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TBL SEPTEMBER ARCHIVE: LED ZEPPELIN LIVE ON BLUEBERRY HILL: THE PIONEERING BOOTLEG ALBUM….STILL A THRILL

1 September 2011 9,671 views 12 Comments

With September upon us, it’s an appropriate moment to reflect back to a September of 41 years back when a recording of a Led Zeppelin concert captured by some enterprising fans resulted in one of the iconic bootlegs. This TBL Archive feature first written in 2003, focuses on the story and impact of the recording of September 4th 1970 that captured Led Zeppelin on stage in full flight at the Los Angeles Forum.

Led Zeppelin’s impact on their initial American tours made them a prime targets for the then emerging bootleg recording business. The bands’ penchant for extending and improvising upon their studio recorded repertoire made their live shows very different from listening to their albums.

During the first eighteen months on the road they cleverly inter wove the basic recorded material to be found on the first two albums with additional impromptu jams. Early examples of this included the long jam on Garnet Mimms As Long As I Have You employed on many of their 1969 shows, the medley of numbers to be found within How Many More Times and an improvised jam session in the middle of the live delivery of Communication Breakdown. Then there was Dazed And Confused Page’s late Yardbird remnant that by 1970 was
developing into a marathon twenty minute opus with differing sections including the violin bow episode and a call and response battle between Page and Plant. Whole Lotta Love the catalytic Zep 2 opener soon became another forum for exploration as they regularly employed it as a platform to playfully insert a variety of rock’ n’roll classics.

During 1970 they also began previewing songs from the yet to be released third album -initially an embryonic Since I’ve Been Loving You and then in a bold move, the acoustic That’s The Way a performance that helped break the myth that Zep was just going to be about Marshall amplifiers. It’s unlikely the two separate team of fans intent on recording the Zeppelin gig  at the Inglewood Forum in Los Angeles on the night of September 4th 1970 were quite aware of the full spectrum of Zeppelin’s live performances but they both came away with lengthy representations of  the band’s current state of play recorded on reel to reel recorders close to the stage.

The source that would became known as the album Led Zeppelin Live On Blueberry Hill was captured by a pair of west coast bootleggers who had been previously responsible for Bob Dylan’s Great White Wonder set and the  Rolling Stones LiveR Than You’ll Ever Be. The latter had been recorded on a Uher 4000 reel to reel tape recorder with 71/2ips  inch reels and a Sennheiser 805 shotgun microphone. It was this set up they took into the Forum to record in stereo the Zeppelin September 4 performance. Unbeknown to them, a separate bootlegger known as Rubber Dubber also recorded the show and quickly issued it as a double bootleg album stamped Led Zeppelin Live Los Angeles Forum 9-4-70.

The more common Blimp label version (later to appear on the high profile bootleg label Trade Mark Of  Quality) with a distinctive surreal cover insert came out within weeks of  the LA show. It’s worth noting however that it was not the first Led Zeppelin bootleg to be released. That distinction fell to a vinyl album known as PB (the title derived from the chemical symbol for lead). This came packaged in a brown sleeve and with the words P.B. Live on side one and Recorded Live -Pure Blues on side 2. The album was pressed in limited quantities around the Seattle area. Pure Blues subsequently reached a wider market when it was picked up by the Trade Mark Of  Quality label and pressed as Mudslide..

The UK music press of the time chronicled the constant stream of bootleg titles from the likes of  Bob Dylan,The Beatles and The Rolling Stones  that were being imported into the country. The reports of Zeppelin titles surfacing came to the attention of Peter Grant and unsurprisingly he was none too happy. In one of the few naive statements of his career,Grant was quoted in the Melody Maker as saying: ”As far as I know there can be no Led Zeppelin tapes available. After hearing some time ago that there was going to be an attempt to bootleg some tapes of the band, I flew to America. We’ve managed to retrieve all the tapes and we know nothing in existence that can be issued”.

