"I’m glad I didn’t sign them. They were too dangerous": Island Records co-founder Chris Blackwell explains why he has no regrets about Led Zeppelin breaking their promise to sign with his label

Led Zeppelin
(Image credit: Chris Walter/WireImage)

In 1968, Island Records co-founder Chris Blackwell dropped in to Olympic studios in Barnes, south London to check on the progress that Traffic were making on their second album for his label. Wandering around the facility, Blackwell overheard a band rehearsing in another room, and was blown away with what he heard.

“I thought, I've never heard anything like this before in my life, ” the music industry legend stated in an interview with the Creative Process website. “And I said, Who are these kids? They said it's a new band, really. I said, Well, what do they call it? They said, 'I don't know what their name is. Something Zeppelin or something like that.'

“I knew right away they’d be huge,” admits Blackwell in a new interview with The Telegraph in which he recalls hearing Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham play for the first time. “The music was unbelievable.” 

Upon discovering that Peter Grant was managing Page's new band, Blackwell was confident of securing their signatures on an Island Records contract, not least because Grant was a friend, who worked three floors above him in the same office building. Bounding upstairs to see Grant, Blackwell told him that he wanted to sigh the band for England and Europe, and Grant accepted the offer with a handshake. Weeks later, Blackwell would learn that Grant had gone back on his promise and struck a worldwide deal for Led Zeppelin with Atlantic Records. He swears now that he has no regrets about being royally shafted by his pal.

“I’m glad I didn’t sign them in the end," he says. “They were too dangerous in my opinion. They would have been wrong for Island.”

In the same interview in The Telegraph, Blackwell reveals that he passed up the chance to work with Pink Floyd, confessing “I never connected with the music”, and also admits to turning down Elton John who he considered “far too shy to be a performer.” He did, however, go on to launch U2, Roxy Music, Grace Jones and Bob Marley to global stardom, so can afford to look back and laugh at the ones who got away.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.