The year was 1973 and on a warm day in May the rooftop swimming pool of the Continental Hyatt House Hotel in Los Angeles was full of young girls wearing bikinis or even less — most of them ‘underage’ by a significant margin.

This was the scene for the next part of the disgusting bacchanal called Led Zeppelin Tour.

The band watched in horror as girl after girl fell into the pit of addiction.

Jimmy Page, revered guitarist of the world’s hottest rock band, hung back and watched from a distance. He couldn’t swim and, besides, he had already picked out the one he wanted — 14-year-old Lori Mattix.

He’d been sent a photo of her earlier and, later that night, as the party moved to a sleazy local nightclub, Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, he pulled Mattix to one side and said: ‘I told you I was going to be with you.’

She was worried — her friend Sable Starr, just a year older, had made clear she also had her eyes on the lanky British musician and had warned her: ‘If you go near Jimmy, I’ll kill you.’

Out on the town: Robert Plant, left, next to Sable Starr and John Bonham, right, alongside Lori Mattix in LA in 1972

Robert Plant (left), next to John Bonham and SableStarr in LA 1972. Lori Mattix was also there.

In the event, the decision was taken out of her hands as, Mattix claims, she was later hustled into a limo by Led Zeppelin’s two managers, threatened with violence if she resisted and driven, terrified, back to the Hyatt House for an assignation with Page in his suite.

She says that, as a teenager bewitched by her ‘rock god prince’, it was love at first sight, adding: ‘He was 29, I was 14. It was no secret he liked young girls.’

Page, she claims, had ‘respect enough’ to ring her mother and check she wouldn’t have him thrown in jail for underage sex. He needn’t have worried — Lori’s mother had actually taken her daughter to the hotel and into the band’s orbit in the first place.

‘She knew he was a huge rock star,’ says Mattix of her mother’s horrifying encouragement of a girl who’d already lost her virginity. Mattix would continue to have three years of an affair with guitarist.

Four years after the fall of Harvey Weinstein fired up the #MeToo movement, few areas of public life haven’t faced a reckoning over predatory male behaviour. Why has rock music not been affected?

That question could most appropriately be asked of Led Zeppelin, who were ‘monsters of rock’ in every way.

Rock legend: Jimmy Page on stage in 1975

Jimmy Page: A rock icon onstage in 1975

Many of the stories told of the hugely successful British band and their hotel-trashing, drug-abusing, groupie-indulging ways are nearly too awful to print — a fact that has probably helped the surviving members to dismiss them as cocaine-fuelled fabrications.

Bob Spitz (American author of Led Zeppelin: The Biography), spoke with dozens of people involved to confirm that the nightmare stories are largely true. He claims that Led Zeppelin have been guilty.

Spitz reckons it was highly instructive that after the surviving band members — singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and guitarist Page — all agreed to talk to him when he started researching his book five years ago, they suddenly changed their minds. ‘They didn’t need to say why. The #MeToo movement broke and the next day my co-operation dried up,’ he said this week.

As a former manager of Elton John and Bruce Springsteen, Spitz is no stranger to rock ’n’ roll excess, but he admits that he was appalled by the stories he heard about ‘Zep’, particularly concerning the legions of underage girls who came their way.

Spitz, who has a young daughter, says his wife had warned him not to call the groupies ‘young women’, explaining: ‘They were girls, 12 and 14 years old — way below the age of consent. Yes, they were everywhere “on the road”, and, yes, Led Zeppelin were involved with them in many different ways.’

He says he was particularly struck when former Led Zeppelin publicist Janine Safer told him: ‘They were a mystery to me but I adopted the band’s view that these girls weren’t quite human. I certainly never thought of them as sentient.’

Spitz says he believes the still hugely popular band’s treatment of women ‘colours their legacy completely’.

Led Zeppelin was a particularly bad example, but there were many others who behaved in the same manner. Spitz thinks that underage bandies are still present in rock music.

Pictured: Lori Mattix (second right) and friends in West Hollywood, California, in 1975

Pictured: Lori Mattix (second right) and friends in West Hollywood, California, in 1975

‘The whole industry is corrupt for not bringing this to light and doing something about it,’ he says.

Apologists for the ‘sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll’ culture of the 1960s and 1970s often say that it was just what happened in those days, but Spitz insists that simply isn’t true.

For his final book on the Beatles, Macca interviewed Sir Paul McCartney and he told Macca that the Fab Four had been besieged also by young girls. The difference was that the Beatles didn’t say ‘yes’.

‘All the Beatles’ girlfriends were “age appropriate”,’ says Spitz. ‘They always sought women their own age.’

Earlier this week the death of Richard Cole, Led Zeppelin’s tour manager and leading hell-raiser, prompted a raft of obituaries, which painted a picture of a permanently loose cannon who once rode a motorbike up to the band’s lair on the ninth floor of the Hyatt House and hired a large customised jet fitted out with a queen-sized waterbed, fake fur bedspread and a shower for their groupies.

