1. Misty Mountain Hop
Stories are a verbal tradition that has lived almost as long as language itself; the songs of our forefathers become the fables of our actual fathers and forever on we go, immortal as long as we cherish the legacies that precede us.
But when does a story come to life?
In what case does a tale leap from imagination to reality in our own lives? Our story today is not about a general case, rather a very special guitar case, which over a long journey through stardom, saw the world anew with a new owner, before returning to the hands for which it was famous.
The life of this guitar case stores so much more than just the guitar. Like all guitar cases, it carries the stamps of every show along the road. It sees the rough times of touring and travel, and the highlights of performances and instruments. It rides every plane and savors every scuff, scratch and stumble as chapters of its own story…
It was 1969; the year of the final Beatles performance, the year Led Zeppelin I was recorded, the year Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, and the very year this humble company was opened by Keith Calton in the UK. This same year, Jimmy Page bought his famous Les Paul Number One from the incredible Joe Walsh in a now-legendary changing of the guitar guard. Along with it, a seemingly ordinary brown case, whose inconspicuous appearance would become the catalyst for its journey across the world and back.
2. Whole Lotta Love
In 1969, Jimmy Page had already seen the rise and fall of his first band, the Yardbirds. Still charged by his appetite for greatness, Page formed Led Zeppelin from a motley crew of acquaintances and interpersonal recommendations.. Robert Plant and John Bonham were both transplants from Band of Joy and although John Paul Jones and Jimmy had previously met, they were not particularly close.
This legion of strangers came to form one of the most influential Rock groups of all time. Led Zeppelin (having recently upgraded their name from ‘The New Yardbirds’) opened their journey in namesake under a record store on Gerard Street. It was just a matter of months before they were rocketed to top ten charts on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the midst of all of this change, Jimmy was in need of a new sound. Joe Walsh, a recent addition to the James Gang Band and just a few years from releasing Hotel California with The Eagles,had a solution. Joe felt a musician to the Caliber of Jimmy Page needed a Les Paul, and was willing to impart his own to Page for a mere $500 (Equivalent to $3,500 dollars today.)
“I just thought he should have a Les Paul, for god sakes”
Walsh proclaimed in an interview years later.
With it came our aforementioned guitar case, a simple, practical vessel which happened to house one of the most famous guitars of all time.
Historically, this guitar has become known as ‘Number 1’ and would go on to be played in the recording sessions for Led Zeppelin II — and on into the majority of albums and shows to follow. Its signature thin neck and unique sound would prove to be an essential ingredient for the rise of one of the greatest rock bands in history.
There have been countless retellings of Jimmy Page and how he wielded his Les Paul through the prodigious history of Led Zeppelin. But the story of Jeff Curtis is the chapter few have heard. He was just a teenager when he first heard Led Zeppelin II, hot off the press in 1969, and like many, he was immediately a devoted fan:
“…as soon I heard ‘Whole Lotta Love’”.
In the years preceding a tour in the US, Jeff taught himself music through many Led Zeppelin songs. His love would compel him to repeat attendance at Led Zeppelin concerts, and ultimately to actions that would lead to him inheriting a rock god relic.
In 1971 Jeff attended the band’s New York stop on their 7th concert tour of North America. While there, he found himself acquainted with a roadie named Mick Hinton, who happened to be the drum technician for none other than John Bonham. After a friendly exchange and some helpful travel tips, Mick and Jeff parted as little more than a footnote in each other’s lives.
It was only a year later though, when this trivial encounter would set the stage for a chance meeting between Jeff Curtis and Jimmy Page in a remarkable reunion nearly 50 years in the making.
3. Stairway to Heaven
When finally this copper-colored case arrived in New York on a hot summer day in June 1972, Jeff Curtis was just 17 years old; completely unaware of the historic piece he was soon to procure.
“It’s one of these things that you know, (I) can’t-make-stuff-up kind-of-thing”
He reminisced in an interview with our own Josh Jones.
