In Memory of the Manager Who Led Zeppelin: Peter Grant

 Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
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Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Ex-wrestler, ex-bouncer Peter Grant was the managerial gatekeeper to Led Zeppelin and their "Stairway to Heaven," and anyone who stood in his and his band’s way, was certain to experience hell.

24 years ago on this day, Grant passed away from a fatal heart attack, but his legacy lingers forever onwards for both musicians and business managers alike. 

At six-foot-five, the huge hustler was equal parts physical protection and psychological persuasion; driving hard deals and demanding nothing less than what his band deserved, Grant became the rock of the industry who championed greatness in the business of music’s behind-the-scenes.

The Machiavellian manager was loved by some, feared by others for his hands-on approach in overseeing every aspect of the band. Born in 1935 in South London, Grant’s exceptional capacities as the genius guardian of Zeppelin may have stemmed from his life experiences as a former Corporal in the National Service as well as his bouts in wrestling as Count Mossimo.

His next moves were in the ring of artist management, working with the former Black Sabbath Don Arden, a promoter at the time, and eventually befriending Jimmy Page while managing The Yardbirds until the group dissolved, and reformed as the New Yardbirds with John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Robert Plant, and Jimmy Page.

The four intended to create a new name for themselves in the industry, which Grant ensured with his guidance. 

"I was worried about the spelling of ‘Lead,’ “l-e-a-d,” like lead you down a garden path full of things,” Grant elaborated on the band’s beginnings in a 1998 interview. “I was sitting around in the office...scrubbed out the ‘a’ and wrote out ‘Led.’ I said, ‘What do you think of that? I think it’s got a lot more punch.’”

While fame was the least of Grant’s concerns as Zeppelin’s manager, he affirmed in the interview, “I got known for my attitude: ‘Don’t mess around with the band.’” 

His no-nonsense management tactics proved unconventional yet pioneered the industry forward; he tackled the naysayers of the industry, from underhanded promoters to headstrong music executives. 

Strategizing on his own legendary terms, Grant succeeded in negotiating an unheard of “90% of takings for all concert performances” from Atlantic Records on behalf of Zeppelin as well as a large advance, which gave the band the uninhibited control, both creative and financial, to create both their music, mystique and iconic identity as the world’s greatest rock band. 

Despite his heavy-handed involvement with the band’s every move, he humbly denied the comparison to being Zeppelin’s fifth member, attesting in the interview, “After all, as a manager you can create the right environment. You get the right building, the right stage...the right ticket price, you get everything awfully right.” 

"But you can never be the fifth member,” he continued. “When somebody says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, Led Zeppelin!’ and they walk out there on stage, they’re on their own.”

Grant’s early partnership with Page was a lasting alliance that was essential to the band’s success as “Page and Grant funded Led Zeppelin’s debut album themselves, [securing] a $200,000 check from Atlantic Records,” as detailed in Mark Blake’s biography of Grant.

"It was a masterful coup, and the kind of deal that only Peter Grant was able to make.”

His contributions proved lasting not only to the band itself in generating a fortune as well as millions of album sales, but for future musicians, fellow managers, and record labels to emphasize prioritizing artists, rather than taking advantage of them, for years to come.

When asked his secret to being an exemplary manager, Grant replied, “Have belief in your artists. Don’t do it because you think, what’s 20% of that? Believe within [them]selves and as musicians, producers. Believe.” 
 

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