mark blake

Author · Journalist · Editor
email usLearn more

markrblake.com

read
Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin And Beyond – The Story Of Rock’s Greatest Manager (Constable & Robinson/Da Capo, 2018) 

I wrote Bring It On Home, my biography of Led Zeppelin’s manager Peter Grant, with the help and approval of Peter’s son, Warren, and daughter, Helen. They agreed to be interviewed, introduced me to many of their father’s former associates and gave me access to his personal letters, business correspondence and photographs. Some of this material had been stashed away in boxes since the 1970s.

We found a letter from Jamaican gangsters, threatening Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, unless Peter paid them $1 million and a letter from Robert Plant firing Peter. We also discovered Grant had a Mafia-connected former FBI agent on his payroll. Just another day at the office, then…

One thing’s for sure. Bring It On wouldn’t have been possible without Warren and Helen’s help – and trust. They gave me the freedom to write what I wanted and never read a word of the book until after it was published…

Book extract from Bring It On Home: Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin And Beyond – The Story Of Rock’s Greatest Manager.

Peter Grant (centre) and Led Zeppelin’s tour manager Richard Cole (right) on the set of The Song Remains The Same movie, outside the Grant family home, Horselunges Manor, 1974. © Peter Clifton estate.

Going To California, Summer 1977…

Three days after Seattle, Led Zeppelin flew to San Francisco to play two shows for promoter Bill Graham. Graham’s Day On The Green concerts had become a fixture at the Oakland Coliseum. Both Zeppelin’s scheduled weekend dates had sold out in record time. At Oakland, though, Grant’s dual roles as band manager and family man finally clashed.

He and Bill Graham fell out before Led Zeppelin even played a note. In a previously unpublished interview from 1994, Peter claimed Bill wanted to add a third warm-up act, the local group Journey, to the bill. Zeppelin rarely played with a support band, but Grant had already agreed to two at Oakland: the British heavy metal group Judas Priest and homegrown guitar hero Rick Derringer.

Grant had known Journey’s English drummer, Aynsley Dunbar, since the late 1960s, as he’d been mooted for the Zeppelin job. “And Bill really hustled me on that, but I didn’t have room to put Journey on, and that soured things between us.”

Graham then asked Grant if Zeppelin would play an extra date on the Friday before the weekend shows. Peter refused, believing it could be seen as a snub by the thousands who’d camped overnight to buy tickets for the original dates. “Bill and I had cross words about it,” he admitted. “And it all snowballed from there.”

Graham’s official version of events eschewed these details. Instead, he recounted how Grant’s people contacted him the day before the first show, demanding a $25,000 cash advance on Zeppelin’s fee. Graham was furious but afraid Zeppelin would cancel the gig with some fabricated excuse if they didn’t get the money. He managed to raise the cash, stuffed the notes into three empty shoe boxes, and took it himself to Peter’s suite at the San Francisco Hyatt.

As soon as Graham walked into the room, he spotted the city’s most notorious drug dealer sat on a sofa and realised what the money was for. “What I should have done was walked right out of there with the money and not gone back,” he wrote in his autobiography, Bill Graham Presents. “But I didn’t.”The show would go on, no matter how much the promoter disapproved. The following afternoon, Led Zeppelin swaggered onstage in blazing sunshine.

Robert Plant, in a torso-hugging T-shirt that read, “Nurses do it better” looked like he belonged in daylight hours; a vampiric Jimmy Page less so.

“I’d heard stories about the drugs Jimmy was doing,” says Michael Zagaris, who photographed both Oakland shows. “Supposedly, they had to pick him up in his room, carry him to the freight elevator and then into the limo.” After a few uncertain minutes, Page seemed to come alive midway through The Song Remains the Same.

Led Zeppelin’s performance that afternoon would take second billing to the drama off-stage. The show had already become a battle of wills between the great rock promoter and the great rock manager. It was Graham’s chosen support acts on the bill, and his design on the stage. Led Zeppelin’s airship floated overhead, but the stage was surrounded by Bill’s clunky-looking replica of Britain’s prehistoric Stonehenge monument. Seven years later, a similar stage set would appear in the spoof rock movie This Is Spinal Tap.

