Full props to Ed for a truly great catch.
IN 1968, JIMMY PAGE AND THE YARDBIRDS PLAYED AT ST. XAVIER’S PROM
Months before the legendary guitar player formed a little band called Led Zeppelin, he and his bandmates took an unexpected gig—and made quite an impression.
Oh, I just bet they did. I just bet they did at that.
By all accounts St. Xavier High School was a pretty buttoned-up place in the late 1960s: an all-male student body with a coat-and-tie dress code, daily Mass (confession optional), and a special Jesuit brand of detention called J.U.G., or Justice Under God (still in place today; ditto for the all-male thing). The chief rule enforcer back then was Patrick J. Boyle, S.J., the school’s assistant principal and unofficial dean of discipline, legendary for incidents like sending boys home mid-day for a haircut if their locks even grazed the tops of their shirt collars.
At the very same time, out in the world-at-large, the times they were a-changin’, as the song lyrics sort of go. Between war, devastating assassinations, increasingly violent protests, political theater, and even the world’s first manned lunar orbit, 1968 in particular would end up being one of the most pivotal and tumultuous years in recent U.S. history. High school and college students nationwide had begun advocating vehemently for a freer, less restrictive, and more open society; in the process they’d also managed to usher in a new era of rock music that aptly reflected the times (sex, drugs, et al). Such was the cultural landscape when St. X’s class of 1968 entered its senior year and a new principal, Father Ed Smith, arrived on campus for—among many other things—his first meetings with the student council.
One of the group’s first orders of business: planning the prom.
Even if you’re not a classic-hard-rock fan—which I am—a Led Zep fan—which, ditto—or a Yardbirds devotee—which I ain’t, and never have been—you’ll still find this a fun read. It’s an amazing story, albeit an all too familiar one to any poor lost soul who’s ever seriously attempted to embark on a career as a full-time professional musician. The weddings, bar mitzvahs, birthday parties, and sundry private gatherings any such misguided fool must endure so as to eke out their paltry living in the biz are indeed the curse of the calling.
No, whether or not you do manage to scratch and claw your way to the top of the rock and roll heap, the road there is a long and thorny one, guaranteed to be liberally salted with what my erstwhile partner in musical crime Mookie Brill (yes, that’s moi with Mook in the top-left photo, thenksveddymuch; there’s video of our old power-duo, the Parodi Kings, available for perusal there also, looks like) un-affectionately used to call “menu venues,” along with the whole panoply of other painful life experiences. Not to complain or anything, it’s all just part of the working-musician life.
I remember one wedding the BPs played in DC, for one of the steepest tolls we ever did charge, wherein the minister responsible for the preceding nuptials introduced the band by turning to us to glare in goggle-eyed horror and sneering over the mic, “Guess it really does take all kinds to make a world.” My brother the doghouse bassist was so offended by the obvious insult he immediately started lobbying me hard for just up and walking out then and there (direct would-be-exit quote: “Man, SCREW this, let’s just pack our stuff up and leave!”), before we’d struck the very first chord and/or rock-star pose.
The bride and groom were so mortified by this incident that, in addition to our exorbitant fee (of which we damned well earned every fucking penny), they were moved to ship us an entire case of pricey Knob Creek small-batch bourbon and a nice note when they got back home to San Francisco by way of apology. Handsome is as handsome does, as they say; they were actually very nice people, one of many couples who had met at one of our Double Door shows back when they were living in CLT.
In one of life’s great ironies, the majority of those couples at whose wedding receptions we later played, those that I know of anyway, ended up divorced after a few years. It got so bad that, before the last few we did before giving them up forever, we went out of our way to warn the soon-to-be-unhappy couples when they first inquired about us playing for them of our dismal track record to date, and what it might well wind up meaning to them ere the (bitter, acrimonious) end.
Anyways, the thing that really grabbed me about the Yardbirds-prom article is this photo of Jimmy Page:
Yep, that is indeed Jimmy Page—renowned throughout the guitar-playing universe for his strict insistence on running various Gibson Les Pauls through several serried ranks of Marshall full-stacks, with a doubleneck SG along for the ride on “Stairway To Heaven,” natch—working not just a chop-shop Fender Tele (GASP!!!) but what looks to my jaded eyes to be a silverface Bassman head, alongside a Vox UL4120, through three (count ’em, 3) Dual Showman cabs.