When Grant heard that copies of Live On Blueberry Hill were being sold from a shop in Chancery Lane in London, Grant and Richard Cole along with  RAK management partner Mickie Most paid the proprietor Jeffrey Collins a visit.  He questioned Collins on the Zeppelin album and with a little not so gentle persuasion made sure he knew that this was one bootleg album he might be best to leave alone. In a separate incident a year later in Vancouver fearing another case of bootlegging ,Grant promptly smashed the equipment being used by a team of anti pollution scientists set up to measure noise levels at a Zeppelin show in Vancouver.

Of course ultimately Grant was powerless to stop  the proliferation of Zeppelin underground records of which Blueberry Hill was the forerunner. If you knew where to look, such rare artefacts were possible to come by . For this particular enchanted Zep obsessed teenager Live On Blueberry Hill represented the forbidden fruit and in 1971 I began a quest to track it down. Luckily the then relative newcomer to the pop press Sounds began offering a free service  for reader advertisements. I scoured these columns religiously for many weeks and finally struck gold when I spotted an advert that ran along the lines ”Live albums for sale : Stones, Dylan ,Zeppelin etc”.  The list came back and amongst the many Dylan and Beatles titles there it was – Live on Blueberry Hill a double album on the TMQ label catalogue number TMQ 72002 and pressed on coloured vinyl. -asking price £6. Back then six quid was a small fortune but it was more than worth it.

About three weeks later the postman dropped an LP size package on the doorstep .I anxiously ripped it open and there in all its glory was the genuine article: ”106 minutes and fifty three seconds of pure and alive rock as the sleeve insert put it. Was it ever.

The excitement of playing through that double album on blue and red vinyl remains an unforgettable musical memory for me. It was a novelty that never wore off. Indeed the variousincarnations I’ve obtained since- the Rubber Dubber vinyl set, the various re issues, the various bootleg CD packages – all these have only heightened the listening pleasure of that celebrated Los Angeles stop off during Led Zeppelin’s sixth American tour.

The overriding factor of the Sepember 4th 1970  recording regardless of which version one is subjected to – is that it remains one of the greatest audience recordings of  the era.. The sheer dynamic thrust of Bonzo’s drum sound, the sinewy grind of Page’s guitar, Jonesy’s resonant bass lines and piecing keyboards and the outstanding clarity of Plant’s siren shrieks, (suitably enhanced by the echo unit employed at the time), all merge into a ferocious mix that magically re creates the electricity of the occasion.

For me personally and I’m sure anyone else who was weaned the original TMQ long players, there’s an authenticity in their performances ingrained in the grooves that has rarely been captured so effectively. Alongside the  Winterland ’69 recordings,the Texas ’69 International festival, Japan 1971 shows, the various Earls Court sets and the LA 1977 gigs, there are few finer unofficial examples of the complete Led Zeppelin concert experience.

The September 4th 1970 concert as captured on the TMQ double set was just choc full of off the wall surprises. There was no sign of any set list sterility back then -they just did as they pleased.Moments to relish include:

The sheer aural assault of the Immigrant Song (the original insert listed this as  From The Midnight Sun as it had yet to be announced under its official title for  its appearance as the opening track on Zep 3) exploding into Heartbreaker. The slightly menacing tone of a relatively compact Dazed And Confused with Plant’s bursting in mid way through screaming  ”I don’t care  what people say  rock’n’roll is here to stay”. Page and Bonham linked in glorious tandem for that solo exercise on Bring It On Home, The electric finale of Moby Dick  (”The big B!” exclaims Plant), the sheer unpredictability of  Communication Breakdown as Zep play the Buffalo Springfield and Beatles songbooks and throw in the rarely played live Zep 1 opener Good Times Bad Times.Freshly minted nuggets from the yet to be heard Zep 3 on record such as  Since I’ve Been Loving You and the rarely played Out On the Tiles. The tentative introduction of the acoustic material, a stark and sensitive That’s The Way and the rare try out of Page’s instrumental solo  Bron Yr Aur a clear five years before it was officially released. Thank You proceeded by the meandering organ solo from  John Paul Jones and finishing with a drawn out ending featuring Page’s delicate strumming. Whole Lotta Love and the ensuing Zep 50’s revival show and finally the breathless rendition of Fat’s Blueberry Hill.

”Goodnight and thank you for everything” utters a breathless Plant at the close  followed – ”Did ya dig it’?’  by the evening’s MC…

Yes we did and still do.

