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Led Zeppelin & Elvis Presley Meetings
The Band Loved Elvis
Feb 25, 2010 Brooke Saunders
Led Zeppelin appreciated Elvis Presley and considered him rightfully the King. They met with him on several occasions, though their music had little in common.
The first record Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page heard when growing up in London that truly influenced him was Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House. It was 1956, and the twelve-year old boy was fascinated most by the guitar playing of Scotty Moore, whom he copied carefully on an old Spanish guitar he had.
From then on, he looked for Moore’s name on records, in addition to other pioneering American guitarists such as James Burton, who played with Ricky Nelson, and Cliff Gallup, who accompanied Gene Vincent. Page perfected their licks, in addition to Chuck Berry, and many others.
According to Richard Cole in his 1992 book Stairway to Heaven, when Led Zeppelin toured America in 1969, they played Las Vegas, and Cole arranged front row tickets to see Elvis at the International Hotel. He knew the band’s opinion of the singer, Elvis was one of the few acts they looked up to.
“There’s nobody better,” Jimmy Page said, “nobody.”
Zeppelin Attends Elvis Concert In Los Angeles
The band enjoyed the show, and then in 1973 they saw him again at the Forum in Los Angeles. Jerry Weintraub, a well-known promoter, asked them if they wanted front row seats, which they accepted gladly.
When Elvis saw the band on the front row, he said “I want to let everyone know that my favorite band, Led Zeppelin, is here tonight. I’d like to have the spotlight put on them, and I hope you join me in welcoming them.”
But John Bonham was fast asleep. He and Cole had been up late the night before, and Cole had to jab him in the ribs to wake him up.
After the show, one of Elvis’s roadies approached the band and said Elvis wanted them to join him at his hotel across the street. They rode up the elevator with two large security guards, and were somewhat nervous, though they were outselling Elvis by a considerable margin in record sales and concert attendance.
When they entered the room, Elvis asked if the stories about them on the road were true, saying he’d heard it got pretty wild. Plant replied that people liked to spread rumors around, and since they had families back in England, they did not have much to say about their adventures. Then Elvis asked what they liked to do for fun.
Plant began to sing an Elvis song, saying they liked to listen to his music, which made him smile.
Elvis said that his stepbrother had played him Stairway To Heaven, and he thought it was pretty good. As it turned out, they did not talk much about the music that evening, and Elvis seemed to hit it off best with John Bonham, talking about cars and Peter Sellars movies. Elvis loved Inspector Clouseau, saying he could watch the gags a thousand times and never get tired.
At the end of the evening, Elvis offered to sign some autographs for them to give to their wives or kids. Then he asked for theirs, and Bonham couldn’t believe he had Elvis asking for his autograph.
On another visit with Elvis, Cole and some of the band sat in a movie theatre with the Memphis Mafia, Elvis’s entourage, and did not have much contact with the superstar.
Richard Cole And Elvis Spar, Then Exchange Watches
The last meeting was when the band was in Los Angeles, and Richard Cole made contact with Elvis, who said to bring John Paul Jones, because he was so quiet.
So the two went up to Elvis’s house, and Cole said they entered to find about 14 or so members of the Memphis Mafia.
Cole commented the place felt like a “fucking morgue” after noticing no one was speaking, and the glum atmosphere in general.
Elvis jumped up and grabbed Cole by the front of his shirt and said “Mr. Cole, you will not curse in my house.”
Cole went into a karate stance and sparred with Elvis, who also studied martial arts. Cole’s expensive Piaget watch fell off, and Elvis picked it up, saying “this is nice.” Cole told him he could have it, and Elvis took it, left the room and came back with another expensive watch, and presented it to Cole.
Later, Elvis even escorted Cole out to the limousine to say goodbye, something he virtually never did, and the people around Elvis were amazed. Cole later found out Elvis really enjoyed the evening, it seemed the megastar had been so surrounded by sycophants he enjoyed the rare time he was challenged.
Elvis Knew Who Richard Cole Was, But Not Eric Clapton !
