a real people person, you couldn't tell whether he was talking to the head of a department or a manager or promoter or just the person that was coming in during the patron, or the chauffeur...he would look after everybody the same. I remember a time, when he was having a swimming pool built, and one of the workers had cut his arm really badly, and instead of waiting for the ambulance dad out him in his Rolls Royce and took him to the E.R. room to get it sorted out. That’s the kind of thing I try and do. At the end of a show, I always make sure and speak to all the sound guys, the floor managers, and say goodbye to everyone, because it's all part of the show.