Plant has self-confessedly had a long fascination with what is often termed ‘authentic blues.’ Just what music is covered by such a phrase is highly questionable, but Plant enjoyed a deep and genuine love for and knowledge of the blues performers of the 1920s and ’30s, as well as the post-war greats such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters. What is much more rarely acknowledged about Plant’s own work is that he translates that love into some powerful blues singing and harp playing of his own. The reason is simple and yet not obvious.
Apart from possessing the voice and talent to do these things, Plant learned the vital lessons from mentors such as Robert Johnson, Tommy McClennan, and Skip James. The biggest lesson of all was to express your own feelings and thoughts; Plant had realised that well before his recruitment for Led Zeppelin. In 1970 he claimed: “I always respected Stevie Winwood, I must admit. He was to me the only guy… [He] was only a little bit older than me and started screaming out all these things, and I thought: ‘God, that’s what I’ve been trying to do.'”
Winwood was a huge talent with the rare capacity to express deep feelings from within himself without artifice. Plant could have hardly found a better contemporary soul-mate. So, although others may have found Plant and Page’s ‘Bring It on Home’ some sort of affront to Sonny Boy Williamson, the humour and the sheer sparkiness in Plant’s vocals and harp work point to a very different purpose. Plant and Page worked directly from the spirit of the originals and brought their own personalities to bear on them. They were not making slavish, empty copies, but were redefining how those blues forms could apply to their own age.
Being white boys from England meant that they got plenty of criticism for this -– just as Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and others of that time did. But not from other musicians. Indeed, as with Jimi Hendrix, by the time Led Zeppelin’s decade or more as a band had ended, blues musicians the world over were incorporating many of their ideas and techniques into their own playing. Today, whole blues tribute albums have been recorded and released. Back in 1970 it wasn’t always evident that such honours would eventually come Zep’s way, but the overall level of musicianship in the band was astonishingly high.
All four were particularly widely-read in music and capable of using what they heard in others to good advantage. Page, for example, talked knowledgeably in interviews at this time about music far beyond the rock charts. When asked by [noted U.K. music journalist] Chris Welch whether he was a fan of what was then called jazz-rock and later fusion, he pinpointed the pomposity and lack of sincerity behind Blood Sweat & Tears’ music, drawing an unfavourable but entirely accurate comparison with Colosseum. In the same context, he underlined his appreciation of some of the contemporary jazz greats. “I like and understand Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane, but when you get Fred Bloggs blowing away –- it doesn’t come off.”
Perversely, the filmed Albert Hall concert received a mixed live review at the time from Raymond Telford in Melody Maker. Claiming that the gig “very nearly met with disaster” he justified this by saying: “From the start there didn’t seem to be the excitement that should have preceded a Zeppelin appearance. It took them nearly the whole of their set to get the fires blazing.” It is not clear how the writer squared this with his admission that Plant had the audience eating out of his hand by the time they were playing ‘How Many More Times’ and that they were called back for no fewer than five encores. This was the type of review that drove Plant and Page to distraction.
Plant was able to take a more philosophical view on the whole event some 30 years later. “At the time, one would never have thought that it was reviewable,” he told [Trouser Press co-founder] Dave Schulps in 2003. “To look at [the Albert Hall film] now and give it any kind of title or any kind of credence or any kind of reflection is something so far removed from what was happening in those days in 1970. It could’ve all been over by the fall -– it could have been gone. I’d have made a great car salesman.”
Within a fortnight of completing the Edinburgh leg of the U.K. tour (delayed until February 17), a new type of adversity appeared. Three dates into a February-March tour of Europe -– a tour diplomatically described by Bonham to the Gøteborgs-Posten as “pure charity; the money here is pocket-money compared to what we get in the U.S.A.” -– the Led Zeppelin bandwagon ran into a roadblock by the name of Frau Eva von Zeppelin, according to Richard Cole “a direct descendent of Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the aeronautical legend”. She claimed to be guarding the honour of her family name and demanded through the press that the band desist from using ‘Zeppelin’ in their name while working in Denmark.
The dispute was not a new one; Page’s comments to Melody Maker the week before the Danish gig imply that the problem had been brewing for some time. He said: “The whole thing is absurd. The first time we played Copenhagen [in October 1969] she turned up and tried to stop a TV show. She couldn’t, of course, but we invited her to meet us to show we were nice young lads. We calmed her down, but on leaving the studio, she saw our LP cover of an airship in flames and exploded! So –- it’s shrieking monkeys now! But she is quite a nice person.”
In later years, Jones called her a “bit of a mad woman”. Peter Grant, not normally a man to avoid confrontations, this time proposed the simple expediency of playing the opening Copenhagen gig under a different name, for one night only. This led to speculation in the national press about the names the band might use, one of which -– Ned Zeppelin -– at least made Page laugh. After some confused discussion within the band, Page told the press: “We shall call ourselves the Nobs when we go to Copenhagen.” He and Grant had decided that a gig under a joke name like the Nobs would be no hardship.
This turned out to be quite true. The publicity generated by this adroit sidestep was instant and worldwide. It made Frau von Zeppelin’s obduracy look absurd and revealed a likeable streak of self-deprecating but witty low-life humour in the band, winning new fans to their cause. It was class warfare with a laugh. The rest of the tour provided the normal high-octane live sets from the band and confirmed their huge popularity in this part of Europe, as well as their propensity for two-hour-plus sets. There were no more larger-than-life events such as the intervention of Frau von Zeppelin. It was a perfect prelude to the looming fifth American tour, due to start in late March and last a month.