Thursday, September 27, 2007

Still ascending Stairway

On this day in 1983, Jimmy Page became the first member of Led Zeppelin to perform "Stairway to Heaven" live after the band's breakup.

Having closed the first side of the group's all-time bestselling album and become one of the most recognizable and popular songs of the entire era, "Stairway" has inevitably been a recurrent yet seldom fulfilled request at the concerts of Page and coauthor Robert Plant.

Its inclusion became an inevitable choice for solo sets by Page on Sept. 20 and 21, two shows held at the Royal Albert Hall in London to raise money for the charity Action and Research for Multiple Sclerosis.

The charity funded research and provided treatment for the neurological disorder that affects hundreds of thousands of people. At the helm of the concerts was Ronnie "Plonk" Lane, who had played bass for the Small Faces and founded the Faces and was then living with MS. Lane organized the benefits and enlisted a little help from his friends, becoming the poster boy for MS until his death in 1997.

It spoke to the power of his pull that he was able to recruit some of the biggest names in British rock. The luminaries joining Page onstage at the event were Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, Bill Wyman, and Kenney Jones, who had played drums for the Small Faces and the Faces for 10 years before replacing the late Keith Moon in the Who.

The night was notable not only for the first live "Stairway to Heaven" by any former member of Led Zeppelin but it was also the first onstage gathering of all three infamous lead guitarists from the Yardbirds. Clapton and Beck had each been releasing music under their own names for well over a decade, whereas Page's post-Zeppelin solo career to that point consisted only of the 1981 soundtrack album for the film Death Wish 2.

Following the sets by Clapton and Beck, Page began his own with some of that soundtrack material, starting with the instrumental "Prelude," based on a melody by Frederic Chopin. Winwood joined Page and a small backing band to sing "Who's to Blame" and "City Sirens." After those, Page strapped on his Gibson double-neck guitar for that instrumental version of "Stairway to Heaven."

Part two of this edition of "On This Day In Led Zeppelin History" was called "Zeptember milestones in concert ticket demand," focusing on achievements in ticket sales in 1980 and 2007. It also highlighted Led Zeppelin News topics that were current at the time.

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