I first saw Peter Grant on a documentary on his life on TV. I hadn't known that the documentary would be on and missed half of it, so my first sight of Grant was the famous dressing room scene (the docu lifted it from The Song Remains the Same) where he demands an explanation from concert staff on the sale of illegal photos. What an image! This incredibly sized bloke intimidated me and I was only in my front room watching TV, so how these guys felt (they seemed to shrink the angrier Grant got until they were in danger of falling through the floorboards), well, I can only imagine. Letting illegal photos be sold surely wasn't worth the almighty wrath of this formidable guy!
My first impression of Grant was a good one to have. He was the fifth member of Led Zeppelin and cared so passionately that the band were paid their due that woebetide anyone who thought otherwise. He used his considerable frame and intellect to bully anyone who crossed him, be it a record exec. or a bootlegger. In doing his job so successfully he was arguably the most important manager in rock and roll history. Certainly more beneficial to his band than, say, Brian Epstein was to the Beatles. For Grant saw to it that his band were paid a fair percentage for the music, the merchandise and the tours.
Unheard of in the music industry up to that point (and probaly since, come to think of it)!
Grant was born in South Norwood, south London, on April 5, 1935. He attended Sir Walter St John School in Grayshott when evacuated during the 2nd World War and returned to secondary school in South Norwood. South Norwood is an area I know well. Sandwiched between Croydon and Selhurst on one side and the more affluent Crystal Palace peering over it on the other side, it certainly isn't the worst place in London but it is nowhere near the best. I've tried to imagine what it would have been like to have grown up there in the 30s and 40s. Today, it is run down in areas, a place waiting to be reborn on the whispers that the tube network might extend there and breathe new life into its old bones. You can see its past majesty in some of the Victorian and Edwardian houses that still stand, testimony to the fact that once luminaries like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle lived there and Lillie Langtrey came from there. Perhaps it was a half-decent place to live in the area during the years of Grant's childhood but the Croydon area as a whole has changed so much due to it being so heavily bombed during the war, and the ugliest grey skyscrapers and buildings known to man springing up, that it is so hard to tell. But let's put it this way: it wasn't a place Grant cared to live in once he had made some money!
When he was 13 he left school and became a stagehand at the Empire Croydon theatre. Other jobs included stints as a sheet metal worker and a photography job at Reuters.
After completing his National Service, he worked for a season at a holiday camp and then as entertainment manager of a hotel in Jersey. Working as a doorman at a Soho coffee bar was next, where he met Mickie Most, who was a waiter. He also did wrestling to make ends meet as well as some bit-part acting.
By chance he started tour managing for rock and roll acts which included Gene Vinvent, Jerry Lewis, Little Richard and the Everly Brothers. Thereafter, he started managing acts and one of them was a group from Newcastle, the Alan Price R&B Combo who became the Animals.
In 1964, Grant and Most formed RAK Music Management. They set up offices in Oxford Street and their stable included Jeff Beck and Terry Reid.
When in 1966 the group the Yardbirds were going through a management crisis, their then manager Simon Napier Bell (btw check out his site by clicking here; he's always on top form!) brought in Grant to sort things out, especially to try and make some kind of profit from touring. He did and did it so well that he assumed control of the band! More importantly, it began his association with Jimmy Page who he got on from the word go. When the band disintegrated, Grant showed unswerving loyalty to Page and confidence in Page's ability to succeed. He also inherited the Yardbirds' name, so when they reformed with Page and new band members, and, in turn, changed the name to Led Zeppelin, he became their manager.
He played an integral part in the success of the band and just some of the reasons why he was considered almost as important as the four band members are listed as follows:
- He would go on tour with the band in the States while other managers would have just sat in their office in London.
- He ensued that all royalties owed to the band were paid in full.
- Constant touring would grind down a musician so he ensured the band's live appearances were spaced out. Perhaps that it one of the most important reasons for the band lasting 12 years.
- He ensured that band members were paid on time, and demanded publicity and artistic control by the band.
- He believed in the album concept, and that the album was a band's reason for being, not to churn out singles. A band could make far more money with an album, he reasoned.
- He kept TV appearances to a minimum. If someone wanted to experience Led Zeppelin live then they should pay to attend one of their concerts.
- He never shafted the fan. Yes, he wanted them to see the band play live but never charged the high prices of contemporary acts like Elton John and the Rolling Stones.
- He never wanted to see the fan or the band shafted. He loathed bootleggers, not only because they were stealing money from the band, but the quality of the bootleg was invariably poor and the fan was being sold a crap product at a high price.
- In 1969, he was instrumental in setting up Led Zeppelin's publishing company, Superhype.
- In 1974, he was integral in the creation of Swan Song Records. This company gave Led Zeppelin further financial and artistic control over its own products.
To anyone who crossed Grant he could be foul. For example, in 1977, at a concert in Detroit, he and members of his security team beat close to death a security guard who had shoved Grant's young son, Warren. To others however, those close to him, he was, by all accounts, as caring and loyal a friend as you could find.
Family and home and classic cars were important to him. Family was his wife Gloria and their two children. Homes over the years included until 1976 a fourteenth-century estate called Horselunges Manor in Sussex, complete with its own moat; and a Tudor mansion in Surrey which housed his large collection of antique cars.
With the death of Led Zeppelin's drummer, John Bonham, in 1980, came the end of the band. By 1983, he had parted with all the surviving Zeppelin members. He never managed anyone again.
Grant had had his vices. He had always struggled against obesity (he had once topped 300-pounds) and had been addicted to heroin. But when he divorced his wife, Gloria, it was he who brought up their two children. And towards the end of his life he was clean of heroin, slimmed down and over the depression that swept over him in the years after Bonham's death. But on the afternoon of November 21, 1995 while driving with his son Warren, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was just 60 years old.
Peter Grant was buried on December 4, 1995 at St. Peter and St. Paul's churchyard, Hellingly, Sussex.