The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes (Graf Zeppelin LZSC-808)
Swing Auditorium, San Bernadino, CA, USA – August 8, 1969
(64:12) Introduction, The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, I Gotta Move, Dazed And Confused, White Summer, You Shook Me, How Many More Times. Bonus Trax: Oakdale Music Theater, Wallingford, CT, USA – August 17, 1969: The Train Kept A Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby
Led Zeppelin’s third tour of North America in the summer of 1969 featured the band playing both festival and headline dates. One of their earliest headline dates at a large arena took place on August 8, 1969 when the band played the 10,000 capacity Swing Auditorium in San Bernadino, California. The Swing was built in 1948 and a who’s who of artists would grace its stage over the years, Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, and Elvis Presley being just a few. Grateful Dead fans are familiar with the Swing as their classic song Terrapin Station made its live debut there on February 26, 1977, this performance immortalized on Dave’s Picks vol. 29. Led Zeppelin would return to the Swing just one more time in the summer of 1972.
Led Zeppelin’s first performance at the Swing Auditorium was recorded by a member of the audience who unfortunately was directly in front of Jimmy Page’s guitar amplifier. The resulting recording is unbalanced with the guitar overshadowing the rest of the band, the tape is overloaded and distorted as well making for a difficult listen. This rough recording did not limit its release in the collectors market, The Summer of ’69 (Rubber Dubber RD001) was a vinyl disc released in the mid 90’s and was a limited pressing of 750 numbered copies. Compact Disc titles are Get High Be Free (Tarantura TCD-129) and its later reissue four years later featured the same matrix numbers. The recording was featured as a bonus on Live At Central Park (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-456/457) and Wendy released Wrath Of The Gods (Wendy WECD-352) in 2019.
Recently a verified first generation copy of the recording started circulating on various trackers and would be the subject of two new titles, San Bernadino 1969 (No Label) and this new release from the folks at Graf Zeppelin. For comparison I will use my only copy of this recording, the Live At Central Park title from EV. Not knowing what to expect I was pleasantly surprised, this new title by Graf Zeppelin is a major upgrade over the EV. The EV sounds very cold and harsh, brittle at times where this new Graf title has a warmer sound that is much easier on the ears. This new title is also much clearer, the introduction is actually audible and you can actually hear a little bit of John Paul Jones’ bass in the mix. During the quieter portions on the songs the rest of the band is also much more audible. Don’t be fooled by my description, this recording is still a tough but interesting listen.
Jimmy’s guitar tone is distorted and nasty sounding, his playing is incredible and if anything this gives you a clear picture on his parts of these songs. Train Kept A Rollin’ is fast and he completely drowns out most everything, but I Can’t Quit You is actually quit enjoyable, your ears are adjusted and in tune with the recording and you can pick up the bass and vocals, the drums are faintly heard. Page breaks a string afterwards and the band play a bass, drums, and vocal jam in the form of an I Gotta Move jam, Page remedy’s the situation and joins the others at the end. Dazed And Confused is one of the most eerie versions you will ever hear, the bow solo sounds as if conjured up from the depths of hell, but in a good way! The fast section afterwards is a really good listen and Page just lays waste to the place, although he does have to tune in the middle all the while Jones’ incredible bass line clearly heard, always pushing.
Interesting, the taper listens to a minute of White Summer and stops recording, “A thing recorded by Muddy Waters” is more appealing, You Shook Me devastates the tape machine and the listener as well. The How Many More Times medley is worth the effort it takes to make it through this tape. The song starts off with the band vamping a bit while Robert introduces them, Jimmy easily drowns out his ovation. The band tease the audience during The Hunter and it works perfectly, the screams and shrieks come through clearly in the recording. There is some rare songs being played during the medley, Lee Dorsy’s Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky get Zeppelinized as does Chuck Berry’s School Days, the latter is a phenomenal version of it, it certainly gets the crowd clapping and in a near state of hysteria. It goes to show you sometimes there is great music in some of the most difficult recordings to listen too.
Graf Zeppelin has thankfully added a bit of bonus material to this title, the 8 minute fragment from Oakdale Music Threater in Wallingford August 17, 1969. This little piece of history has had a few previous releases as well, Tales From ’69 (Tarantura NO 69-3-1-3), Red Snapper Deluxe (Balboa Productions BP-95010/11), and Image Club 1969 (Wendy WECD-263/26). I have the Balboa title dug out and am curious to compare this new version. First off the Wallingford recording is poor to fair, Train is worse than I Can’t Quit You Baby. The sound is distant and Robert is prominent in the mix but thankfully the others can be heard easily in the mix. Train is hampered by some tape warble, I Can’t Quit You Baby’s sound is pretty steady throughout the song. No surprise Robert is in fine voice as are Jimmy and John Bonham, John Paul Jones is more difficult to pick out, thankfully some of his bass runs can be heard while Jimmy solos. Bummer there is only this short fragment, Summer 69 was a prime period for Zeppelin and this sounds like it met those standards. I was surprised the old Balboa title actually sounds pretty darn good. This new Graf has a bit wider sound range, that’s not saying much. The Balboa has been amplified a bit more and has an underlying hum to it, this new Graf title has neither and while both are thin, the Graf is the better and easier listen.
The packaging is typical Graf Zeppelin, the inserts are all adorned with live shots from the actual concert, the rear also has the event poster as well, the CD and numbered sticker both feature the gig poster art as well. This is what a bootleg release should look like, a historical artifact in every sense of the word. That being said this is a difficult listen and certainly not a release for anyone other than the completists.