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35 years of a ‘Whole Lotta Love’

In a rare, exclusive interview, “Today” host Matt Lauer talks to the three surviving members of Led Zeppelin — Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.
/ Source: TODAY

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the beginning of Led Zeppelin. To celebrate the occasion, the band is releasing the Led Zeppelin DVD — five hours of previously unreleased live performances from four tours spanning 1970 to 1979 — and, a three-disc CD with more live material from concerts in California in 1972 called, “How the West Was Won.” In a rare, exclusive interview, “Today” host Matt Lauer talks to the three surviving members — Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Paul Jones.

THE MUSIC IS legendary and the riffs are considered some of the greatest of all time.

With more than 200 million albums sold worldwide, Led Zeppelin is the biggest-selling rock group in history.

“When you look back and you measure up what the band was about. Four very, very different people and personalities coming together and having this union onstage, and taking on this sort of fifth element, which is something that’s intangible. But you know, it’s definitely something — it’s very, very powerful,” says Jimmy Page.

From the groundbreaking early days of heavy metal to the power ballad, Led Zeppelin did it all.

Matt Lauer: “Take me through the process of getting ready for the live show because the live shows were legendary.”

Jimmy Page: “I can quite safely say here, from the minute that you walk to the stage, the amount of time that was going to go on onstage to the time that you came back offstage, you never knew exactly what was going to be happening. Because of this communication that went on musically. And the way that it would just go off on a tangent here and there and — you know, there was no way that you couldn’t be there. But just really throw yourself right into it.”

Epitomizing the era of sex, drugs and rock and roll they lost drummer John Bonham in 1980 from an alcohol over-dose.

“Well, quite clearly, when we lost John in 1980, it’s almost like ‘What were you going to do?’ People came to us and they — and I know they mentioned drummers not with a commercial mind there when they were saying it. It was purely for the best. What do you actually do here? Do you say listen to this, this is what we improvised one night. Now you learn it and we’ll play it the same every night. Of course not,” says Page.

Lauer: “This was magic in a bottle.”

Page: ”[It was a]… measure of respect for John Bonham’s part that he played. And plus what we felt amongst what Led Zeppelin was.”

Robert Plant: “But if you’re going to talk about this, you should go to a clip from ‘Achilles Last Stand’ at Knebworth’ because the unity between these guys was unbelievable. If you couldn’t get near that then it would be a real soul-less empty experience, which nobody wants.”

And while other bands of a similar generation continue to strut their stuff on stage, Led Zeppelin looks forward, by looking back, by letting the music speak for itself, the way the band always wanted it to.

Lauer: “Why did you decide to do this now?”

Page: “Well, the main reason is that if you think about Led Zeppelin’s career that was 11 years long, and that career was based really on the strength of its albums, and on live performances. There had just been this missing aspect to Led Zeppelin.”

Lauer: “When it came time to gather this footage, and from all the sources, how do you go about communicating with the bootleggers? You called directory assistance and said, ‘Anybody who stole our music and our video in the 70s, please contact…?’ How do you do that?”

Page: “It seemed a really good idea to try and get in touch with anybody who had anything even though some of this stuff was out on what we call bootleg source, it really was a guy there with a film in his day. The key to it was to get back to that original source—those Super Eights. So there had to be some delicate negotiations.”

Lauer: “What was it like, John, when you first looked at some of this footage that you hadn’t seen in however many years?”

John Paul Jones: (Laughter) “How young we all were! Well, I mean, right from the early album it was a band with great sort of swagger and bravado. We had this huge attitude at the time and so it was great to see all that — just searing off the screen.”

Lauer: “You have to know that when I walked through the office and I said I’m going to interview the guys from Led Zeppelin, more than a handful of people said ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ I mean, people always say that. Did you have any clue at the time that you recorded that song that it had the type of legs or staying power or quality to become an anthem to an entire generation?”

Page: “Well, I think we all knew it was really a milestone for us when we recorded it. As far as it becoming anything like that, of course we wouldn’t have been that pretentious to think something like that. But we knew that it was really good. And for example, we were playing in L.A. and the fourth album hadn’t come out. We did Stairway and we got a standing ovation. I thought, ‘Wow, we’re really transmitting something.’ You know? And that number was just really… it meant a lot of things to many people.”

Lauer: “There are a lot of groups out there right now. That started about the same time you guys got together. What is stopping Led Zeppelin from jumping onstage?”

Plant: “We don’t know how good you are on the drums.”

Lauer: (Laughter) “That’s the reason? You never could find anyone who could take John’s place on drums?”

Jones: “This band was performance based, musician based. And everything came from within the band. And so if there was somebody else on stage but a member of Led Zeppelin, it wouldn’t be Led Zeppelin anymore. It’s as simple as that.”

Lauer: “When people come up to you on the street these days, when they see you here or wherever and they say, ‘You know what guys? This album, ‘I remember that girl I was dating and this album, ‘I remember I was living in Europe.’ Is it the same for you?”

Page: “I’ve got those memories too, you know. And I think one of the things about that period was because you weren’t given images, you made up your own images. You listen to the music and it just took you to another world.”