Dave Lewis on his new photo book ‘Led Zeppelin Live: 1975-1977’

Dave Lewis, the editor of long-running Led Zeppelin magazine Tight But Loose, has edited a new photography book which focuses on six Led Zeppelin shows from 1975 and 1977.

LedZepNews reviewed the book, which is titled “Led Zeppelin Live: 1975-1977,” and said it’s “undeniably a success” and that the book is a “must-buy.”

Lewis is selling a special limited edition version of the book on the Tight But Loose website. The signed version is limited to 150 copies and sells for £29.95.

You can also purchase the standard book on Amazon here.

Lewis sent over this interview about his new photo book, which we’ve published here in full:

Q: How did you first get involved in the editing of this book?

Dave Lewis: Last year, Iconic Images/ACC Editions published a book of Terry O’Neill’s David Bowie photos, “When Ziggy Played The Marquee,” an excellent photographic record of Bowie’s 1980 Floor Show which was filmed at London’s Marquee Club in late October 1973 for the US Midnight Special TV show. Long time TBL subscriber and friend Melvyn Billingham attended that filming and his recollections were featured in the book.

At the launch of the Bowie book, he was talking to Carrie Kannia editor of Iconic Images and Carrie mentioned they had plans to do a Zep photo book. Melvyn suggested they might get in touch with me and last autumn I had some initial conversations with Carrie about their plans. Basically they had the rights to three photographers’ work – Terry O’ Neill, Michael Brennan and Baron Wolman.

Around October 2017, Carrie showed me the complete series of photos they wanted to profile in book form. The one thing that stood out for me was that all these images were taken in the latter years of the band – the era of bigger audiences, bigger stage settings, bigger venues lights, lasers and dragon suits. Carrie showed me other books they had produced on Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones – clearly they knew what they were doing.

Q: What was your initial reaction to seeing the photos?

DL: I was very impressed with what they had. I knew immediately there was great scope here to tell the story of the latter era of Led Zeppelin through these iconic photos. These photos captured a timely period because as the demand to see them increased, so did their sense of theatre and presentation. The days of plimsolls and denim were long gone.

In line with the developing rock concert presentation, from 1975 , everything they touched was on a much grander scale. They introduced a custom-built 80 x 40 foot stage set up with black backcloths. This shielded over 300 flashbulbs that would ignite simultaneously to proclaim in huge letters “Led Zeppelin” as they returned to the stage for encores. Then there were the pioneering laser effects, designed to pierce through the air just as Page branded his violin bow during “Dazed And Confused.” For the first time, John Bonham’s drum kit was on a high-rise rostrum.

Sartorially they were looking more flamboyant than ever, with Robert Plant in ever-flowing, chest-bearing tops and Jimmy Page donning an elaborate and striking dragon suit.

In effect, during this excess-led era, they were at their most photogenic. Luckily, there were talented photographers around to capture it all. I agreed with Carrie to come on board in an editor role to steer the book through to completion.

In a similar method that I applied when compiling the “Five Glorious Nights – Led Zeppelin at Earls Court 1975” book, I set about the task of bringing some semblance of order and sequence to the contact sheets I was given. Taking each photographer’s work in turn, I dissected the photos and placed them in set list order where possible and sought to caption them – occasionally deploying Robert Plant’s spoken words from the stage.

Q: Were you involved in the design stage?

DL: In so much that I made a clear indication of how the book should look. What I did was to devise a sequential layout of the photos on a fairly basic art pad. This was done in a quite literally cut and paste method as I stuck the images I had on to the pad in a scrapbook style format. I had previously employed this idea when I was laying out the “Five Glorious Nights” book. Employing this crude but effective method, I was able to give the designer Stephen Reid a clear guideline to how I felt the book should look. To his credit, he followed it virtually to the letter.

Q: Who came up with the book’s title?

DL: Carrie had already had the “Led Zeppelin Live” title in mind. I advised to add on the “1975 – 1977” tag to offer a clear description of what era the book presents. It was evident from the start that we were on to something that really mirrored the latter Zep era.

