Led Zeppelin tour manager Richard Cole has recalled the biggest lesson he learned from band boss Peter Grant.
And he believes young artists would benefit from studying the rock icons’ approach to their business, which kept rolling despite their fabled backstage behaviour.
The key moment came when Grant asked for details to be looked up in the Yellow Pages phone directory.
Cole tells Forbes: “In 1967 I had never heard of the Yellow Pages – we didn’t have them in England. I remember saying, ‘I can’t.’
“And he said, ‘Can’t? I never want to hear that word again. It’s not in my vocabulary.’ And that was it. If you were paid to do a job you got it done, and that was all there was to it.”
He remembers another moment when Grant underlined how the crew were less important than the musicians. “My instruction from Peter was that they’re the priority, not him or I.” The manager told him: “One thing’s for certain – most people out there aren’t paying $7 to come and see us.”
And despite Zep’s backstage antics, Cole says they only ever took place after the show: “Work was work and play was play. They were two different areas.”
He believes the band also benefitted from having genuine work experience before finding fame. “Most of us left school in England when we were 15 and went to work,” he says. “I was a scaffolder, John Bonham had been a bricklayer, Robert Plant had worked with asphalt on the road.
“Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were session musicians – when they tell you to be there for 10am, you’re there. These were coveted jobs so they didn’t mess around. So all of us had that work ethic.”
That element is missing from young artists’ education today, Cole thinks. “The most common thing you hear is, ‘I want to be rich and famous.’ They think it’s an overnight job. It’s not – it’s a lot of schlepping. In 1968 no one knew how much money there was in the music business. Money wasn’t the driver for bands in the early days. I remember being in pubs with the Beatles and they were just happy they were making a living out of music, rather than having to do some mundane job in Liverpool.”
The roadie is astonished at how many crewmen are needed for modern touring. He cites the example of visiting the Forum in Los Angeles in 2000, where a colleague was tour-managing a big-name act.
“I went in one room and I asked him, ‘What’s this?’ He said, ‘Production office.’ There were about 10 people, all sitting on computers – don’t ask me what they were doing because I have no idea. He said, ‘What did you have?’ I said, ‘A telephone, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a few bags of coke and that was it.’
“If you hadn’t got it right before you got here, you were fucked. The phone was no good to you because the band were on in two hours, and it was too late.”