When Led Zeppelin recorded in Mumbai and rocked a Colaba nightclub
A relatively lesser known aspect of Led Zeppelin's recording career is a session that Jimmy Page and singer Robert Plant put together with a group of classically trained Indian musicians at the EMI Recording Studios in Mumbai, then known as Bombay, in 1972.Updated: Jun 04, 2015 08:59 IST
More than four decades after Led Zeppelin shook up the music world, the band is still held up as the gold standard for hard rock. And a whole new generation of fans has been discovering the band's epic mix of blues and rock since guitarist Jimmy Page began rolling out special editions of their albums last year.Led Zeppelin has never officially released any tracks from the Mumbai session though several bootlegs have since emerged. Especially fascinating is a 31-minute run through Friends, during which Page can be heard explaining the bars and scales to Rao, who gamely tries to convey his instructions to the Indian musicians who have clearly never collaborated with rock musicians.
At one stage, an apparently bored violin player begins playing snatches from the intro of RD Burman's Dum Maro Dum (from the 1971 film Hare Rama Hare Krishna), which was, to the musician, probably more exciting than the music of Led Zeppelin, which he had never heard.
Jimmy Page posing with a monkey in Mumbai. (ledzeppelin.com)
The session produced a polished final take of Friends featuring Plant on vocals, Page on acoustic guitar and the Indian orchestra (wrongly referred to on the bootlegs as Bombay Symphony Orchestra) and a version of Four Sticks without vocals.
Cole wrote in his book that there were never any plans to release these recordings. Besides, the quality of the session did not rise to Page's perfectionist standards and the guitarist put the tapes from the session in storage in his extensive archive.Interestingly, Page would repurpose the arrangements for these two tunes for the No Quarter unplugged album 22 years later and record them with Egyptian and Moroccan musicians.
The performance at Slip Disc
During their third trip to Mumbai after a tour of Japan in October 1972, Page and Plant stayed at the iconic Taj Mahal hotel. One night, most likely October 16, the duo decided to go looking for a hip night spot as the Taj's discotheque Blow Up - incidentally, Mumbai's first discotheque - was apparently too stuffy and dull for their liking.
Their search led them to the grungy Slip Disc, a club started by the shrewd businessman Ramzan Patel and located within walking distance of the Taj. By 1972, Slip Disc was the go-to place for youngsters, featuring live bands playing during evenings to crowds high on has and alcohol.
Funnily, Page and Plant were initially denied entry by a security guard instructed to keep out all long-haired hippies. An intervention by events organiser Yusuf Gandhi allowed the duo to get in. Patel reportedly had no clue who Led Zeppelin were, but the entrepreneur in him soon took over and he set about spreading the word about the duo's presence among Mumbai's music lovers.
Led Zeppelin road manager Richard Cole and Robert Plant ride a camel at a Mumbai beach. (ledzeppelin.com)
Late rocker Nandu Bhende wrote in a piece posted on his blog that he raced from Chembur to Colaba to be part of the audience in Slip Disc on that magical night. Page and Plant downed a few beers, signed some autographs and then clambered on to the stage at the small club for a jam with bassist Xerxes Gobhai and drummer Jameel Shaikh.
The duo played for about 30 minutes and, according to various accounts, performed an impromptu blues number about Mumbai, Whole Lotta Love, Rock And Roll and Black Dog. Some even claimed they played Kashmir, though that seems unlikely as Page and Plant began writing that classic track only in 1973.
Many years later, Plant said in an interview: "We stopped in Bombay and we ended up playing in an old dive there for a bottle of Scotch. It was superb. I was singing through a Fender cabinet (that) was the size of a 12" telly and Pagey was playing a guitar that must have had piano strings on it. And the people were so happy because they'd never witnessed anybody just passing through, taking the trouble to stop and play."
In another interview, Plant recalled that he and Page "ended up in there (Slip Disc) with loads and loads of illicit substances".
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant performing at Slip Disc club in Colaba in October 1972. (Photo: JS)
Musician Madhukar Dhas, who was in Slip Disc on the night, too recalled that Page described the borrowed guitar he used as having 'piano strings'. Arul Harris, the DJ at Slip Disc, taped the performance by the duo but the recording has since disappeared.
Guitarist Nissim Ezekiel of the band The Combustibles was in the audience when Page and Plant returned to Slip Disc the following night. Though the duo stayed for some time, they did not perform, he later wrote in a blog. Apparently, Page and Plant were turned off by the large crowd that had gathered at the club and Plant even reportedly threw a glass of beer at the camera of a photographer before leaving in a huff.
The now defunct magazine JS (Junior Statesman) covered the gig at Slip Disc in a November 1972 issue, including several photographs of the performance.
And that, folks, is the strange tale of Led Zeppelin visiting and recording in Mumbai.