Setlist History: Led Zeppelin's First North American Performance

Nearly fifty years ago, four Londoners named Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham, changed the landscape of rock music forever. On December 26, 1968, the unknown British rock band, Led Zeppelin, made their North American debut by opening for both Vanilla Fudge and Spirit. The performance took place at Auditorium Arena in Denver, Colorado and was the first of a few unbilled shows for the quartet. To put things in perspective, a ticket to see Led Zeppelin only set you back five dollars at the time. Less than the cost of two gallons of gas for these days!
What did five bucks get you on opening night? Looks like around six tracks, four being covers. The two original songs that they played, “White Summer/Black Mountain Side” and “How Many More Times,” were found weeks later on the band’s self-titled debut album. At 8:29 minutes in length, “How Many More Times” took home the prize of being the longest track on their first record. “White Summer” was a track initially made by The Yardbirds, a band Jimmy Page was a part of between 1966 and 1968. For their live sets, Zeppelin would frequently tie in the melody of "Black Mountain Side" with The Yardbirds tune. A live recording of “White Summer” was released much later in the 1993 reissue of Zeppelin's 1982 album, Coda.
Led Zeppelin - Live in Spokane, Washington (Dec. 30, 1968)
For their Denver gig, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, and company performed an extended cut of Garnet Mimms’ relatively unknown 1964 song, "As Long As I Have You," to greater heights. Zeppelin did a bluesy-rock cover of the 1956 song, "I Can't Quit You Baby," written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Otis Rush. Another cover they tackled was of Jake Holmes’ 1967 tune, "Dazed and Confused," which appeared on Zeppelin's debut album.
Led Zeppelin's setlist by
Legendary promoter Barry Fey recalled Zeppelin’s first stateside show in his memoir, Backstage Past, when he got up on stage to announce the opening band. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, direct from England for their North America debut, Led Zeppelin!" He then commented, "There was a smattering of polite applause. Then, Robert Plant let it rip and everybody in the audience was stunned. You didn't have to be a genius to know Zeppelin was going to be a smash. Oh, my God. People were going crazy!"
Led Zeppelin - "Dazed and Confused" Live in 1968
Fey’s autobiography also went into detail on how he remembered getting the call from Vanilla Fudge’s booking agent Ron Terry a week prior to the show. Terry had asked if he could add another band to the already sold-out Denver date. Initially, Fey declined, but Terry was insistent and stated, “Barry, this group is called Led Zeppelin. They’re going to be huge.” Fey, still unwilling to reason with Terry, received another call from him, which he said, “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 band that “no one’s ever heard of, that’s never played in North America.” The rest, as they say, was history. Led Zeppelin was booked for their US debut for the mere sum of $750.
The next morning, Fey received a phone call from Max Floyd, the program director at Denver’s rock station KLZ. Floyd asked, “Who did you have on last night? Our phone lines are jammed!” In Fey’s possession, he had obtained a copy of Led Zeppelin’s soon-to-release debut record. Needless to say, he dropped it off at the radio station, which they immediately played that entire day. Robert Plant would never forget that moment in his life. Following a concert performance in 2011, Robert Plant was backstage with Barry Fey when he recalled how significant that 1968 Denver date and the succeeding radio play were to Led Zeppelin's initial success.
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