The mighty Zeppelin first performs Kashmir for American audiences
While the epic Eastern-influenced "Kashmir" was first issued on the band's Physical Graffiti where it closed out side two of the double album, it had been recorded a full year before and had been played live at least a few months before it's official release. The genesis went further back still; the famed riff was based on the DADGAD tuning that guitarist Jimmy Page had used back in his Yardbirds days ("White Summer") and earlier in the Led Zeppelin repertoire ("Black Mountain Slide.")
“The descending chord sequence was the first thing I had—I got it from tapes of myself messing around at home. After I came up with the da-da-da, da-da-da part, I wondered whether the two parts could go on top of each other, and it worked! You do get some dissonance in there, but there’s nothing wrong with that. At the time, I was very proud of that, I must say.” (Page)
Beyond the overlapping riffs, Page had a grandiose vision for how the finished song might sound, embellished far beyond the guitar and punishing drums used to lay down the demos at Headley Grange in November, 1973 for initial recording of Physical Graffiti's basic tracks. "What I had in my mind was the riff and the cascades, which is electric 12-string overdubs, but also brass on the final thing,” he says. “I had thought of the riff in orchestral terms, with cellos doing it, and this cascading brass, for the different colours of the orchestra. I didn’t know it would work, but I knew it ought to theoretically.”
While Page was developing an epic sonic experience, singer Robert Plant spent considerable time on the lyrics. He drew his inspiration from a suitably epic desert car journey through Morocco that he and Page undertook in 1973. "The whole inspiration came from the fact that the road went on and on and on. It was a single-track road which neatly cut through the desert. Two miles to the East and West were ridges of sandrock. It basically looked like you were driving down a channel, this dilapidated road, and there was seemingly no end to it. 'Oh, let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams …"
By the time Plant had heard a more finished version of the song, he recognized that it was in its own way as potentially powerful as any dust storm he and Page might have encountered.
"It was an amazing piece of music to write to, and an incredible challenge for me… Because of the time signature, the whole deal of the song is… not grandiose, but powerful: it required some kind of epithet, or abstract lyrical setting about the whole idea of life being an adventure and being a series of illuminated moments. But everything is not what you see. It was quite a task, 'cause I couldn't sing it. It was like the song was bigger than me. It's true: I was petrified, it's true. It was painful; I was virtually in tears."
The differences to the present in comparison to the recorded track is evidence that Led Zeppelin were playing "working" versions to coincide with what would be their first album in two years. A journalist covering their concert in Houston on 27 February 1975 (three days after Physical Graffiti's official release) told Robert Plant how impressed he was with this new song they were playing, particularly the lyrics. Plant responded by gifting him this manuscript.
The "Kashmir" written by Plant during the band's stay at The Whitehall has minor changes to the album track, possibly as a mnemonic aid as they played new tracks from their sixth record. (The present lacks one stanza and the typical Plant "ooh Baby" closing as well as "desert stream" here written as "screen" and "flaunt the straits" rather than "along" them.)
Any contemporary primary material from the most legendary band of the era is of the greatest rarity on the market, we can trace no other comparable Led Zeppelin manuscripts at auction.
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