In early January 2018 I met with Carrie and designer Stephen Reid to relay all this. Over a few hours we quickly came up with a benchmark to work from. During the next few weeks I oversaw the initial designs and wrote the appropriate captions, gig commentary and introduction.

Q: Did the design stage go smoothly?

DL: Very much so. Carrie and Stephen were incredibly easy to work with and it was a real joy to put this together. The only real problem was fitting it around my ongoing book project of the time – this was the “Evenings With Led Zeppelin: The Complete Concert Chronicle” co-authored with Mike Tremaglio. It was a case of moving between the two projects but I somehow managed it.

Q: Did you manage to meet the book’s deadline?

DL: Yes – and again this was made easier by the shared vision Carrie, Stephen and myself. We all knew what was required to make this book work. I have to add that Mike Tremaglio was also a great help in a consulting role and proof reader. His diligence and attention to detail greatly aided the captions and written commentary.

Q: Let’s discuss in further detail what the photos have to offer – commencing with the Terry O’ Neill portfolio.

DL: I had been aware of the Terry O’Neill Zep archive for some time -particularly his Earls Court photos and his work previous with Iconic Images/ACC Editions books. Terry had made his name documenting the fashions, styles, and celebrities of the 1960s. He had also worked with some of the biggest names in rock and pop including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, David Bowie and Elton John.

His Earls Court portfolio presented here captures the band at a real career peak. The lights, lasers and stage wear producing some of the most iconic images of the 1970s rock era. I knew that much of his Zep photos had not been widely seen.

What they had at their disposal was Terry’s Earls Court black and white photos plus more of his Zep shots from the abandoned Tampa stadium gig on June 3, 1977 and the subsequent June 7 1977 appearance at Madison Square Garden.

There was some amazing images here – much of it unseen, certainly the Earls Court material. I knew by Robert Plant’s attire that these were from the Friday May 23, 1975 Earls Court gig – on this night only, he favoured the red cherry emblazoned wraparound top he had worn on much of the 1975 US tour dates. For the other four Earls Court shows Plant wore a distinctive dark blouse top. Also part of the Terry O’Neill Earls Court portfolio was the series of posed group photos taken in the backstage area of Earls Court just prior to them going on stage. One of these was later used as a promotional 10 x 8 hand out print distributed from their Swan Song office. The contact sheet for these shots is spread over pages 12 and 13. Off-stage posed group shots were very rare in the latter Zep era so it’s a delight to present these now. There are also some superb close ups of the acoustic set, John Bonham performing “Moby Dick” and the encores where they are backlit by the huge Zep neon sign.

It’s fair to say that during this era Robert Plant really did look like a rock god colossus and Terry’s photos frame that image with a series of stunning shots. When I was compiling the Five Glorious Nights book for Rufus Stone, the Terry O’Neill photos were not available to us. So the prospect of bringing them to a wider audience was therefore one to relish.

Q: Have the 1977 Terry O’Neill shots been seen before?

DL: Again, very few. Some of them did appear in a two-part feature that ran in the Daily Mirror in June 1977 under the title “Band Of Brothers”. Interestingly enough, Terry got them to pose for another off-stage group shot in Tampa. That gig at the Tampa Stadium was significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it was the first time they had returned to this giant venue since 1973 – when on that occasion they had attracted a record breaking crowd of 56,000 – at the time a record for a one act appearance that earned them a place in the Guinness Book of Records. On June 3, 1977 an even larger crowd of 70,000 assembled for what should have been a triumphant return. Unfortunately the weather conditions dictated otherwise. Torrential rain fell in the area preceding the gig and as they took the stage a dark cloud again gathered. When the rains came fear of their safety forced them to leave the stage after just 15 minutes. The gig was subsequently abandoned. Local news reports reflected the crowd’s frustration.

Terry was right there in the thick of the action. There’s a great view of the crowd plus very clear close ups of them during their short 15 minute set. There’s also some revealing backstage shots after the Tampa gig with the group looking somewhat bedraggled.

Q: The book also profiles a 1977 gig at Madison Square Garden. Which night is that?

