How Led Zeppelin Turned Old Blues Into Hard Rock And Heavy Metal

By | November 29, 2016

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British heavy rock group Led Zeppelin, performing at Earl's Court, London, May 1975. Left to right: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant, John Bonham (1948 - 1980, behind drum kit) and Jimmy Page. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)

Led Zeppelin's influence on hard rock is unmatched. The combination of Robert Plant's soaring vocals combined with Jimmy Page's bluesy guitar has been imitated endlessly, while John Bonham's driving drums and John Paul Jones' bass set the template for what a true hard-rock rhythm section should sound like. From the moment the group's self-titled debut album dropped in 1969, it was clear that rock music was going in a new direction. Hard rock was becoming a thing, and the seeds of heavy metal were being planted.

It was a new direction, but also a return to rock's roots in the blues. Somehow, this group of four British musicians managed to mine the source material of rock 'n roll while pushing forward into a heavier sound.

All The Rock Musicians Wanted To Be Bluesmen

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Zeppelin came out of a huge British blues scene -- in fact, many of the bands we now call "classic rock" got their start as blues outfits. Jimmy Page's previous band, the Yardbirds, were one of the most successful blues or blues-rock bands of the time, as were The Rolling Stones and The Animals. Cream, on the strength of ex-Yardbird Eric Clapton's guitar work, was perhaps the most commercially successful blues-rock group of the mid-'60s. Fleetwood Mac, now of course a yacht-rock staple, began as a blues band. Jethro Tull, famous for bringing the flute into rock 'n roll, began as a blues band. Even Pink Floyd played blues and R&B at first (the band's name is an amalgam of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two blues musicians).

In short -- American blues was alive and well in London at the time Jimmy Page left the Yardbirds and set about forming his own group.