Concert Memories :: Led Zeppelin :: May 30, 1977
05/30/77 – Capitol Center, Largo, MD – Harry
Well, it was a long time ago, memorial day 1977. Home from school. My roommate had come up for the show. My brother had scored the tickets for me – 5 tickets because at the time I had 5 buds who wanted to go, now just me and Tom. Interestingly, during the day a local tv station was showing “yellow submarine” by the beatles, what a way to start the day. There was another guy who lived nearby, we were going to see if he wanted to go to the show . got there he said his parents wouldn’t like it if he went…man you’re 21 who cares what your parents think.. Anyway, on to the show…
Get some beer for the ride up to the capital center (side note here where the bullets- now wizards and capitols used to play- place still there unused owner built a new place IN DC.) Man lots of folks here 4th night of the cap center run. Zeppelin had been setting all sorts of attendence records this spring for shows, Pontiac Silver Dome I remember was a record, this was a record for the the DC area – 4 nights 22,000+ each night sold out. Anyway lots of hot zeppelin babes in the parking lots drinking and smoking. So I had 3 extra tickets, sold them to a couple of guys, made a few $ enough to cover the cost of my ticket and a t-shirt, which I still have (black with swan song “angel” says 1977 Tour in white letters.) Get in, find our seats, easy frisk this day, had cut my hair the before I left school, for summer job, so I looked clean cut..lol, so the pipe got in and the instamatic camera. You don’t know what anticipation it was to see Zeppelin Live. Page/Plant, Page Crows, Plant solo, nothing compared to seeing Zeppelin in the spring/summer of 1977. They were it in 77, nothing bigger nothing better, they ruled rock-n-roll, and the concerts were “events” unto themselves. They were 1/2 hour or so late as I remember, ah the wait the wait.. the lights go down……yes.. light up the “rainbow” pot. I had-multi colored stuff that’s why we called it rainbow…
Dragon Slayer boot review…. Song Remains the Same, something wrong with the tape deck for first song , lots of distortion, but better that Running on Pure Heart and Soul(ROPHAS). Live it was LOUD. Sick Again, after the first few cords, a switch is hit, aahhh the sound gets much better, from here on sound quality is much better than ROPHAS, about a 9 in most places. Sick Again, standard fair for 77 shows. Nobody’s Fault is next. Here the boys crank up the intensity, rousing version. During the song somebody shoots a bottle rocket/smoke bomb at Robert , it hit him or got very close, Robert does this twirl in the smoke and takes his shirt off. Taking his shirt off made me think the smoke bomb hit him. Anyway, so during the break, he talks about getting undressed before small audiences but never before 22,000., then puts his shirt back on, and Jimmy slides into IMTOD. OH my, this version has to be up there as one of the best all time, great slide work, great Bonham fills, just a great version of this tune.
SIBLY is next, back to back blues numbers but again Jimmy slides into this one also, some killer solos in this song. Next is the nimble fingers of JPJ, for No Quarter. Funny thing….I decided I wanted to walk around during this number, it was Tom’s favorite song and he didn’t really want to get up, but I said he maybe we will see some hot chicks… lol, well anyway we toured the arena with the chords of NQ pumping out of each tunnel. Wow mesmerizing song. This version still has the cut after the first verse, tape change obviously. Without the missing vocals this would be another all time great version, well it still is actually. More so because of Jimmy’s playing when he comes back in after the JPJ solos. Great jamming, killer stuff, this is Zeppelin at their improvisational best. End of CD 1. CD 2 Ten Years Gone, Plant says waiting for Jonesy, “strolling behind the amps casually while drinking wine, come on Jonesy”.
Then JPJ sits down and the boys proceed to play THE best Ten years Gone I have heard( course I was there so I am prejudiced). Sound quality is just amazing much better than ROPHAS. ROPHAS had some overloading during TYG and the acoustic set. Not so with Dragon Slayer… has to be the same tape but from very low gen tape, if not the master. These songs bear out this statement. You can hear the tambourine in the back ground, and there is a one of a kind solo at the end by Page, like a machine gun ripping off the notes. Then the acoustic set, Battle For Evermore, Black Country Woman, Bron-yr-Aur Stomp. Just before this a Plantation, ” music comes in colors and we are going to change the shade a bit for your entertainment, so you don’t remember us just as a gong, gong gong gong…” pretty funny.
Again, very clear, no distortion as in ROPHAS. One of the best acoustic sets, no glaring mistakes, very good stuff. Then White Summer/ into Kashmir, good not great, of course I have listened too much to the 6-25-77 Kashmir, so every other version pales in comparison to that one. Here Page does the jamming at the end not Bonzo. End of Disc 2 Disc 3 Over the Top…… Complete here, the ROPHAS was cut at about 15+ minutes, 21:45 here, good version. Guitar solo… well had to be there I guess, missed not seeing Dazed live, this was what we got in 77. The best part was the green laser pyramid coming down from the ceiling turning around Page as he did the bow part (just like in the movie TSRTS). Page dose a little part of the star spangled banner in the middle also, good version of the guitar improv thing, the best being that 6-25 show IMHO.
