When The Who’s John Entwistle Reportedly Came Up With the Name Led Zeppelin
Can a great band be stopped by a terrible name? It’s unlikely. On the other hand, an excellent name can help boost a band, especially when a group is getting its start. There’s no question that Pink Floyd sounded better than the group’s previous names (one of which was The Tea Set).
Prior to becoming The Who, that band went through a few changes of its own. After starting out as The Detours (cool name), the group shifted to The Who before becoming The High Numbers (bad name) and switching back again.
But at least one member of The Who also had a hand in christening Led Zeppelin, which ranks among rock’s greatest names. In Zep’s case, we have conflicting stories about how the band ended up with its name.
In a widely circulated account (backed up by founder Jimmy Page), Led Zeppelin got its name following a recording session that Page and Jeff Beck played with Who drummer Keith Moon. However, another version has Who bassist John Entwistle naming the band.
John Entwistle reportedly joked the band would crash like ‘a lead zeppelin’
If you wanted to, you could spend the better part of the next few years reading books about The Who. In Pretend You’re in a War, Mark Blake’s take on the band in the ’60s, we hear both versions. The first involves Moon pitching the name after considering starting a band with Beck and Page.
In the alternate version, Entwistle comes up with the name two years after the ’66 Beck-Page-Moon sessions. That would have been around the time Page was forming his new band from the ashes of The Yardbirds.
The Ox, the 2020 Entwistle biography by Paul Rees, also broaches the subject. This time around, Rees connects the dots from Entwistle to Page via Richard Cole, the future swashbuckling Zep tour manager who had worked driving around Moon and Entwistle in the mid-’60s.
In Rees’ telling, Cole recalled Entwistle dropping the name casually one night in conversation. After hearing it, Cole mentioned it to Page, who put it to use shortly thereafter.
Jimmy Page endorsed the Keith Moon version
Though he was impossible to approach for several years in his Zeppelin days, Jimmy Page eventually did start opening up to reporters. In a 1977 Trouser Press interview, Page went with the version that had Moon coming up with his band’s name.
“It was Moon, I’m sure, despite anything Entwistle may have said,” Page said at the time. However, his recollection of those events also included Cole. “I’m quite certain Richard Cole asked Moon for his permission when we decided to use the name.”
Either way, Page thought that the name needed a minor edit before putting it into service. That meant pulling the “a” of the name so people wouldn’t pronounce the word “lead” as you would in the phrase “lead the way.” With that settled, Led Zeppelin was ready to take flight for the next 12 years.