I didn’t realize it until after I was well into this book, but I’ve read Stephen Davis’s work before. I read Walk This Way: The Autobiography of Aerosmith, by Stephen Davis (and Aerosmith) years before reading this unauthorized biography of Led Zeppelin’s meteoric rise to wealth and fame and legendary status in the world of rock music.
The Aerosmith book was created with the full cooperation of the band, who also received co-writing credit. Hammer of the Gods was largely cobbled together from interviews of people other than the members of Led Zeppelin, or from other source material, such as interviews conducted by other writers or journalists. Comparing the two books, I would say that Walk This Way felt more immediate and personal. But, Hammer of the Gods has long been considered to be one of the best rock books on record. There are ample reasons for this.
Davis not only chronicles the dry facts concerning the band’s musical output and record releases, he also delves deeply into sordid rumor and legends and speculation. Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s all in there. There’s the infamous “shark story,” of course, the groupies and road wives, heroin use, and, of course, Satanic pacts. Davis demonstrates a willingness to pick at dirty strings in what is clearly not an attempt to unravel a complicated snarl of entwined fact and fiction, but rather a method of recording any lurid details, true or otherwise, that the fans want to read. I am such a fan and rather enjoyed all the gossip, true or otherwise.
Since there is no credible evidence of the existence of Black Magic, I don’t believe anyone made a deal with the Devil, unless that is a euphemism for pale white Englishmen stealing from old black American bluesmen. However, Jimmy Page is, no doubt, an exceedingly weird individual. He did seem obsessed with the English occultist Aleister Crowley and collecting Crowley artifacts, including buying one of Crowley’s old houses. That’s just a bizarre affectation, in my opinion. Jimmy Page is a supremely talented guitarist in spite of these things, not because of them.
Still, from the facts in the book that I accept as such, I had a different opinion of the band once I finished reading. My opinion of three out of the four members of Led Zeppelin was lower than when I began the book. I actually found myself admiring John Paul Jones for taking the high road during the worst of the band’s debaucheries. I already admired his musicianship, but he came out looking like the best human being at the end, even if the rumors of his fascination with New Orleans transvestites have any truth to them.
Robert Plant’s image doesn’t suffer too much either, I should add. He wasn’t a faithful husband by anyone’s account, but that seems to be the worst of his failings.
John Bonham, whom I still consider to be one of the best rock drummers who ever lived, seems to have lived up to his reputation as The Beast. He doesn’t seem like a pleasant person to have been around when he wasn’t sober, and, in hindsight, it’s not that surprising that he died young.
Jimmy Page, in addition to his rumored dalliances with Satan, did indeed have a penchant for underaged groupies, which makes him a disgusting human being in my opinion, despite his ferocious talent. I will never be able to honestly admire the man again.
In the spirit of full disclosure, while I like many individual Led Zeppelin songs, I’ve never considered myself a diehard Zeppelin fan. I’ve always felt that they were overrated, just a little bit. If you’re a diehard fan, this won’t endear me to you, I know. But, it is my opinion.
This, however, is a review of the book, not a piece about how I feel about the band. For what it is, Hammer of the Gods is a page-turner, and I enjoyed reading it. I understand why it has attained “classic” status among those who read music biographies.