OK, then into Achilles – good version, nothing outstanding to point out… Then the end is coming…. Stairway…aahh .. well again to see them do it live then get to re-live the experience, words can’t describe the emotion, the excitement, but YOU can enjoy the fret work solo of Page on this version of Stairway, different than any version I have heard ( the 8 minute mark on!!, the stop start) different than any 77 version, Page was on this night with Stairway. Some shows on the tour seemed a bit tired at the end, NOT here – ripped up the place, crowd was WILD!! Encore… Seeing the flashlights as the boys return to the stage!!! WLL/R &R… they turned up the PA that is why it sounds louder on the boot, IT WAS!! Man to end the show with R&R, that is unfair!!! And contrary to other boots (Destroyer III I think) and other folks they did NOT play Trampled as a second encore here, lights came on etc etc. OMG we were spent, you should have seen the air guitars during the encore- most every guy in the place was jamming along with Page, it was unbelievable!!! Oh man, that was 24 years ago tonight! I can’t believe it.
Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, And a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven by William Burroughs, Crawdaddy Magazine, June 1975.
When I was first asked to write an article on the Led Zeppelin group, to be based on attending a concert and talking with Jimmy Page, I was not sure I could do it, not being sufficiently knowledgeable about music to attempt anything in the way of musical criticism or even evaluation. I decided simply to attend the concert and talk with Jimmy Page and let the article develop. If you consider any set of data without a preconceived viewpoint, then a viewpoint will emerge from the data.
My first impression was of the audience. As we streamed through one security line after another–a river of youth looking curiously like a single organism: one well-behaved clean-looking middle-class kid. The security guards seemed to be cool and well-trained, ushering gate-crashers out with a minimum of fuss. We were channeled smoothly into our seats in the thirteenth row. Over a relaxed dinner before the concert, a Crawdaddy companion had said he had a feeling that something bad could happen at this concert. I pointed out that it always can when you get that many people together–like bullfights where you buy a straw hat at the door to protect you from bottles and other missiles. I was displacing possible danger to a Mexican border town where the matador barely escaped with his life and several spectators were killed. It’s known as “clearing the path.”
So there we sat, I decline earplugs; I am used to loud drum and horn music from Morocco, and it always has, if skillfully performed, an exhilarating and energizing effect on me. As the performance got underway I experienced this musical exhilaration, which was all the more pleasant for being easily controlled, and I knew then that nothing bad was going to happen. This was a safe and friendly area–but at the same time highly charged. There was a palpable interchange of energy between the performers and the audience which was never frantic or jagged. The special effects were handled well and not overdone.
A few special effects are much better than too many. I can see the laser beams cutting dry ice smoke, which drew an appreciative cheer from the audience. Jimmy Page’s number with the broken guitar strings came across with a real impact, as did John Bonham’s drum solo and the lyrics delivered with unfailing vitality by Robert Plant. The performers were doing their best, and it was very good. The last number, “Stairway to Heaven”, where the audience lit matches and there was a scattering of sparklers here and there, found the audience well-behaved and joyous, creating the atmosphere of a high school Christmas play. All in all a good show; neither low nor insipid. Leaving the concert hall was like getting off a jet plane.
I summarized my impressions after the concert in a few notes to serve as a basis for my talk with Jimmy Page. “The essential ingredient for any successful rock group is energy–the ability to give out energy, to receive energy from the audience and to give it back to the audience. A rock concert is in fact a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy. Rock stars may be compared to priests, a theme that was treated in Peter Watkins’ film ‘Privilege’. In that film a rock star was manipulated by reactionary forces to set up a state religion; this scenario seems unlikely, I think a rock group singing political slogans would leave its audience at the door.
“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco, which is magical in origin and purpose–that is, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco, musicians are also magicians. Gnaoua music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Joujouka evokes the God Pan, Pan God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts–music, painting and writing–is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. In the Led Zeppelin concert, the result aimed at would seem to be the creation of energy in the performers and in the audience. For such magic to succeed, it must tap the sources of magical energy, and this can be dangerous.”
I felt that these considerations could form the basis of my talk with Jimmy Page, which I hoped would not take the form of an interview. There is something just basically WRONG about the whole interview format. Someone sticks a mike in your face and says, “Mr. Page, would you care to talk about your interest in occult practices? Would you describe yourself as a believer in this sort of thing?” Even an intelligent mike-in-the-face question tends to evoke a guarded mike-in-the-face answer. As soon as Jimmy Page walked into my loft downtown, I saw that it wasn’t going to be that way.
We started talking over a cup of tea and found we have friends in common: the real estate agent who negotiated Jimmy Page’s purchase of the Aleister Crowley house on Loch Ness; John Michel, the flying saucer and pyramid expert; Donald Camel, who worked on ‘Performance’; Kenneth Anger, and the Jaggers, Mick and Chris. The subject of magic came up in connection with Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger’s film ‘Lucifer Rising’, for which Jimmy Page did the sound track.
Since the word “magic” tends to cause confused thinking, I would like to say exactly what I mean by “magic” and the magical interpretation of so-called reality. The underlying assumption of magic is the assertion of ‘will’ as the primary moving force in this universe–the deep conviction that nothing happens unless somebody or some being wills it to happen. To me this has always seemed self-evident. A chair does not move unless someone moves it. Neither does your physical body, which is composed of much the same materials, move unless you will it to move. Walking across the rooom is a magical operation. From the viewpoint of magic, no death, no illness, no misfortune, accident, war or riot is accidental. There are no accidents in the world of magic. And will is another word for animate energy. Rock stars are juggling fissionable material that could blow up at any time… “The soccer scores are coming in from the Capital…one must pretend an interest,” drawled the dandified Commandante, safe in the pages of my book; and as another rock star said to me, “YOU sit on your ass writing–I could be torn to pieces by my fans, like Orpheus.”
