Philadelphia, PA – the Late 60s
I remember as kids we’d sometimes hang out in the basement with my dad in the evening after dinner. He would teach us to read and also read the entire book, The Hobbit to us. It was amazing. We’d sit on the carpet in our sweaters and he’d read it with feeling and do all the voices. I envisioned Bilbo and Frodo and the ring.
I remember him telling me, “you can’t hide behind a ring.”
Learning to read and being exposed to the arts and literature at a young age put us far ahead of our peers in school. The fundamentals I learned have carried me through my life.
Of course, there was music. My parents loved music. My mom listened to Andy Williams while she was ironing upstairs and my dad would be listening to classical music, The Who, and opera in the basement.
The first time I ever heard The Beatles, (Meet The Beatles and Hard Days Night, come to mind) The Who’s, Tommy, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix, from the soundtrack of the film, Easy Rider, David Clayton Thomas, Frank Sinatra, and Iron Butterfly all happened in our basement at our house in Lawndale.
My dad had some younger friends he’d met through the bank where he worked. They turned him on to some great music and also marijuana.
Iron Butterfly was from California and was a psychedelic rock band. Their most memorable song is In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. I loved listening to that song! 17 minutes of rock! I loved how it began as a traditional rock song and then went into two great guitar solos by a then-17-year-old, Erik Brann. Doug Ingle was the keyboard player and singer, Ron Bushy on drums, and Lee Dorman on bass. The song would then settle into a dark keyboard piece and then a cool drum solo. (Who didn’t bang that solo out on their desk in school as a kid?)
I also liked the 5 songs on the other side of the record. Especially, Most Anything That You Want, and Flowers and Beads. I would sit on one of the barstools and read all the liner notes on the back of the record jacket while listening. They were such a great band. I still listen to their songs today on YouTube and Spotify.
Iron Butterfly never really made it that big nationally or globally after that. But I think they were a major influence on many hard rock bands of the era. I think they would have sustained their career a bit longer had it not been for the arrival of a new band on the scene.
Iron Butterfly was headlining a show in California. A couple of little know acts opened the show and then the warm-up act came on to do their set before the headliner, Iron Butterfly.
The warm-up act went onstage and sonically burned down the stage. No one had ever seen anything like it. They were a blues-influenced rock band from England that supercharged the genre. The crowd went wild over the sound of this new band. The sheer ferocity of the music was overwhelming. The caterwauling by the flaxen-haired singer, the blistering solos of the guitarist and the rumble and thunder of the bass player, and the bombastic power of the drummer blew the audience away.
This band wasn’t psychedelic. They were feral.
Doug Ingle from Iron Butterfly stood backstage watching this band apply their craft to the frenzied crowd. He spoke with one of his friends about what was happening.
“My god. They’re incredible. We sound tame compared to them. How can we even go on after that set?”
“They’re an amazing band for sure.”
“Who the hell are those guys?”
“They’re the New Yardbirds. They call themselves… Led Zeppelin.”
And that was the beginning of the end for Iron Butterfly.
Jimmy Page had been known to be a thief in his early days in music. The story of their name goes back to a conversation someone was having with The Who’s drummer, Keith Moon. He said that Jimmy Page’s New Yardbirds would probably take off like a lead balloon. Jimmy heard about this and decided to name his band Led Zeppelin, with the word “Lead” spelled Led, so that stupid Americans wouldn’t pronounce it as “lead with a long E”. He liked the name because he wanted his band to be heavy but also light at the same time regarding their sound.
But I think he stole the idea for the name Led Zeppelin from Iron Butterfly. If you look at the liner notes on the back of Iron Butterfly’s record you’ll see that right at the beginning they break down what the name of their band means.
Iron – Symbolic of something “heavy” as in sound.
Butterfly – Light, appealing and versatile. An object that can be used freely in imagination.
I always liked when my father said it. “Iron Butterfly.”
At this moment I can hear the tone in his words. The exact sound of his voice. He sort of held the word butterfly as if he had caught that beauty in his net.
Then he’d put the record on and I’d live the next 17 minutes enthralled as I spun on the chair in our basement in Lawndale. The sound of eerie keyboards and growling guitars, tribal beats, pterodactyls, and psychedelic energy poured forth from the Columbia speakers on the windowsill and mantle.
I thought… I’d love to make that. If I ever learn how to play guitar, that’s the kind of music I want to make. The Beatles are nice and all, but this just feels different. Like it’s calling me to step into the Garden of Eden.
We’ve all heard the stories of Jimmy Page blatantly stealing from other artists early in his rock career. They opened for a band called Spirit. There are claims Jimmy stole the riff from one of their songs to create Stairway to Heaven. There have been lawsuits about this.
Jimmy was determined to build the perfect hard rock band. But I don’t think the Kieth Moon story is the real origin of the name. I think Jimmy simply stole the idea and made a variation of it for his band.
Look at the name Def Leppard. That’s an obvious nod to Zeppelin. Thieves or not, I love all of these bands, and rock n roll is one of the greatest bastards in music. They’ve all been influenced and stolen from each other. This has happened in every sector of music in the world.
Besides… It’s only Rock n’ Roll.
I guess I always liked when my dad said the words, “Iron Butterfly”… because now I realize he was describing me.
On a final note… “Led Zeppelin is clearly the better band. But Iron Butterly is a way cooler name for a band than Led Zeppelin.” – Chaz
My Wildwood book is coming out this summer! Stay tuned!!
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