It was the last of 2 shows in New York and a night Jeff Curtis continues to relive vividly, even 48 years later. Only a year after his first encounter with the megaband, Curtis eagerly returned to the show that started it all for him and found Mick Hinton for a second time.
“I walked up toward the stage … and I recognized him I yelled:
‘Hey Mick, how are you?’”
“Hey, how are you?” Mick replied happily.
In just brief moments, the two brisked through genial pleasantries before it seemed the situation would dissolve as little more than a friendly encounter.
But epics are not sung about anecdotal pleasantries. Jeff Curtis, a devout melomaniac possessed by the vibrant spirit all musicians share, indulged the irrational voice from which all climatic epiphanies derive, and made Mick a curious offer:
“After the show ends, can I come help you guys pack up your gear?”
It was that easy. That simple. A preposterous offer that any single person could have made at any time. It’s almost a ludacris concept that a band of history’s heroes, who assembled crowds innumerable across oceans and continents, and cultures through generations were barred only by a friendly, human offer to help.
“Sure,” said Mick.
That meager reply echoed in Curtis’ mind through electrifying performances of tracks across Led Zeppelin I through Led Zeppelin IV and still radiates in his own recounting today.
The show at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island had reached its 13,000 person capacity. The adoring crowds were rocked to a set list jamming hits like Immigrant Song, Since I’ve been Loving You, and Whole Lotta Love before returning for dual encores featuring Communication Breakdown and finally ending on Bring It On Home.
“Once the show ended, I went up to a row of seats that was behind the stage…
I yelled out: ‘Hey Mick can I come down and help you pack up?’ “
“Sure,” Mick recited.
“How do I get down there”
To which Mick replied in gesture, by hurling the nearest object he had for Curtis to use to prop open a door.
In an instant, Curtis ascended beyond the crowds of fans clamoring for drumsticks and pittance attention from their idols. The same, who now saw Curtis leaving through security and across the stage with Mick’s makeshift prop,none other than Jimmy Page’s guitar case.
When he finally joined Mick, they shared a moment of incredulity on realizing that, true to his word, Curtis was actually there to help, and not to simply flee with something as valuable as property of Jimmy Page’s.
The two then proceeded to ceremoniously break down John Bonham’s drums before packing down the remaining gear.
After the duo completed the stage breakdown and strike, they found themselves struggling to find an appropriate means to part ways.
In the very same nonchalant, pure thought process that had guided the evening so far, Mick saw fit to end the evening with a token of his appreciation.
“You know, you can have that” Mick said of the guitar case, now relegated to a far corner of the stage.
Maybe Mick didn’t realize the significance of this case– the same in which Joe Walsh had housed his Les Paul for years, before it was sold to Page. To Mick, it was wasted space, broken by the relentlessly violent terrain of airline baggage services, and already replaced with a more durable case. To Mick, it was not the original home to The Number One, the closest companion to Jimmy page through two albums, thousands of miles, and millions of fans. But to Mick, it was a perfect way to thank an unlikely friend for helping in the often stressful and thankless arena of stage managing.
“You see the back here. The back is kind of crushed a little bit. It doesn’t give the guitar protection anymore, and we’re getting rid of it.”
An object of Jimmy Page’s personal collection, was now to become property of Jeff Curtis.
Curtis composed himself enough to thank Mick and found he was struggling to make sense of the evening and how to carry on.
Before his mind could process the treasure he had just procured, his night took a wild new turn.
Endemic of unfathomably talented stars in their prime, Jimmy Page emerged like a mythical rock god from the green room, draped over a woman companion and nursing a beer with his free hand as they drifted to the limousine bound for Zeppelin’s next show in Boston.
Now showing a pattern for the impetuous and self-starting man he was to become, Curtis asked a bodyguard into letting him pass and called out to Page.
Jimmy Page, already then a legend, rockstar, and founder of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, smiled a surprisingly genuine smile when he heard his name. He set down his beer, excused himself from his company and moved to meet with Jeff Curtis.
