When Led Zeppelin Met Elvis Presley
What was so neat about Saturday, May 11, 1974
for Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Robert Plant?
Well, they'd been in Los Angeles to promote the launch of their own label, Swan Song. And this particular evening, along with manager Peter Grant and drummer John Bonham, they went to see a show at the Forum in Inglewood.
It was Elvis Presley, in concert.
Page and Plant, Saturday, May 11, 1974: Elvis Night!
Note: "Elvis on Tour" badges
Bearing "Elvis On Tour" badges, they were ushered into special seats as the lights dropped. Presley knew they were there, giving them a shout out towards the end of his set. After the performance, they were invited back to his hotel suite, across from the Forum.
Concerts West promoter Tom Hulett worked with Led Zeppelin, and was apparently the one who arranged the meeting. Elvis knew the band was outselling him at that time. He said to one of his teen-aged step-brothers, a huge Zep fan, "I may not be Led Zeppelin, but I can still pack 'em in."
When the band attended the evening gig on May 11 in Inglewood, Elvis reminded his rhythm section, which included James Burton, one of Jimmy Page's guitar idols, that they better play their best, because Led Zeppelin was in the audience.
Elvis, "C.C. Rider," The Forum, Saturday, May 11 1974 ES, Inglewood, CA
Supposedly, before the group was allowed into Elvis' suite, they were advised not to speak to Elvis about music. The request was apparently ignored. After they were introduced and had been given drinks, John "Bonzo" Bonham got into a conversation with Elvis about cars. The chit-chat moved to music after a while. Finally, one of Elvis' bodyguards motioned that it was time to go. As they were leaving, Robert gushed, "Elvis, you're my idol. Thanks for letting us come." He and Elvis sang a duet of "Love Me" as the visitors headed for the elevators.
For Led Zeppelin, the best part of the visit might have been when Elvis asked for their autographs! He said they were for his daughter, Lisa Marie.
A highlight of a Robert Plant appearance on CBS-TV's "The Late Show with David Letterman" was his finely etched, hilarious memory of this night. Here is a complete transcript
"It's been a long time since I rock 'n' rolled."
Elvis in bad ass mode, Los Angeles, May 1974
Note: Linda Thompson and Red West trailing behind.
It was absolutely amazing. He was involved with the same agents that we had at the time in the ‘70s and he wanted to know who this bunch of guys were "who were selling tickets quicker than me" and we wanted to know who we were, too!
So, he played the Forum in L.A. and I’d seen him a couple of times, I was really so in awe of him as a singer, and I loved the way he could send himself up, you know. He'd been doing, I mean, you know, we’re all one trick ponies, singers generally, (some) can’t see the humor in it, but he did.
Um, so we met him after a show, and, um, we went to the top floor of whatever the cheap hotel was, and a couple of gorillas at the elevators. They moved us down into this kind of holding station, where, and it was one of those long suites where a door opens into another door, like "Get Smart," whatever, on and on and on, you know, and the whole place was full of Sandra Dee, sort of Stella Stevens cutouts, which is perfect for me. A pencil skirt and a beehive and I'm gone, somewhat, stilettos out. That shows your age, doesn’t it?
And then, when the room was suitably full, the door opened at the end and this guy came in, and he sort of moved around the couches, like this and like that (demonstrates). He was actually doing his show, he was doing a better show in the, you know, in that suite than he was at night, you know, on the stage. And we talked for about an hour and a half. The amazing thing is, that it was so natural and it was so funny and great. And, of course, music was the key again.
Did you explain to him what his music and what he represented had meant to you?
Absolutely, yeah. And he was so aware of all the impersonators and stuff. And you can imagine how I feel. You know, through the ‘70s, everybody took their shirts off, but they just didn’t have the right chest. And now you see where it's ended me up.
Did you ever mention to him how you incorporated your music and your career, and your young time on stage?
Yeah, well he said, "Well, what are you guys, what's your music roots?" And we all got the same roots, you know, that sort of blues out of Memphis and Mississippi and stuff. And he said "Well, you know, do you do a lot of rehearsals?" and of course Led Zeppelin didn’t really show up until the gig was almost over before we actually arrived, in those days. So we didn’t do many sound checks. But when we did, I used to like to sing, in those big arenas, his songs, because they sounded even bigger.
So he said, "Well, which songs do you like?" And I said “Well, I like loads of ‘em, but I do sing this song 'Love Me.’ (sings "You can treat me like a fool ...") So we talked and talked, and then we said goodbye, shook hands and said we’d all meet again. And we're out in the corridor, we're heading for the elevator, and suddenly he swings around the door and says “Hey Robert!” And he started singing ("Love Me") to me, and I was singing (it) to him, and we were all crying.
"The Late Show with David Letterman"
CBS-TV, New York, NY
Friday, February 4, 2011