For Unity MacLean, 75, the death of Jeff Beck this week hit home as her memories lingered to the high-velocity music scene of the 1970s which she was thrust into ‘accidentally’ in her 20s with the help of the guitar legend.
After hearing the news of Beck’s death MacLean told DailyMail.com that she was ‘really sad’ and revealed that the rock star had been the reason she was able to land a job as the publicist for English rock group Led Zeppelin.
Beck died aged 78 this week from Bacterial meningitis – which requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics with some 10 per cent of cases are fatal.
The 78-year-old was among the rock-guitarist pantheon from the late ’60s that included Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix and had just finished a transatlantic tour with Johnny Depp as they promoted their debut album ’18.’
Unity MacLean (pictured here in her 20’s), now 75, recalls the moment guitar legend Jeff Beck helped her land a job with famed English rock band Led Zeppelin in 1975- thrusting her into a illustrious career for five years with the band
Beck died aged 78 this week from Bacterial meningitis – which requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics with some 10 per cent of cases are fatal
MacLean had been working for CBS Records when a chance pint at the pub, adjacent to the studio, in 1975 changed her trajectory and saw her rubbing shoulders with some of music history’s greats.
The 75-year-old now runs a British Imports shop in downtown Plymouth, but at the peak of Zeppelin’s fame recalls how she tumbled down the rabbit hole for five years – at a time when the bands prowess was beginning to be drowned by debauchery.
Speaking to the Boston Globe, MacLean remembers the moment her life changed.
‘Everybody came in from the studio to have a drink and Jeff Beck was there,’ she said.
‘I just happened to say I was fed up working for CBS and is anybody looking for anyone to work for them? There was a deathly silence, but then Jeff turned around and said, ‘If I hear of anything, I’ll let you know.’
Thinking she wouldn’t hear from Beck again, she silently suffered in her job, telling Creem magazine that she had started at the record company temporarily filling in as a secretary then moving into a marketing role.
Beck died just weeks after the former Yardbirds star finished a transatlantic tour with Johnny Depp as they promoted their debut album ’18’
‘They started hiring kids who went to college for marketing, people who sold baked beans or Campbell soup, which wasn’t my style. I knew my time at CBS was over and it was time to look around,’ she said.
The then 27-year-old said she was ‘staggered’ when she heard back from Beck’s secretary about a week after the pub encounter who said she had heard she’d been looking for a job.
Beck’s advice: Ring up Peter Grant, Zeppelin’s notoriously difficult manager ‘he’s looking for someone,’ the secretary said, ‘and Jeff says you can use his name.’
After landing the job, MacLean said working with Grant, who died of a heart attack in 1995, was her next challenge.
She said, he’d show up at the office with ‘bagful’s of smack and cocaine, stick an ordinary key in some cocaine, and put it under your nose.’
‘I was always fired anytime Peter got angry with me. I used to phone up Richard [Cole, the band’s tour manager] and he’d say, ‘Oh, take no note. Peter will forget about it in the morning. See you in the office, luv, bye.’
Once installed at Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, MacLean worked out of a two-story office from 1975 until 1980. She watched, helplessly, as the band slowly disintegrated. Guitarist Jimmy Page’s decline was particularly disturbing.
‘Jimmy was so lost in his haze that it was difficult to know how he would be from one day to the next,’ she told the Boston Globe in 2003.
‘He could be hours, days late for rehearsal. It got to the point where Robert [Plant] would say, `We’re going to start at 2, which means Jimmy won’t be there until 5, so we won’t get there until 5.’ When Jimmy worked that out, he didn’t get there until 7. It was a bit of a game.’
She said that John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham treated his body like the drum kits he pummeled and was prone to binges and blackouts.
‘When he was in a good mood he was a pussycat, very gregarious, generous to a fault,’ she said.
‘He’d always be the one to say to me, ‘You’re doing a great job, we really appreciate having you here.’
Once installed at Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, MacLean worked out of a two-story office from 1975 until 1980
MacLean said she watched, helplessly, as the band slowly disintegrated. Guitarist Jimmy Page’s decline was particularly disturbing. The band seen here at the Bath Festival in 1970
‘But he was not the sort of person you’d want to be around when he was angry. Sometimes you thought he must be joking because he was so angry.’
John Paul Jones played the strong, silent type she recalled.
‘They called him ‘Gentleman Jonesy,’ ‘ MacLean said.
‘He’d always be presentable, in tiptop form. Just a kind of ordinary guy.’
