The Led Zeppelin Experience with Jason Bonham
Led Zeppelin Store
Not sure when or where the love went over the last couple decades. I do know that in the early 70s I loved Led Zeppelin. And seeing Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience at Detroit's Fox Theatre last Saturday really forced me - in a very good way - to reflect back on that mostly forgotten period of my life. I don't know if it's bad genes, or the great passage of time, or large amounts of ingested illegal smoke - or a combination of all three - that account for the dim memories of those days.
More in a bit about the fantastic show and my connection to a member of the band, but let's take that trip back in time first.
I've told the tale many times over the decades of my first and only experience of seeing Led Zep live. But after my most recent retelling a couple days ago I decided it might be worthwhile to go back and check the historical record for some dates and related info. My recollection has always been that I saw the band on their first tour of the states. And that the release of their first album and its subsequent success prompted the venue to add a second show. Turns out that memory is murky and somewhat misinformed. What a surprise.
All the details I needed were right there at ledzeppelin.com. The first Led Zep album was released on January 12, 1969. And either I completely forgot or it just slipped by me back then, but Led Zeppelin first played Detroit's Grande Ballroom on 3 consecutive days - 1/17 through 1/19 - a mere week after the LP came out. I distinctly recalled that it was not cold when I saw the band. And sure enough, they came back to Detroit just four short months later on May, 16th. There were definitely 2 shows that day. I always thought that one show was booked and that prior to it the first LP blew up and that prompted the second show. That may still be mostly true but the knowledge there were three shows in January makes me wonder now exactly how it all went down.
LZ toured the states until late February of '69, then went back and played dates in Europe until mid-April, then they came back and toured the North American West starting at the Fillmore in San Francisco and ending on May 13th in Hawaii. Three days later they hit Detroit again and I was there.
I suspect a lot of things came together on the fly as the band got bigger and bigger in those days. I'd bet the May show was wedged in as they returned from the far west states ahead of a whole slew of other dates more than likely booked before Detroit. Chances are they may have intended to hang a little longer after the Honolulu show - who could blame - but there were bucks to be made back in the Eastern half of the US. The promoters probably hadn't planned on coming back to Detroit so soon after 3 straight days earlier in the year but it was getting crazy so they booked the date. And then it got even crazier - too crazy for the relatively small Grande Ballroom to contain - so they squeezed in a 2nd show on 5/16. Only choice they had really because there was a date the very next day in Athens, Ohio.
Anyways, although my recollection of the band's performance is for the most part lost (pretty positive they were great though), two things do stand out in memory. First, being at the 2nd show I distinctly recall standing in the back alley behind the venue waiting for the first show attendees to completely empty out before my very impatient group was finally allowed up the stairs and into the hall. Seemed like an eternity. That was a drag but it got worse before it got better. Back in those days you never stood up during a show. You sat, and at the Grande that meant sitting on the floor - no seats. Well, I hustled up the stairs and managed to get a nice spot no more than 10 yards from the front of the stage, but as more and more people came in and plopped down onto the floor the amount of real estate I owned to sit in got smaller and smaller until by the time the music started I was in basically an upright fetal position and pretty much had to maintain that for the entire show. Not sure how I survived it but I was 17 at the time. A lot more flexible.
Funny thing, I've been assuming forever that I attended this show some time in the early 70s. I figured it had to be after I graduated and probably after I moved out of my parent's house. Well, I guess I had a little more freedom in my high school days then I remembered. I was a junior at the time. Mom and dad said yes. Pretty amazing.
Far more amazing to me is what Led Zeppelin did in 1969. As I said, the first album came out in January. The band toured pretty much non-stop through the first 8 months of the year all over the world and then they were off in September before resuming touring in October. But I suppose I should've said "off". Led Zeppelin II was released on October 22nd of '69 so it's pretty clear that the entire thing was recorded in the month of September. A few weeks later it was in the stores. Hard to imagine.
So, here we are, pushing 42 years later and Jason Bonham, son of Led Zep original drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, is touring with a band capable of doing near-perfect live renditions of those classic Zeppelin tunes. And one of the band's members is a great artist from the very earliest days of Artistlaunch.com, Stephen Leblanc.
I met Stephen back in 2002 at his brother's home in the LA area. I was out there on Artistlaunch business and it wasn't going well but I did manage to connect with my current band mate, Paul Kingery, who was playing a gig with Three Dog Night in Anaheim at the time and afterwards the two of us hooked up with Stephen for a late night jam session. Big fun.
Flash ahead 8 years and The Led Zeppelin Experience hits Detroit. I got word that Stephen was in the band at RealityBB.com and we exchanged a few postings there. He called me just before their sound check on Saturday. I had a Blue Bang Theory (my band) gig at 10PM but before that I was able to meet Stephen for dinner with my wife. It was great to fill in that eight year blank over a good meal. The show started promptly at 8PM and, big thanks to Stephen, we were able to see just over an hour of it from seats that were just about as close to the stage as I was back in '69. Far more comfortable this time though, I must say.
So, to get back where I started, I truly couldn't say where and when the love for Led Zeppelin went over the years. But at the Fox Theatre on Saturday night I got it back. Absolutely loved every minute of the concert. Jason Bonham is a fabulous drummer and apart from the obvious joy of being able to experience the music of Led Zeppelin played live so close to the way it sounded 40 years ago, it was equally wonderful to hear Jason reminisce about his father and the band and to see all the cool archival photos and home movies.
Special kudos to Stephen for his great work as an integral part of the band. During the show he moved from keys to guitar to lap steel guitar and he shone brightly with every note and chord he played. Great job my friend, and thanks again!
Paul Laginess, (Blue Bang Theory)