Led Zeppelin rose from the ashes of the Yardbirds, one of the biggest bands of the British Invasion. One of the group's guitar players, Jimmy Page, assembled "the New Yardbirds," to fulfill the Yardbirds' concert commitments in August of 1968. He recruited Robert Plant, a powerful vocalist from the West Midlands, John Paul Jones, a creative bassist from Southeast London, and drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, a bombastic skinsman, who played with reckless abandon and peerless passion. By year end, the band had recorded its first album, changed their name to Led Zeppelin, and secured a contract with Atlantic Records.
Although Led Zeppelin is considered the definitive heavy metal band—fusing loud, bluesy hard rock with heavy mythology, British folk, and world music overtones—they were hardly a darling of the contemporary media, often refusing to grant interviews and declining to release proper singles from their popular albums. The prolific group released their first four albums between 1969 and '71. "Stairway to Heaven," from IV, became the all-time most played song on album-oriented radio despite never being released as a single. Throughout the '70s, the band continued to record, releasing several iconic albums. 1973's Houses of the Holy broadened their musical palette, delving into reggae and funk while sharpening their hard rock prowess and spawning a tour film, The Song Remains the Same, which would be released three years later. Although Physical Graffiti was a very popular record, Plant and his wife were in a car crash in Greece, after which he only recorded two more albums with the band: 1976's Presence and 1979's In Through the Out Door.
With the group's reputation for musical brilliance came a reputation for excessive partying. We've all heard the shark story (if you haven't, google the terms "Led Zeppelin" and "shark"), but that was one of many anecdotes swirling around about their notoriously crazy late nights. By the late '70s, Bonzo's long-standing alcoholism had spun more out of control than ever, and on September 25, 1980, during preparation for the American tour behind In Through the Out Door, he succumbed to his lifestyle. On a day that marked Zeppelin's first rehearsal in over three years, Bonham drank up to 40 measures of vodka, which resulted in pulmonary edema (when one's lungs become waterlogged due to inhalation of vomit) and killed him. He was 32 years old. Zeppelin would disband later that year.
Though the band would play a number of one-off gigs through the end of the millennium, Bonham's death signaled the death of Led Zeppelin. About eight years after Page and Plant reunited to record 1998's Walking Into Clarksville, the group seemed finally set to return, as rumors swirled around a full-on world tour and new album, featuring Plant, Page, and Jones with Bonham's son, Jason, on drums. The band did perform a single reunion show in 2007 at O2 Arena in London, but due to Plant's focus on his solo work and his folk-styled collaboration with Alison Krauss, it's been confirmed that a reunion is not, in fact, in the cards for the rock legends. That said, there remains hope among their tireless fans that they will, in fact, reunite once more.
Read more about Led Zeppelin in Crawdaddy!:
"Led Zeppelin: What Is and What Should Never Be"
"Robert Plant: Of Bustling Hedgerows and Bonzo"