I’ve seen more than my share of great concerts. Heck, I’ve seen the Stones 15 or 20 times. I never did get to see the Beatles, but neither did most of you. Anyway, seeing a great band never gets old, but some will remain clogged in my memory as being the ones that really stand out. Here’s five particularly good ones.
#5 - Led Zeppelin / Pittsburgh Civic Arena / March, 1970 – I loved the band, from their first record. I was a Yardbirds fan, and they always had great guitar players, but Jimmy Page always stood out for me. Zep’s bombastic style was unlike anything else: Plant’s high wail, Page’s grungy guitar, Jones’ solid bass, but it was the drumming that really did it. No one had ever played like Bonham. Yeah, Moon was all over the place, Ginger Baker could plod out double-bass stuff like nobody’s business, but here was Bonham. He was doing that bass drum stuff, with a SINGLE LUDWIG SPEED KING pedal! To me, it was unbelievable, and I had to see it live. They had just done Led Zeppelin III, and there was a lot of acoustic stuff on that record. I was hoping they wouldn’t get too acoustic on me. They did not disappoint. They played for 3 1/2 hours, without a break. Heck, the drum solo on Moby Dick was 45 minutes. For me, this was Zeppelin at their prime, and I was privileged to see it first-hand.
#4 - The Who / Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati / December, 1979 – Yeah it was THAT Who show in Cincinnati. My friend Louis and I drove down from Columbus. We were both working for Buzzard’s Nest, and got pretty good seats. We decided to drive down early, so we could get close to the doors, get in early, and have a few beers before they started. We got in really quickly when they opened the doors, and a minute after we were in, we heard the band doing their sound check. We blew off the beer and headed to our seats. We made a comment that we were glad we had reserved seats, and wouldn’t have to fight the crowd down on the floor, where it was general admission. It was the Who’s first tour after Moon died, so we didn’t know what to expect, except I was glad they got Kenny Jones to replace Moon. No one could ever play like Moon, but now the Who would have the anchor that Entwistle needed to really let his bass playing shine. After all, he was the real lead instrument in the Who. Townshend could play, but he wasn’t a lead player, in the fashion of Clapton, Page, or Beck. Listen to Quadrophenia, and tell me Entwistle isn’t the lead instrument. Anyway, the Who were great! Didn’t miss a lick with Kenny Jones on drums. We drove home raving about the show, until we turned on the radio, and found out 11 people had died at the very show we just left. We felt just awful, because moments ago, we were raving about how great the Who were. I’ve never been to another general admission show, in an arena.
#3 - The Rolling Stones / Akron Rubber Bowl / July 1972 – I was a student at OSU. It was June of ‘72, and I decided to stay in Columbus instead of going home to Youngstown for the summer. I had just started playing in bands again, after not playing for a couple of years to concentrate on school. I was playing in a band called Caterpillar (named after the company that made bulldozers). Our flyers advertised “The earth-moving sounds of Caterpillar.” I think one of the guitar players worked for them. Anyway, our lead singer, Tom Howard, was a real Stones fan. He convinced me to go with him, and I said yeah, except I didn’t have $18 for a ticket. He loaned me the money, and off we went. We got there early enough that we were able to see the Stones from about 30 feet from the stage. Exile on Main Street had just come out, and song after song after song, they played everything I wanted to hear. Mick Taylor was still in the band on that tour, and he covered everything Keith couldn’t play, magnificently. I was a Stones fan for life.
#2 - Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band / Veteran’s Memorial, Columbus, Ohio / September 5th, 1978 – Playing in a band cost me the chance to see Bruce on the Born to Run tour at the Ohio Theatre in 1976, and I WAS NOT missing him this time. It had been a couple of years since Born To Run came out, and when Darkness On The Edge of Town arrived, that RECORD changed my life. It wasn’t about fun & games & chasing girls, getting high, and having fun anymore. This was serious shit. This was all about life, and MY life in particular. It was like he knew my life’s story, and was singing about it. I was lucky enough to be in the 2nd row (working the ticket counter at Buzzard’s Nest had its privileges). The band came out and started with “Summertime Blues.” The sound, fury and bombast was like a punch in the face, only it felt good. Three hours of the greatest songs I’d ever heard. All of a sudden this was grown-up Rock & Roll. I was mesmerized, and never the same again. Springsteen fans will know what I’m talking about. Rock & Roll grew up that day, and so did I.
#1 - Atlantic City Pop Festival / Atlantic City, NJ / August, 1969 – I know what you’re thinking, how can anything beat the previous four shows? I will tell you. It was the summer of ’69 (yeah, who thought Bryan Adams would write a song about it?), the summer between my junior and senior year in high school. My friend Randy had moved with his parents to Pennsylvania and his family invited me to spend a weekend with them before school started in September. My mom was OK with it, as she knew Randy’s dad was a minister, and I would be OK. I just had to take a Greyhound bus from Youngstown to Harrisburg PA. Randy had just gotten his driver’s license and picked me up at the bus station. He asked me if I was ready for an adventure. I didn’t know what he meant, but he told me there was a ROCK FESTIVAL in Atlantic City that weekend, only a couple hours away. There was ALSO one in two weeks in WOODSTOCK NY, but that was two weeks away, and Atlantic City had a beach. That was a bonus, so we opted for Atlantic City.
This was my first exposure to the “counter culture” and I would never be the same after this either. Pot smoke filled the air, and I saw band after band over three days of great music: Jefferson Airplane, Chicago, Joni Mitchell, Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, The Byrds, Canned Heat, Santana, Mothers Of Invention, and Joe Cocker, to name a few. It was unbelievable for anyone, let alone a 17-year old kid. On Sunday, the final night, I was totally burnt, from three days of over-exposure to my senses. I was ready to go home, but I had to stay to see Janis Joplin, whom I loved. Janis was great, swigging from a bottle of Southern Comfort, and belting out the tunes from her new album, Pearl. She had a whole new band, and they had a really different sound than Big Brother. I still remember the sax player’s name, Snooki Flowers. Janis was unbelievable. Just as good as when she played Monterrey, in that film. The entire crowd was blown away. After her set, I just sat on the ground for a few minutes to catch my breath. I was about to leave, when they announced from the stage, “Little Richard.” I never thought anyone could top Janis. She was pure emotion, and she shared it with everyone. Richard Penniman came out and it was 45 minutes of pure adrenalin. I don’t even know how to explain it, but you can find those old films of him on YouTube. Magnify what you see by a thousand, and THAT is the electricity that zapped the crowd for 45 minutes to close the ATLANTIC CITY POP FESTIVAL. I WAS NEVER THE SAME.
Each one of these shows changed my life. They made me what I am today. I hope you enjoy my take on them. Rock and Roll CAN change your life; if you believe. It certainly did for me. - Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson is Midwest legend; playing drums with Willie Phoenix, The Retreads and League Bowlers, among others. Click here to read more about him.