I found Jimmy Page equally aware of the risks involved in handling the fissionable material of the mass unconcious. I took on a valence I learned years ago from two ‘Life-Time’ reporters–one keeps telling you these horrific stories: “Now old Burns was dragged out of the truck and skinned alive by the mob, and when we got there with the cameras the bloody thing was still squirming there like a worm…” while the other half of the team is snapping pictures CLICK CLICK CLICK to record your reactions–so over dinner at Mexican Gardens I told Jimmy the story of the big soccer riot in Lima, Peru in 1964.
We are ushered into the arena as VIPs, in the style made famous by ‘Triumph of the Will’. Martial music–long vistas–the statuesque police with their dogs on leads–the crowd surging in a sultry menacing electricity palpable in the air–grey clouds over Lima–people glance up uneasily… the last time it rained in Lima was the year of the great earthquake, when whole towns were swallowed by landslides. A cop is beating and kicking someone as he shoves him back towards the exit. Oh lucky man. The dogs growl ominously. The game is tense. Tied until the end of the last quarter, and then the stunning decision: a goal that would have won the game for Peru is disqualified by the Uruguayan referee. A howl of rage from the crowd, and then a huge black known as La Bomba, who has started three previous soccer riots and already has twenty-three notches on his bomb, vaults down into the arena. A wave of fans follows The Bomb–the Uruguayan referee scrambles off with the agility of a rat or an evil spirit–the police release tear gas and unleash their snarling dogs, hysterical with fear and rage and maddened by the tear gas. And then a sound like falling mountains, as a few drops of rain begin to fall.
“Yes, I’ve thought about that. We all have. The important thing is maintain a balance. The kids come to get far out with the music. It’s our job to see they have a good time and no trouble.”
And remember the rock group called Storm? Playing a dance hall in Switzerland…fire…exits locked…thirty-seven people dead including all the performers. Now any performer who has never thought about fire and panic just doesn’t think. The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time, and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility. The bad vibes in that dance hall must have been really heavy. If the performers had been sensitive and alert, they would have checked to be sure the exits were unlocked.
Previously, over two fingers of whiskey in my Franklin Street digs, I had told Page about Major Bruce MacMannaway, a healer and psychic who lives in Scotland. The Major discovered his healing abilities in World War II when his regiment was cut off without medical supplies and the Major started laying on hands…”Well Major, I think it’s a load of bollocks but I’ll try anything.” And it turns out the Major is a walking hypo. His psychic abilities were so highly regarded by the Admiralty that he was called in to locate sunken submarines, and he never once missed.
I attended a group meditation seminar with the Major. It turned out to be the Indian rope trick. Before the session the Major told us something of the potential power in group meditation. He had seen it lift a six-hundred-pound church organ five feet in the air. I had no reason to doubt this, since he was obviously incapable of falsification. In the session, after some preliminary excercises, the Major asked us to see a column of light in the center of the room and then took us up through the light to a plateau where we met nice friendly people: the stairway to heaven in fact. I mean we were really THERE.
I turned to Jimmy Page: “Of course we are dealing here with meditation– the deliberate induction of a trance state in a few people under the hands of an old master. This would seem on the surface to have a little in common with a rock concert, but the underlying force is the same: human energy and its potential concentration.” I pointed out that the moment when the stairway to heaven becomes something actually POSSIBLE for the audience, would also be the moment of greatest danger. Jimmy expressed himself as well aware of the power in mass concentration, aware of the dangers involved, and of the skill and balance needed to avoid them…rather like driving a load of nitroglycerine.
“There IS a responsibility to the audience,” he said. “We don’t want anything bad to happen to these kids–we don’t want to release anything we can’t handle.” We talked about magic and Aleister Crowley. Jimmy said that Crowley has been maligned as a black magician, whereas magic is neither white nor black, good nor bad–it is simply alive with what it is: the real thing, what people really feel and want and are. I pointed out that this “either/or” straitjacket had been imposed by Christianity when all magic became black magic; that scientists took over from the Church, and Western man has been stifled in a non-magical universe known as “the way things are.” Rock music can be seen as one attempt to break out of this dead soulless universe and reassert the universe of magic.
Jimmy told me that Aleister Crowley’s house has very good vibes for anyone who is relaxed and receptive. At one time the house had also been the scene of a vast chicken swindle indirectly involving George Sanders, the movie actor, who was able to clear himself of any criminal charges, Sanders committed suicide in Barcelona, and we both remembered his farewell note to the world: “I leave you to this sweet cesspool.”
I told Jimmy he was lucky too have that house with a monster in the front yard. What about the Loch Ness monster? Jimmy Page thinks it exists. I wondered if it could find enough to eat, and thought this unlikely–it’s not the improbability but the upkeep on monsters that worries me. Did Aleister Crowley have opinions on the subject? He apparently had not expressed himself.
We talked about trance music. He had heard the Brian Jones record from recordings made at Joujouka. We discussed the possibility of synthesizing rock music with some of the older forms of trance music that have been developed over centuries to produce powerful, sometimes hypnotic effects on the audience. Such a synthesis would enable the older forms to escape from the mould of folk lore and provide new techniques to rock groups.
