The Complete Rock Pile Tapes (TCOLZ 031/032/033/034/035)
The influence of the rock press is very much apparent on Led Zeppelin’s early tours. The most famous example is the promotion of disc jockey JJ Jackson in Boston and the story is similar in Toronto. With the early and enthusiastic reports and promotion of journalist Ritchie Yorke Toronto became an early pocket of support for the band.
They played six shows in the city during their first year with four of them being taped. The first four Toronto shows were played at The Rock Pile, a venue for progressive rock in the late sixties and early seventies and fortunately three of them exist on tape including the very first on February 2nd.
The Complete Rock Pile Tapes on TCOLZ presents tapes for the three Rock Pile shows that exists on tape including the never before released alternate tape source for the second show on August 18th.
The Rock Pile, Toronto, ON, Canada – February 2nd, 1969
Disc 1 (45:37): Introduction, The Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, Killing Floor, How Many More Times
The tape for the first set on February 2nd surfaced in the mid nineties on a high generation copy and was pressed on The Rockpile Canada 2-2-69 (Totanka CDPRO-22). “Killing Floor” was cut from the tape and it contains bonus material from the Led Zeppelin recording sessions in September 1969. A better sounding low generation tape was used for two subsequent releases, Absolutely Gems (Sanctuary TMOS-69818A/B/C) and The Rockpile Tapes (Badgeholders BH005-01-02-03) both with “Killing Floor.”
Both labels remastered the tape to sound much louder and, in the case of the Badgeholders release, sounds a bit tinny. TCOLZ didn’t master the tape at all so it sounds lower in volume but much more natural than the others and is complete save for cuts at the beginning of “You Shook Me” which eliminates the opening notes and at 6:08 which cuts the ending of the guitar solo.
Yorke introduces the band at the beginning, already calling them stars, and reviews the set the following day by writing: “Of all the memorable things which happened during Toronto’s two heavy shows last night (Led Zeppelin at the Rock Pile and the Turtles and Iron Butterfly at Massey Hall), one visual image easily stood out. It was the sight of Led Zeppelin’s hero-worshipped lead guitarist, Jimmy Page – resplendent in avocado velvet suit, bent over as if in agony to the audience, his fingers working like a touch typist’s, his foot thumping like a kangaroo’s tail, the sounds as clear and as piercing as a bedside phone in the stillness of 3 a.m. Above all else and there were highlights aplenty, it was Page’s night. He arrived in Toronto, without a record on the market but with a reputation that long ago preceded him. Singer Plant is from the English blues school – hard, angry, defiant, gutsy. He could well develop into tone of the big name group singers of the year.” (“Led Zeppelin: Fast Becoming Cream of the Crop,” R. Yorke / G&M ‘Pop Scene’, Feb. ’69)
The first set is very short and compact. “White Summer,” “Pat’s Delight,” “As Long As I Have You,” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and the encore “Communication Breakdown,” all mainstays of the early set are all dropped. Left instead are the intense electric attack of the heavier numbers.
What is particularly interesting is how much aggression grows during the forty-five minutes they are on stage. “You Shook Me,” at seven minutes almost as long as “Dazed And Confused,” contains moments of such unbearable tension that even Plant has to react.
“Killing Floor” follows and in this early stage is more another free flow improvisation like “As Long As I Have You” than the recorded “Lemon Song” on Led Zeppelin II. They throw in references to Walter Davis’ “I Think You Need A Shot,” “Travelling Riverside Blues” and “Needle Blues” among other classic blues phrases. The final song of the set “How Many More Times” is one of the heaviest played in the first tour. It includes the slow violin bow solo and includes references to “Fever” and “Money” as well as “The Hunter.”
The Rock Pile, Toronto, ON, Canada – August 18th, 1969 (early show)
Disc 2 (52:39): Introduction / The Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, You Shook Me, How Many More Times
Six months later Led Zeppelin returned to The Rock Pile for two shows. The early show on August 18th exists in a poor to fair audience recording. There are horrible volume fluctuations throughout the middle part of the show partly due to a faulty PA system. This tape was first pressed on silver on Complete Rockpile Shows (The Symbols YU-13/14) and subsequently used on Absolutely Gems(Sanctuary TMOS-69818A/B/C) and The Rockpile Tapes (Badgeholders BH005-01-02-03). It is a tape that is included in collections for completeness, but appeals only to the diehard collector which is a shame because the concert itself is really enjoyable.
Yorke again promoted these two and wrote a laudatory review the next day where he observes: “With the exception of the Toronto Pop Festival, last night’s Led Zeppelin concert at the Rock Pile was the most significant pop event this year. Not only were the two shows completely sold out in advance, but at least 2,000 were turned away, the management reported. They missed out on one of the finest shows ever to pour sweat onto the Rock Pile stage. Led Zeppelin proved itself not only to be one conceivable replacement for Cream, but at times I doubt if even Clapton, Bruce and baker could have topped what Zeppelin offered. Six months ago, this four-piece band was unknown, save for lead guitarist Jimmy Page, who had gained an impressive reputation with the Yardbirds. Two concert tours later, the band has become the most popular English group on the scene, with the exception of Beatles and possibly Rolling Stones. But it’s not surprising. When the Zeppelin plays blues, it plays them as few white men ever have. Judging by last night’s concert, I’d even go as far as to say that very few colored bands could touch it. Certainly there are better individual musicians then the members of Led Zeppelin but, together it’s difficult to imagine a more cohesive and colorful team. The most amazing thing was the improvement in the group since its first appearance here last February, when it was a fledgling blues band. It had the ideas and the dynamics, but the expertise was yet to develop.” (Led Zeppelin Soars to the Pop Stratosphere, G&M ‘Pop Scene’, Aug. ’69)
Although the actual selection of songs is scaled down compared to the February 2nd early show (“Killing Floor” was dropped from the set by this time), the performance is much longer. After the opening two songs Plant greets the audience by saying, “We’d like to sort of apologize for being late but we had a lot of trouble with the visas and that sort of thing, and we’d like to say it’s nice to be back. Last time we came here you had a P.A. system that was about a quarter this size and all those people would get blown in their face not hear a word of it. So it’s nice to be back. We’d like to carry on. This is John here whose making all the noise. Let me just tell you, he has just about all the noise, all the time, everytime, and we’d like to carry on with something off the first long playing record that we made on the Atlantic label.” A fifteen minute version of “Dazed And Confused” follows with a greatly expanded guitar solo in the middle.
