It was just an hour and a half away until Led Zep would be on stage for the second night sold-out gig at Madison Square Garden, the end of an American tour that saw them playing to bigger crowds than anyone including the Beatles, Stones and Grand Funk had ever reached before.
You'd think Robert Plant would have looked exhausted. But no, he burst into the lobby of the fashionable Drake Hotel and looked pleased. He had just run out to get a new small amp and couldn't wait to begin fooling around with it. His smile turned into a frown when a dopey-looking guy ran after him shouting, "Jimmy, Jimmy."
"You've got the wrong guy," Robert scowled as he got into the elevator. The dope jammed his leg into the door so it wouldn't shut and said, "Well, who are you? What's your name? I've got something you might like to hear."
He thrust an envelope at Robert who got the door shut and said, "There are just so many of those people. I suppose I should be nicer but...."
Up in his suite on the fifteenth floor, Plant sprawled in an easy chair and began fiddling with the new amp while we talked. A little while later, a shirtless John Paul Jones wandered in looking for his hair dryer, apologized to me for not wearing a shirt and then spotted a stereo in the corner. "How did you get that?" he wanted to know.
Plant, eyes sparling, explained that he had just called Jerry Greenberg at Atlantic and had it delivered almost immediately. Jerry is the company's senior vice-president and general manager and knows how to make things happen fast. An Otis Rush record sat nearby, a reminder of Plant's favourite kind of music.
Robert stopped fiddling with his new gadget and talked about playing New York. "It does have a psychological sort of impression on me. Despite the fact that we can play for 18,000 people in Chicago, it's far more important to do better in New York.
"I think it's only psychological really. New York's audiences are no different to people anywhere. Last night at the Gardens was superb. The only time I ever get any nerves at all is when I play the Albert Hall in London. Playing in London always gets me nervy. London was always the place that I seemed to think had to be A-1.
"But now I have such a good time strutting about that I don't really think any place is any different to any other. There's so many individuals in front of you."
Plant says he's the same man onstage as off. "I wouldn't say that I become different at all because I'm not trying too hard. I mean, if I was over-trying then that would be the case but I'm not. It's like this (and he smiles broadly). But there are a lot more people that don't know you so you tend to be a bit more flashy. But, so long as I'm smiling it must be real. I wouldn't get too serious."
For the past four and a half years, Zep has been playing as a straight sole act because they have enough material and didn't think it fair to put anyone else when people were coming to see them. Robert says the set has gotten up to three and a quarter hours and though he and Jimmy vowed to put it back down, they can't seem to. But it doesn't bother him and he's not glad when the set is over. Robert's looking forward to a month's rest upon getting back home and then in about four weeks, they'll begin recording again. They've had the Garden performances recorded live and there's some live tapes from a few other places including Tokyo but so far they've not had time to listen to them because they've been working solid since a year ago. This tour hasn't given Robert any time to write.
"I suppose the time is there but after a gig you just really want to collapse and watch television. If the tour was less hectic, I would get into it. I scribble down a few bits of verbal now and again but as far as amazing the whole lot of lyrics, no.
"Sometimes we have backing tapes of tracks worked out and somebody goes, "Well, we got no bloody lyrics." Sometimes it's quite immediate like Black Dog. Things are there instantly like "I've got to roll, can't stand still" and all of that sort of "watching the ladies honey drip" and things come instantly to me. I'm not sure whether it's a gift writing about watching ladies honey drip or whether it comes from the blues that I learned close to that - The Raunch.
"Stairway to Heaven was basically conceived on the spot lyrically. Then sometimes we just do some backing tapes and they get quite intricate were I couldn't sing along instantly. I had to really listen to what was going on on my own. And then someone goes, "I ain't got no bloody lyrics" and a week later I'd come back with Over the Hills and Far Away or The Crunge. That was amazing because Bonzo and I were just going to go in the studio and talk Black Country through the whole thing - you know, "Aah bloody well how you doin', you alright mate?" And it just evolved there and then at the end of my tether, it came out.
"The Rain Song was just sort of a little infatuation I had. The next morning I'd scribble it out. If I had done it the day after, it would have been no good."
In the past, Led Zep have avoided the press like the plague. But on this tour, they've hired a big publicity firm here and are willing to talk.
"The only way we could get through really after so much silence was to get a liason `Look, they're ready to talk now. They're no going to throw you out a window.' The reason is because we really warrant it, you know.
"We know what we've done. We can look back on all the platinum and gold discs and the fantastic nights we've had but it's time everybody at least know what we're doing whether they appreciate it or not. And dear old England, they've hung on desperately in all those years of silence.
"There must be so many good people in England who when you do a tour, show up with as much fervor as I've got for what we do. They know that we are busy and not a lot of recluses or paranoid guys who don't want to talk to anybody. Now everybody finds out that we are quite active. I'd love to do the same in England on this scale."
Zeppelin are certainly opening up, and it looks as if one of the new areas they are moving into is film. A movie cameraman followed every moment of the band's triumphant final performance on Sunday.
Outside Madison Square Garden there were the usual swarms of street people pleading, "Got any extra tickets?" and the cops who manned the several barricades one had to pass before even entering the Garden warned everyone to hang on tight to the tickets in their hands.
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