We talked about the special effects used in the concert. “Sure,” he said, “lights, lasers, dry ice are fine–but you have to keep some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular,” I brought up the subject of infra-sound, that is, sound pitched below 16 Hertz, the level of human hearing; as ultra-sound is above the level. Professer Gavreau of France developed infra-sound as a military weapon. A powerful infra-sound installation can, he claims, kill everyone in a five-mile radius, knock down walls and break windows. Infra-sound kills by setting up vibrations within the body so that, as Gavreau puts it, “You can feel all the organs in your body rubbing together.” The plans for this device can be obtained from the French Patent Office, and infra-sound generators constructed from inexpensive materials. Needless to say, one is not concerned with military applications however unlimited, but with more interesting and useful possibilities, reaching much further that five miles.
Infra-sound sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system. Need these vibrations necessarily be harmful or unpleasant? All music played at any volume sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system of the listener. That’s why people listen to it. Caruso as you wil remember could break a champagne glass across the room. Especially interesting is the possibility of rhythmic pulses of infra-sound; that is, MUSIC IN INFRA-SOUND. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it.
Jimmy was interested, and I gave him a copy of a newspaper article on infra-sound. It seems that the most deadly range is around 7 Hertz, and when this is turned on even at a low volume, anyone within range is affected. They feel anxious, ill, depressed, and finally exclaim with one voice, “I feel TERRIBLE!”…last thing you want at a rock concert. However, around the borders of infra-sound perhaps a safe range can be found. Buddhist mantras act by setting up vibrations in the body. Could this be done in a much more powerful yet safe manner by the use of infra-sound rhythms which could of course could be combined with audible music? Perhaps infra-sound could add a new dimension to rock music.
Could something be developed comparable to the sonar communication of dolphins, conveying an immediate sonar experience that requires no symbolic translation? I mentioned to Jimmy that I had talked with Dr. Truby, who worked with John Lilly recording dolphins. Dr. Truby is a specialist in inter-species communication, working on a grant from the government–so that when all our kids are born Venusians we will understand then when they start to talk. I suggested to him that ALL communication, as we know it, is actually inter-species communication, and that it is kept that way by the nature of verbal and symbolic communication, which must be indirect.
Do dolphins have a language? What is a language? I define a language as a communication system in which data are represented by verbal or written symbols–symbols that ARE NOT THE OBJECTS to which they refer. The word “chair” is not the object itself, the chair. So any such system of communication is always second-hand and symbolic, whereas we CAN conceive of a form of communication that would be immediate and direct, undercutting the need for symbols. And music certainly comes closer to such direct communication than language.
Could musical communication be rendered more precise with infra-sound, thus bringing the whole of music a second radical step forward? The first step was made when music came out of the dance halls, roadhouses, and night clubs, into Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium. Rock music appeals to a mass audience, instead of being the province of a relatively few aficionados. Can rock music make another step forward, or is it a self-limiting form, confirmed by the demands of a mass audience? How much that is radically new can a mass audience safely absorb? We came back to the question of balance. How much new material will be accepted by a mass audience? Can rock music go forward without leaving its fans behind?
We talked about Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator, and I showed him plans for making this device, which were passed along to me by Reich’s daughter. Basically the device is very simple, consisting of iron or steel wool on the inside and organic material on the outside. I think this was highly important discovery. Recently a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced an “electrical cell” theory of cancer that is almost identical to Reich’s cancer theory put forth 25 years ago. He does not acknowledge any indebtedness to Reich. I showed Jimmy the orgone box I have here, and we agreed that orgone accumulators in pyramid form and/or using magnetized iron could be much more powerful.
We talked about the film ‘Performance’ and the use of cut-up techniques in this film. Now the cut-up method was applied to writing by Brion Gysin in 1959; he said that writing was fifty years behind painting, and applied the montage method to writing. Actually, montage is much closer to the facts of perception thatn representational painting. If for example you walked through Times Square, and then put on canvas what you had seen, the result would be a montage…half a person cut in two by a car, reflections from shop windows, fragments of street signs. Antony Balch and I collaborated on a film called ‘Cut-Ups’, in which the film was cut into segments and rearranged at random. Nicholas Roeg and Donald Camel saw a screening of the film not long before they made ‘Performance’.
Musical cut-ups have been used by Earl Browne and other modern composers. What distinguishes a cut-up from, say, an edited medley, is that the cut-up is at some point random. For example, if you made a medley by taking thirty seconds from a number of scores and assembling these arbitrary units–that would be a cut-up. Cut-ups often result in more succinct meanings, rather than nonsense. Here for example is a phrase taken from a cut-up of this article: “I can see the laser gate crashers with an appreciative cheer from the 13th row.” (Actually a gate crasher was extricated by security from the row in front of us; an incident I had forgoten until I saw this cut-up.)
Over dinner at the Mexican Gardens, I was suprised to hear that Jimmy Page had never heard of Petrillo, who started the first musicians’ union and perhaps did more than any other one man to improve the financial positioin of musicians by protecting copyrights. One wonders whether rock music could have gotten off the ground without Petrillo and the Union, which put musicians in the big money bracket, thereby attracting managers, publicity, and the mass audience.
Music, like all the arts, is magical and ceremonial in origin. Can rock music return to these ceremonial roots and take its fans with it? Can rock music use older forms like Moroccan trance music? There is at present a wide interest among young people in the occult and all means of expanding consciousness. Can rock music appeal directly to this interest? In short, there are a number of disparate tendencies waiting to be synthesized. Can rock music serve as a vehicle for this synthesis?
