Saturday, August 1, 2009

Going to California

On this day in 1969, Led Zeppelin returned to California for the first time since early May, as part of a busy week that would see the band debuting in two other states and squeezing in a Los Angeles studio session on the only day off.

The success of Led Zeppelin's first album was becoming the big story for rock music fans all across the country as Led Zeppelin winded its way through California, New Mexico and Texas between this Friday night and the end of the first full week in August. The hopes for a second album that was just as compelling and satisfying as the first were becoming part of the Led Zeppelin saga.

During Led Zeppelin's two previous U.S. tours, the band had paid visits to the Calif. cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Irvine, Pasadena and Santa Monica. Now adding Santa Barbara to that list, Zeppelin played a Friday evening show at the Samuel E. Kramer Arena on the Earl Warren Showgrounds with the groups Jethro Tull and the Fraternity of Man. Ticket prices for this 7:30 p.m. performance were $3.50 in advance and $4 at the door. Promoter Jim Salzer commissioned a brightly colored poster to advertise the show. It depicts Moses gazing skyward at a zeppelin engulfed in flames. Unfortunately, the second "e" in "Zeppelin" was omitted on this poster and also on the concert tickets.

It is said that after this Aug. 1 show, Jimmy Page's longtime admirer in the L.A. area, Pamela Ann Miller, or "Miss P" as she was often called, finally met up with the guitarist and became his girlfriend. According to her account, they were joined at the hip, at least for as long as Page permitted it.

The next day, Led Zeppelin headed 900 miles almost due east to Albuquerque, N.M., for its first show there. The group met up again with the Vanilla Fudge, headliners for the evening. The two groups had toured together for nearly the entire previous week, mostly on shows booked by Concerts West. This Aug. 2 show was another one of those, and a handbill for the event was in red, featuring the names of both bands next to each other in white, with promotional photos of both fourpiece groups in monochrome.

Writer Rod Geer summed up both bands' performances in the Albuquerque Tribune two days later, offering that "bass guitarist John Paul Jones and drummer John Bonham were almost unnoticed" while Jimmy Page and Robert Plant "stole the show." Geer also said the Vanilla Fudge contributed to making this "one of the most exciting shows ever performed in Albuquerque."

From New Mexico, Led Zeppelin went to Texas for the first time ever to play on Sunday, Aug. 3. The show at the Houston Music Hall was another Concerts West event, this one promoted in part by the AM radio station KILT 610, which played Top 40 music. The handbill for this show is similar to the one from Albuquerque as it uses the same red motif and promo photo of the band, but the main difference is it does not feature the Vanilla Fudge. Led Zeppelin was the only band on this bill! The Houston Music Hall was situated next to the Sam Houston Coliseum, where Led Zeppelin would perform on return trips to the city through 1975.

The band remained in Texas on Aug. 4 for a performance at the State Fair Coliseum in Dallas, Texas. The week before the show, a hype-filled preview appeared in the Dallas Morning News with Ann Sack's byline that read more like a press release and less like a newspaper report. In expounding on the "phenomenal success" that "musical infant" Led Zeppelin had already reached, Sack's piece included a dubiously researched statement, unrepeated elsewhere in the canon of Zeppelin literature, that the group had "achieved two standing ovations and two encores after only six hours of rehearsal time at their first London show."

Sack's proselytizing rhetoric continued: "In these days of weeding and group shakeups, the Zeppelin has emerged as an experienced and musically attuned quartet. Headed by Jimmy Page, formerly of the Yardbirds, John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Robert Plank [sic] soon joined him in an experiment with the evolution of sound. Searching for a group which would allow them freedom of style and expression, they have struck paydirt by delving into the roots of music. They cut their first album after playing together only three weeks. Yet, it is heralded throughout the music world as one of the most exciting and pulsating collections of sound in the rock business."

However, Sack's tone in another Dallas Morning News article was exactly the opposite once Zeppelin had appeared. She wrote that she found them to be "somewhat of a disappointment" and that their "much of their stuff seemed to lack imagination" and "was emotion-packed but not aesthetically pleasing." Indeed, she favored Led Zeppelin's opening act, which was a local band of high school kids called Southwest F.O.B. that specialized in psychedelic rock cover versions of songs like "High Heeled Sneakers" and "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." It seems from her writing that Sack did want to be a Zeppelin fan but a faulty sound system hampered the set, altogether ruining her Led Zeppelin experience. She mentioned "it is good to know" that fans in Dallas would have another chance to see Zeppelin at the end of the month, at the Texas International Pop Festival.

The sole day that week without a Led Zeppelin concert was on Tuesday, Aug. 5. The band is said to have taken this opportunity to head back to California for a quick overdubbing session at Mystic Studios in Los Angeles. There, they added to their recording of "The Lemon Song" being prepared since May for Led Zeppelin II. Following this day off, the group returned to live action on Aug. 6 with a performance at Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento and on Aug. 7 at the Community Theatre in Berkeley.

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