Monday, November 16, 2009

Cognomen conundrum

On this day in 1968, it's possible that Jimmy Page's new band played under the name "Led Zeppelin" for the third or maybe even fourth time. A Led Zeppelin concert at the College of Science & Technology in Manchester, England, on this date is believed to have happened but cannot be substantiated.

The new name had been implemented with the Surrey University concert on Oct. 25. Since then, any references in the billing to Page's previous band, the Yardbirds, had to be dropped once and for all. At this point, it was a challenge for Led Zeppelin to survive using its strange, new name in the competitive British music scene. Yet without a record deal, Led Zeppelin was scraping to survive in the business. In Manchester, the group received a meager wage of 225 pounds. The band was scheduled for only one gig each week that month and was making little money from the infrequent schedule.

"It was just a joke in England," Jimmy Page recalled. "We really had a bad time. They just wouldn't accept anything new. It had to be 'the new Yardbirds,' not 'Led Zeppelin.'"

Perhaps the Yardbirds' name attracted attention due to its familiarity among club owners and concertgoers; maybe the name helped to sell a few tickets. Then again, the Yardbirds' name may have carried its own disadvantages, too. Even that name seems to have had a poor connotation among many fans in Britain. After a round of U.K. dates in the summer of 1967, the Yardbirds had spent most of the next 12 months touring America and France. During this time, the British turned their backs on the Yardbirds, and the group earned a bad reputation because it had gone a year without touring in its home country.

Because of this, suggested John Bonham, the Yardbirds' name became a stigma in England. "In the very early days, I suppose we did lose faith in Britain," he said. "Everyone's attitude was that the Yardbirds hadn't done anything in England for so long, and they didn't want to book us." Many clubs in England resisted having them under any name.

Only seven gigs in England have been substantiated during the two-month period following the Oct. 25 concert debut of the Led Zeppelin name, although four disputed dates between October and December could bring that total to as many as 11 gigs in two months. Either way, there wasn't much to show at the time.

Page was the recognizable guitarist both groups shared. Some elements of the music carried over from the Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin, many of them revolving around the guitarist. By Page's mere presence, Led Zeppelin was irrevocably linked to the one-time pop sensation that had basically stopped touring in Britain.

Since the Yardbirds had been big in America, it was only natural that's where the band eventually showed up to spend Christmas and begin touring immediately thereafter.

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