The Night Led Zeppelin Got Barred From Performing an Encore
Jimmy Page got something he'd always wanted in 1969: the chance the perform with Led Zeppelin in Memphis, Tenn., home of Elvis Presley and an epicenter for early rock 'n' roll.
Then on their very first North American tour of their career, Led Zeppelin arrived in Memphis to adoration. Their debut album had been purposefully released mid-tour on Jan. 12, 1969, and was generating a positive reaction amongst fans. They played at the Memphis State University Field House roughly a month later, on Feb. 10.
"This is it! The band were to play at Memphis – the cradle of blues, rockabilly and the genius Sam Phillip," Page later recalled. "A dream come true for me to visit the mecca of music. We were awarded the keys to the city because the concert had sold out in record time and, hey, someone who sells out that fast deserves it!"
America was, for many young English musicians at the time, a symbol of individuality. "So many white kids, English kids — we had no culture," Robert Plant told NPR in 2010. "We had no points of reference, really, apart from these hazy radio signals fading in and out depending on the weather over your mom and dad's house. We just ate it up and just tried to get it like that. We all failed miserably, to be honest."
As other British rock outfits of Led Zeppelin's era would also discover, however, the late '60s and early '70s weren't always welcoming for strangers passing through certain American towns. Members of Led Zeppelin were disciples of Black blues music, but also smack in the middle of a country rife with racism and little tolerance for anything that appeared to be outside the norm.
"This wasn’t necessarily the best time to be touring the South: Black people were still being lynched in other southern states and the man who shot the two bikers at the end of Easy Rider would get a standing ovation in movie theaters!" Page said. "Long hair, hippy ethics and anything askew of redneck were not welcome in places like Memphis and Nashville at that time."
One of the band's road crew happened to overhear local Memphis police "discussing what they had in store for the members of Led Zeppelin later that evening," prompting the group to pack up after the show and drive straight to their next gig in Florida, "taking the keys to the city with us!"
Later, Led Zeppelin appeared in Nashville, where they were once again met with resistance. (Page recalled the concert as taking place in the summer of 1969, though other records indicate the performance didn't occur until 1970.) "When we came off stage after the last number, we went into the dressing room," he said. "The audience were going wild, so I said, 'Let's do an encore,' but this police guy puts a steel bar in front of me blocking the door, and says, 'You go out there, boy, and I'll bust your head.' I thought, 'He's not kidding ...'"
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