The song Led Zeppelin would jam to as a warm-up before every show

Beyond a swell of musical brilliance, two clear elements defined the live shows that Led Zeppelin put on: a penchant for the darker side of life and a passionate predilection to improvise. In the end, both would be their undoing. John Bonham died due to alcohol misadventure, and his instinctive ability to ad-lib rhythms with his bandmates made him irreplaceable, so they had to call it a day falling his tragic death.

However, during their time together, Led Zep established such esteem on stage that Dave Grohl confidently calls them “the greatest rock band of all time”. This is a bold statement that many people who witnessed them live would agree with. One song played a particularly pivotal part in their live development: every night before a show, the band would warm up by jamming to Donovan’s ‘Season of the Witch’.

The song satisfied the band’s two central tenets: riotous jamming potential and an aura of the occult. Firstly, when it comes to improvisation, the song arose after John Renbourn showed Donovan a D-9th chord. It is structured around this and an A creating a simple pattern with plenty of chance to get fruity, as Donovan explains himself: “‘Season of the Witch’ continues to be a perennial influence because it allows a jam – not a 12-bar or Latin groove, but a very modern jam.”

Continuing, he added: “Led Zeppelin used to warm up every day to it on the road during the soundcheck. It makes me very proud that I’ve created certain forms that other bands can get off on, to explore, be experimental, or just break the rules.”

Not only did Led Zeppelin like to warm up with the track because of its open potentiality, there are plenty of simple exercises for that, but the song’s darkness also helped to set the right tone for their shows. Led Zeppelin, more so than just about every other single band, signified the zeitgeist’s switch from the happy idealism of the 1960s to a much more rugged and brooding period where heavy industry made metal a more fitting enterprise.

As Donovan told Mojo regarding the song’s very inception: “There was a feeling, even then, that all was not perfect in the Garden of Eden. Dealers were moving into bohemia and hard drugs were on the fringes. The song was also prophetic. It was about the bust, although of course I couldn’t know that then.” This sense of trouble in hippy paradise made it perfect for Led Zeppelin to hone their own sound and divergence from peace and love platitudes.

However, despite warming up with it before almost every show, the band sadly never actually played it live in a concert. That said, you can see Robert Plant and Duran Duran’s Andy Taylor perform it below.

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