The Origin Story of Led Zeppelin

It would be difficult to discuss 1970s rock—actually, it would be difficult to talk about rock music, in general, without at least a mere mention of Led Zeppelin. The hard rock band helped to define the genre in the mid-20th century with a sound that was everything all at once and something entirely their own.

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Locked and loaded with Robert Plant’s ear-grabbing tenor, Jimmy Page’s unshakable guitar prowess, John Paul Jones’ robust bass lines, and John Bonham’s muscular beats, Led Zeppelin had it all. Their decade together as a band saw a steady evolution as they consistently innovated their sound and style, but one thing never changed. From beginning to end, they rocked.

Becoming a Band

Led Zeppelin was officially born in 1968 London, rising from the rubble of another British rock band, the Yardbirds. Guitarist Jimmy Page knew the end was nye for the Yardbirds in the late 1960s and soon went in search of his own band.

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According to Mick Wall’s 2010 book, When Giants Walked the Earth: A Biography of Led Zeppelin, Page, for a long time, had considered forming a supergroup, throwing around names like Steve Winwood, Keith Moon, John Entwistle, even his former bandmate Beck as potential members. The supergroup never came to fruition, but another band soon would.

The Yardbirds officially came to an end in the summer of 1968 and with a few concert dates left to be fulfilled, the band authorized Page, along with the band’s bassist, Chris Dreja, to continue on under the Yardbirds name and carry out the group’s previous obligations. The only caveat was they needed to fill their roster.

Dreja would bow out shortly after the other Yardbirds did. His leave would make way for bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones to take up his rightful place alongside Page. The guitarist and Jones had known each other previously, having worked together in the session musician circuit.

Then, not long after following a lead for a frontman, Page was pointed in the direction of vocalist Robert Plant who was then fronting an outfit, called Band of Joy. Plant would accept the position, although he once recalled the decision as being a “daunting” one.

While he brought his former Band of Joy bandmate, drummer John Bonham, into the fold, the singer would describe being intimated. “Bonham and I were coming from the Black Country,” he explained on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs (via Far Out Magazine). “We were big fish there, but we were suddenly alongside John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page, who were really seriously accomplished, far more mature, and pretty well versed in all the different elements of melody and construction and stuff like that.” Those worries, however, seemed to melt away early on.

With their lineup secured, the quartet would wrap up the unfinished Yardbirds job while billed as the New Yardbirds, but would soon change their name to Led Zeppelin.

[RELATED: Meaning Behind the Mythical Led Zeppelin Hit, “Immigrant Song”]

The Rise of Led Zeppelin

With the release of their self-titled debut in January 1969, Led Zeppelin and their music were unleashed upon an unassuming world, a world in which hard rock would never be the same after.

The genre saw a shift with each new album the band released, and for a decade was informed by Led Zeppelin’s distinctive blues-folk-rock sound and ever-evolving style. Throughout the 1970s until their break-up in 1980 following the tragic death of Bonham, the band produced classics, like “Stairway to Heaven,” “Whole Lotta Love,” and “Kashmir,” that have endured to this day.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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