On This Day: Original Members of Led Zeppelin Play Together for the Last Time in 1980

by Caitlin Berard

In 1966, a 22-year-old Jimmy Page was working as a session guitarist when he received an invitation to join a blues-influenced rock band, The Yardbirds. Sadly, a mere two years after starting with the band, they played their final gig.

With permission from his band mates to continue on with the Yardbirds name, Page brought singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham into the fold. All they needed now was a bassist, so when John Paul Jones, a longtime acquaintance of Page, inquired about the vacant position, the trio added him to the group gladly.

After completing a tour as New Yardbirds, however, the prior leader of the band rescinded his approval of Page’s use of the name, forcing the budding rock band to switch gears.

Now, history gets a little fuzzy for this part of the story. The following account is a fantastic one, however, so for our purposes, let’s assume it’s the real one.

According to rock and roll legend, The Who’s drummer and bassist, who turned down Page’s invitation to join his new band, did so because they believed a group with Page at the helm would go down like a “lead balloon.”

Drawing inspiration from this snide comment, Jimmy Page and his new friends dropped the “a” from “Lead” and swapped “balloon” for “Zeppelin” (a metallic, blimp-shaped airship). From then on, they would be called Led Zeppelin. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Led Zeppelin’s Legendary Final Performance

From the first staccato chords of “Good Times Bad Times,” the first track on their debut album, Led Zeppelin cemented themselves as music icons. (“Good Times Bad Times” is the best debut track and I simply will not hear any arguments to the contrary).

For 12 incredible years, Led Zeppelin performed for audiences all over the world, releasing eight studio albums that would change the face of both the rock and metal genres forever. Sadly, however, all good things must end. And on July 7th, 1980, at Eissporthalle in Berlin, Germany, the quartet performed together for the last time.

That summer, the band fought their way through the 14-date European leg of the tour for their eighth and final album In Through the Out Door. Like many musicians of the era (and, unfortunately, to this day), both John Bonham and Jimmy Page struggled with alcoholism and drug addictions.

Tragically, Led Zeppelin never made it to the final date of that tour. On September 24th, 1980, John Paul Jones found his friend, John Bonham, dead in Jimmy Page’s home. The drummer allegedly drank around 40 shots of vodka within a 24-hour period. During his sleep, Bonham suffered a pulmonary aspiration that resulted in his death.

This unthinkable tragedy will always be part of the band’s history. However, it’s far from how they’re remembered.

Led Zeppelin fans will always remember them as the foursome playing for thousands of adoring fans in Berlin. Or, better yet, as the four young men who defied the odds by following and fully realizing their dreams of becoming rock and roll legends.