This Day in Music, July 29: We Was Robbed!

By , Contributor

On this day in 1973, Led Zeppelin lost $203,000 when a thief raided their safe deposit box and made off with the cash from two Madison Square Garden concerts in New York City. The theft took place at The Drake Hotel in New York where the group were staying. The hotel, on Park Avenue, was the preferred accommodation in New York for a number of touring bands during this period. The hotel had always attracted celebrity guests - Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Muhammed Ali were all regulars.

Led Zeppelin's 1973 North American tour, shortly after the release of Zeppelin's fifth album, Houses of the Holy, was their ninth in less than five years and was divided into two legs.

All was going rather well for the English group. The years of constant touring in the U.S had paid off - number 1 albums, sold-out shows, Zeppelin had been continually smashing attendance records. On May 5 at Tampa Stadium, Florida, they played to 56,800 fans (breaking the record set by The Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965), and grossed $309,000. In total, this tour grossed over $4,000,000.

During this period, Zeppelin were flying high, and rarely disappointed their fans live; their shows had developed into two- and sometimes three-hour marathons with the introduction of dry ice, laser effects, hanging mirror balls, and pyrotechnics. You got your money’s worth at a Zeppelin show.

It was also during this tour that Zeppelin hired for the first time The Starship - a former United Airlines Boeing 720B passenger jet, complete with bar, shower room, TV, and video in a 30-foot lounge and a white fur bedroom. The exterior of the plane had 'Led Zeppelin' emblazoned down the side of the fuselage. Rock and roll!

This ninth U.S. tour culminated with the three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York. These dates were filmed for Zeppelin’s motion picture, The Song Remains the Same which, when released, documented the theft of $203,000 of the group's money from the hotel just before their final show.

Tour manager Richard Cole, who discovered the theft, was arrested as a suspect and was taken ‘downtown’ to be questioned by police. At this stage of his career, Cole was responsible for collecting box office takings and keeping receipts on behalf of the band. Cole was entrusted with the key to the safe deposit box and was the first person at the scene to discover that the money was unaccounted for. Cole took a lie detector test and was cleared of any involvement.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be the person who had to pass on the news of the theft to Zeppelin’s now legendary manager Peter Grant. Can you imagine? “Hi Pete, just thought I should flag up, we appear to have lost a bit of cash from the shows”.

“How much have we lost?”

“Well, only around $200,000”.

Rumours have always persisted that the crime was an inside job perpetrated by employees of the hotel. The NYPD continued to investigate but drew a blank. Whoever it was clearly got away with it scot free; $203,000 was a lot of money back in 1973!

The band later sued the Drake Hotel for the theft.

Someone somewhere made a lot of money from those Zeppelin shows! 

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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