Feb 23

Pismo Beach’s Led Zeppelin connection

In next week’s Ticket, we’ll have a cool story about the history of surf bands in the county. But while doing research for that, I found an interesting Led Zeppelin connection to Pismo Beach.

Specifically, Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page actually played a gig  with his previous band, the Yardbirds — not exactly lightweights themselves — at the Rose Garden Ballroom in the summer of 1966, two years before Page joined up with Zeppelin.

 Joseph Rose, who had previously run a nightclub in Lemoore, had built the ballroom (property in Pismo was cheap due to a fear of Japanese invasion during the war) after a stint in the Army in 1941-42.  Back in the day, the ballroom hosted boxing, wrestling, dancing and acts like the Glenn Miller Band. 

While Rose sold the ballroom in the 50s, he repurchased it the following decade, when many more big-name bands performed there.

The Yardbirds, future Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, performed there on August 31, 1966. The gig was wedged between two bigger venues — the San Jose Civic Auditorium and the famous Whiskey A Go-Go in Los Angeles, so it was obviously just a small stop in between bigger gigs.

By that time, the British blues band had already scored a few hits with “For Your Love” and “I’m a Man.” They’d had also gone through some lineup changes. Not long after the Yardbirds opened for the Beatles in 1965, guitarist Eric Clapton had left the band.  By the summer of 1966, when they played Pismo, the band feature two more future guitar gods — Page and Jeff Beck. Chris Dreja, who initially played guitar, was on bass by that time.

By 1968, the Yardbirds had split, and Page joined up with Led Zeppelin. Dreja, whom I interviewed a while back, quit music for a while to become a succesful photographer. One of his first big assignments entailed shooting photos for the first Zeppelin album.

“I thought Page had a good chance of putting a good band together,” Dreja told me. “Of course, I didn’t know how good they were going to be.”

Unfortunately, when I interviewed Dreja, I didn’t know that the Yardbirds had performed in Pismo or I might have asked him about it. Not that he’d necessarilly remember. This was the 60s, after all. And rock bands weren’t exactly known for remembering a  lot of stuff back then.

The former Rose Garden Ballroom is now Pancho’s Surf Shop.

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