The mystery man who appeared on the album cover of Led Zeppelin IV has been identified as a 19th century thatcher.
The cover of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album – released on November 8, 1971 – features a portrait of an old man carrying a bundle of sticks, causing fans to pore over the artwork for more than half a century in search of meaning and hidden messages.
But a local historian and huge fan of the band has now revealed that the man in the photo is most likely Lot Long from Mere in Wiltshire, photographed by Ernest Farmer.
Brian Edwards, from the University of the West of England (UWE), made the discovery after sifting through a selection of 19th-century photographs for other research.
The image of the old man seemed remarkably familiar, thanks to his teenage years of rock fandom.
The cover of Led Zeppelin IV features a mysterious man now identified as a 19th century thatcher
Led Zeppelin in 1968 (left to right): Drummer John Bonham, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones and singer Robert Plant
A local historian has revealed that the man in the image is most likely Lot Long from Mere in Wiltshire
Mr. Edwards told it The Telegraph: ‘My jaw hit the ground. I knew immediately it was him, I knew where I had seen him before.
‘When I was a teenager I listened to a lot of Led Zeppelin. It’s such an iconic album. I hope the band will be happy with the find.’
Released in 1971, Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide, including the smash hit Stairway to Heaven.
The cover was previously described as a photograph of a painting, which was reportedly discovered by the band’s lead singer, Robert Plant, after he found the portrait in an antique shop in Reading.
But the framed image seen on the cover is actually a colorized black and white photo. With the help of Mr Edwards, Wiltshire Museum has since acquired the original photograph and plans to include it in an exhibition next year.
The original portrait, a black and white photograph taken in the 1890s, is captioned ‘A Wiltshire Thatcher’
Released in 1971, Led Zeppelin IV has sold more than 37 million copies worldwide and includes the smash hit Stairway to Heaven
The original portrait, a black and white photograph from the 1890s, was captioned ‘A Wiltshire Thatcher’ and accompanied by a handwritten note.
Led Zeppelin: The History
It’s been almost 55 years since guitarist Jimmy Page and his bandmates released their self-titled debut LP in 1969.
Together with singer Robert Plant, bassist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham, the band became one of the best-selling acts in music history, selling more than 200 million albums worldwide.
The band’s heavy, guitar-driven sound led them to be cited as one of the forerunners of heavy metal.
Although initially unpopular with critics, they achieved significant commercial success, with eight studio albums released in eleven years.
They achieved eight consecutive number one albums in the UK and six number one albums on the US Billboard 200, with five of their albums being certified Diamond in the US.
Rolling Stone magazine described them as “the heaviest band of all time” and “unquestionably one of the most enduring bands in rock history.”
The group split after Bonham’s death in 1980, feeling that they would not be ‘Led Zeppelin’ without him. Since then, the remaining former members have worked together sporadically.
It read: ‘Memories of a visit to Shaftesbury. Pentecost 1892. A present for Ernest’s aunt.’
Explaining how he discovered the photographer’s identity, Edwards said he had compiled a list of photographers practicing in Victorian Wiltshire at the time and found a man from Salisbury called Robert Farmer.
Ernest was the first head of the photography school at the then newly renamed Polytechnic Regent Street, now the University of Westminster.
After identifying ‘Ernest’ on the note, Mr Edwards researched the photographer’s work and realized that the ‘really expert compositions’ had been shot in a limited area around Salisbury.
Mr Edwards then began researching thatchers of the period and said his research suggested the man pictured was Lot Long, who died in 1893, a year after the photo was taken.
“It must have been him, he was the only thatcher in the area when Farmer appeared to be on a photography tour,” Mr Edwards said.
“It looks a bit weathered and it died just a year after it was shot.”
He continued, “Because Farmer was a teacher, he or one of his students may have been colorizing photographs, which was a new technology at the time.
“Someone seems to have made a colorized copy of Lot’s photo and over time it somehow ended up in an antique shop that was picked up by Robert Plant.”
The photo is owned by the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes and an exhibition of the image will take place there next spring.
Director of the Wiltshire Museum, David Dawson, told the newspaper BBC that the exhibition will be called The Wiltshire Thatcher: a Photographic Journey through Victorian Wessex and will celebrate the work of Ernest Farmer.
‘We will show how Farmer captured the spirit of the people, villages and landscapes of Wiltshire and Dorset, which provided such a stark contrast to his life in London.
“It’s fascinating to see how this theme of rural and urban contrasts was developed by Led Zeppelin and became the focus for this iconic album cover seventy years later,” he said.
The Smiths, The Stones and Nirvana: The True Stories Behind Other Iconic Album Covers Explained
The cover photo on Led Zeppelin IV isn’t the only mysterious work of art in rock history.
For The Smiths’ second album Meat Is Murder, the album cover was perceived as cryptic.
Emile de Antonio’s controversial Vietnam War documentary, In The Year Of The Pig, offended some viewers for its pro-Vietnamese sentiments.
Frontman Morrissey tweaked the film’s iconic image of a US Marine named Cpl Michael Wynn and changed the words on his helmet, which originally read ‘Make War Not Love’.
Instead, The Smiths changed the slogan by scrawling the words “Meat Is Murder” on his helmet.
The Smiths’ second album, Meat Is Murder, features a US Marine named Cpl Michael Wynn during the Vietnam War
The 1971 Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers spawned the two classic singles, Brown Sugar and Wild Horses.
But it also attracted a lot of attention for its album art, the brainchild of Andy Warhol, which was photographed and designed by members of his art collective The Factory.
The cover features a close-up of the crotch of an anonymous man wearing jeans.
The cover of the original issue featured a working zipper and holes around the belt buckle that opened to reveal a picture of white briefs underneath.
The left side of the artwork also featured the band name and album title.
While some have speculated that the figure was Sir Mick Jagger himself, actor and Warhol collaborator Joe Dallesandro has claimed that he is the man on the cover.
The artwork for the 1971 Rolling Stones album Sticky Fingers was the brainchild of Andy Warhol
The album cover was a collaboration between Warhol and Craig Braun, who was known as a designer of record covers for bands such as The Velvet Underground & Nico LP.
As for Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album cover shows a naked baby swimming toward an American dollar bill on a fishing hook.
The image is often taken as a criticism of capitalist society and the principles of consumerism, as even a baby cannot resist chasing the all-powerful US dollar.
Last year, Spencer Elden, the man photographed as a baby for the image, filed a case in court, claiming his image when he was four months old was child pornography.
As for Nirvana’s Nevermind, the album cover shows a baby swimming towards a US dollar bill on a fishing hook
The lawsuit was dismissed, with U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin in Los Angeles saying Elden waited too long to claim Nirvana sexually exploited him, having filed a lawsuit more than a decade after learning about the cover.
Defendants included Nirvana members Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, Courtney Love, the widow of late singer Kurt Cobain, several record labels and photographer Kirk Weddle.
Elden was interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine about the photo in 2003 at the age of 12.
He said he would “probably get some money out of it,” and recreated the image in 2016 as an adult with “Nevermind” tattooed on his chest.