Punches were also thrown before the show began. When stagehand Jim Downey saw Grant walking up the ramp toward the stage, he made an off-hand remark about how steep the walkway was. Grant overheard and took it as a jibe about his weight. Seconds later, John Bindon had punched Downey unconscious. Other stagehands witnessed the assault but couldn’t intervene. The show had to go on. What happened next has passed into Peter Grant mythology.Toward the end of Zeppelin’s performance, one of Graham’s security team, Jim Matzorkis, claimed to have seen Warren Grant remove a sign from one of the backstage trailer doors. He intervened. “It wasn’t a violent act,” said Matzorkis later. “I just took the signs from him.”

“I was backstage, and this guy came along with these signs,” says Warren now. “One of them had ‘Led Zeppelin’ written on it. It was a piece of timber with the name routed out, and I thought it looked cool. I asked if I could have it, and he said, ‘No.’ I was eleven years old, a little twat, and I tried to grab it. And he pushed me over.”

Zeppelin’s tour assistant Dennis Sheehan witnessed the incident. “I don’t think the guy meant it,” he said. “He put his arm out to one side and Warren was off balance and fell.”“So, I did what any kid would have done and told my dad,” continues Warren. “The next thing I know, him and Richard Cole were chasing this bloke, and the last thing I saw was him trying to get over a barrier.

”In Matzorkis’s version of events, he took the signs to a nearby trailer for safekeeping, where he was challenged by Peter Grant. “He kept saying, ‘You don’t talk to my kid that way. Nobody talks to my kid that way!’ ”

John Bonham had come off-stage, presumably during Jimmy Page’s epic guitar solo, and had also seen the altercation with Warren. Bonzo strode up the trailer steps, shouting obscenities and kicked Matzorkis in the groin.

Zeppelin’s security guards pulled Bonham away, and Matzorkis limped to another trailer nearby. Bill Graham gave his side of the story in his autobiography.

“I went into this long, long speech. I said, ‘Peter, remember, you’re a very big man. You have a lot of security with you, and they’re big. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.’” Graham suggested they go together to hear Matzorkis’s explanation of what had happened.

Graham’s book included a graphic account of what happened next. Apparently, as soon as they were inside the trailer, Peter threw a punch at Matzorkis and sent him reeling. When Graham tried to intervene, Grant picked him up and dumped him outside — “like a fly”.

Zeppelin’s security guard John Bindon, who’d been shadowing his boss all afternoon, now joined in. Matzorkis claimed Bindon held his arms while Grant repeatedly punched him in the stomach. Graham heard Matzorkis’s cries for help and with another of his security team, Bob Barsotti, tried to get into the locked trailer. Richard Cole stopped them. “I stood guard outside,” Cole says now, “but I didn’t realise how bad the situation had gotten in there.

”According to Barsotti, Cole stripped the aluminium pole from a backstage table umbrella and wielded it like a blunt instrument to dissuade Graham’s people from entering the trailer.

In the meantime, Matzorkis was on the floor of the Winnebago and convinced Bindon was trying to gouge his eyes out. It was only then, he said, that enough adrenaline kicked in, and he was able to break free.

Legend has moved in on what happened next. Some claim Matzorkis was carried unconscious to an ambulance. Matzorkis himself maintained he lost a tooth in the attack. “I saw this guy come out of the trailer, and his face was covered with blood,” remembers Michael Zagaris. “I thought he’d had some kind of accident.”

“He had a bloody nose, but he was walking,” says assistant tour manager Dave Northover. “The way it all kicked off that day was just ridiculous. I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone down like that if Bindon hadn’t been there.”

Mark Blake, photographer Ross Halfin, Helen Grant, Warren Grant, summer 2018.
© The Grant Family Collection

Graham’s security staff wanted revenge, but Grant was free to lead the band and his army out of the stadium unchallenged. Hard commerce put paid to any retaliation. Led Zeppelin had another show to play, and Bill Graham wouldn’t jeopardise that for anyone.