DL: The disappointment of the Tampa show was soon behind them. This show shot by Terry on June 7, 1977 was the first of a six night run at New York’s Madison Square Garden – a venue they always delivered at. Back in the UK, Britain was celebrating the Queen’s Silver Jubilee with an official holiday – Robert Plant duly made more than one reference to this during the show.

There’s some truly magnificent portrayals here of Jimmy Page performing the opening number “The Song Remains The Same,” John Paul Jones deploying a unique three-necked guitar for “Ten Years Gone” and all four of them at the front of the stage performing “The Battle Of Evermore” with John Paul Jones on vocals.

Q: Moving on to Michael Brennan’s collection…

DL: Michael was similarly in the right place at the right time. He had built a reputation working for various daily UK newspapers in the UK. Michael moved to America in 1973 and began working on various entertainment and sporting assignments – notably a shoot with Muhammad Ali in 1977.

Q: There are some illuminating photos taken on The Starship.

DL: Yes, on their 1975 US tour Michael travelled with the band on their rented jet, a Boeing 720B known as The Starship. There are some superb shots that clearly show how luxurious it was travelling in such style.

He was then in close proximity for their show on January 31 at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium. In true Zep dramatic style, there were some problems on the early part of the tour – Jimmy Page injuring a finger and Robert Plant going down with a bout of flu. They gamely battled on and Michael’s photos, some from virtually on the stage, capture all the grand trappings of their 1975 US tour presentation.

The crowd at that gig were actually very close to the stage –there’s a wonderful shot of Jimmy at the edge of the stage as a fan offers up a bottle of Jack Daniels. Michael also got some close up backstage shots –there’s one of John Bonham dressed in the “Clockwork Orange” outfit looking pensive before the show. Manager Peter Grant is in view in a couple of them.

Q: Finally to Baron Wolman…

DL: Baron Wolman’s work I was well familiar with. The former Rolling Stone photographer’s work has been profiled in a fair few books. In 2011 I met him at the Fopp store in London when he did a signing session for his book “Every Picture Tells a Story – The Rolling Stone Years”. I also attended the exhibition of his Woodcock photos at the Proud Gallery Camden in 2016.

Iconic Images had the rights to the series of Zep colour photos Baron took at the massive Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. Baron covered both the July 23 and 24 shows. The majority of the photos they wanted to use were colour shots from the July 23 concert with Robert wearing the distinctive “Nurses Do it Better” T-shirt.

In front of 55,000 fans each day they performed in the open air at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California on the afternoons of July 23 and 24. The rather bizarre stage setting was made to look like Stonehenge. Baron’s chronicling of the band in stark daylight offers a unique angle in a large stadium setting.

Unfortunately these gigs would be marred by the aftermath of a violent backstage incident that occurred on July 23. They are an historical portrayal of the era and the clarity of these colour photos is just magnificent. There’s that wonderful photo of Jimmy’s guitars all lined up at the side of the stage, Jimmy’s dragon suit is back and Plant again looks rock god-like in every pose. Despite whatever was going on backstage, they all look incredibly happy and upbeat. One of the standout photos of the whole book is Jimmy Page seated for the acoustic set playing mandolin next to John Bonham banging the tambourine. It’s a very poignant shot given that these Oakland photos were taken at the final Led Zeppelin performances in America with John.

Q: There are plenty of Led Zep photos books out there already – why do you think this one is worthy of adding to the already creaking Zep bookshelf?

DL: The fact the book hones in on their latter era provides a real focus. That focus is clearly on the large scale of their latter touring years, a time when they were at the most photogenic and flamboyant amongst the big stages and the big audiences. Again, like the “Five Glorious Nights” book, I have endeavoured to put the images into context and offer some perspective of what was happening within the band at these moments. “Led Zeppelin Live: 1975 – 1977” therefore captures the majesty and pomp of the period when Led Zeppelin could rightly claim to be the world’s top live attraction.

It’s been a privilege to oversee the process that has allowed this book to such offer clear photographic proof of that statement.

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