When Led Zeppelin formed in 1968, the members of the band were already familiar with big names on the rock scene. John Paul Jones, Zep’s bass and keyboard player, had done arrangements for the Rolling Stones and Donovan in his days of session work.
Jimmy Page also played with more brand names than you could count as a session guitarist. On top of early recordings by Van Morrison and David Bowie, Page worked on Kinks records, a Beatles movie soundtrack, and the session for “I Can’t Explain,” the first single by The Who.
A few years later, Page almost started a band with Keith Moon, the great Who drummer with whom Page recorded “Beck’s Bolero” in 1966. And around the same time, Robert Plant offered his services to The Who during a stretch when singer Roger Daltrey almost parted ways with the band.
So when The Who and Zep played a Maryland show together in May 1969, they were far from strangers. And though Pete Townshend never had a kind word for Led Zeppelin, Daltrey recalled being knocked out by the Zep, whom he began considering the next big thing in rock.
Roger Daltrey described Led Zeppelin as ‘fantastic’ and utterly ‘brilliant’ at a 1969 show
On May 25, 1969, music fans got a real treat at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland. The bill that evening featured Led Zeppelin opening for The Who, whose rock opera Tommy had just hit record stores.
According to the official Led Zeppelin site, the Zep performed mostly tracks from its debut record in addition to a take on “Train Kept A-Rollin.’” As an encore, the band gave fans a preview of “Whole Lotta Love,” which would open Led Zeppelin II (Oct. ’69).
Before going on with The Who, Daltrey watched Zep from the side of the stage. “When Led Zeppelin first came out I thought they were fantastic,” he told Classic Rock magazine in a vintage interview. “They supported us on one of their first gigs in the States. […] I thought they were brilliant.”
Daltrey spoke about his early association with Page and how he knew the other members of the band — all of whom impressed him that night. But Daltrey also compared Zep favorably to the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Eric Clapton’s band Cream.
Daltrey thought Led Zeppelin took rock ‘to another level’ beyond Jimi Hendrix and Cream
Townshend, The Who mastermind, has gone on the record on several occasions about how Hendrix, Cream, and Zeppelin copied his band’s power trio format. But Daltrey saw something new in what the Zep brought to the music.
“Throughout our early history, we used to do loads of gigs with Hendrix and Cream, that three-piece-band-and-a-singer formula,” Daltrey told Classic Rock. “We were well schooled in that, but Zeppelin took it to another level. There was a power there.”
For Daltrey, the Zep was rocking harder than Cream, even. “They were like Cream, but with a lot more weight,” he said. “Jack Bruce of Cream was really a jazz and blues singer, but Robert knew how to rock.” Daltrey felt the Zep had arrived at exactly the right time.
“All of a sudden, there was a new form of music,” he told Classic Rock. “The music scene was starting to get a bit tired. Even Hendrix was starting to get tired then, moving into jazz. Zeppelin regenerated it.”
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