Reliving the epic rock of Led Zeppelin

(CBS News) Led Zeppelin is one of the most popular and influential bands in rock and roll history. Recently they sat down with Anthony Mason for a rare look back at their music and their legacy:

When they were devouring the world in the 1970's with their thunderous sound and their wicked ways, the members of Led Zeppelin seemed the least likely musicians to expect an invitation to the White House.

"It's been said that a generation of young people survived teenage angst with a pair of headphones and a Led Zeppelin album," President Obama said.

But there they were this month, the band's three surviving members: John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, celebrated recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors.

They told Mason they'd never been to the White House before. Rather than invitations, "We were being questioned quite often," Plant said.

Led Zeppelin notoriously took "sex, drugs and rock & roll" to epic extremes.

"It was Joe Perry of Aerosmith who said that you were like Lord Byron - 'Mad, bad, and dangerous to know,'" Mason noted.

"Well, that must have been you, John," Plant joshed.

The members of Led Zeppelin - Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page. CBS News

It's been more than three decades since the group disbanded after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980. "I think we all agreed unanimously that was that," lead singer Robert Plant said.

But take a stroll with plant, now 64, and you'll get the picture quickly that Led Zeppelin's allure endures.

"Gotta shake your hand," said one man on the street. "You're a god. You're a god."

"I think you're so hot still," one woman on the street said. "My sister's gonna be so jealous!"

The band's sold more than 300 million records. And when Led Zeppelin reunited in London, for one night only in 2007, more than 20 million people applied for the 18,000 passes.

"What we achieved was to change the blueprint of a lot of things," said the band's founder, guitarist Jimmy Page. "We changed where the horizon was. We moved it on."

Web Exclusive: To watch Led Zeppelin perform "Black Dog" at their 2007 concert at London's O2 Arena click on the video player below.

At age 14 Page was already appearing on British TV shows.

Soon he was the most sought-after session guitarist in Britain. In the early '60s he played for The Who, The Kinks, even on the theme song to the James Bond film, "Goldfinger." "And it was exciting 'cause it was on the cutting edge of everything that was going on," he said.

He joined the Yardbirds, until the band fell apart in 1968.

Page told Mason he knew then he wanted to form another band. "And I knew what sort of band to make, too, absolutely."

His first recruit was bass player John Paul Jones, whom he knew through session work. "We were the young guns," Page said.

Jones had arranged the string arrangements on Hermans Hermits and Rolling Stones records. When he heard Page was forming a band, he wanted in:

"He said, 'I'm going up to the Midlands to see a singer and we think he knows a drummer. I'll tell you what they're like when I get back,'" Jones recalled.

The singer was 19-year-old Robert Plant, and his friend, drummer John Bonham. Within weeks the four got together.

When asked to describe those first rehearsals, Jones said, "Just instant This is fantastic. And just like whoa, the room exploded."

"And it was just so powerful, it just locked together like something that was pretty scary, but had to be," said Page.

Led Zeppelin was born.

The band's debut album would spend 73 straight weeks on the charts. But the rock press was unimpressed.

Rolling Stone magazine called it "self indulgent," and Page "a writer of weak, unimaginative songs."

But the reviews didn't; bother them. "It mystified me," Jones said. "I read that first Rolling Stone review. I thought, 'So they mean us?'"

"I think it went over their heads," said Page. "Absolutely. It was beyond them."

By the mid-seventies, Led Zeppelin was the most popular rock band in the world.