50 Years Ago: First Led Zeppelin U.S. Show Almost Never Happened
Led Zeppelin made their North American concert debut in Denver on Dec. 26, 1968, as the first group on a three-band bill that also featured Vanilla Fudge and Spirit. As concert promoter Barry Fey recalls, however, it’s a milestone that almost happened in a different city.
Writing in his memoir Backstage Past, Fey remembers getting the call from Vanilla Fudge’s booking agent Ron Terry a little more than a week before the show, asking him to add another group to the Denver date, which was already sold out. Fey refused at first, but Terry was persistent and said, “Barry, this group is called Led Zeppelin. They’re going to be huge.”
Still unwilling to cave in, Fey got another phone call from Terry, who told him, “Vanilla Fudge has agreed to take $750 of the money you were going to pay them and they’ll give it to Led Zeppelin if you’ll pay them $750, too.” Considering this, Fey thought about the fact that Vanilla Fudge was offering to give some of their money to a group that “no one’s ever heard of, that’s never played in North America.”
That must be something that’s worth taking a look at, right? He made the deal with Terry and booked Led Zeppelin for their first North American show for the now-unbelievable sum of $750 out-of-pocket.
Led Zeppelin did not disappoint. After introducing the group, Fey watched Led Zeppelin deliver a stunning set. To this day, he’s still amazed that Spirit managed to go on after Robert Plant and company finished their show. He immediately saw the future success that the group would have. “You didn’t have to be a genius to know that Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!”
The following morning, Fey got a phone call from Max Floyd, the program director at Denver’s rock station KLZ. “Who did you have on last night? Our phone lines are jammed!” Luckily, Fey had in his possession a copy of Led Zeppelin’s unreleased debut album, which he took over to the radio station. They immediately put it on the air, playing it nonstop that day.
The moment would never be forgotten by Plant, who spent time backstage with Fey in 2011 following a concert performance in the area, reminiscing how important that Denver date and the subsequent radio play was to Led Zeppelin's early success.