The broken guitar strings, John Bonham’s drum solo, vitality by Robert Plant–when you get that many people to get it, very good. Buy a straw hat at the door–the audience all light matches. Cool well-trained laser beams channelled the audience smoothly. A scattering of sparklers. Danger to a Mexican border town. We start talking over a cup of the mass unconscious–cut to a soccer riot photo in Lima. The Uruguayan referee as another rock star. Sound like falling mountains of the risks involved. It’s our job to see trouble and plateau the center of the room–remember the stairway to Switzerland? Fire really there. You can’t see it if you refuse–underlying force the same. I mean we were playing a dance hall in heaven at the moment when the stairway actually possible for the audience was unlocked.
WORD FOR WORD
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: I really, really enjoyed the concert. I think it has quite a lot, really, in common with Moroccan trance music.
JIMMY PAGE: Yes, yes.
WB: I wondered if you consciously were using any of that….
JP: Well, yes, there is a little on that perticular track, “Kashmir”–a lead bass on that–even though none of us have been to Kashmir. It’s just that we’ve all been very involved in that sort of music. I’m very involved in ethnic music from all over the world.
WB: Have you been to Morocco?
JP: No. I haven’t, and it’s a very sad admission to make. I’ve only been to, you know, India and Bangkok and places like that through the Southeast.
WB: Well, I’ve never been east of Athens.
JP: Because during the period when everybody was going through trips over to, you know, Morocco, going down, way down, making their own journeys too Istanbul, I was at art college during that period and then I eventually went straight into music. So I really missed out on all that sort of traveling. But I know musicians that have gone there and actually sat in with the Arabs and played with them.
WB: Yeah, well they think of music entirely in magical terms.
WB: And their music is definitely used for magical purposes. For example, the Gnaoua music is to drive out evil spirits and Joujouka music is invoking the God Pan. Musicians there are all magicians, quite consciously.
JP: Yes, I know. One is so aware of the energies that you are going for, and you could so easily….I mean, for instance, the other night we played in the Philadelphia Spectrum, which really is a black hole as a concert hall….The security there is the most ugly of anywhere in the States. I saw this incident happen and I was almost physically sick. In fact, if I hadn’t been playing the guitar I was playing it would’ve been over somebody’s head. It was a double-neck, which is irreplaceable, really, unless you wait another nine months for them to make another one at Gibson’s.
What had happened, somebody came to the front of the stage to take a picture or something and obviously somebody said, “Be off with you.” And he wouldn’t go. And then one chap went over the barrier, and then another, and then another and then another, and they all piled on top of…you could see the fists coming out…on this one solitary person. And they dragged him by his hair and they were kicking him. It was just sickening. Now, what I’m saying is this….Our crowds, the people that come to see us are very orderly. It’s not the sort of Alice Cooper style, where you actually TRY to get them into a state where they’ve got to go like that, so that you can get reports of this, that and the other. And the wrong word said at that time could’ve just sparked off the whole thing.
WB: Yes, there’s sort of a balance to be maintained there.
JP: Yeah, that’s right.
WB: The audience the other night was very well behaved.
WB: Have you used the lasers in all of the concerts?
JP: Over here, yes.
WB: Very effective.
JP: I think we should have more of them, don’t you? About thirty of them! Do you know they bounced that one off the moon. But it’s been condensed….it’s the very one that they used for the moon. I was quite impressed by that.
WB: That isn’t the kind of machine that would cause any damage….
JP: Uh, if you look straight into it, yes.
WB: Yes, but I mean…it doesn’t burn a hole in…
JP: No….it’s been taken right down. I’m just waiting for the day when you can get the holograms…get three-dimensional. The other thing I wanted to do was the Van de Graaff Generator. You used to see them in the old horror films….
WB: Oh yes…Frankenstein, and all that.
JP: When we first came over here… when the draft was really hot and everything…if you stayed in the country for more than six months, you were eligible for it, they’d drag you straight into the draft.
WB: I didn’t realize that.
WB: Oh, I thought you had to be an American citizen.
JP: Noo. No no. We almost overstayed our welcome. I was producing and having to work in studios here, and the days coming up to the six month period were just about…it was just about neck and neck. And I still had a couple more days left and a couple more days to work on this lp.
WB: Were they right there with the papers?
JP: Well, not quite, I mean obviously it would have taken some time, but somebody would’ve been there…You know, they do keep an eye on people.
WB: Did you ever hear about something called infra-sound?
JP: Uh, carry on.
WB: Well, infra-sound is sound below the level of hearing. And it was developed by someone named Professor Gavreau in France as a military weapon. He had an infra-sound installation that he could turn on and kill everything within five miles. It can also knock down walls and break windows. But it kills by setting up vibrations within the body. Well, what I was wondering was, whether rhythmical music at sort of the borderline of infra-sound could be used to produce rhythms in the audience–because, of course, any music with volume will set up these vibrations. That is part of the way the effect is achieved.
WB: It’s apparently…it’s not complicated to build these infra-sound things.
JP: I’ve heard of this, actually but not in such a detailed explanation. I’ve heard that certain frequencies can make you physically ill.
WB: Yes. Well, this can be fatal. That’s not what you’re looking for. But it could be used just to set up vibrations….
JP: Ah hah…A death ray machine! Of course, when radio first came out they were picketing all the radio stations, weren’t they, saying “We don’t want these poisonous rays” [laughter]….Yes, well…certain notes can break glasses. I mean, opera singers can break glasses with sound, this is true?
WB: That was one of Caruso’s tricks.
JP: But it is true?
WB: Of course.
JP: I’ve never seen it done.
