After Jimmy Page’s role as a lead guitarist (beside Jeff Beck) with the Yarbirds ended, he pursued a new goal to found a new Rock ‘n’ Roll supergroup. Attempts with Beck on guitar and The Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle failed . It didn’t take long till Page was recommended to Robert Plant. Plant accepted the position as a lead singer and got former band mate and drummer John Bonham into the project. John Paul Johns inquired the vacant position – Jimmy Page accepted him as a bass player and the band was completed.
The four played together for the first time in a room below a London record store. Johns recalled:” I knew this was going to be great ….We locked together as a team immediately.”
The band completed a Scandinavian tour as the New Yardbirds, playing together for the first time in front of a live audience in Gladsaxe , Denmark on 7 September. Later that month, they began recording their first LP, which was based on their live set. The album was recorded and mixed within 9 days. Jimmy page covered the costs.
After the album was completed, the group received a ‘demand letter’ from former Yardbirds guitarist and bassist Chris Dreja, which stated that the band would be only allowed to use the name The New Yardbirds on the Scandinavian tour dates. One account of how the new band’s name evolved held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that a supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a ”lead ballon”, an idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the ”a” in lead at the suggestion of their new manager Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the term wouldn’t pronounce it ”leed”. The word ‘balloon’ was swapped for ‘zeppelin’ , a word switch that brought ”the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace.’
In November 1968, Peter Grant secured a $143,000 advance contract with Atlantic Records, which began to take an interest in British progressive rock acts. Led Zeppelin began their first UK tour on October 1968. Their new tour manger Richard Cole who would become a major figure in the touring life of the group, organised their first North American tour at the end of the year. Their debut Album Led Zeppelin | was released in the beginning of 1969 and would peak at number 10 in the US and number 6 in the UK.
The album’s memorable guitar riffs, lumbering rhythms, psychedelic blues, groovy and bluesy shuffles and hints of English folk made it ”a significant turning point in the evolution of hard rock and heavy metal”. ( American music critic Steve Erlewine)
In their first year, the group not only completed four US and UK concert tours also released their second album Led Zeppelin ||, which was an even greater commercial success than their first one. It reached Number 1 in the US and UK charts. According to critics it was the ”starting point of heavy metal”. Also an edited version of ”Whole Lotta Love ” came out in the US.
Led Zeppelin saw their albums as complete listening experience and hated the re-editing of existing tracks for release as singles. The group’s appearances on television decreased as they did prefer their fans to see them in live concerts. The band completed several more US tours. Some early Led Zeppelin concerts lasted more than four hours, with extended and improvised live versions of their repertoire.