Bucks Burnett has met most of his music idols, and he's not afraid to share the details. In this column, he reveals tales from the front lines and backstage.
I found about about the 2007 Led Zeppelin reunion when I received an email with "Led Zeppelin Reunion" in the subject header. I thought that it was spam or maybe a hallucination until I saw the sender’s name: Jimmy Page’s former spouse, Jimena Paratcha Page.
“The band is getting together for a one-off concert in London on November 26," the email read. "Please keep this private as it won’t be announced until Wednesday. Let me know if you want tickets and passes.”
This was in late September 2007. When I read the email, my jaw dropped. Could this really be happening? After a few minutes of stunned silence, I replied "yes" and "thanks." It was that easy.
After the show was announced and the global media exploded, a lottery ticket system was set up and more than 20 million emails from all over the world crashed the system. Twenty thousand people bought tickets. Fans worldwide felt the heartbreak of being excluded. Many prayed for a tour announcement that never came. I thanked my lucky stars. I’m still thanking them.
I first met Jimmy Page in Houston in 1985, when I served as live-in butler and personal assistant to Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane. We hit it off that night and have remained close friends since. I met Jimena Paratcha Page in 1997 at Jimmy Page’s London home, Tower House, when we gathered to attend a Paul Rodgers show at the Royal Albert Hall.
By 2007, there was no reason to believe that the three remaining members of Led Zeppelin would ever reunite, but suddenly it was happening. With flight booked, I waited and imagined. I had not seen Led Zeppelin since 1977, and a 30-year dry spell was about to end.
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The concert could have easily been canceled when, in early November, Jimmy Page fell in his garden and broke two fingers on his left hand. A postponement was announced, and after a week or so, the show was rescheduled for Dec. 10. Fans had to change thousands of flights and hotel reservations.
About a month before the show, I got a crazy idea: What if I could attend the show wearing a custom-made suit with the Houses of The Holy artwork on the pants and jacket? I was told this would be impossible, but thanks to a young seamstress in Austin by the name of Jess, I received my suit via FedEx one hour before I departed my house in Dallas for my flight to London.
I was still packing, and there wasn’t time to open the suit. I threw it in my suitcase, and about 20 hours later, I opened it in London and tried it on. As I checked the suit in the mirror, I realized I had, indeed, gone through the looking glass. This was getting real.
Jimena Paratcha Page kindly invited my party to journey down the Thames to the concert at the O2 Arena via a rented boat named Mercia. Imagine passing by Big Ben on a boat while chatting with Brian May and Juliette Lewis. It was that kind of night.
Once at the arena, I couldn't walk 20 feet without someone asking me to pose with them for a picture of my suit. It was a hit. I thought lots of people would show up in special Zeppelin attire, but it seemed I was the only one.
I didn’t see any of the opening acts. I was people-watching in the walkway.
What was it like being there? It was like Willy Wonka had printed 20,000 golden tickets for a private party with Led Zeppelin playing. All of us were wandering around, staring and waving at each other, chatting each other up. There were people of all ages and nationalities. We all had the feeling that this was our Woodstock. It was extraordinary.
When the lights went off, the arena erupted as the opening chords to “Good Times Bad Times” announced the beginning of a dream. The lights came on, and there they were again, at long, long last: John Paul Jones, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, with John Bonham’s son Jason filling in on drums. It was an incredible rush to see them together again. It was two hours of very loud disbelief.
“We’ve been told that people from 50 different countries are here tonight," Plant said near the end of the show. "This is the 51st.” And with that came the opening chords to “Kashmir.” The whole thing just left the planet. “Kashmir” played in London for a handful of fortunate believers — this was the fabled night when Led Zeppelin flew again, one last time.
The next day, I walked to a corner shop in my bathrobe and pajamas. I bought 10 different London daily newspapers, all with photos and reviews of the show on the front pages. The global media declared the event a bold triumph. I knew then, and I know now, that I had experienced something too incredible to fall within the reach of words.
In 2012,the Celebration Day CD and DVD were finally released. I attended the press conference for the launch in New York and ended up heckling a CNN reporter for being the fifth journalist in a row to ask about a reunion tour.
A year after that, in November 2013, I found myself back in Tower House in London for another surreal moment. Jimmy Page grinned as he signed his name near the signatures of Jones and Bonham on my Holy suit jacket.
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“I believe ya told me Robert [Plant] refused to sign this, right?” he asked.
“Yep,” I said.
“Well then," he said as a mad gleam sparkled in his eyes, "it might be worth something!”
I might be the luckiest Led Zeppelin fan on Earth. Ten years gone, and it still plays like a fantasy in my head, as if I were really there. Maybe I was.