The greatest live album of all time? It’s certainly up there with the best. Official or otherwise. The reason is simple. It captures a group of musicians brimming with confidence. On stage that night in September 1970 Led Zeppelin were truly coming of age.

Live on Blueberry is also something of a yardstick for the neccessity of bootlegs. Back then Zeppelin’s recorded output was just the tip of the iceberg. On stage in live action was where the real creative inspiration occured and indeed where they really built their reputation. I recall Peter Grant summing ti all up when he told me ”Led Zeppelin was primarily an in person band that’s what it was really about”. Bootleg recordings of the band offered  a whole new level of  appreciation and Blueberry Hill was the watershed for the subsequent flood of live Zep bootleg  that would emerge throughout the next four decades.

The whole bootleg CD market may be well out of control now and beyond any reasonable realm of quality control, but there was a time when bootlegs like Blueberry Hill were considered almost as important as the groups official output by fans and chroniclers alike and if they were honest, probably the group themselves.

Maybe that’s the greatest compliment that can be paid to this iconic bootleg recording. It remains as essential a part of their discography as any of their official albums.

More than four decades on, Live On Blueberry Hill is still an absolute thrill. Find it – play it –love it.

Dave Lewis

Copyright Dave Lewis/TBL Publishing 2011 –not to be reproduced without prior permission

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12 Comments »

  • Kev Smith said:

    I remember searching through assorted Lps in a record store in Melbourne 1974 and came across 2 bootleg albums,Led Zeppelin Live on Blueberry Hill.It was bright green with LZLOBBH stamped in blue.The other lp was The Rolling Stones Live at The London Roundhouse.Both boots on the TMOQ lable.I had never heard of these so i was excited and anxious to listen to them.I thought what was From the Midnight Sun.When the needle dropped and the Immigrant Song hit me,i creamed my jeans,I was in LZ heaven.Having seen the mighty Zepp in Adelaide 2 years before,i imagined how shell shocked the audience would have been,IS followed by a devestating HB.
    Even though i really dig HTWWW,to me BBH, is my all time fave live LZ.I have all the well known boot titles,but to me this is my favourite live experience.In fact i believe if this had been pro recorded,it would be regarded as the best live album period,surpassing the Whos LAL,the Allmans live at the fillmore ect.
    I listen to,and dig Coblas stereo version.If i had a choice to take only one album to desert island with me,this is the one,bar none.

  • Simon Loxham said:

    I have been given a vinyl copy of this legendary boot (I have a tape somewhere too) the front cover is a pink copy of the familiar sleeve stamped with Collectors Edition Colored vinyl, one red and one blue. I expect this is a boot of a boot but searching on Google, although not stipulated anywhere it could be on the Blimp label as the cat number is EV664-EV666 sides A-D. Some it is actually playable!

  • julian said:

    Remember at school (1973/4?) a classmate offered to do me a tape of the LP and alway forgetting to do it. Finally got the tape and was blown away. Since then have worked my way through the LP (sadly now sold) to CD . It always made me laugh that the CD of Blueberry Hill on the Seagull Records label had in the accompanying booklet the statement that for every copy sold an amount was put into an Italian bank account on behalf of the Band. So maybe someone should check out the account at the Banca Toscana.

  • Hiroshi said:

    nuvo911,
    So the LA Forum was equipped with a retractable roof? Fabulous (pun intended)! That’s quite a revelation as I’ve never come across such information until I read your post.

    I have developed a rather naive idea of LZ Live On Blueberry Hill having been recorded in an open-air site because the vibes and the ambience captured on the recording give such a liberated, unconfined feel as if there were no walls around there that would bounce the sound in a typical indoor arena. I’d be the first to admit that I may well have been misdirected by the title though. The photos of ZEP’s first ever LA Forum appearance, March 27, 1970, clearly show that the roof wasn’t open, so we can safely assume the same on the Blueberry Hill night, too.

