50 Years Ago: Eric Clapton Unimpressed by Led Zeppelin
The first and third lead guitarists for the Yardbirds wound up sharing a bill with their newest bands on July 25, 1969, at the Midwest Rock Festival at the State Fair Grounds in West Allis, Wisc.
According to Led Zeppelin's website, their set included the Yardbirds staple "Train Kept a-Rollin', "Dazed and Confused" and a 20-minute version of "How Many More Times" that featured a bit of "Lemon Song." They closed their set with "Communication Breakdown."
A reviewer for the Minneapolis Flag called it "beyond belief," but Clapton had a different opinion.
"They were very loud," Clapton is quoted as saying in Ritchie Yorke's Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography. "I thought it was unnecessarily loud. I liked some of it; I really did like some of it. But a lot of it was just too much. They overemphasized whatever point they were making, I thought."
Presumably, Clapton's objections about overemphasis couldn't have been about the length of "How Many More Times," considering the same report noted that Blind Faith's set was marked by an equally long drum solo that Ginger Baker said was the best he'd ever played.
While Clapton checked out Led Zeppelin, who had released only their debut album at the time but were already on their third tour of North America, Page didn't reciprocate. Speaking to Yorke after the release of Led Zeppelin II, Page pleaded ignorance on Clapton's recent output.
Led Zeppelin's tour schedule for 1969 prohibited Page from catching Blind Faith's show. They closed the first night of the three-day Midwest Rock Festival; Blind Faith headlined the second, by which point Zeppelin had already made their way to Vancouver. But that Saturday when Blind Faith played looked toward Clapton's past and future. Lower on the bill that day were his old bandmate Mayall and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, the group Clapton joined after Blind Faith's breakup. Rory Gallaher's Taste -- making their U.S. debut performance-- and MC5 were also on the bill that day.
Coincidentally, the Sunday-night show was supposed to star the guitarist who played in the Yardbirds between Clapton and Page's stints: Jeff Beck. But he wound up canceling due to rain, as did Jethro Tull and the Bob Seger System. Joe Cocker and the Grease Band and Johnny Winter were able to battle through the weather, however, and close out the weekend.
Instead of a big stage that we now associate with festivals, the artists performed on a flatbed truck that was positioned in front of the racetrack's grandstand. The Pablo Light Show also made its way from New York's Fillmore East to the Milwaukee suburb for all three nights. Tickets for each day were $6 in advance or $7 at the gate, while a three-day pass went for $15. Attendance was estimated at 15,000 total fans.