OBITUARY:Peter Grant

Chris Welch
Friday 24 November 1995 00:02 GMT

Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin, perhaps the most successful rock band of all time, was a towering personality whose dedication to Zeppelin helped make them Seventies superstars. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were Zeppelin's front men; behind the scenes Peter Grant was their fearless protector. It was Grant who arranged their deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, then hailed as one of the biggest in industry history. He never interfered with their music, but was a "hands-on" manager who travelled the world with his charges to ensure their financial and physical well-being.

Grant was essentially the fifth member of Led Zeppelin. While stories of his exploits have become legendary, and he was as much feared as admired, Grant was a warm and good- humoured man who know well the impression he could make on the nervous and unwary.

More significantly, he was regarded as the most important and influential rock group manager since Brian Epstein. Grant changed attitudes within the music industry, so that attention was focused on the needs of the artists, often at the expense of the record companies, tour promoters and agents - who didn't always appreciate his methods. Grant had seen how early rock pioneers like Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry had been treated and was determined that Led Zeppelin would get their fair share of the profits. As a result, Led Zeppelin became extremely wealthy from the sales of millions of albums and concert tickets during their 12-year reign from 1968 to 1980.

Grant often literally went into battle for them, whenever they thought they were being ripped off. He had a particular aversion to album bootleggers, and was once seen out in the audience at a German Zeppelin concert, snatching the tapes from a bootlegger's machine and tearing them up. A policeman called to the scene, armed with a gun and an Alsatian dog, took one look at Grant's enormous bulk and threatening expression and walked away.

He could be called upon to break up squabbles between the band too, separating the warring factions of Robert Plant and the drummer John Bonham, or keeping the peace with a bellowed cry of "Shut up and go to sleep!" He was like a father- figure to the exuberant youths as they rampaged first class around the world.

On one famous occasion at New Orleans airport a bunch of American sailors were seen giving Page and Plant a hard time, as they jeered at their hippie clothes and long hair. Grant picked up one of the sailors and demanded: "What's your problem, Popeye?"

To Grant, the band were always "the boys"; despite his gruff demeanour he regarded them very much as family. Supporters of the band were given warm and friendly treatment. Critics were regarded as enemies, to be thrown in the nearest swimming pool.

Most other artists regarded Grant as the manager they'd most like to have themselves, but, while he did handle a few acts associated with Zeppelin's Swansong label, Zeppelin were always his priority.

The rock journalist Chris Charlesworth, who travelled with Zeppelin on tour, recalls: "People were terrified of him. He rode roughshod over anyone who tried to get in his way and he wasn't scared of anyone, police, promoters or officials. In America he insisted on putting on his own shows, with the local promoter acting simply as an organiser, so the band got 90 per cent of receipts instead of 60 per cent. Naturally he made a lot of enemies because he was taking power away from the promoters, but he was always scrupulously honest with his clients and he did battle on their behalf. Grant himself became very wealthy, but he was always scruffily dressed with patched elbows on old jackets."

Grant rarely wore a suit and often turned up in a first class lounge wearing an old T-shirt and a coonskin hat. His gloomy offices in King's Road in London were stocked with second-hand furniture. He said, "I don't need to put on a show. It's all bullshit. The only thing that impresses people is Led Zeppelin's music. I don't need a fancy office."

Despite his gigantic presence (he was overweight for many years), his voice could be quite softly spoken, with a Hitchcockian hint of Cockney. Somehow the soothing politeness of a phone call from "G", as he was known, only added to the menace. What he most unjoyed was "winding people up". When a nervous advertising man from Melody Maker called to proffer Grant a pounds 500 colour transparency of Zeppelin for use in an "advertorial" Grant seized the picture and set it on fire with a cigarette lighter.

When Zeppelin trashed a Seattle hotel room, Grant had to pay the manager for damages in cash. The manager said: "I'd love to be able to do that - just wreck a hotel room and get away with it." Grant took out $5,000 in dollar bills and said: "Here, have one on me." The manager smashed up the room of his choice.

Born in London in 1935, Peter Grant was raised by his mother in the East End and endured considerable poverty. He was evacuated during the Second World War, and left school at 13 for a job as a sheet metal worker. He worked as a Fleet Street messenger before being called up for National Service. He reached the rank of Corporal in the Army, then returned to Civvy Street, where he was employed as a bouncer at the 21s Coffee Bar. Here he met many rising young rock 'n' roll stars, including Mickie Most, who later joined forces with him in business. Grant also fought several bouts as an all-in wrestler and had many acting roles in television plays and movies, usually playing a tough guy.

He was lured back to the music business and his physical strength and tough upbringing made him an ideal tour manager when he worked for promoter Don Arden in the early Sixties. He went on the road with Gene Vincent, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He also worked with the Animals and the Yardbirds and was dedicated in his efforts to get the bands paid by promoters, without delay.

When the Yardbirds quit, their guitarist Jimmy Page immediately asked Grant to be his manager for a new venture which became Led Zeppelin. Grant was fully experienced on the American touring scene, unlike most British managers of the time who rarely ventured out of their offices even to visit their artists.

Grant insisted on a strict policy of no television appearances or single releases. He developed a mysterious, underground aura about the band, even though they were selling out huge concerts and albums like Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II by the truckload. His policy, often infuriating to record companies who wanted to exploit obvious hits like "Whole Lotta Love", ensured that the band were not over- exposed, and they remained at the top for a decade. It was Grant who was at their side when they topped the bill at the great festivals, climaxing with their Earl's Court shows in 1971, and ending with the 1979 Knebworth concerts.

Zeppelin broke up in the aftermath of John Bonham's death in 1980. In the years following, Grant kept a low profile, often suffering from ill- health and losing much of the weight that had made him such a formidable figure. After negotiating a solo deal for Robert Plant he gave up management and went into retirement, living on the south coast, occasionally receiving rock journalists to regale them with stories of Zeppelin's golden days (and then telling them they couldn't print a word of it). There were plans afoot by his fellow entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren to make a film of his life-story, with a script by Barry O'Keefe who wrote The Long Good Friday, but this had apparently lapsed into abeyance.

Peter Grant most appreciated the qualities of honesty and loyalty. He was much loved and admired by all who knew the man behind the image. Elvis Presley once berated his band for not playing well enough in front of "Mr Grant", out in the audience. After a recent concert by the Everly Brothers at the Royal Albert Hall, Phil Everly presented Grant with a silver cane, and told party guests: "This man made it all possible. Without his efforts musicians had no careers. He was the first to make sure the artist came first and that we got paid properly."

For services to music Grant was inducted into the Roll of Honour at the annual dinner of the International Managers' Forum held at the London Hilton two months ago.

In the summer Grant went to see his old friends Robert Plant and Jimmy Page play a reunion concert at Wembley. Plant paid tribute from the stage to the man who had been their mentor. Without him, there would have been no Led Zeppelin.

Chris Welch

Peter Grant, rock group manager: born London 5 April 1935; married (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved); died 21 November 1995.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in