WB: I’ve never seen it done, but I know that you can do it.
JP: I want laser NOTES, that’s what I’m after! Cut right through.
WB: Apparently you can make one of these things out of parts you can buy in a junk yard. It’s not a complicated machine to make. And actually the patent…it’s patented in France, and according to French law, you can obtain a copy of the patent. For a very small fee.
JP: Well, you see the thing is, it’s hard to know just exactly what is going on, from the stage to the audience…You can only…I mean I’ve never seen the group play, obviously. Because I’m part of it….I can only see it on celluloid, or hear it. But I know what I see. And this thing about rhythms within the audience. I would say yes. Yes, definitely. And it is…Music which involves riffs, anyway, will have a trance-like effect, and it’s really like a mantra….And we’ve been attacked for that.
WB: What a mantra does is set up certain vibrations within the body, and this, obviously does the same thing. Of course, it goes….it comes out too far. But I was wondering if on the borderline of infra-sound that possibly some interesting things could be done.
JP: Last year we were playing [sets] for three hours solid, and physically that was a real…I mean, when I came back from the last tour I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t even know where I was going. We ended up in New York and the only thing that I could relate to was the instrument onstage. I just couldn’t….I was just totally and completely spaced out.
WB: How long was that you played recently? That was two hours and a half.
JP: That was two and a half hours, yes. It used to go for three hours.
WB: I’d hate to give a three-hour reading….
“Okay, I’m ready”, says Jimmy Page, clapping his hands together with a loud smack. “What are we going to talk about this time? Zeppelin? Again? Oh, gawd, didn’t we already do this ?”, he whines, rolling his black eyes skyward. I’m getting a severe case of deja vu. Well all right. Get out your surgeon’s masks and thumb screws, I’m ready for dissection. In the past, a little of Pagey’s sarcasm would have sent the most hardened music journalist scurrying over the hills and far away. But it is clear from his mock outrage that the god of guitar thunder is not really throwing lightning bolts — he is merely teasing. Despite his protest, one gets the feeling that there is nothing in the world that he would rather discuss that his groundbreaking work with rock’s most mythic outfit, Led Zeppelin.
And there is much to talk about. First and foremost are two new Led Zep box sets on Atlantic Records: “Led Zeppelin — Boxed Set 2” and “Led Zeppelin — The Complete Studio Recordings”. In addition, Led Zeppelin, the four-CD/ cassette compilation that was first issued in the fall of 1990, is being made available once again. “Boxed Set 2”, a two-CD retrospective contains the 31 tracks form the band’s studio albums that were not included on the original four-disc boxed set. In addition, the mini-box includes “Baby Come On Home”, a never before released song recorded during Zep’s first studio sessions in October 1968.
“The Complete Studio Recordings”, a 10-CD boxed set, is comprised of all nine Led Zeppelin studio albums, each digitally remastered. The set comes in a cube-shaped box and includes six hardcover, full color booklets: a 64-page tome containing complete credits, rare pictures, and an essay; and five booklets, each housing two CDs and reproductions of all original album artwork.
Not long in to the interview however, it becomes clear that Page has much more on his mind than blimps and boxes. He is here to stake his claim as one of rock’s most interesting and innovative producers — the prime architect of Led Zeppelin.
And it’s about time. Although no one would ever argue his status a guitar genius, few ever mention Page’s brilliant work in the recording studio as a producer, arranger and engineer. Unlike the Beatles and the Stones, Led Zeppelin never relied on the outside guidance of a George Martin or Jimmy Miller. Instead, they followed the direction of their intrepid bandleader/ guitarist as he ruthlessly steered the band through one successful experiment after another.
As Page himself explains: “Many people think of me as just a riff guitarist, but I think of myself in broader terms. As a musician I think my greatest achievement has been to create unexpected melodies and harmonies within a rock and roll framework. And as a producer I would like to be remembered as someone who was able to sustain a band of unquestionable individual talent, and push it to the forefront during its working career. I think I really captured the best of our output, growth, change and maturity on tape — the multifaceted gem that is Led Zeppelin.”
It can be argued that Page errs in his assessment–on the modest side.
For Jimmy Page, the producer, didn’t simply record a great four-piece band; he created sweeping aural vistas. Each song in Led Zeppelin’s catalog packs the
wallop of a full-blown, three-dimensional, four-star rock and roll movie. Page, in the director’s seat, brought us intense X-rated features like the
orgasmic “Whole Lotta Love”, Disney-esque fantasies like the whimsical “The Song Remains The Same” and huge, exotic 70mm epics like “Kashmir” and “Stairway
No one in rock before or since has equalled Page’s flair for the dramatic. He made John Bonham’s drums sound like volcanic eruptions and Robert Plant’s
vocals reverberate as if they were sung from the top of Mount Olympus. Even John Paul Jones’s nimble bass benefitted from Page’s studio acumen, as thanks
to him it grooved with unprecedented clarity. But above all, Page was able to manipulate the sound of his own guitar so that it changed colors and hues like
some blues-rock chameleon. From the tortured scream of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to the mysterious and mellow acoustic ambience of “Black Mountain Side”,
Zep’s dark lord of the Les Paul covered all the bases with uncanny style.
Page claims that the mighty Zeppelin was designed so its music would have shadow and light. Screw that — Zeppelin lived in nothing less than
technicolor. Pagey and company didn’t invent heavy metal, they turned it into an artform.
