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Music

Led Zeppelin were once banned from an entire city

@SamWKemp

Led Zeppelin: a name that has become something of a byword for rock ‘n’ roll debauchery. In their day, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham were known as one of the most difficult bands to reign in, mostly because the man who was supposed to keep them under control, Richard Cole, was perhaps the worst offender of all. Indeed, it was Cole who allowed Zeppelin to destroy their room in Seattle’s Edgewater Hotel not once but twice; turning a blind eye or perhaps even encouraging the group as they drove motorcycles through the corridors and threw TVs from the balcony. However, it wasn’t any fault of Led Zeppelin or their entourage that landed them with a ban from one of the most important cities on their tour schedule; it was their fans.

By the mid-1970s, Led Zeppelin were hurtling towards the peak of their success. Their blend of hard rock, coupled with the combined virtuosity of Plant, Page, and Bonham, made Led Zeppelin one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Their six studio albums, featuring tracks like ‘Stairway To Heaven’, ‘Immigrant Song’, and ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ earned them such an immense fanbase that they were required to tour relentlessly – hitting city after city in a chaotic swirl of rock ‘n’ roll hedonism.

One of the most important of these cities, in America at least, was Boston. As Stephen Davis, who joined Led Zeppelin on their 1975 world tour, later wrote: “Boston was a very important town for Led Zeppelin. They broke out from England in their early days in early 1969 at the Boston Tea Party [club] where they played a series of tumultuous shows. And then in 1969, 1970, 1971 they came back around nine times and they played kind of everywhere.”

It comes as no surprise, then, that when Led Zeppelin announced they’d be returning to the city for a show at the Boston Garden, there was a huge surge of interest. “By about 5pm, kids began to line up on Causeway Street outside the old Boston Garden,” Davis recalled, noting that there must have been at least 3,000 of them. “They were all dressed in blue denim jeans and jean jackets and things like that and they were freezing.” As the sun dipped below the horizon, the temperature plummeted, dropping into single figures. Seeing that these kids were clearly uncomfortable, the owners of the Garden opened the doors and told them that they could wait inside until the box office opened in the morning. “Pretty soon they were passing bottles of Boons Farm apple wine and Ripple — another kind of wine they had back then — and smoking joints and generally getting rowdy,” Davis continued.

Then, just as the security personnel’s shifts were ending, things really started to kick off: “The kids broke into the beer concessions and started feeding themselves,” Davis explained. “And when the next shift came on, they turned the fire hoses on them. Then they turned the fire hoses on Boston Garden, then they started to torch the seats.” The Boston police riot squad was quickly called in to quell the rampage. It wasn’t until 5.30 that they managed to clear the Garden, which, by that time, had already sustained $30,000 worth of damage. Wandering around the devastated venue, Davis observed: “The place was a smoking ruin. It was completely flooded. It was just like the place had been bombed.”

When Boston’s then-mayor, Kevin White visited the scene of the riot, he saw: “Burned seats and the flooded hockey rink and the trashed concession stands and he said, ‘Led Zeppelin will never play in Boston again.'” And just like that Led Zeppelin found themselves banned from an entire city without having even stepped foot inside its boundaries. Indeed, it wasn’t until 2020 that Jimmy Page discovered that the ban had been enforced. Posting photographs of the Boston crowds on his Facebook, the guitarist wrote: “There was apparently a five-year ban put on the band playing the venue. I was blissfully unaware of any of these shenanigans, but the Mayor was, by all accounts, a Rolling Stones fan”.

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