After a twelve minute version of “You Shook Me” they close with “How Many More Times” where Plant cryptically says, “we can’t really ask you to go along to the airport and say to all those people we want half our money back, so we’re not gonna ask you to.” During the band introduction he refers to John Paul Jones as “The King, King John the Second” which will be a running gag in the second show. “How Many More Times” has by this time dropped the violin bow solo which is on the studio recording and on the first tour.
Instead it is replaced by a long, intense solo with references to “Bolero,” “Smokestack Lightening,” and many other blues riffs from the stream on consciousness of Jimmy Page’s memory. Plant get into a long monologue singing “Eyesight To The Blind,” claiming that Heineken just won’t do but only some lemon squeezing!
The Rock Pile, Toronto, ON, Canada – August 18th, 1969 (late show) (source 1)
Disc 3 (53:05): Introduction, The Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, You Shook Me
Disc 4 (29:03): How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown
The Rock Pile, Toronto, ON, Canada – August 18th, 1969 (late show) (source 2)
Disc 5 (79:22) The Train Kept A-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You, Dazed And Confused, White Summer/Black Mountain Side, You Shook Me, How Many More Times, Communication Breakdown
The first tape source for the second August 18th show is the best sounding of the four included in this set. It was first pressed on Hideaway (Nienerwald 17-15-1002) in 1992 and was followed by Long Tall Sally (Tarantura T2CD-3-5,6) which has the tape complete along with bonus material from the Newport Jazz Festival and Buffalo from the same year. And both Absolutely Gems (Sanctuary TMOS-69818A/B/C) and The Rockpile Tapes (Badgeholders BH005-01-02-03) also feature this tape promimently.
TCOLZ didn’t remaster the tape so it isn’t as loud as the others but it does have nice natural sound to it. The second tape source on disc five is a good but less complete and distorted audience recording, missing about three minutes of tape between songs. It is good to for completeness’s sake, but the first tape is still preferred.
Yorke is audible introducing the band before overpowering and aggressive versions of “Train Kept A-Rollin'” and “I Can’t Quit You” and the proceed to play one of the longest an most loose sets of the entire year. Plant babbles to the crowd afterwards, saying, “believe it or not, it is really nice to be back, but we got a lot of problems, right? We just come from San Antonio in Texas where all the geezers thought we should get our hair cut and all that, and you know, we been through all that, and everybody’s been feeling rather ban and things. So we’re very pleased to be here one way or another. So it’s nice to be back. We’d like to say hello to anybody from the British isles, including Scotland…this is a thing from the first album ah, dedicated to the geezer who’s got a whistle in his throat somewhere down there.”
After “Dazed And Confused” Plant complains about the hot weather that summer, “Don’t you feel alright? Hallelujah. We’d like to feature, before things get so hot that we have to take all our things off ah, we’d like to feature Jimmy Page, alright? Jimmy Page. This is a combination of two numbers really, using a different guitar that requires a special tuning which isn’t really helped by the atmospheric conditions in here. It’s so, it’s so bloody hot that everything seems to go out of tune. So when it’s all together, we’d like to um, I’d like to have a quick cigarette. Last time we came here, I think it must have been about ten degrees below, Oh nice turn out. I didn’t really mean a cigarette, you know? Thank you. From ten degrees below zero to about a hundred and ten above. We’d like to, we’d like to bring you White Summer, Jimmy Page, please.”
The loose this is most apparent during the set closer “How Many More Times.” While the band play the opening melody Plant tries to introduce the audience, say, “We’d like to draw to a conclusion to what’s been a very hectic day. We’d like to tell you that Texas is still as it was when you last read about it, and that England is still what it always will be, and that we’d like to see you very shortly again, and if not, you can all move to the Bahamas or somewhere.”
While introducing the band Plant singles out Jones “on Hammond organ, throne” continuing the king references and Page is introduced as being on guitar and “as many chicks as he can find.” Instead of introducing himself John Bonham takes the microphone and introduces Plant as “straight from the labour club at Cradley Heath.”
The twenty minute long improvisation includes snatches again of “Bolero,” “Smokestack Lightening” and “Over Under Sideways Down.” Plant get into a very long narrative rap in the middle based upon “Eyesight To The Blind” which leads the band into one of the earliest references to Lonnie Donegan’s bluegrass skiffle “Cumberland Gap,” “two old ladies sitting in the sand / each one wishing the other was a man.” The band run almost out of control and Plant has to confess “I don’t even know what key I’m in…”
A long narration about being tied up for the deeds to your ranch is reminiscent of Jim Morrison’s explicit raps in “Gloria” and makes one wonder if there is any influence there. When they return to the stage Plant exclaims, “well, what a turnout” before introducing “Communication Breakdown” as a thing from Bing Crosby.
The Complete Rock Pile Tapes is packaged in a fatboy jewel case with very tasteful artwork with a set of amateur photos from the August 18th late show in both color and black and white.