Led Zeppelin knew they were on to something special from the first time that they ever jammed together. They instantly clicked, and their musical souls aligned. That kind of chemistry is a rarity in music, and after years spent in bands of varying success, Jimmy Page handcrafted a four-piece that was destined for greatness from the moment of their first session.
Page building on the name he had already established thanks to his extraordinary work in The Yardbirds. When he first stepped onto the stage with Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones on September 7th, 1968, even he wouldn’t have believed what they would go on to achieve.
Jimmy Page’s previous outfit, The Yardbirds, would play their farewell concert in July 1968 at Luton College of Technology in Bedfordshire, a show which was hardly a grandiose send-off. However, the band had been booked by promoters to perform concerts in Scandinavia despite the split. Rather than cancel, Jimmy Page saw it as the perfect opportunity to get a new band together, which led to Led Zeppelin.
For these shows, they went by the name of The New Yardbirds, even though they were their own entity. These shows provided Jimmy Page, John Bonham, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones with the perfect opportunity to road-test their new material, as well as work on their live show before returning to the UK, where they’d begin a steadfast rise to dominance.
The New Yardbirds weren’t even originally meant to include John Paul Jones. Bassist Chris Dreja pulled out after choosing to leave music behind to follow his dreams as a photographer, and a vacancy appeared. The first time all four members played together remains a vivid memory for Jones, who will hang on to his recollection of that day until he draws his last breath.
“I’d said I’d been playing sessions and knew nothing at all,” Jones recalled about that day in the biography, John Bonham: The Powerhouse Behind Led Zeppelin. “We went with ‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ in E, and he counted us in,” Jones added about the first song they played at rehearsals.
“[Bonham] counted us in and there was like this instant explosion,” Jones remembered. “And an instant recognition that this would be a really good outfit to be with.”
As noted in Cheat Sheet, Jimmy Page recounted to biographer Mick Wall, “We did ‘Train’… It was there immediately. It was so powerful that I don’t remember what we played after that. For me it was just like, ‘Crikey!’ I mean, I’d had moments of elation with groups before, but nothing as intense as that. It was like a thunderbolt, a lightning flash – boosh! Everyone sort of went ‘Wow’”.
‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ is a track that had been around since 1951 when blues musician Tiny Bradshaw first recorded it, and since then, it has taken on a life of its own. However, no matter who else performs the song, the part it played in Led Zeppelin’s origin story is unparalleled.
Whatever they played during that first rehearsal would likely have still had that magic. There were no doubts in their mind that the four men were about to embark on a wild adventure from the very moment they finished the track. Even though they had high expectations for the band’s future, even their wildest dreams were exceeded by what lay on the horizon.
‘Train Kept A-Rollin’ would remain a staple of their sets throughout that tour of Scandanavia, and it would still occasionally get an outing once they’d evolved into Led Zeppelin.