They shook hands, which was only long enough for Curtis to distill his feelings about Jimmy in a short phrase:
“You’re just the greatest.”
Jimmy smiled again, and noticed the guitar case Curtis was holding.
“I see they laid that one on you.”
His facetious teasing still charms Curtis to this day
“He knew they were throwing it out that night and I was the lucky man that got it,”
said Jeff humbly. The legendary encounter, the incredible token, now punctuated by a joke from the owner.
With that, the two separated. Jimmy continued to lead his unstoppable career in music, and Jeff carried this moment in a guitar case he would cherish for the next 47 years.
4. Over the Hills and Far Away
The rest of the evening sprinted through Curtis’ consciousness like the last licks of Stairway to Heaven. From the final moments of wrapping up, to the last time he met with Mick, to the cautious car ride home where he cradled Jimmy Page’s guitar case like the priceless jewel it was.
The case was decorated with Led Zeppelin art and little mementos of every experience. Every place it had traveled, permanently adorned by the life lived as Page’s closest roadie. Curtis knew he held glory in his hands.
In so many cases, this would be a perfectly agreeable happily-ever-after. A story worth telling your friends and a prop to show for it.
In this case, like so many built in our Austin HQ, the stories a case can tell should survive through generations. Music is in the spirit of every element it encounters. From the instruments, to the musicians, to the audience that supports them. In this case, or rather in that brown case, were the stories of Jimmy Page, Joe Walsh, and now Jeff Curtis.
This case became Curtis’ most enduring companion, there for his marriage, the births of his children, and even along for his continued love of Led Zeppelin, who moved from an amazing rock band to one of the most essential influences to music and rock and roll since Elvis and the blues before him.
From a humble basement show beneath a record store, to breaking The Beatles’ previous concert attendance record with a staggering 56,800 people at their 1973 show in Tampa Bay, Florida, Curtis and this case cherished the amazing narrative of jimmy Page that they now all shared together.
Protected from any would-be thieves or collectors, Curtis held this artifact of rock history in secret through Led Zeppelin III and IV and into their final studio release In Through The Out Door.
He carried it through the 80s, through the tragic loss of John Bonham, through the formal breaking up of Led Zeppelin, through their reunion Live Aid performance in 1985, to even their reunion in Madison square garden in 88’ (the very same year Calton Cases landed their own North American establishment in Canada).
In the 90s, as Curtis was going through significant change in his own life, Jimmy Page and the remaining members began to wind down. After their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page made aims to work only as a duo, before abandoning those plans for more personal endeavors.
John Paul Jones had not been told about the pair’s reunion endeavor, and the riff in the band was further deepened.
It would seem that Led Zeppelin’s story was snuffed even in the lifetimes of its heroes, leaving only a word-of-mouth legacy for people like Curtis to carry.
That is, until their record-breaking O2 arena performance in 2007, just a year before Calton Cases changed hands for the first time. According to Guinness World Records 2009, the show set the record for “Highest Demand for Tickets for One Music Concert”: 20 million requests were submitted online.
With Jason Bonham filling in for his late father on drums, the show was a resounding critical success that propelled the band back to top-of-mind stardom, and reminded Curtis why he loved these heroes as he did.
5. When The Levee Breaks
It’s now 2019 in our epic. 47 years have passed since that fateful encounter in New York. In the ensuing decades, Jeff Curtis has been careful to preserve the guitar case for the essential value it is in the rock-and-roll mythos of Led Zeppelin. Meanwhile, Robert Plant is now fully invested in touring with Allison Krauss. John Paul Jones is actively producing music and working to further the industry as a whole. And Jimmy Page has forged an interest in preserving and archiving the incredible career of Led Zeppelin.
It’s the age of the internet, of social trending stories and fast moving information. Calton Cases has resided in Texas for 7 years,(marking it’s 51st birthday in 2020), Facebook is society’s first place to find news and for some reason Ariana Grande outsells Dave Grohl in concerts.
