44 Years Ago: Led Zeppelin Play Their First U.S. Show
Led Zeppelin made their North American concert debut in Denver on Dec. 26, 1968 as the first band on a three band bill that also featured Vanilla Fudge and Spirit, but as concert promoter Barry Fey recalls, itâs a milestone that almost happened in a different city.
Writing in his memoir âBackstage Past,â Fey remembers getting the call from Vanilla Fudgeâs 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 âBarry, this group is called Led Zeppelin, theyâre going to be huge.â
Still unwilling to cave in, Fey got another phone call from Terry, who told him âVanilla Fudge has agreed to take $750 of the money you were going to pay them and theyâll give it to Led Zeppelin if youâll pay them $750, too.â
Considering this, Fey thought about the fact that Vanilla Fudge was offering to give some of their money to a group that âno oneâs ever heard of, thatâs never played in North America.â That must be something thatâs 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 the Denver crowd with their debut American performance. After introing the group, Fey watched the band deliver a stunning set. To this day, heâs still amazed that Spirit managed to go on after Zeppelin finished their show. He immediately saw the future success that the group would have. âYou didnât have to be a genius to know that Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!â
The following morning, Fey got a phone call from Max Floyd, the program director at Denverâs rock station KLZ. âWho did you have on last night? Our phone lines are jammed!â Luckily, Fey had in his possession a copy of the bandâs 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 Robert 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 his old band’s early success.