Sunday, December 24, 2006

Soul Christmas

On this day in 1968, the members of Led Zeppelin left the comfort of home to board a commercial airplane taking them across an ocean to what was, for some of them, a strange land.

The Christmas Eve trip from England to America was not an easy one, the four found out. For the next few weeks, it would be up to them, without their manager, to make a good first impression on the United States.

"It was Christmas," said Robert Plant, "and Christmas away from home for the English is the end of the world." John Bonham, who possessed a fear of flying, was doubly nervous when he realized that his young son Jason would be spending his third Christmas without his daddy.

Jimmy Page had already been to the United States, having toured the country with the Yardbirds. But it was a first for both Plant and Bonham. "Bonzo and I were amazed," said Plant. "We'd barely even been abroad, and here we were. It was the first time I saw a cop with a gun, the first time I saw a 20-foot-long car. The whole thing was a complete bowl-over."

On the other side of the country, John Paul Jones and his wife enjoyed the holiday in Newark, N.J. He said in 2001, "I had an American friend, a singer called Madeline Bell, and my wife and I spent Christmas with her folks. We had a soul Christmas, and it was brilliant. And then we had to go see some other relatives. Wherever we went, there was another meal waiting for us. I've never eaten so much food in all my life. They were really wonderful people."

The band members hoped they would receive the same welcome at concerts, where they would be opening for the Vanilla Fudge. Originally, the Jeff Beck Group was booked for the American dates. The band backed out, and Peter Grant, who managed both groups, pushed to have Led Zeppelin assume the dates instead.

The Jeff Beck Group's cancellation was a result of Beck's troublesome condition. As Robert Plant explained years later, "Jeff wasn't consistent about his playing -- that's a nice way of putting it. Jeff had run away a lot and quite rightly so. Playing on the road can be strange. Some people like it, and some people don't."

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