That Time Led Zeppelin’s Tour Manager Pulled a Gun on Reporters

How was Led Zeppelin different from The Beatles? There are too many ways to count. However, you could start by looking at the two bands’ approach to touring. In the case of the Fab Four, they quit playing live shows in 1966 — nearly four years before the band split up.

As for Led Zeppelin, the band’s performances quickly became an institution. Even folks who didn’t love the music were amazed at the raw energy (and length) of Zeppelin shows. After listening to Jimmy Page and John Bonham in attack mode for three hours, you didn’t easily forget it.

But it wasn’t only the nature of the live performances that made Zeppelin different from The Beatles. The excesses of a Zep tour — from the band’s private jet to the legions of groupies and destruction of hotel suites — became almost as famous as “Stairway to Heaven.”

In some cases, the scene became truly frightening. The story of Richard Cole, Zeppelin’s tour manager, deciding to pull a gun on a group of reporters serves as a good example.

An argument between Page and a British journalist escalated quickly.

HONOLULU, circa 1970: Led Zeppelin and road manager Richard Cole arrive at Honolulu Airport. | Robert Knight Archive/Redferns

Lisa Robinson, a rock journalist who spent a lot of time on tour with Zeppelin in the ’70s, published selections from her journals in Vanity Fair back in 2003. The stories are crazier than you’d imagine, unless you’re familiar with Hammer of the Gods.

Robinson recounted an especially insane scene from 1975. En route from New York to Detroit, Jimmy Page and a Daily Express reporter began exchanging unpleasantries. “You’re not supposed to make intelligent remarks,” he told Page at one point. Robinson feared the worst ahead,

However, things deteriorated more rapidly than she expected. At the show in Detroit, Cole decided to send a message and barred the reporter from going backstage. That led to some yelling. Once the show ended and everyone was back on Zeppelin’s jet, Page remained pissed.

He called the reporter “a communist” and said he wasn’t interested in music. Next, Page was yelling about politics when someone hurled a cocktail at the reporter, whom Robinson described as “belligerent” by that point. He had chosen the wrong tack with this group.

Cole stood in the middle of the plane brandishing a gun.

1975: Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin play Chicago Stadium. | Laurance Ratner/WireImage

In another entry, Robinson wrote about Bonham and some Zeppelin personnel pummeling someone who messed with the band. Aboard Zeppelin’s “Starship” plane that night, no such thing happened. Instead, Cole pulled a gun and just stood there, to the shock of everyone present.

“I had never seen a gun before,” Robinson wrote. “We were 25,000 feet in the air. I cowered in my seat.” She describes a general air of fear and tension sweeping across the plane. As Zeppelin security joined Cole in the aisle of the plane, no one knew what to expect.

Happily, it ended without any violence. Bonham screamed from the front of the plane that he was trying to get some sleep. “For Christ’s sake, will you all shut up?” That seems to have diffused the situation, however unintentionally.

The scary scene recalled another entry of Robinson’s when she first met Robert Plant. She asked him about the band’s reputation for madness and debauchery. “It’s all true,” Plant said. “When there are no holds barred, there are no holds barred.”

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