Here are the full transcripts from our new cover feature... In the third part, road manager Richard Cole talks....
In the January issue of UNCUT, we celebrated the career of rock’s greatest and most mysterious guitar hero through the first hand accounts of the people who know him best.
Here at uncut.co.uk, we’ll be posting the full and unedited transcripts from those interviews, including words from Robert Plant, Jeff Beck, Roy Harper, Steve Albini and more.
Today… Richard Cole
The former tour manager for The Who, The Searchers and The New Vaudeville Band, Cole looked after Zeppelin’s on the road needs from 1968 – 1979.
UNCUT: When did you first meet Jimmy?
COLE: I heard about him before I met him, because it was rumoured he played on a lot of people’s records, which he’s never confirmed and kept quiet about. I knew his name as a session man, and I think that more than likely he did stuff for Mickey Most, and I worked for Peter Grant and Mickey Most. Peter had known him for years. And then, of course, Peter managed The Yardbirds and also managing the New Vaudeville Band, so that’s how I got involved with Jimmy.
Near the end of ‘67, the New Vaudeville Band went into pantomime and there wasn’t really anything for me to do, and so Peter sent me down to Jimmy’s house to do a couple of shows for The Yardbirds. They needed a road manager. So I went to Jimmy’s house in the country to pick up the guitar amps and bits and pieces for him. I think I went back a few days later and picked him up and we went down to do the shows. It could have been in Plymouth, but I can’t be too specific on it.
This was when he had a house on the river in Pangborne. It’s the same house that Robert and the rest of Led Zeppelin went to in the early days to listen to what sort of stuff they were going to do. I could be wrong because I wasn’t in the country at the time, but I believe they did some rehearsals there as well.
What was your first impression of him?
He was very polite and gentlemanly. He didn’t know me, I had to introduce myself. I always remember he had a great sound system, he had these Tannoy speakers and a Fischer amplifier and we sat there listening to Magical Mystery Tour. It was a boathouse, converted boathouse, which had the living accommodation downstairs, and below that he had one of those Flipper launches, one of those 20s or 30s boats with the sloping back of polished wood. We used to go for runs up the Thames and back again. He used to keep the amps down in the boathouse, so he went down there and helped me move them around and make adjustments.
But he was just very polite and very nice. He was a good friend to me. I bought a house down the road not far from him, in 1970. Because he didn’t drive, I used to drive him all over the place when he was buying books and antiques and all that sort of thing. He had a Bentley in the garage that I don’t know whether he bought off Peter Grant or Peter gave it to him and sometimes if we were going on tour we’d take the Bentley, if we were going on long journeys.
Did you relationship change much, as Zeppelin got bigger?
In the early days, obviously because of the Yardbirds, there was six of us on the road, three rooms, and I always used to share a room with Jimmy. And then either in the early Zeppelin days quite often I used to share a room or a two-bedroom suite with him. It didn’t happen that rapidly. The rooms we used with Zeppelin on the first tour were no different to the rooms we used with the Yardbirds on their last tour. It changed maybe a few years down the road into suites and stuff. It went from sharing a room to your own room, and then into suites. 1969 was my favourite year.
Every tour you went to got bigger, and places got bigger, and the audiences got bigger. Everything got faster and faster. I don’t think the bonds of relationships changed. If I look back on it, he was more comfortable that the other two – when I say “the other two”, I mean I’ve worked for Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, and Jimmy was always the showman. I always felt in the early days – well, I worked with Eric in 1974 and Jeff in 1968, this was with Rod Stewart – even with the Yardbirds, he was right out there in front, strutting around and being, well, a rock star. There was no shyness there, he was always very confident in what he did. He was always dressed well, he always dressed the part.
What effect did Zeppelin’s success have on Jimmy?
Well, it was his baby, wasn’t it? When I was with the Yardbirds, the Yardbirds tour wasn’t advertised as the farewell tour because for all intents and purposes, the band Jimmy was going to form was the New Yardbirds. I was in America working at the time, but apparently what happened was they were so good they decided to take a chance with a new name and start afresh (as Led Zeppelin). The early days… the first three shows were pretty incredible. But then once they kind of gelled, because they hadn’t done that many shows together, as far as I know they’d only done a few dates in England and a small tour of Scandinavia, as I say I wasn’t with them so I don’t know many it was exactly. And then by the time they got to the fourth show in America, they’d already gone from good and great to pretty incredible, especially Bonzo with the drum solo.
I remember standing with Jonesy and Paul in Oregon, which was many the third or fourth show or something, and both of us were mesmerised. It was always the professionalism with Jimmy, it could have been also that he had that training with the session musicians were very disciplined as well, they have to turn up at a time, do their job for three or four hours or whatever the session time is, and then go onto something else.
How did the pressure affect Jimmy?
I’m not a musician, I run around a lot. The first time in all honesty I saw Led Zeppelin play and sat down for two hours was when they played the 02 show. I mean, I don’t know how to explain it. He was just incredible. He practised a lot as well, I don’t think he went anywhere without a guitar, even on holiday.
How did he and Robert get on?
I wouldn’t profess to have a great deal of insight here. I wasn’t here for the first record, the second record they more or less wrote and recorded while they were on the road, and the third one they went away to Bron-Yr-Aur to record it and I didn’t have to go up there – they had another crew. The live dynamic was incredible, the voice and guitar seemed to talk to one another, they’re obviously in the same pitch. I never felt that the success had an adverse affect on their relationship. It was always the gang’s solid and together? Well, it isn’t, never over 12 years. I mean, yes, definitely on stage, and often between all of us there was the odd argument, nothing important, and usually nothing to do with music. I think the thing about Zeppelin is that they had tremendous respect for each other. Jonesy and Bonzo, you only have to watch them play, one of them only had to raise an eyebrow and the other one knew what to change.
Did you stay in touch with Jimmy after Zeppelin split?
I went with him to Los Angeles, he did the ARMS concert  for Ronnie Lane, and he was playing great then. The three of them were on that show – Jeff, Eric and Jimmy. They all seemed to have a great respect for each other. There was never any rivalry between them. They wouldn’t discuss it with me if there was, anyway.
Did you notice any change after he left Zeppelin?
I wouldn’t make any comment. When you’re working with someone, you’re dealing with a different side – there’s the two hours or three hours on stage and then there’s the other 21 hours you’re dealing with them, when you have the other person. I think it’s a bit of a myth that people switch off, I think it takes them time to unwind after doing shows with all the excitement and adrenalin.
Jimmy, Peter and John Paul Jones who financed the first American tour. There was no tour support in those days, we didn’t do a tour budget. In those days, it was like OK the hotels are going to cost us this much, the air fares this. It wasn’t even worked out, the job had to be done. We haven’t got that much money, we’ve got to make it as economic as possible without it being too uncomfortable. As there was more money coming in for shows, things were escalating.
The other thing was that TWA used to have a thing called Discover America, where you’d buy your airline tickets, you would work out the route of an entire tour, and as long as it went in a circle so you flew into New York and ended up back in New York and didn’t go back to the same city twice, you’d get 50% off. The only problem with that was if dates come in or fall out, you’d have to redo all the tickets again. They’d hate it when you took the tickets into the Hilton, where TWA had a desk, because everything was written by hand in those days. And each ticket had maybe 20 stops on it, but everything was economically worked out, even the 707 jets. With a jet like that, you didn’t need to order room service because it was supplied, so most of the times we ate on the plane.