The True Story Behind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Royal Orleans

The True Story Behind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Royal Orleans | I Love Classic Rock Videos

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The renowned Led Zeppelin song “Royal Orleans” has long captivated fans with its intriguing lyrics and the purported tale of a night bassist John Paul Jones spent with a drag queen. However, an in-depth interview conducted in 2001 with Jones sheds new light on the story behind the song, revealing discrepancies in the narrative crafted by Led Zeppelin singer and lyricist Robert Plant.

Furthermore, Jones discredits the details presented in Zeppelin biographer Stephen Davis’ book, “Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga,” which further contributed to the popular belief that the lyrics represented a true story. Let’s explore the true events and unravel the myths surrounding “Royal Orleans.”

Contrary to Plant’s lyrical portrayal, Jones clarifies that the events described in “Royal Orleans” were not entirely accurate. While the song is based on a genuine experience the band had during a tour in Louisiana, Jones asserts that Davis’ book got the facts wrong, thereby reinforcing Plant’s fictionalized version.

Discrediting the supposed accuracy of Plant’s lyrics based on Davis’ account, Jones states:

“It got all the stories the wrong way around.”

The Misunderstood Encounter

Plant’s lyrics in “Royal Orleans” hint at a romantic encounter involving a member of Led Zeppelin who unwittingly found themselves with a drag queen. However, Jones clarifies that he was not the one involved in the drag surprise, as Plant implies. According to Jones, it might have happened to another member of the group. He highlights that he was acquainted with the drag queen named Stephanie and that he knew her true identity, contradicting Plant’s lyrical fabrication.

Referring to Plant and Bonham’s unfamiliarity with the metropolitan New Orleans scene, Jones mentions:

“Robert was a bit provincial… [Plant and Bonham] weren’t like big city boys. They don’t like all that sort of thing.”

The Fiery Incident

One element Plant accurately portrays in his lyrics is the aftermath of Jones’ night at The Royal Orleans hotel. After a night of revelry on Bourbon Street, Jones and Stephanie did fall asleep in his hotel room, and a fire broke out. Jones admits to accidentally setting fire to the room by falling asleep while smoking. He recalls waking up to find the room engulfed in flames and the presence of firefighters. Fortunately, both Jones and Stephanie escaped unharmed from the incident, as confirmed by Jones in an interview with Mojo Magazine.

The Origin of the Mix-up

Jones provides insight into the potential origin of the mix-up surrounding “Royal Orleans.” Plant, without explicitly mentioning Jones in the lyrics, refers to the main character as John Cameron, a musician whom Jones had a competitive relationship with during his time as a session musician in London before Led Zeppelin achieved fame. This connection might have contributed to the confusion and the erroneous depiction of events.