Spitz reveals that Cole was also the band’s chief procurer, picking out the prettiest girls in concert audiences and hotel lobbies to have sex with the band.

Spitz says that Led Zeppelin was thin-skinned and narcissistic, but they still managed to sell more records than The Rolling Stones. However, their sales were far lower than those of the Rolling Stones. Spitz says that Led Zeppelin was infinitely more likeable than the Rolling Stones.

While the Stones were ‘bad boys’, Zeppelin were ‘bad bad boys’, he says. ‘A suggestion of violence shadowed them and their management.’

After spending a lot time recording and touring in the US they discovered their true nirvana within the wild hedonism of California. Los Angeles is home to the most fervent groupie scene in California and an abundance of cocaine.

‘LA in particular was like Sodom and Gomorrah,’ recalled Jimmy Page. ‘You just ate it up and drank it down. It was the feeling of “we can do absolutely anything”. There were no rules.’

Considering Page had been fascinated from the age of 11 by the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley — dubbed the ‘wickedest man in the world’ and whose chief injunction was to ‘Do what thou wilt’ — he needed no encouragement, says Spitz.

The groupies were ‘shockingly young’, he claims, quoting a music industry publicist who recalls: ‘They were 13, 14, maybe 15 tops. Girls just showed up — they came out of nowhere.’

Target: Lori Mattix as a young teenager in 1974

Lori Mattix was a teenage girl in 1974.

In fact, many came seeking big city excitement from LA’s sprawling suburbs of San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

‘They were mostly latchkey kids,’ says Michael Des Barres, a British-born musician and friend of Page who married his ‘super-groupie’ girlfriend Pamela Miller. ‘Their fathers were away and their mothers could [not] give a s***.’

Both Mattix and her rival for Page’s attention, Starr, claimed to have lost their virginity to David Bowie — at 13 and 12 respectively.

It was easy for men to exploit young people. Page learnt of Mattix’s existence after being shown a photo of her and other underage LA girls in a seedy showbusiness magazine, Star, which had titled the photo spread of highly sexualised images ‘Your Very Own Superfox’.

Zeppelin insider Bernard ‘Beep’ Fallon, who had photographed the girls and shown the pictures to Page, gives Spitz his highly controversial take: ‘The thing about groupies that’s misunderstood is that it was all consensual. The girls were the predators, not the bands.’

Spitz, not surprising, sees things very differently. ‘A lot of their parents were complicit,’ he says. Considering these girls were adolescents — if that — responsibility lies with ‘the parents and the men who were taking advantage of them’.

He spoke to many of the young groupies and was shocked that, even now, ‘there were no regrets whatsoever . . . and they were not shy in giving me intimate details, which was also astounding’. Too young to enter bars, they kept their hands on the doors of hotels that hosted rock stars, often staying in bungalows with easy access and open doors.

On one occasion Page allegedly allowed John Bonham — Led Zeppelin’s volatile drummer until his death at the age of 32 in 1980 — to dress as a waiter and wheel him, ‘splayed on a room service cart, into a suite of sybaritic girls’.

One club where the child party girls were allowed in was Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco. Led Zeppelin were regulars, curing their homesickness with pints of Watney’s Red Barrel and watching — says Mattix — ‘pre-pubescent teenagers dressed up like groupies’ (as indeed many of them were) as they danced to glam rock.

The club’s boss, Rodney Bingenheimer, tells Spitz he’d issue a general call to arms among his school-age clientele if Led Zeppelin were in town. ‘These guys were party animals, beyond party animals,’ he recalls. ‘The wild guy, of course, was Bonham.’ Of the band, only ‘family man’ bassist Jones didn’t get involved. As for Plant, Spitz writes: ‘Robert’s girlfriends weren’t as young as Jimmy’s; many hovered around the age of consent.’

Plant would even compose lyrics about the ‘baby groupies’, once remarking: ‘The words show I feel a bit sorry for them. One minute she’s 12 and the next minute she’s 13 and over the top.’

Spitz says it’s revealing of the attitudes of the time that he wasn’t lambasted for such gruesome sentiments.

And nor did Bonham ever get into trouble when he once tore the clothes off a woman journalist in the band’s dressing room and, on another occasion, tried to rape a stewardess on their jet.

Led Zeppelin and their defenders have sometimes put their debauchery down to their young age — some of them were just into their 20s when they became stars — but they were still behaving disgustingly towards women years later.

For a whole weekend, Peter Grant, a manager at he LA Hotel in Los Angeles handcuffed a naked lady to the sink under his bathroom pipe. Page came across her and ‘in an uncustomary show of gallantry, found a key to unlock the cuffs and helped her to escape’.

For more than 40 years the architects of such behaviour have escaped public censure or legal consequences but, after the publication of Spitz’s book, a reckoning may well be at hand.

  • Led Zeppelin: The Biography by Bob Spitz is published by Penguin Press, price £30.