So here he is. Dressed in black, imperious, meticulous, and still unable to resist the siren call of a Les Paul, which he picks up several times during the
interview to demonstrate a point. When asked about his technique, Page states, “My guitar playing developed because I had that great unit to work with.
I don’t really have a technique, as such, when you think of people with technique. But I think it’s harder to come up with fresh ideas, fresh
approaches and a fresh vision.”
Fresh ideas, as anyone who reads the following transcript will no doubt agree, are Jimmy’s stock in trade.
Guitar World: Let’s start by talking about the new CD boxes: “Boxed Set 2” and “The Complete Studio Recordings”.
Jimmy Page: We approached Set 2 the same way we approached the four-CD set released before. Engineer George Marino and I transferred the
original analog tapes to a digital format, then we used some modern EQ’s to make them sparkle. Then we pieced the tracks together so
that the box has a certain flow — both aesthetically and technically.
I think the fun thing about Set 2 is the unreleased track from the Led Zeppelin I sessions, “Baby Come on Home”. It’s kind of an R & B
thing and Plant’s singing is excellent. He’s just flying on it.
GW: Why didn’t you put it on the first album?
Page: I don’t think we finished it — the backing vocals weren’t very clever. And, at the time, we thought everything else was better. Simple as that,
really. But don’t get me wrong, the track is good. It’s just that we set such a high standard for ourselves.
GW: Were any of the tracks in bad shape?
Page: Not really. We were very fortunate in that area. I’ve heard horror stories about Eric Clapton’s early sessions — that the tape was
literally falling apart when they went to remaster them for his “Crossroads” boxed set.
The recordings them selves were also pretty clean, except for the odd bit of distortion here and there. The only real problem I can remember
encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on “Since IUve Been Loving
You”. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! [laughs]. That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.
GW: I also notice that you can faintly hear Bonzo click his sticks together before some of the riffs in “Black Dog”.
Page: That’s correct. He did that to keep time and to signal the band. We tried to eliminate most of them, but muting was much more difficult in
those days than it is now.
GW: Since this is Boxed Set 2, I would like to think of this interview as the second part of the interview Guitar World conducted around the first boxed
set [GW Jan. 1991]. We want this to be The Jimmy Page Interview 2, if you will.
Page: Let’s go.
LED ZEPPELIN I
U.S. release: January 12, 1969
Recorded at: Olympic Studios (London)
Guitars: 1958 Telecaster, 10-string Fender 800 Pedal Steel
GW: Let’s start from the beginning. What did you want Led Zeppelin to be?
Page: I had alot of ideas from my days with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds allowed me to improvise a lot in live performance and I started building
a textbook of ideas that I eventually used in Zeppelin. In addition to those ideas, I wanted to add acoustic textures. Ultimately, I wanted
Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses — a combination that had never been done before.
Lots of light and shade in the music. Prime example of that is “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”.
GW: How did “Babe” evolve?
Page: This is a good time to clear something up that I’ve really taken offence to. There’s a book written by our former road manager, Richard Cole
[Stairway to Heaven, HarperCollins Publishers] that has made me completely ill. I’m so mad about it that I can’t even bring myself to
read the whole thing. The two bits that I have read are so ridiculously false, that Im sure if I read the rest I’d be able to sue Cole and the
publishers. But it would be so painful to read that it wouldn’t be worth it.
The one false story has to do with “Babe Im Gonna Leave You”. The book claims that when Robert came to my house to initially discuss the band,
I played him a recording of Joan Baez singing “Babe” and asked him, “Can you imagine us playing something like this?” The book claims that Robert
picked up my guitar and started playing *ME* the arrangement that eventually appeared on the album. Arrrghh! Can you believe that?
First of all, I had worked out the arrangement long before Robert came to my house and secondly, Robert didn’t even play the flippin’ guitar in
those days!! Thirdly, I didn’t ask him if he could imagine playing that song, I TOLD him that I wanted to do it. And you can take that right to
the horse’s mouth.
That’s just in the two pages that I read. You can imagine how inaccurate the rest of the book must be. That’s a definite punch on the nose. I’d
love to know who his source of information was.
GW: In addition to having such a strong direction musically, you also had a unique approach to the business aspect of the band in the beginning. By
self-producing the first album and tour, weren’t you attempting to keep record company interference to a minimum and maximize the band’s artistic
Page: That’s true. I wanted artistic control in a vise grip, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these fellows. In fact, I financed and
completely recorded the first album before going to Atlantic. It wasn’t your typical story where you get an advance to make an album — we
arrived at Atlantic with tapes in hand.
The other advantage to having such a clear vision of what I wanted the band to be was that it kept recording costs to a minimum. We recorded the
whole first album in a matter of 30 hours. That’s the truth. I know because I paid the bill [laughs]. But it wasn’t all that difficult because
we were well-rehearsed, having just finished a tour of Scandinavia, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do in every respect. I knew where all the
guitars were going to go and how it was going to sound — everything.
GW: The stereo mixes on the first two albums are incredible and very innovative. Was this planned ahead of time as well?
Page: I wouldn’t go that far. But, certainly, after the overdubs were completed I had an idea of the stereo picture and where the echo returns would be.
For example, on “How Many More Times”, you’ll notice there are times where the guitar is on one side and the echo return is on the other.
Those things were my ideas.
I would say the only real problem we had with the first album was leakage from the vocals. Robert’s voice was extremely powerful and it
would get on some of the other tracks. But oddly, the leakage sounds intentional. I was very good at salvaging things that went wrong.
