Adam Bettcher, Getty Images All of the members of Disturbed are now committed to…
- Posted on Apr 4th 2008 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Discovered as a London doorman in the early years of rock 'n' roll, Grant parlayed his career as a grappler into work as a stuntman before becoming a tour manager in the early 1960s. His tireless work on behalf of the artists, demanding better treatment from promoters, earned him an opportunity to manage the Yardbirds, and he stayed with Jimmy Page when the guitarist formed his new group, Led Zeppelin.
By the mid-1970s, Zeppelin were the world's biggest concert attraction, and their appetite for destruction was legendary. When the group arrived in San Francisco for two shows at the Oakland Coliseum in July 1977, something was bound to give: The promoter, Bill Graham, was himself infamously ruthless. "It was one empire-builder and marauder moving into an area where there was already an empire with some kind of Tatar head," recalled singer Robert Plant, always quick with the medieval references.
After members of the band's entourage administered an unprovoked beatdown to a Graham roadie, tensions were high. Backstage, another Graham employee caught Grant's young son taking nameplates off the dressing room doors, and he swiped them back. Grant and drummer John Bonham tracked down the roadie, accused him of hitting the boy and roughed him up.
Assured there would be no more violence, Graham took Grant to see the roadie, Jim Matzorkis. As soon as they stepped into the trailer, Graham would remember, Grant "took his fist with the fingers all covered with rings and smashed Jim in the face." The band's handlers dragged a helpless Graham out the door while Grant and security guard John Bindon proceeded to pummel the roadie all over the Winnebago, repeatedly punching him and kicking him in the crotch. Matzorkis has said that he finally managed to bull his way out the door when Grant tried to rip out his eyeballs.
Graham's own security staff wanted immediate retribution, but the promoter feared a riot if the second show was canceled. Instead, he promised, if he was unsuccessful in filing charges, he'd send 25 men to the band's next tour stop, in New Orleans, to settle the matter.
Meanwhile, Led Zeppelin's lawyers, seeking exoneration, insisted the promoter sign an indemnity waiver. But the waiver, Graham knew, was worthless, since he'd signed it under duress. After the show, he orchestrated a sneak attack, arranging for the arrests of Grant, Bonham, Bindon and the band's tour manager.
The defendants eventually avoided trial by pleading no contest, and they reached a settlement in a civil case. Graham and his people were disappointed with the legal results but were nonetheless pleased to give Grant his comeuppance. "It was like Nazi Germany... where people believed that might made right," the late promoter would recall.
For the band, the incident would flip a karmic switch, from good times to bad times. Leaving the Bay Area, Plant learned that his son had unexpectedly died of a stomach ailment. Shortly thereafter, Grant's deal to organize a European tour for Elvis Presley died with the King himself.
The Coliseum shows would prove to be the original band's last U.S. performances. Bonham died, choking on his own vomit, in 1980, and the band broke up. And Grant, after retiring from the business due to failing health, suffered a fatal heart attack while driving in England in 1995. His son was by his side in the car.