Rock & Roll 'What If?!': The Police and Led Zeppelin

Left to right, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, John Bonham, and...Terry Reid?!
When you think about it, so many of the musical unions that have resulted in some of the greatest music ever made could have just as easily not happened.  We explore those possibilities in our ongoing series we like to call "Rock & Roll 'What If?!'"

THE POLICE

Police guitarist, Andy Summers
Andy Summers talks of a fateful random meeting with Stewart Copeland being instrumental in him joining The Police.  Sometimes when I'm trying to psyche myself up for one financially risky endeavor or another, I put myself in Summers' shoes and  imagine what he must have seen in Sting and Stewart's ramshackle punk experiment to walk away from his bread and butter as a hired gun who'd worked with Eric Burdon's NEW Animals, Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers, etc..  After all, he was 35 years old.  Did I mention that his wife was also pregnant with their first child?

Can you imagine that conversation?

ANDY: Hi Love, yeah, I picked up the pickles and peanut butter that you wanted.  Oh, you're eating them together?  That's a new one.  So, anyway, you know that band The Police I was telling you about?

ANDY'S WIFE, KATE: The one you said was horrible?

ANDY: Uh, yeah, about that, I know we're in kind of a pinch, what, with the baby coming and all, but I'm thinking of, you know, joining up with them.

KATE: But you said they were horrible.

ANDY: They are, but, you know, my gut tells me there's something there.  Sting has enough charisma to fill the room.

KATE: Yeah, but they're horrible AND the room only had eight people in it.

The mind boggles at the number of potentially great bands that never happened because the married musician with a kid on the way did the honorable thing and got a real job.

What if Andy's sense of responsibility had led him to focus on the more lucrative session work instead and The Police sans Summers promptly ran out of gas?  Let's face it, with Henry Padovani on guitar, they were mildly forgettable at best.

Stewart Copeland's a harder nut to crack.

If The Police hadn't happened, I can't really see him catching on with anything exciting.  Truth be told, he sounds like the spoiled rich son of a spook (and I'm not just saying that because he was one), an otherwise talented drummer whose ambition completely lacked focus.  Then, one day, blammo, "Hey, let's start a punk band!"

Actually, what makes The Police story all the more noteworthy is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that even comes close to providing a glimpse into the greatness that was to come.  Instead, they banged around for awhile and then just happened upon the reggae hybrid sound that became their trademark sound, a la "Roxanne", "Can't Stand Losing You", "Walking On The Moon".

LED ZEPPELIN

The other side of the coin is when connections don't get made and some other guy gets to sing for a famous rock band instead of you.

Living in L.A a few years ago, I was invited to a buddy's house for drinks one day.  Once I arrived, he introduced me to a few other friends and we exchanged first names like at any other typical get-together.   As I tried to pick up on a conversation already in-progress I heard the older guy sitting on my left with the British accent, name of Terry, offhandedly mention touring with Cream.

Uh, what?!

It turns out Terry was talking about opening for Eric Clapton's Cream in 1968.  Now, I had no idea Cream even used opening acts, or that the older guy with the British accent was Terry Reid, best known as "The Guy Who Almost Sang For Led Zeppelin".  Of course, being the Cheap Trick fan that I am, I've always known him as the guy who wrote "Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace", which Cheap Trick covered on their first album.  Hell, they didn't just cover it, they completely made it their own and it remains my favorite track on the album.

What Terry had mentioned so matter-of-factly - opening for Eric Clapton's late '60s supergroup - was actually a pivotal moment in rock & roll history.

See, ex-Yardbirds guitarist Jimmy Page was putting together a brand new band, dubbed The NEW Yardbirds, and offered Terry the gig.  Terry, of course, had come to Page's attention on the strength of his solo album, Bang Bang, You're Terry Reid.  Like any up-and-coming artist who had just landed a very key opening slot on one of the year's hottest tours, all he saw was the potential up-side to such a gig.  So when Jimmy Page called asking if he'd be interested in joining his band, Reid said something along the lines of, "Sorry mate, I'm going on tour with Cream!"  Of course, he was kind enough to recommend Robert Plant for the gig before hanging up.

Side note, Fans of the Romantics might be interested in knowing that Peter Solley (who produced all of their Nemporer/CBS releases except "Strictly Personal") played organ on the record in 1968, years before he joined Procul Harum.

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