Jeff Curtis has watched Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin move in a full arch of their prominence as legends to folklore. He’s found success in his own life, established a career in banking, seen his daughters grow up, he’s even grown up a little himself. No longer a 17-year-old fan, he’s now faced with an interesting choice: what to do with this essential piece of rock and roll history.
Meanwhile, life had taken an unprecedented turn for Curtis as well. Diagnosed with leukemia, he was possessed by a new fight and a newfound sense of purpose; Jeff felt that it was time to consider where ultimately should become home for the guitar case he’d carefully guarded for almost 5 decades.
“There’s one of three things that’s going to happen with this case…”
He presumed aloud in our interview with Josh Jones
“It’s going to be inherited.”
“I sell it to a collector for a large sum of money…”
He paused, as if reliving the happy revelation all over:
“…and then I came up with a third idea, why don’t I try to get a hold of Jimmy Page…
and just give it back to him?”
Like a song stuck in his head, the idea underscored the object of his being. Soon, in every quiet moment, Jeff could not shake his obsession for how to return this treasure to Jimmy Page.
“I had thought of trying to contact him through his daughter Scarlett who has a photography business.
I thought of contacting Jason Bonham who’s played New York a few times. “
He ruled out a few more before coming to a theme of serendipity he’s been living now for decades.
“There was an exhibit in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that was entitled ‘Play it Loud: The Instruments of Rock and Roll’.
One of the instruments on display was Jimmy Page’s Number One Les Paul, the same guitar my guitar case held.”
Through all the exhibits, Curtis reasoned that whoever curated this collection must have some connection with Jimmy Page. He knew this person would know the significance of his case. On a placard he saw a recurring name: Jayson Dobney
On the way out, he asked how to get in touch with Mr. Dobney.
6. The Battle Of Evermore
As it turns out, Jimmy Page and his team were actively looking to reconnect Jimmy to artifacts and items throughout his career.
By way of Curtis’ now trademark method of strange inquiries with strangers, Jeff was able to procure contact information of the curator Jayson Dobney.
He called the number he received from the museum and was met with a skeptical assistant. On the line he told his unlikely story to the incredulous woman on the other end of the phone.
Maybe out of politeness, or kindness, or just through the same cosmic force that so often seems to put Jeff Curtis in the right place at the right time, she offered for him to send photos of the case so that they might consider the validity of his claim.
Jeff dutifully did as he was told and enough time passed for him to erroneously assume his endeavor was unsuccessful.
“Couple of weeks later I was now back in the hospital for a second treatment and my phone rings.”
‘“Hi. This is Perry. I work with Jimmy Page…I forwarded the email (of your guitar case) to Jimmy and we we both think it’s the real deal,”’
Jeff Curtis’ gamble was paying off.
They planned to meet and like a longtime friend, Jimmy wished Jeff a speedy recovery.
Now here’s where the whole thing becomes quite…Jeff-y. Like meeting the same roadie one year separated at a show, like working his way on stage to help pack up for his favorite band, like coming into a legendary guitar case from one of the most prestigious guitars in rock history, like finding an exhibit 47 years later that lead to direct contact with Jimmy Page’s team; like so many great moments in Jeff Curtis’ history, he happened to be at the right place at the right time:
Jimmy Page, who had not been back in the United States for years, was flying into New York City just days after they’d confirmed the validity of Curtis’ case.
“The timing of this is so incredible. It’s almost like you knew this was going to happen…”
Perry then concluded by committing Curtis in a simple text:
“Please set aside 2 p.m. September 15th to meet Jimmy Page.”
Through every hurdle, in spite of so many strange obstacles and every possible alternative, Jimmy, Jeff and the Original Number One guitar case were all going to be reunited, back in New York where it all began.
