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Led Zeppelin In India: The True Story Behind The Secret Bombay Sessions

Updated: Apr 21

In October 1972, Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page travelled to Bombay to jam with Indian musicians. This is what happened…

Led Zeppelin's trips to India in the early 1970s have become the stuff of legend, partly due to the scarcity of details. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's initial journey to Bombay followed their Japanese tour in September 1971. Several months later, while en route to Australia in February '72, they discreetly entered India with their tour manager Richard Cole after being turned away from Singapore due to their appearance. Carrying their trusted 8mm film cameras, the trio explored Bombay via taxi.

In October 1972, Led Zeppelin's journey to India took an intriguing turn. After wrapping up their tour in Japan, Page, Plant, and Cole settled into Bombay's luxurious Taj Mahal hotel, where they even managed to squeeze in a performance. Their arrival in the country came at a time when Indian rock music was still in its infancy. There were several such bands in Bombay – chief among them being Atomic Forest, Human Bondage and Velvette Fogg – but they were almost wholly in thrall to Western imports.

“There was a nightclub downstairs at the Taj hotel where we used to perform as a rock band, and Plant and Page walked into our rehearsal,” he recalls. “I remember Plant sat on the drum set and nearly broke it, because he was hitting it so hard. He was all over the place. He wanted to connect. But Page was very quiet, just sitting around and not communicating too much. I thought they looked quite effeminate, which was really odd to me because they were so strong in their music and sound. It felt like a macho act, but in real life, they weren’t like that at all.

On the Monday night after their arrival, Plant and Page gave an impromptu concert at Bombay nightclub Slip Disc, accompanied by two local musicians. Bhende was in the audience that night. “The Slip Disc was really a hole, not a very huge place at all,” he says. “But it was packed. Plant and Page didn’t have any equipment, and hadn’t rehearsed. They just walked out on stage with the two musicians here [Xerxes Gobhai, bassist from Human Bondage, and Jameel Shaikh, drummer with Bhande’s own band, Velvette Fogg]. I remember Page going for a Stratocaster and it being in very bad shape, so he picked up my bandmate’s guitar, an old German thing, and played that instead. They started with Rock And Roll and played for 20 or 25 minutes. There was a long jam at the end, when Plant started talking about Bombay, then they did Black Dog. Plant and Page looked like they were having fun. The crowd went absolutely wild.”

Supposedly, the club's DJ, Arul Harris, recorded the show on cassette, which later ended up in the hands of Keith Kanga from Atomic Forest. Regrettably, the tape has vanished, along with clear recollections of the event. While Gobhai remembered performing "Whole Lotta Love," college student and journalist Khalid Mohammed claimed Zeppelin debuted "Kashmir," a tune disputed by experts who say it wasn't written until 1973.

Despite its spontaneity, the event garnered little press coverage. Nonetheless, the November edition of Bombay youth magazine Junior Statesman featured some snapshots from the gig, along with a brief interview.

“You know why we came?” Plant told the writer. “To see if we could set up a recording studio. But the customs regulations are tough, man. Like, it will take us six months to get our equipment out of Bombay airport.”

During that journey, Plant and Page, the latter equipped with a cutting-edge Stellavox quadraphonic tape machine, collaborated in the studio with a group of Indian classical musicians, arranged by Vijay Raghav Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar. The outcome, known as The Bombay Sessions and widely bootlegged, featured unique renditions of "Friends" and "Four Sticks," incorporating sarangi, sitars, and tablas. Although credited as the Bombay Symphony Orchestra, Page was dissatisfied with the session's quality. Upon returning to England, as Richard Cole recounts, the tapes were stored away, only to be released in 2015 as part of the deluxe reissue of Coda.

“They were idols of ours before they came here,” marvels Bhende, “so we just could not believe that a front-ranking band of that stature could perform in India. None of us could have ever dreamt it was going to happen.”



Since first publishing this article I've stumbled upon what is apparently the full sessions recorded in India. The track listing is as follows -

01 - Friends Rehearsals

02 - Four Sticks Rehearsal

03 - Friends Final Mix Take 1 With Vocals

04 - Friends Final Mix Take 2 With Vocals

05 - Four Sticks Final Mix Stereo

06 - Jimmy Page Acoustic (Demo)

How true it is that these are the full recordings? I can't help. But all the same they're very cool and Zeppelin always sound great with an Eastern influence (See The Battle Of Evermore on Un-Ledded)



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