Wednesday, September 30, 2009

In Hulett and Prochnicky's photo book, Led Zeppelin history compacted into vignettes

In a series of three black-and-white shots taken by James Fortune in 1973 straight-on in front of center stage, we see Robert Plant in full performance mode onstage at the Los Angeles Forum. With his legs positioned in pyramid formation, his face bobs from side to side, his hair bouncing a beat behind. The microphone in his left hand points outward, not to himself or to anything in particular. His opposite hand bears a tight grip of the microphone cord, allowing him to give the cord a good stretch. Behind him, a barely visible Jones plays his bass while standing next to the symbol-adorned drum set of a shadowy Bonham keeping time. The body that shifts the most in this series of shots is that of Jimmy Page, who starts off by bending impossibly backward from the knees up, his guitar extended courtesy of an outstretched strap from his shoulders. Page's face changes in each photo to demonstrate three separate looks of anguish as he cuts his chops high on the fretboard.

Any one of these three images could suffice as the quintessential image of Led Zeppelin at its peak. In fact, precisely this thought has crossed a lot of minds, inspiring quite a few imitators. "Many heavy metal groups, such as Heart, Van Halen, Guns n' Roses, and Metallica, to name but a few, borrowed from Zeppelin. But, as seen in these images taken at the Los Angeles Forum, no one could rock harder than the original," acknowledges a photo caption accompanying these photos as printed in "Good Times Bad Times: A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band," a new book by Jerry Prochnicky and Ralph Hulett published by Abrams Press.

These are only three of the 200 photographs on 216 pages in this hardcover coffee table book, and "Good Times Bad Times" presents so much more than the usual photos of Led Zeppelin onstage. In fact, some of the book's highlights take place far from the road. Rare glimpses of Jimmy Page inside his fancifully decorated yet modestly lit Pangbourne boathouse depict the guitarist lounging at home, always looking away from the camera, even in close-ups. Elsewhere, John Paul Jones, in bell bottom trousers and sandals, embodies the posture of a serenading Dave Matthews as he plays a mandolin outside his Hertfordshire estate with two of his daughters and his wife dancing and clapping along. In others, Robert Plant enjoys the company of a horse and a goat at his farm in Kidderminster, England. In some backstage shots scattered throughout the book, the text notes that Bonham looks particularly bored to be away from his home and family, whether it's conveyed by his body language or the words on his shirt -- one such shirt has an image of the dog Snoopy on the front and, on the opposite side, the words "I wish I could bite somebody ... I need a release from my inner tensions!"

The California-based writing team of Prochnicky and Hulett, who previously turned out the paperback "Whole Lotta Led: Our Flight with Led Zeppelin," provide a general overview of the band's history in the first few pages of the book. This text definitely takes on the theme of the "Good Times Bad Times" title, as any written history of the band's 12 years should, but the authors dedicate an inordinate amount of column inches to the ups and downs of the 1977 tour, whereas the 1973 tour that the authors posit was the "peak" warrants a single paragraph. The real point of the book is to showcase the band pictorially, and that is achieved. The group is often serious, often silly, and the text provided alongside the photos reflects that always in an appropriate manner. Their appropriateness is no better exemplified than on page 179, which shows all four band members squeezed into a choreographed shot via a rather goofy pose during a Manticore Studios rehearsal in January 1977, above a separate image of a nervous Page at the Swan Song office in London, biting his thumbnail and retaining a near-worthless cigarette butt in his two fingers as he dares explain to members of the press on Oct. 28, 1977, that Led Zeppelin was not going to split up and not responsible for "bad karma."

From the band's tragic end in 1980, the story completes itself with a tidy four-photo recap of events that have followed. Jason and Zoe Bonham join Led Zeppelin's surviving members in a photo taken at Led Zeppelin's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. A slimmer and distinguished version of manager Peter Grant stares at Martyn Goodacre's camera in a rare shot taken in the early '90s, prior to his death in 1995. The book closes with two shots of Led Zeppelin in action again, with Jason Bonham on drums, at the O2 arena on Dec. 10, 2007. Of the future, the authors say, "There may be a few more reunions or perhaps a limited tour, but the remaining members wisely decided that it was best to leave the legacy intact by not launching any huge world tours." And with that, one supposes, the story seems fittingly ended.

There are so many striking images in this book, some of which were never published before or have rarely been seen. Instead of concentrating on the usual suspects of Led Zeppelin photography, the book draws from a number of sources who either had access to the group in its formative days or just happened to catch up along the way. Some of the photographers earned their own rightful mention inside the book, such as the bespectacled and mustachioed Chuck Boyd, who catches John Paul Jones rehearsing on an electric bass while seated on a folding chair in a daylighted lounge on Sept. 4, 1970, hours ahead of the now-legendary "Blueberry Hill" concert. Back in December 1968, this photographer is said to have "lobbied intensely" for the L.A.-based company Sunn Amplifiers to start an endorsement deal with a band based solely on the strength of a test pressing of that group's first album. The company's promotions person said Boyd was "certain they would sell more amps than any [other] artist on [Sunn's] roster" but declined.

With each flip of the page, a new surprise lies ahead. In all probability, the reader looks just like a kid on Christmas -- or the bright-eyed Robert Plant smiling on page 111. In a black-and-white photo credited to Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music Archives, we see Plant's left hand cradling the first few frets of the six-string portion of Jimmy Page's double-neck guitar. Out of sorts with the equipment, he sits on a crate and supports the guitar's heavy body on his right leg. Behind Plant's back, only a few onlookers all facing the stage wander this empty indoor arena in Japan, where Led Zeppelin is sure to pack in thousands of screaming fans a few hours later, while the band is on its first tour of the country, in September 1971. What speaks volumes in this photo is that Led Zeppelin had even the power to bring that joy even to themselves.

Following are three images from the book used with the permission of the publisher, Abrams Books, along with the photo captions and credits as they appear in "Good Times Bad Times: A Visual Biography of the Ultimate Band."

Led Zeppelin explored Japan's culture with great enthusiasm. All the members bought cameras and had a field day with them. Here, Page and Plant are totally engrossed in the task at hand. "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Koh Hasebe / Shinko Music Archives

May 12, 1969. When he heard Led Zeppelin play for the first time in California, photographer Robert Knight was blown away and quickly helped them secure a gig in Hawaii. When the band got off the plane in Honolulu, Knight took pictures of them clutching reel-to-reel boxes that no doubt contained the works-in-progress that would become Led Zeppelin II. Knight recalled, "I met the band at the airport, with a VW and camera bag. I got some terrific shots of them at the house they rented at Diamond Head -- learning to surf, strolling the beach, and other very mad behavior." "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Robert M. Knight

Photographer Ron Raffaelli worked with Led Zeppelin mostly in 1969, accompanying the band on several European and U.S. tours and documenting sessions for Led Zeppelin II at Quantum Recording Studios in Los Angeles. Primarily, though, he's known for his striking images of Zeppelin taken at his Hollywood studio. Here, he was able to bring out the spontaneous individuality of the band members while also illustrating the group's unity. "Led Zeppelin: Good Times, Bad Times"; Abrams, 2009; photo credit Ron Raffaelli /

1 comment:

  1. top class :D i had the privilage of meeting robert plant and can honestly say his humbleness and down-to-earth personality absolutely astounded me :) check out the pic-


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