A replica of Jimmy’s beat-up, junky old Tele can now be had from Fender as the obnoxiously-overpriced “Jimmy Page Signature Model Telecaster,” no less, available in various colors including “Natural with Artwork” at selected music stores near you. Really, what can one say but, “YIKES!”
Hell with them Yardbirds, sez I, have yourselves a little Led Zep as a palate cleanser instead.
ZOMG update! Scanning the comments over at Insty, there’s a whole slew of similar stories, including this one, from 1971:
Black Sabbath plays Union Catholic High School
From Master of Reality documentary
On the second night of their tour, February 18th, they played an uncommon stop for most rock bands. Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. The student body contacted the band’s booking agent, asking if Sabbath would play at their school. Tired of the usual dull bake sales and dances, the students of Union Catholic endeavored upon a novel approach to fundraising. It first started with The Who concert at the school in 1967, followed by other notable bands such as Chicago, Blood Sweat and Tears, and Cream. Black Sabbath would be the last.
One first-hand account said: “As the concert started, Ozzy came out with his band from our left. Then FROZE midstage. Facing him right up front were rows of seated priests and nuns in the audience. I still remember the puzzled look on his face. He then shrugged his shoulders and began.” Apparently, the nuns and priests had commandeered the first two rows.
The Marist brother, who was assigned to the student council, took one look at Ozzy, wearing a big cross and chain around his neck, and turned a member of the student body and said, “Finally. (YOU booked) A Christian band!”
The sold-out concert, with an estimated 2,200 attending, would gross $8,803.50, over $60k in 2022 dollars. Black Sabbath would go down as the biggest revenue generator in all of Union Catholic High School’s concert history.
Heh. And probably made about 300 bucks themselves, if that. There’s also this:
The Way It Was – The Who, 1967
The night of Nov. 22, 1967, is indelibly etched in the memories of local music fans lucky enough to nab a ticket to The Who’s performance at Southfield High School’s gym. “It was packed to the gills, and I was in the front row,” recalls Don Henderson, who shot this photo. The British group was preceded by warm-up bands The Unrelated Segments and The Amboy Dukes (with Ted Nugent). Singer Roger Daltrey’s back is to the crowd in front of drummer Keith Moon while guitarist Pete Townshend puts the finishing touches on his signature windmill move, in which he wound up his arm in anticipation of striking a furious power chord. Not pictured is bassist John Entwistle. Henderson, who was just 17 at the time, was himself then in an established local group, The Gang, which was one of the house bands at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. Lead guitarist Henderson also saw The Who in June of ’67 at Ann Arbor’s The Fifth Dimension club, now long gone. He and his bandmates were smitten by the English group. “Our band looked up to The Who,” Henderson says. “They were what we wanted to be like and sound like and we did their songs.” By the time they appeared at Southfield High, The Who already had a string of hits, including “I Can’t Explain,” “My Generation,” and “Happy Jack.” Their signature concert finale was smashing their instruments. Henderson says they did so at Southfield High — after a fashion. “They didn’t go too crazy,” he remembers. “Pete Townshend knocked his guitar to the floor a couple of times and Keith Moon tipped his drums over.” Incidentally, the fellow peeking out of the curtains is Tom Weschler, a respected music photographer in his own right who also became Bob Seger’s road manager. Henderson continues to keep in touch with Weschler and Nugent.
Mind-blowing pics from the Sabbath show are included with that article, too. Other brushes with future greatness from Glenn’s/Ed’s comment section include Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Chicago, Ted Nugent, and more. Every professional player, every band, be they exalted or humble, is gonna have skeletons of this nature rattling around in their closets.
Calls for another embed, I think, of the dead-bang greatest Sabbath tune of them all.
Not sure if that’s the original Sabbath drummer in that vid or not, and my apologies to Geezer Butler and all, but as far as I’m concerned as long as you have Ozzie and Tony Iommi in there, then hey, it’s Black Sabbath.
Repost update! After much thrashing about trying to figure this whole Substack business out, this post can now be viewed at my grubby, disreputable hangout there also: The Eyrie, Mike’s CF Adjunct. I left comments open, if you feel like giving it a whirl.