Classic Gigs

Emerson, Lake and Palmer  - The California Jam April 6th 1974 

A recollection – by Jerry Asbo 

There is nothing, to me, as exciting as the mammoth, gargantuan outdoor rock festival. California Jam receives more retrospective acclaim as the years pass; the audience of over 800,000 being eclipsed only by The Rock in Riu (one day Spanish rock festival). The organisers had put together a bill that, at that time, was to be the envy of the concert going music world; Black Oak Arkansas, Guns N’ Roses, The Eagles, Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Emerson Lake and Palmer (L.E.P) and, of course, the headliners, Deep Purple.   

The plan was for the audience to experience a fairly leisurely day (the balmy climate in Ontario would surely contribute to this) while listening to some of the biggest bands in the world. For a curious reason, the event was also to be screened live on ZDF (German TV).  

The majority of the day went without major incident, however, it is alleged, sparks began to fly just prior to L.E.P hitting the stage as the California sun began to set. Band members could not believe that such a monumentous event would be able to run punctually; in fact, the event was running ahead of schedule, with only two bands left to appear. Event organisers approached L.E.P and requested they take to the stage without further delay. It is even alleged that lead guitarist Greg Lake, ‘did a runner’ and disappeared for over 45 minutes, while TV executives threatened the bands’ management with every lawsuit imaginable. Finally, L.E.P hit the stage, performing one of their most explosive (quite literally) sets of all time. After a 90 minute set of pure aggression and power, the concert reached a fitting climax. Guitarist Greg Lake, who had been increasingly frustrated by an over-zealous cameraman, eventually lost his temper and decided to smash his Strat through the lens of the camera. Shortly after, as ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ reached its’ zenith, Lake, literally blew up the stage. Vocalist Carl Palmer was catapulted into the audience while keyboard player, Rick Wakeman came close to asphyxiation, lying under a mountain of fire retardant. With the stage being attended to by police and fire marshals, Rick Wakeman regained consciousness, just in time to be elevated, by crane, over the audience, while playing his Polymoog; regrettably fire had already damaged his support harness, and Wakeman had the misfortune to be dropped unceremoniously into the Mosh Pit where excited fans set upon him. Thirty minutes later, Wakeman made it back to the back stage area, where security refused him entry as he did not possess an “access all areas” pass. 

Eventually the stage was repaired (to some extent) and Deep Purple was then allowed to take the stage. The sheer frustration in the Deep Purple camp can clearly be seen when vocalist David Coverdale takes the mic and sarcastically asks the audience “is everybody smiling?” Close analysis of the film shows Coverdale then mouthing to lead guitarist Steve Morse, “cos we ain’t”. 

If anyone were considering purchasing this event on DVD, I would strongly recommend it. Cal Jam has set the benchmark for every rock festival since the mid 1970’s. There are still calls for the event to return, and if this ever does, I will most gladly attend 

Jerry Asbo