Robert Plant wore fancy turquoise jewelry and big belts and looked very dapper, she said of the vocalist.
‘Whereas Jimmy would ask the girls in the office to hem his pants because they’d be dragging along the ground,’ she said.
Bonham, Jones, and Plant were ‘beholden’ to Page despite his ‘waiflike’ appearance, she said.
But his business sense and musical agility dissipated as his drug intake took hold.
MacLean admits to using cocaine ‘after business hours’ but said being a witness to the downward spiral of Zeppelin’s inner circle kept her in check.
An incident at a Christmas office party typified the unstable atmosphere, she said.
‘There was a commotion in the hall downstairs. Jimmy’s girlfriend Charlotte had been looking everywhere for him, and he was saying, ‘Tell her I’m not here.’
‘When she saw Jimmy she whacked him across his face. Blood was all over the wall because she had thick rings on. I was amazed at the violence.’
The end of MacLean’s Led Zeppelin career came after drummer John Bonham choked to death on his own vomit after he had downed about 40 shots of vodka.
‘I waited three months and quit,’ she told me.
The 75-year-old now runs a British Imports shop in downtown Plymouth, but at the peak of Zeppelin’s fame recalls how she tumbled down the rabbit hole for five years
MacLean moved to Plymouth from London in the 1980s and runs the shop which sells a wide variety of food, drinks and supplies to bring Britain to America
‘I was pregnant…and didn’t want to bring a child into a world surrounded by people who were dying or hell-bent on killing each other.’
This week, MacLean said Beck’s passing sparked memories of the pub exchange and the unexpected follow-up that ‘changed my life radically.’
‘This makes me really sad. I was the lucky one I got the job and worked with Zep until Bonzo died and I felt it time to leave,’ she said.
‘Thank you, Jeff, thank you and your office for getting me a great job with lots of great memories. Thank you for being kind, thank you for everything.’
Beck died aged 78 after contracting bacterial meningitis. The rock star passed away ‘peacefully’ on Tuesday, his agent revealed on Wednesday night.
Bacterial meningitis is an infection of the membranes (meninges) that protect the spinal cord and brain.
It requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics. Some 10 per cent of bacterial cases are fatal.
His family shared the heartbreaking news on his Twitter page along with a picture of the star on stage with his trademark shades and guitar.
It came just weeks after the former Yardbirds star finished his tour with Depp as they promoted their debut album ’18’ – which is nominated for three Brit Awards in the UK.
The pair became close friends in recent years and were seen out drinking in Britain together late last year.
Beck first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera.
He was known for his improvising, love of harmonics and the whammy bar on his preferred guitar, the Fender Stratocaster.
Beck first came to prominence as a member of the Yardbirds and then went out on his own in a solo career that incorporated hard rock, jazz, funky blues and even opera
He was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’
Beck won eight Grammy Awards and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice – once with the Yardbirds in 1992 and again as a solo artist in 2009.
He was ranked fifth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.’
Beck played guitar with vocalists as varied as Luciano Pavarotti, Macy Gray, Chrissie Hynde, Joss Stone, Imelda May, Cyndi Lauper, Wynonna Judd and Buddy Guy.
He made two records with Rod Stewart – 1968’s ‘Truth’ and 1969’s ‘Beck-Ola’ – and one with a 64-piece orchestra, ‘Emotion & Commotion.’
Beck’s career highlights included joining with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice to create the power trio that released ‘Beck, Bogert and Appice’ in 1973, tours with Brian Wilson and Buddy Guy and a tribute album to the late guitarist Les Paul, ‘Rock `n´ Roll Party (Honoring Les Paul).’
Geoffrey Arnold Beck was born in Surrey, England, and attended Wimbledon Art College.
His father was an accountant, and his mother worked in a chocolate factory. As a boy, he built his first instrument, using a cigar box, a picture frame for the neck and string from a radio-controlled toy airplane.
He was in a few bands – including Nightshift and The Tridents – before joining the Yardbirds in 1965, replacing Clapton but only a year later giving way to Page.
During his tenure, the band created the memorable singles ‘Heart Full of Soul,’ ‘I´m a Man’ and ‘Shapes of Things.’
Beck’s first hit single was 1967´s instrumental ‘Beck’s Bolero,’ which featured future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, and future Who drummer Keith Moon.
The Jeff Beck Group – with Stewart singing – was later booked to play the 1969 Woodstock music festival but their appearance was canceled. Beck later said there was unrest in the band.
‘I could see the end of the tunnel,’ he told Rolling Stone in 2010.