One funny incident was when Cole was in America on tour with Eric Clapton, and he heard back from the person representing Elvis regarding a meeting. Elvis had told the man “I know who Richard Cole is, but who the hell is Eric Clapton?”
It was an odd friendship between a heavy metal band from England and a Southern country boy, but there was mutual respect between two of the biggest acts of all time.
Cole, Richard, Stairway To Heaven, Harper Collins, 1992
On May 11, 1974, Led Zeppelin attended (Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham) Elvis Presley's evening concert at the Los Angeles Forum. During the concert, Elvis stopped a song and jokingly said: 'Wait a minute... If we can start together fellas, because we've got Led Zeppelin out there... let's try to look like we know what we're doing, whether we do or not'.
Their mutual promoter at the time, Jerry Weintraub, took Jimmy Page and Robert Plant up to Presley's Las Vegas hotel suite. For the first few minutes, Elvis ignored them.
Jimmy Page—who had first picked up a guitar after hearing 'Baby Let's Play House' on overseas radio—began to fidget. What was going on? Did he really want to meet them? Should they say something? Elvis finally turned to them. 'Is it true', he said, 'these stories about you boys on the road?' Plant answered, 'Of course not. We're family men. I get the most pleasure out of walking the hotel corridors, singing your songs'. Plant offered his best Elvis impersonation. 'Treat me like a fool, treat me mean and cruuuuel, but looooove me...'. For a moment Elvis Presley eyed them both very carefully. Then he burst out laughing. Then his bodyguards burst out laughing. For two hours he entertained them in his suite. He had never heard their records, he said, except for when his stepbrother played him 'Stairway to Heaven'. 'I liked it', said Presley. Later, walking down the hallway from the hotel room, Page and Plant congratulated themselves on a two-hour meeting with the King. 'Hey', came a voice from behind them. Presley had poked his head out the door. 'Treat me like fooool...'.
The group's bassist, John Paul Jones did not attent and had never to this point met Elvis. Richard Cole, the bands manager organised a meeting via Jerry Schilling.
Elvis said it would be okay for them to come by the house.
Jerry Schilling was there on the night of the planned meeting and was 'a little surprised to see that Elvis was in pajamas and robe' - he and Sheila Ryan were getting ready to go upstairs. Jerry reminded Elvis that Richard and John were coming ... and Elvis remaind downstairs to wait for them.
The following excerpt is from the book, Me And A Guy Named Elvis.
From the momment Richard stepped into the house, he was loud and profane-packing an amazing number of f-words into everything he said. 'You know', Elvis said to him. 'I'd appreciate it if you'd watch your language in front of my lady'. Things got very quiet. Everybody sat down. And it stayed quiet. Then Elvis decided to break the ice, and asked if he could see the fancy watch that Richard was wearing. Richard handed the watch over, and when Elvis put it on, Richard quickly said that if Elvis wanted the watch, he could keep it.
'Does it have any special meaning to you?' Elvis asked.
'Well, a bit. Atlantic Records gave them to the group', said Richard.
'OK, thanks', said Elvis.
I don't know if Richard expected to lose his watch that easily, but about twenty minutes later Elvis went upstairs and came back down with another watch, a real piece of jewelry, covered in diamonds - a wristwatch you could trade in for a car. Maybe a couple of cars. 'Here', he said to Richard. 'Take this one'. A very stunned Richard accepted. From then on the night was nothing but fun, with a lot of laughs and a lot of quoting Monty Python routines (Elvis was the first Monty Python fanatic I ever knew). Elvis and Richard obviously shared a sense of humor. And I could tell Elvis also liked the much quieter John. At one point, Elvis excused himself, went back upstairs, and retuned with an equally impressive watch for the bassist. Before the evening was over, Elvis said he wanted to make another exchange. He was out of watches, but had another bit of fashion in mind. So he stood, eyed John, and said, 'Let's swap pants', while simultaneously, in expert Python fashion, letting his pajama bottoms drop beneath his robe. The loud Richard was shocked into silence, while quiet Sheila and John burst out laughing. Nobody accepted Elvis' offer, but it was a great note to end the night on.