“Pat, could you come down to the dressing room?
This was the sentence I most dreaded hearing during my days as a promoter. Everyone who worked with me knew that I preferred to stay in my office – taking care of business – before, during and after a show. So, when a concert hall manager or one of my assistants asked me to come backstage, I knew there was trouble ahead.
On this particular night, March 30, 1970, I was summoned by the road manager of a band that was quickly becoming one of rock’s most popular supergroups: Led Zeppelin.
What could this be about? My mind was racing as I walked with trepidation toward the band’s dressing room. We’d sold 12,331 tickets for the show. No problems in that area. Could it have something to do with the group’s “rider” — an extension of the contract that includes a list of special technical equipment and hospitality items requested by performers on the night of the show? By this point in my career I had had my share of unusual rider demands, but Led Zeppelin’s were the most outrageous to date.
For starters, they wanted a supplemental sound system. That was standard enough. Bands were increasingly requesting things like Steinway grand pianos and the mounting of elaborate lighting systems — all of which required the services of extra stage hands. But what made Zeppelin’s rider so unusual was their beverage demand.
They wanted their dressing rooms stocked with two cases of Dom Pérignon champagne. That’s 24 bottles of bubbly. At a little over $100 a bottle, it was the most expensive champagne on the market. Now, I didn’t usually bother sending my runner out to buy liquor until the last minute. If I bought it ahead of time, I’d have to keep it in my office and hope that no one stole it or drank it.
On the day before the concert my assistant, Jimmy “Chuncie” Vaccaro, visited numerous liquor stores in an attempt to buy the pricey champagne. There was none to be had. He finally managed to obtain 3 bottles from a high-end department store, but we needed 2 CASES of it! And there was no time to special-order it.
But Dom or no Dom, if it was expensive champagne they wanted, expensive champagne they would receive. $2,500 dollars worth. Problem solved. Or so I thought.
As I walked to the Led Zeppelin dressing room that night before their big show at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena, little did I know that I was about to have one of the most bizarre experiences of my career. Clearly, the band and their road manager were not happy with the “inferior” champagne I supplied. Let’s just say we all had a smashing time that night. And it wasn’t pretty.
You can read all about the rest of this sticky behind-the-scenes situation in my book “Hard Days Hard Nights,” available from Amazon at this link.
Based on my early experience with Led Zeppelin, I was somewhat flabbergasted to see the three remaining members of the group receive Kennedy Center Honors medals from President Obama in 2012. Click here to read an entertaining article about their acceptance into mainstream society. It’s from The Hip Quotient, a blog by Pittsburgh music writer Dana Spiardi.
Here’s Led Zeppelin, live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970:
Remember: Tickets are now on sale for my September 19 “Relive the Beatles ’64” show. It features the band Beatlemania Now and other great tribute artists portraying the performers who influenced the Fab Four. Click here to order them online from the Palace Theatre.