Thirty years ago today, I attended an event which would become legendary for too many sad reasons. At the time, I had no idea what was happening outside of my frame of reference, but history tells the tale.
It was one of Bill Graham's Day of the Green concerts, the sixth and last one I would ever attend. The opening acts were Judas Priest and Derringer. Judas Priest was a popular metal band that has occasionally made its way into the mainstream, although not always for their music. For one thing, it's not easy to find a metal band named after a Bob Dylan song. Their most recent album at the time included a cover of a Joan Baez song, "Diamonds and Rust," about her relationship with Dylan. They are probably best known, though, for being accused in court of implanting subliminal messages into their music that supposedly led to the suicide of a young fan. Also, lead singer Rob Halford later came out of the closet, still an unusual happening for a metal artist. Derringer was the then-current band of Rick Derringer, who had been around since the days when he and the McCoys recorded "Hang On, Sloopy."
Of course, I wouldn't be writing about this if it was only a Derringer/Judas Priest concert. The headliner that day was Led Zeppelin, and this was to be the only time I saw the great band live. It was the second of two Days on the Green, and between the Derringer set and the appearance of Zep, we had to sit through a delay of a couple of hours. Occasionally, Bill Graham would come out and tell us that "Jimmy's having trouble with his dual guitar" and stuff like that. We had no idea what was really going on. I'll let Wikipedia tell the story:
After a July 23 show at the "Days on the Green" festival at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California, John Bonham and members of the band's support staff (including manager Peter Grant and security co-ordinator John Bindon) were arrested after a member of promoter Bill Graham's staff was badly beaten during the performance. A member of the staff had allegedly slapped Grant's son when he was taking down a dressing room sign; when Grant heard about this, he went into the trailer, along with Bindon and John Bonham, and savagely assaulted the man.
The Wiki article doesn't explain what happened the next day, as I waited endlessly with 50,000 other fans for the band to show up on stage. Rolling Stone offers this more complete version:
The tour may well have been among the most riotous in rock history … Unlike earlier incidents among fans, the violence at Oakland Stadium involved John Bonham, Led Zep's drummer; Peter Grant, the group's manager, and two Zeppelin employees.
The Oakland incidents resulted in charges of battery against Grant, Bonham, and the two employees, John Bindon and Richard Cole. A civil suit asking $2 million in punitive damages was also filed against Led Zeppelin. The suit and charges were brought July 25th by three employees of Bill Graham, promoter of the two "Day on the Green" shows….
Led Zeppelin's lawyer, Jeffry Hoffman, said all four will plead innocent, and that "it is my firm belief that is what the ultimate outcome will be." The Zeppelin entourage refused further comment on the suits or the incidents.
Graham, however, did give his version of what happened, based partly on what his employees told him:
"There were really two incidents, both of which happened after the Saturday concert was over. The first involved Peter Grant and … John Bindon. As they left the stage, Jim Downey [a member of Graham's stage crew] said to Grant who looked very tired, something like, 'Do you need any help?' From what I can tell, there was offense taken to that statement. The stage crew man was struck by Bindon and his head was bashed against the concrete.
"The second incident involved a stage security man named Jim Matzorkis. Matzorkis was taking a wooden plaque with Led Zeppelin's name on it off their dressing-room door to put away for the next show. A young boy asked him for the sing, and Jim said, 'No, we need it for the next day.' Turned out the young boy was Peter Grant's son."
According to Matzorkis' report to the Oakland police, he was putting the sign in a storage trailer when he was approached by Grant, Bonham, Bindon and Zep tour manager Richard Cole. "You don't talk to a kid like that," Grant reportedly told Matzorkis. "Apologize or I'll have your job." Matzorkis siad that Bonham also told him to apologize and then kicked him in the groin. Matzorkis fled and hid in a trailer.
According to Graham, Grant's employees then began to look for Matzorkis. During the search, Cole allegedly hit Bob Barsotti, Graham's production manager, on the back with a four-inch lead pip. Graham said he went to speak to Grant in his trailer to try to clear up what was turning into a dangerous situation. "I went in and said, 'I don't know what went on, but if there are any apologies due, I extend them on behalf of my company.' And Peter said, 'I want to speak to this man.' I said, 'Peter, you're a very big person' -- he weighs about 300 pounds -- 'give me your word, nothing physical.' He said, 'Bill, I give you my word.'
"I went over to the trailer where Jim was hiding. I said, 'Jim, it's okay, it's me.' Then I stepped in. I said, 'Jim, this is Mr. Peter Grant, the boy's father.' Before I could finish the sentence, Peter blasted Jim in the face. I tried to stand between them, but Grant forced me to the door of the trailer, this other man came in and then Grant forced me out and locked the door. I tried to open the door, but their people came over and guarded the door. Matzorkis worked his way to the door while they were hitting him, and he was able to get out. His face was a bloody mess."
Matzorkis was taken to an East Bay hospital. According to a court file, he had cuts and bruises on his face and lips and a broken tooth.
Graham said a Zeppelin representative told him the band would not take the stage Sunday until he signed an agreement indemnifying the group against damages resulting from the Matzorkis incident. He said he signed the paper only after his lawyer assured him that under the circumstances it was not binding. Graham said he also asked his production people to coll it for the day. The Sunday concert was notably low-key; guitarist Jimmy Page, who is known for roaming around the stage, sat through much of the show.
And so it was that while Jimmy Page's guitar was "having problems," the band was backstage refusing to perform. For hours.
The concert, by the way, was excellent. What else can be said about a show that finished with the following songs: "Kashmir," "Trampled Under Foot," "Achilles Last Stand," "Stairway to Heaven, "Whole Lotta Love," and "Rock and Roll"? If you look this up on Google in 2007, you'll read lots of horrific stories about the touring life of Led Zeppelin. It ain't pretty. But in 1977, I was just a 24-year-old doofus who wanted to see a great band in concert. I didn't know from shit.
Shortly thereafter, Robert Plant's young son died tragically. The remainder of the tour was cancelled. Three years later, John Bonham died. That show thirty years ago turned out to be the last concert Led Zeppelin ever played in the United States.
[Postscript: the John Bindon referred to above was in the movie Performance, playing one of Harry Flowers' thugs. Among others, he is in the scene where they shave the guy's head.]