    You saw ZEP in LA 71, 72, 75 and 77? You lucky bastard! I’m corresponding from Osaka (another place “where things make sense” to quote the Plantation from the Badge Holders Only night; i.e., LA forum, June 23, 1977) but I never saw them live. My high school mate who sold me the copy of LOBH saw a 1971 Osaka show (more probably the sacred Sept. 29) as well as both 1972 Osaka shows. I haven’t seen him more than 30 years, where is he now…time flies.

  • nuvo911 said:

    Hiroshi,
    The roof on the Forum used to open up somethimes. It was open when 3 Dog Night did their live album there in 70, so it could have possibly been open when Zepp played there too. You can see a distorted picture of it on that album cover. It looked like this.
    http://s.dsimg.com/image/R-1438190-1258862724.jpeg

    I believe that they stopped opening it up after a while because of the noise from rock shows. I saw Zepp there 4 times in 71, 72, 75 and 77 as well as other shows and the top was never open.

    I imagine that Zepp played a lot louder than 3 Dog Night, so that would explain the closed roof. I also heard that they were having problems with the seal and rain water so they decided they would just keep it shut.

    I had a copy of BBH back in the day too. I lent it out and it never came back – Bastards. My recolection was that the audio was tinny, but clear. You could hear all on the detail in the instruments in detail, not like the crap I got from the o2 show (a blurry mumbled out piece of shit).

    I long for the old PA’s of the 70’s. Giant Horns, and Folded Horn Bass Reflex Cabinets. They were Big, Loud, and Clear!

    Nuvo911 – A California native

  • Hiroshi said:

    My two thoughts (instead of cents) on this iconic bootleg.
    1. The first time I heard it was Summer 1974 when my high school mate lent me the original Blimp release (and later he generously sold it to me in a reasonable price). I believed that it contained the full set and the songs played were in actual running order — unlike many clumsily edited live bootlegs, the whole album were edited so seamlessly that it in fact sounded like they performed that way!
    2. Somehow I imagined the venue was open-air and that false image still persists to this day — even long after I saw the photos of the actual show. Whenever I put the stylus on the vinyl (I still don’t own a CD version), I visualize Zeppelin in their triumphant Viking posture performing under the blue sky, under the Californian sun (yes, it’s an afternoon show in my head!), in front of the hordes of hippie crowd, a la Bath Festival. Back then, I didn’t have any slightest idea as to what the LA Forum or Blueberry Hill stood for. Perhaps the bootlegger is to blame for misleading me with the title (“the show happened on an open field called Blueberry Hill”) but I find the way I was misled more fascinating than reality. Led Zeppelin Live At The LA Forum would have led me to a more accurate, but rather boring idea of the event. Fabulous or not…

  • Dave Linwood said:

    Great article Dave.
    Indeed one of the first and greatest that I have owned.
    As a “newvie” to Zep music back in the mid to late 70’s I was amazed at the amount of rock n rock songs that appeared in the live medleys -and isn’t this the boot where Plant sings the immortal lines “just take your teeth out before you get into bed….??”

  • Mark Harrison said:

    Live On Blueberry Hill – You’ve only got say or see those four words for the mouth to start salivating!! When I got married in 1984. The DJ, typically had no Zeppelin – the closest we could find was the original “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino – so me and the wife ended up dancing to that!! – thanks Phil T!!!!!!!!!
    Cheers Dave!
    Mark

  • Kathy Urich said:

    Dave I took your advice and picked up Led Zeppelin Live On Blueberry Hill. Looking forward to receiving this in the mail along with TBL #30.

  • Geoff Adamson said:

    I remember my brother bringing a borrowed copy home. I believe it was purple vinyl. This was the first time I’d heard them live and can still recall the effect, what must be 40 years later.

    An absolute classic and its funny that despite the hundreds of others I have now it probably is the best, certainly the most memorable. Getting the Earls Court 24th May show runs it close though.

    Well done Dave.

  • John Godson said:

    Great article Dave.How can I get hold of a copy at a reasonable price? Keep up the good work.
    John

  • Julian Walker said:

    Spot on as always Dave. “Live On Blueberry Hill” remains one of my all time favourite recordings, and the vinyl is still a real treat. The artwork remains one of the very finest artistic expressions by any label or band. Staggering to think that on that night in the LA Forum at least six different people recorded the concert!

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