Instead, Graham struck a deal with his team: allow Zeppelin to play the second Oakland date and then let him have the guilty men arrested.

Graham told his security detail that if he failed, they had his blessing to take the law into their own hands. “You can do it here, or I’ll fly twenty-five guys of your choice to the next stop on their tour, and you can do them there.”

Warren and Helen Grant left with bodyguards in a limousine, oblivious to the scale of the violence. “I don’t know why it got as bad as it did,” insists Warren. “The wives and children were told the security guard was sacked. Later I found out what happened, and you think, Oh, was this was my fault? Am I to blame?”

Apart from Bonham, the rest of the band was also unaware of the altercation. For Jimmy Page, though, the conflict backstage mirrored the turmoil out front. “All I could see were people getting pulled over the barriers and beaten up,” Page said. “There was a very nasty, heavy energy about the whole day.”That night, Grant’s attorney Steve Weiss telephoned Bill Graham. He refused to discuss what had happened and flatly told the promoter, “The band would find it difficult to play tomorrow unless you sign a waiver indemnifying them against all lawsuits.”

Graham called his attorney and said he wanted everybody involved in the assault arrested –“starting with Peter Grant” – but not until after the second concert. The lawyer advised him to sign the document but claim he’d done so under “economic duress”, a get-out clause that would render his signature legally worthless and allow him to pursue criminal damages.

Graham waited until 3am before telling Weiss he’d sign, but he wasn’t the only one willing to stall. Led Zeppelin was due onstage at one o’clock the following afternoon. At 12:30, and with sixty thousand people already inside the stadium,Grant and the band were still at the Hyatt.

Weiss eventually appeared backstage with the indemnity letter, and Graham signed the document: “If I hadn’t, Zeppelin wouldn’t have played, and we’d have had a riot.” Zeppelin arrived at the stadium ninety minutes later than scheduled to find the mood backstage caustic. The band was essentially playing behind enemy lines.

“I was told I couldn’t go on stage with a Zeppelin laminate; I had to have a Bill Graham pass,” says Michael Zagaris. “I told Peter, who told me ‘Fuck ’em! If anyone touches you, our security will blow them away.’”

Bill Graham had hired extra muscle for the date, namely several hulking semi-pro football players, but Grant had brought in two moonlighting Los Angeles Police Department SWAT cops.

There was one moment of light relief during the show when a dancer talked her way onstage and wafted around Robert Plant during No Quarter. When one of the band asked who she was, Bonham apparently shouted over the mic that it was “Bill Graham’s missus.” “Bill went ape shit,” claimed Grant.
When Plant came off stage before the encore and tried to speak to Graham about the fight — “I told him the whole thing was absolutely, totally ludicrous”— the promoter refused to even look at him.

Long before the show ended, the band’s getaway cars were lined up by the stage ramp, with their engines running. Zeppelin’s entourage flanked either side of the walkway to chaperone their charges straight into the vehicles. Graham spotted an imperious-looking Peter Grant through the window of his limo, just as it pulled away. To salt the wound further, two police motorcyclists flanked the car.

However, Graham’s team also included a retired police sergeant, who advised him Grant and Bindon could be charged with inciting assault, and Cole with assault with a deadly weapon. However, the Oakland PD didn’t consider the incident serious enough to class as a felony and couldn’t serve a misdemeanor warrant on a Sunday. They’d have to wait until Monday morning.

Graham’s people had already spoken to the band’s chauffeurs who’d agreed to tip them off if anyone tried to leave. These were local drivers without any allegiance to Grant, and many had witnessed some heavy-handed behaviour over the previous few days.

But nobody was going anywhere. On Monday morning, detectives and a SWAT team from the Oakland and San Francisco police departments descended on the hotel. Within seconds, the lobby of the San Francisco Hyatt was swarming with baton and gun-carrying officers. Peter Grant and his entourage were formally under arrest…

Buy Bring It On Home here…