Cleveland Rocked – Part One

© 2020 MJ Ostrander

In 1972, I was fourteen and determined to go see Alice Cooper.  But an obstacle needing finesse stood in my way.  Parental rules said I was not allowed to go to a rock concert before I was sixteen.  I asked my father first because he was the hardcore guy when it came to the law.  He said to ask my mother.  Cool!  She was the pushover!  I nearly skipped into the living room where Mom was crocheting.  She looked over her reading glasses and said… and said, “No.”  This prima fascia ruling pissed me off!  I plead leniency, but the bench was unmoved.  With a fledgling attempt to exercise my right to free speech, I demanded to know what she wanted me to do with the rest of my life, stay home and knit?  With a speed I didn’t think she still possessed, she left her armchair and slapped my face!  I don’t recall what I did next.  I probably ran up to my room in humiliation and played Killer, then School’s Out, then Killer again.  With volume.  So much for finessing.

I lived to see my sixteenth birthday. The ban on concerts lifted and I made up for lost time.  I never did see Alice.  I think I moved on after Billion Dollar Babies.  In our modest collection of framed album covers hanging in our hall, I have a copy of Killer.  I still smile at the memory and listen to the LP on YouTube.  It’s a great stress buster. 

(A gritty and then highly polluted Cleveland in the 1970’s Photo Credit: National Archives)

I was born and bred in Cleveland.  Say what you want about the city, we could claim Alan Freed and from 1973 to 1986, the infamous radio station WMMS.  We also had Belkin Productions, promoters of prodigious powers.  In its heyday, WMMS gave airplay to relative unknowns such as Rush, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Peter Frampton and more, launching their careers into the stratosphere.  Much has been written about the era.  Suffice to say, WMMS saved many a rock and roll soul.

I don’t claim to have attended a record number of concerts, but I saw more than my share.  Memories tend to congeal from many hours into one giant party nobody wanted to end.  But there are a few that stand out of the mix, some because they were that good, others because they were that bad.  In this segment, two shows by huge bands.  One shone like the sun, the other only dazed and confused.

I’m flashing to 1977, to Cleveland Municipal Stadium where eighty-three thousand gathered on a sweltering June day to experience Pink Floyd following the release of “Animals.”  I was with a group of friends that arrived at one in the afternoon for a show that wouldn’t start until eight.  We lucked out obtaining seats on the field.  Passage of time and my twelve-hour altered state of mind account for imperfect memories, but I still retain some moments of clarity. 

There was a dude on the pitcher’s mound who periodically and skillfully did bird songs all afternoon.  A passing storm had those of us on the field lifting sections of tarp off the grass to serve as undulating umbrellas.  We’d brought our own stash, but there were so many salesmen of organic and chemical substances available that we bought some hash from one persistent individual just so he would leave.  Another guy fell into one of my friend’s laps reciting in a sing-song voice, “Four-wayyy, Mr. Naturalll, Blotterrrr.”  We just laughed and laughed. 

As the sun sank behind us, an incredibly low-flying commercial jet roared through the stadium’s horseshoe and out the other end in an auditory hallucinogenic trail.  The rumors you may have heard are true.  A giant inflated pig traversed its way across the stadium.  There is much debate on whether the prop was shot by bottle rockets or detained by members of the crowd on its way towards the stage.  I would swear it was the bottle rockets.  Whatever the facts, that pig had lost a lot of air.  I recall a rush of paranoia as the band petulantly announced they would leave the stage if we didn’t behave ourselves.  Would there be a riot?  Thankfully, Floyd played on.  It was a great show.  It was my personal version of Woodstock.

Pink Floyd, June 1977, Cleveland Municipal Stadium

I’m going to ruffle some feathers and say that despite accounts to the contrary, Led Zeppelin reeked when they played Cleveland in 1977.  My recollections are clear because I went despite having the flu and a nasty fever.  We’d paid the then outrageous sum of $25.00 per ticket for seats that sucked.  There was a cannabis dry spell and I fear I gave the strangers next to us the bug when I did not decline their doobies.  Another downside was the girl two rows down who spent the entire show on her feet screaming, “Jimmy!  Jimmy!”  Dear Jimmy was messed up.  The whole band seemed to waiver on a foggy edge.  Whatever they had once possessed was missing.

1977 was destined to be a cursed tour personally and professionally for Led Zep.  A week earlier in Cincinnati about two thousand people tried to crash the gates at Riverfront Stadium.  Seventy of them were arrested.  A riot broke out at an outdoor venue in Tampa after a storm cancelled the show.  Many fans were injured.  In July, Robert Plant’s son Karac died due to a stomach virus and the tour ended. 

Years later I realized I had witnessed history.  When Plant recovered and the band returned to the studio in 1979 to produce In Through The Out Door, thirty-two year old drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham died.  It was their last show in Cleveland on their last tour.  Following Bonzo’s death, the mighty Zeppelin crashed and burned, never to return. 

Audio of Led Zeppelin live at Richfield Coliseum, outside Cleveland, 1977

NEXT UP: Cleveland Rocked – Part 2

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