The man who turned down Led Zeppelin

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Countless enthusiasts would leap at the chance to lead a band as iconic as Led Zeppelin, a group that became a cornerstone of rock music after forming in the late 1960s. With the dynamic duo of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, it’s hard to envision anyone else filling those roles, yet Plant wasn’t the original choice for the band’s lead vocalist.

Following the dissolution of The Yardbirds, Jimmy Page and Chris Dreja aimed to create a new musical venture. The Yardbirds, famous for kick-starting the careers of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, left Page yearning for a fresh challenge. Recognizing the need for a compelling lead vocalist to match their envisioned hard rock sound, Page turned his attention to Terry Reid.

A prodigy in his own right, Reid had been crafting his music from a young age, achieving fame in 1965 with Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers at just 15 years old. Despite the Jaywalkers’ limited mainstream success, Reid’s talent did not go unnoticed.

By 1968, he was already embarking on a solo career, gaining acclaim for his potent vocal delivery—earning him the moniker ‘Superlungs’—and his knack for songwriting. His debut album featured ‘Without Expression’, a track later covered by notable bands such as The Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, cementing Reid’s influence in the music world. His prowess was such that Aretha Franklin once remarked, “Only three things are happening in England: The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Terry Reid.”

However, Reid’s burgeoning solo career meant he declined Jimmy Page’s invitation to join what would become Led Zeppelin. Reid was committed to touring America with The Rolling Stones and Cream, a commitment Page urged him to abandon immediately for the new project. Despite an offer from Page to cover any financial losses from canceling the tour, Reid passed, instead recommending Robert Plant, a young vocalist from Birmingham.

Plant’s inclusion in Led Zeppelin led to the formation of one of the most legendary rock bands in history, while Reid continued his solo journey, opening for acts like Fleetwood Mac and Jethro Tull. His influence on Led Zeppelin’s sound and Plant’s vocal style was undeniable, suggesting a different trajectory for the band’s music had he joined.

Reid also famously declined an opportunity to join Deep Purple, choosing to concentrate on his solo endeavors. Though he stepped back from his solo career in 1981 to work more as a session musician and occasionally perform live, Reid’s songwriting has been celebrated by a wide array of artists, from Marianne Faithful to Jack White, securing his legacy in the music industry.

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