CHAPTER 24: DAZED AND CONFUSED:
Just before I cleaned out my high school hall locker for one last time, with me anticipating the long needed summer break from a pretty smooth junior year at school I saw a Fillmore East ad in the Village Voice announcing a Led Zeppelin performance for Memorial Day weekend 1969. That ad, combined with having had “Led Zeppelin” on my turntable for what seemed like an eternity (since February), I contacted my concert going friends and we all agreed “this is the one”. Running down to the local drug store I purchased a $20.00 money order, and with a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (SASE) enclosed I mailed the package out to 105 Second Ave, NY requesting four (4) seats for Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd, Delaney Bonnie and Friends, and the headliner, LED ZEPPELIN, scheduled for May 30, 1969.To my surprise the tickets arrived a few days later, as did my friend’s who also requested four, we had eight tickets in total.
For those who only know of the power and popularity of Led Zeppelin of latter days, let me take you back to a time before their very first album hit the stands.
Jimmy Page was one of the “three”, the triumvirate of rock guitarist gods who moseyed through a British band of some renown named THE YARDBIRDS. This band ,who legend states took their name from Charlie YARDBIRD Parker was somewhat known in the USA, but more popular in their homeland of Great Britain. Without giving the long history of the Yardbirds let’s just say they got a CRAWDADDY (a club) gig when the spot was vacated by THE ROLLING STONES, a band on the move. Eric Clapton was the YARDBIRDS guitarist at that time who became uncomfortable with the band veering away from it’s blues roots, heading into a pop direction. Clapton leaves and suggest Jimmy Page take his spot. Page was the “go to studio guitarist” at the time and didn’t want to vacate that profitable role, so PAGE suggested JEFF BECK who took the gig.
With BECK’s influence the YARDBIRDS moved toward a psychedelic route with fuzz tones, feedback, and overall guitar virtuosity. By 1966 JEFF BECK was voted Melody Maker’s GUITARIST OF THE YEAR.When the bass player drops out of The Yardbirds JIMMY PAGE steps in for a spell. When a new bassist is recruited PAGE stays on for a BECK/PAGE new dual guitar attack approach. Beck gets sick, misses a few gigs and ultimately leaves the band to Page.With the lead singer Keith Relf’s alcoholism and the band not having any more hits, as well as with the rise of CREAM and JIMI HENDRIX, soon most of The Yardbirds disappeared, leaving Jimmy Page with the name. To fulfill some contractual commitments,with a new manager PETER GRANT on board, the band hits the road as THE NEW YARDBIRDS.
Page had recruited TERRY REID as vocalist but he, with a new MICKIE MOST contract, could not leave. Reid suggested a friend, ROBERT PLANT who brought along his drummer friend JOHN BONHAM. Page called his studio buddy JOHN PAUL JONES for bass and keyboards and after a short tour of Scandinavia, the NEW YARDBIRDS hit the studio to record what would become LED ZEPPELIN’s debut.
The album is released January 12,1969. Some of the tunes hit the New York FM airwaves after the band’s now legendary performance as the opening act for IRON BUTTERFLY at FILLMORE EAST January 31 and February 1, 1969, this being Led Zeppelin’s first US tour. Pete my buddy at Dubbings Electronics attended one of those shows that weekend. He raved about this new band who blew Iron Butterfly off the stage, leaving Iron Butterfly to play just one song, their hit IN A GADDA DA VIDA, and according to Pete, Led Zeppelin came back out due to the booing of Butterfly and the calls for Zeppelin. I have never been able to verify that but Pete said it,so…it must be true.
A few days later while at work Pete asked me to join him to see LED ZEPPELIN at THE SCENE a club in Manhattan. With little provocation I agreed to go to the Wednesday night show. But alas, the shows were cancelled due to John Bonham’s son falling at home in England and Bonham was needed there. So, I made due by purchasing LED ZEPPELIN and listening to the debut album, over and over again.
Meanwhile, the news was reporting that thousands of Americans were preparing to join across the nation during Easter weekend for massive demonstrations in protest to the war in Vietnam. On April 4th,1969 our United States combat casualties had now surpassed the totals for the entire KOREAN WAR and an end to The Vietnam Conflict was not in sight. During a four day visit to South Korea, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu told reporters he would “never” agree to a coalition government with the National Liberation Front (NLF). Then, President Nixon announced a plan to replace the hated draft system with a lottery that would induct 19-year-old boys first. The stakes for me and my friends have changed.This is getting real and fast.
Students rebelled at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and New York’s Queen’s College with dozens being injured during these sit-ins and strikes. The 1969 spring semester had 292 American campuses hosting anti-war rallies; one-quarter of them included violence. The nation stood polarized between pro-war hawks and anti-war doves. I was all of 17 years of age stuck between a pro war dad and my neighbors dying in the jungles of SouthEast Asia.
In May, 300 hundred policemen in Berkeley, California cleared students out of a small patch of land called People’s Park. The incident sparked a week of violent protest. On May 16th, 2,000 Berkeley demonstrators battled with police. Rioting spread to other campuses while in Vietnam the gory battle for “Hamburger Hill” was reaching a peak.
The only good read for me that month was the May 26, 1969 edition of NEWSWEEK which featured Janis Joplin on the cover with the headline JANIS JOPLIN:REBIRTH OF THE BLUES. The story mentioned HENDRIX, BB KING, ALBERT KING, BIG MAMA THORNTON and a host of others.
It is now Memorial Day weekend of 1969, only a few weeks away from the burial of my girlfriend’s brother who was killed in Vietnam. Yet, it was also a new beginning for a group of us as we copped the 8 tickets to see Led Zeppelin at Fillmore East early 8 PM show on a Friday Night of a Holiday Weekend. A freshly cashed paycheck loaded my wallet, a pack of Marlboro Red, bottle of wine (purchased by an age appropriate friend) and a gift from Pete to help “lighten” up my mood and I was set. Four on the train, meeting four more there, we were a Rock and Roll army outfitted with new jeans, new Chuck Taylor high tops, and hair getting longer by the moment. “See you tomorrow, Mom”.
So “The Eight” had planned a beautiful start to a long holiday (Memorial Day) weekend. Orange Julius on West 8th for a bite to eat, a few head shop visits along our walk to Second Avenue, a record store here, and a shoe shoppe there (more on the shoes in September), and we strolled peacefully toward our East Village destination. Still not knowing exactly where we headed I followed the lead of the others and we landed up far away from our appointed destination but still with plenty of time on hand. Show time 8PM would find 4 of us in one section, with another four in another section a few rows back, but all eight in the house. The crowd outside on line awaiting admittance to the sacred hall was a buzzed. Finally, in and seated, house lights go down and BOOM, I fall in love. Rita Coolidge of Delaney/ Bonnie was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen,well that night anyway. The JOSHUA LIGHT SHOW afforded a great back drop, something that I had never witnessed. Woody Herman’s Big Band was way too cool. Pop would have been proud as I recognized a few of Woody’s tunes from our family’s record collection.
Then, “OHHHHH, I CAN’T QUIT YOU BABE” with a power chord shook me to the core. This tune followed by Dazed and Confused, White Summer, How Many More Times, a drum solo, and the crowd cheering “MORE,MORE”… The encore was short, yet loud, COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN. The performance bar was now set for this 17 year old youngster on his musical journey. Sweating profusely we leave into the warm May air at a bit before midnight. Walking through the East Village, then Greenwich Village, we get a bite to eat,maybe a gift or two,then taking the E train to Penn Station in time for the midnight train. Arriving home I felt like a new person, never to return to the old one.