As in, why did the band pick that name anyway?
Logic might tell you it comes from a long line of band names that change one or two letters of an ordinary word to become something wacky and eye-catching. As in The Beatles, The Monkees, The Byrds, Cyrcle, Def Leppard (a Led Zeppelin imitator if ever there was one), Mötley Crüe, Phish, etc.
But it’s not that at all.
According to most Zep biographies, the name was suggested by Keith Moon, the powerhouse drummer for The Who. In May 1966 Jimmy Page, then a member of the Yardbirds, was jamming together with frenemy Jeff Beck in a studio to come up with new material. Lo and behold who should turn up but Keith Moon, who was contemplating leaving the Who at the time over Roger Daltrey’s bad temper. John Paul Jones, then a session musician, joined in the fun. The result was Beck’s Bolero and an idea for a new supergroup in the manner of Cream. Jimmy tried to recruit Stevie Winwood and then Steve Marriot for lead singer, but both declined, and the supergroup idea went nowhere. Moon, though, was amused enough by it to declare they all would “go down like a lead zeppelin” if they ever got together, putting his own twist on the phrase lead balloon. The image stuck in Jimmy’s mind.
Two years later, Jimmy made good on his word and recruited first Robert Plant, then John Paul Jones and John Bonham, to form what he envisioned as a new Yardbirds band, Jeff Beck and the other members having abandoned him. The new group actually did a tour of Scandinavia as The New Yardbirds, fulfilling a contract leftover from the old Yardbirds; Jimmy thought he owned the name from a document the previous members had signed. But he didn’t; the name could only be used to fulfill the tour obligations. A new one had to be chosen.
And it was, by Peter Grant, the band’s manager, who had also heard of Keith Moon’s quip. Jimmy agreed. After the “lead” was changed to “led” (a matter of proper pronunciation) an icon was born.
(This story is related in Bob Spitz’s book Led Zeppelin: A Biography, which I’ll be reviewing later. What jumps out to me about the episode is that Peter Grant could be considered the band’s fifth member, the one who made it all possible. Led Zep would have been nowhere without Peter Grant.)
Over the years, the name has generated many amusing puns. Here’s a few from real life.
Punny Dreadful Takes on Led Zeppelin
|Bread Zeppelin: A bakery and casual dining franchise in Texas.
Dread Zeppelin: A tribute band doing reggae versions of Led Zeppelin songs.
Lez Zeppelin: An all-female tribute band doing interpretations of Led Zeppelin songs.
Zeparella: Another all-female tribute band.
Led Zepplica: A tribute band.
Led Zepagain: Another tribute band.
Fred Zeppelin: A tribute band. It’s likely there’s other tribute bands somewhere called Ned Zeppelin and Ted Zeppelin.
As is evident there are a LOT of tribute bands… and that’s not including Kashmir, Zoso, Zep-LA, or Black Dog.
The following names are not yet taken, however!
|Dead Zeppelin: A great name for a tribute band that does both Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin songs.
Hedge Zeppelin: Surely there’s a garden store named this somewhere?
Red Zeppelin: If Led Zep had made an animated movie like The Beatle’s Yellow Submarine, it might have been called this.
Thread Zeppelin: A good name for a vintage clothing shop that specializes in 1970s clothing.
Vej Zeppelin: A garden co-op that delivers fresh organic veggies to your door in rock star style.
Keg Zeppelin: An independent beer retailer.