Is it true that Led Zeppelin caught a fish and then incorporated it into sex play with a groupie?

If you’re a young rock band, you have to face up to the humbling realization that whenever you’re considering an illegal or immoral act, there’s a good chance Led Zeppelin did it first. As Zep’s road manager Richard Cole told the story, the band liked to stay at the Edgewater Inn in Seattle: it was right on the Puget Sound, and they could fish out of their window. In July 1969, he and drummer John Bonham spent a drunken night reeling in fish. The next day, with the dead fish still floating in the wastebasket, the band was hanging out in the room, entertaining some girls. One of them, “Jackie, a tall redhead from Portland, seventeen years old,” was swigging champagne from the bottle and telling the group how much she enjoyed being tied up during sex. Determined to oblige her, Cole wrote, he tied her to the bed, told her “I’m putting this red snapper in your red snapper,” and made good on his word.

“That’s totally wrong,” Carmine Appice (drummer for Vanilla Fudge, who employed Cole before Zeppelin did) told me: “It was my groupie.” Both bands were in town for the Seattle Pop Festival, and Appice was hanging out in Zep bassist John Paul Jones’ room with the girl and Fudge keyboard player Mark Stein, who had an 8-millimeter camera. “She saw the camera, and kept saying she wanted to play around.” Then Bonham and two members of Fudge’s road crew invaded the room with the catch of the day: a mud shark, not a snapper. “We moved to my room, and it got pretty gross. I decided to leave, and then I realized I was in my room already.” At various points, most of Zeppelin and the Fudge came in for a look at the groupie being pleasured with the shark; singer Robert Plant recently confirmed that while he saw some of the proceedings, it was really a Vanilla Fudge event. Appice told me that Cole made up the name “Jackie”: “In those days, Richard was so out of it, I’m surprised he remembers his own name.” Surprisingly, Frank Zappa got more of the details right in his song “The Mud Shark.”

Appice has kept drumming with acts such as Rod Stewart and Pink Floyd; he’s currently playing with a reformed Vanilla Fudge and working on an autobiography, The International Rock Guide to Hotel Wrecking. Randy Pratt, who ended up with the 8-mm film of the incident, recently tried to develop it, only to discover that it was too old. The Edgewater Inn is still in business; rooms on the water side range from $219 to $349 per night. Although the hotel’s website includes a photo of the Beatles fishing out of their window, for some reason it omits any mention of Led Zeppelin or Vanilla Fudge.

(Excerpted from the 2006 book Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton’s Little John?: Music’s Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed, published by Three Rivers Press, written by Gavin Edwards.)