7. Thank You
When that day in September arrived, Jeff, his two daughters and a close friend stood nervously alongside Perry in a prestigious hotel lobby in New York. The chime of an elevator struck like an orchestra pit tuning pre-show, and all eyes turned to the chrome doors, now parting like the curtains for a grand show. Jimmy Page, legend of Led Zeppelin, emerged.
“So where have I met you before?”
Jimmy Page addressed Jeff and his intimate gathering.
With that, Jeff took him back, back 47 years to a sold out arena in New York, back across 8 studio albums and through concerts inumerable. Back to a roadie named Mick and back to a measly guitar case they ‘had laid on him.’
A warm smile rolled across his lips like a sunrise and Jeff and Jimmy spoke like old friends, catching up after years apart.
And then from a duffle bag Jeff Curtis exhumed Jimmy Page’s Number One Guitar Case, a prodigal relic now returning home after 2 lifetimes and so much history had passed.
“What memories this brings back!”
Jimmy expressed with tender excitement as he let his fingers trace the stickers and tags that decorated and displayed the inspiring journey and amazing stories this case had seen.
Soon the two began to trade the lifetimes they had in common over this case. Jeff pointed to indentations he had noticed, reminiscing on how every curve of Jimmy’s Les Paul still lived as a cast in this exceptional case.
Jimmy highlighted the various stickers like a scrapbook of his fantastic tours and experiences across the globe.
“I was nervous of course, but after a few minutes, I felt like I was talking to an old friend…”
Jeff confided to Josh in our interview with him.
Curtis and Page spoke for over an hour, talking about various meetings and eagerly sharing stories and experiences as real friends.
“I can’t emphasize (enough) the fact that he was a total gentleman…
He made us all feel completely at ease.”
Jimmy took sincere time to even talk to Jeff’s two daughters, to ask about their music interests and to talk about tricks and solutions he and John Bonham used to design the sound they had created for Led Zeppelin.
When finally the occasion moved to its inevitable close, Jimmy Page seemed reluctant to part ways. He took each person’s hand individually, and made sure to give everyone his fullest and most earnest goodbyes before posing for a photo with Jeff.
“When he went to leave, he shook everybody’s hand: my daughters, my friend’s… He didn’t make anyone feel like they were less important than anyone else.”
Now at the end of an exceptional journey alongside Jimmy Page’s first great travel companion, Jeff knew he had made the right decision.
But as if he needed further reassurance, Perry left Jeff with more confirmation of the incredible narrative he was now at the center of:
“Perry told me that Jimmy basically owns virtually every piece of gear he ever had and that he’s in the process of archiving all of it. …
Not only is it serendipitous, the timing of this whole meeting (as he) just happened to be coming to the United States, but the fact that he was getting this thing back from you at a time when he’s doing all this archiving.”
A central piece in a puzzle decades in the making, Jeff Curtis and an exceptional guitar case were now a part of a grand portrait of Jimmy Page and the Led Zeppelin legacy.
8. Over The Hills and Far Away
Today Jeff Curtis is now in his own happily-ever-after. In full remission after stem cell therapy, Curtis has been featured prominently in news articles and stories, celebrating the incredible tale of a man bent on doing the right thing at every turn and a case that persisted through decades.
Photos of his encounter with Jimmy Page now festoon the internet and Jeff is happily enjoying life as a hero for so many musicians and music-lovers.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Page continues to move forward with his incredible journey of preservation and occasionally floats the idea of a Led Zeppelin reunion. His ongoing legacy lives on as a generation of new and old fans continue to ‘Get the Led Out’ whenever they can.
For this, and for cases abound, music is the story of humanity. It is love and connection and care in the raw, purest and most amazing form we can convey.
But while a story lives within the storyteller, a tale is only truly lived through the artifacts and the history they carry. In any case, with any case, you want your stories to see you to your silver years.
We understand that. We live that. We are Calton Cases, where the hardest-working instruments live, and like Jeff Curtis and his prodigious return of Jimmy Page’s guitar case, we’re here to help you preserve your story for generations to come.