The momentous occasion when Led Zeppelin met The King Elvis Presley
Being one of the first pop music icons was always tough on Elvis. After routinely hitting the number one spot with every release and dominating record sales, The King found it hard when new heirs arose from the musical landscape.
The Beatles shared a fractious relationship with Elvis, with the singer not finding too much favour for the Fab Four and their un-American ways. He almost fell into the same trap when meeting Led Zeppelin, the next quartet ready to sit on the musical throne, but for Robert Plant sharing a song with Elvis.
Robert Plant is one of the most gifted singers in rock music, a strong vocalist capable of shaking down stadiums is all well and good but Plant also possessed the subtlety of the performance. It’s a trick that he used to diffuse what could have ended up as a sticky situation with the legendary singer Elvis.
By 1974, Presley’s decline had not only been noted by the charts—barely breaking into the top ten—but by the King himself. Unlike when he met The Beatles, where he jostled for position, Presley was well aware of Led Zeppelin’s power and popularity. “Well, I may not be Led Zeppelin, but I can still pack ’em in,” Elvis would tell his entourage according to Stephen Davis Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of Gods. The two acts would meet later meet in in Los Angeles, with Zep launching their new Swan Song label and decided to visit one of the King’s performances at the Forum. It was an incredible encounter.
The meeting was set up by their shared promoter Jerry Weintraub, but the compliments from Elvis to Zeppelin started from the very beginning. According to Davis, as soon as the King had noticed the band in the audience, he instructed his own crew to play as well as they could. Yet when the band met up with Presley, he seemed less than enthused.
His entourage could see this meeting going the same way as The Beatles encounter with Elvis shrugging off the band’s praise. But the King was interested in their salacious tour life, the debauchery of which had been littered across tabloids and music papers since their inception. “Of course not!” Plant confirmed “We’re family men. What I like is to wander the hotel corridors, singing your songs.” It was at this point that Plant started doing an Elvis impersonation, singing the opening line from ‘Love Me’ a 1956 hit for Presley.
“Treat me like a fool,” Plant crooned. “Treat me mean and cruel,” Elvis answered with perfect-timing. According to Davis, they then both sang together, “But love me.” The ice was firmly broken, and the groups all fell about laughing. It made everyone relax, and Elvis returned the favour by both saying he liked ‘Stairway To Heaven’ and perhaps paying them the utmost compliment asking for the band’s autographs for his young daughter Lisa.
Plant later wrote about his meeting with Elvis: “I sized him up. He wasn’t quite as tall as me. But he had a singer’s build. He had a good chest — that resonator. And he was driven.”
It suggested the ultimate passing of the baton and signified that now there were four Kings of rock and roll and their name was Led Zeppelin.