For example, the rhythm track in the beginning of “Celebration Day” was completely wiped by an engineer. I forget what we were recording, but I
was listening through the headphones and nothing was coming through. I started yelling “What the hell is going on!!” Then I noticed that the
red recording light was on what used to be the drums. The engineer had accidentaly recorded over Bonzo! And that is why you have that synthesizer
drone from the end of “Friends” going into “Celebration Day”, until the rhythm track catches up. We put that on to compensate for the missing
drum track. That’s called “salvaging” [laughs].
GW: What was the first song you recorded together?
Page: I don’t remember, really. I could find out for you, but not for another couple of years. I’ve seen enough of those old tapes for a while!
GW: “Good Times Bad Times” kicks off Led Zeppelin I and Boxed Set 2. What do you remember about that particular track?
Page: The most stunning thing about the track, of course, is Bonzo’s amazing kick drum. It’s superhuman when you realize he was not playing with
double kick. That’s one kick drum!! That’s when people started understanding what he was all about.
GW: What did you use to overdrive the Leslie on the solo?
Page: [thinks hard] You know, I don’t remember what I used on “Good Times Bad Times”, but curiously, I do remember using the board to overdrive a
Leslie cabinet for the main riff in “How Many More Times”.It doesn’t sound like a Leslie because I wasn’t employing the rotating speakers.
Surprisingly, that sound has real weight. The guitar is going through the board, then through an amp which was driving the Leslie cabinet. It was a
very successful experiment.
But for most of the recorded I was using a Supro amp, a wah-wah and a distortion unit called a Tonebender, which was one of Roger Mayer’s
GW: How did you develop the backwards echo at the end of “You Shook Me” ?
Page: Didn’t I tell you about that before? No? Well, I should because it’s important — it proves that I pioneered that effect. When I was still in
The Yardbirds, our producer Mickie Most would always try to get us to record all these horrible songs. He would say, “Oh, c’mon, just try it.
If the song is bad we won’t release it”. And, of course it would always get released [laughs]. During one session, we were recording “Ten Little
Indians”, which was an extremely silly song that featured a truly awful brass arrangement. In fact, the whole track sounded terrible. In a
desperate attempt to salvage it, I hit upon an idea. I said, “Look, turn the tape over and employ the echo for the brass on a spare track. Then
turn it back over and we’ll get the echo preceding the signal.” The result was very interesting — it made the track sound like it was going
Later, when we recorded “You Shook Me”, I told the engineer, Glyn Johns, that I wanted to use backwards echo on the end. He said, “Jimmy, it can’t
be done”. I said “Yes, it can. I’ve already done it.” Then he began arguing, so I said, “Look, Im the producer. Im going to tell you what to
do, and just do it.” So he grudgingly did everything I told him to, and when we were finished he started refusing to push the fader up so I could
hear the result. Finally, I had to scream, “Push the bloody fader up!” And low and behold, the effect worked perfectly. When Glyn heard the
result, he looked bloody ill! He just couldn’t accept that someone knew something that he didn’t know — especially a musician! The pompous git!
The funny thing is, Glyn did the next Stones album and what was on it? Backwards echo! And I’m sure he took full credit for the effect.
GW: When people talk about early Zeppelin, they tend to focus on the band’s heavier aspects. But your secret weapon was your ability to write great
hooks. “Good Times Bad Times” has a classic pop hook. Did playing sessions in your pre-Yardbirds days hone your ability to write memorable parts?
Page: My session work was invaluable. At one point I was playing at least three sessions a day, six days a week! And I rarely ever knew in advance what I
was going to be playing. But I learned things even on my worst Sessions — and believe me, I played on some horrendous things. I finally called
it quits after I started getting calls to do Muzak. I decided I couldn’t live that life anymore; It was getting too sill. I guess it was destiny
that a week after I quit doing sessions Paul Samwell-Smith left The Yardbirds, and I was able to take his place. But being a session musician
was good fun in the beginning — the studio discipline was great. They’d just count the song off, and you couldn’t make any mistakes.
GW: Did your blues purist friends ever rag on you for playing jingles?
Page: I never told them what I was doing. I’ve got a lot of skeletons in my closet, I’ll tell ya!! [laughs]
GW: Were you ever a blues purist like Eric Clapton?
Page: The blues appealed to me, but so did rock. The early rockabilly guitarists like Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore were just as important to
me as the blues guitarists.
GW: How did “How Many More Times” evolve?
Page: That has the kitchen sink on it, doesn’t it? It was made up of little pieces I developed when I was with the Yardbirds, as were other numbers
such as “Dazed And Confused”. It was played live in the studio with cues and nods.
GW: John Bonham received songwriting credit for “How Many More Times”. What was his role?
Page: I initiated most of the changes and riffs, but if something was derived from the blues, I tried to split the credit between band members. [ED.
Note: Robert Plant did not receive any songwriting credits on Led Zeppelin I, as he was still under contract to CBS.] And that was fair,
especially if any of the fellows had input on the arrangement. But, of course, you never get any thanks afterwards — and that comment, by the
way, is not directed towards John Bonham.
GW: You also used the bow on that track.
Page: Yes, like I said, we used the kitchen sink. I think I did some good things with the bow on that track, but I really got much better with it
later on. For example, I think there is some really serious bow playing on the live album. I think some of the melodic lines are pretty
incredible. I remember being really surprised with it when I heard it play back. I thought, “Boy, that really was an innovation that meant
something”. Curiously enough, sometime after I had been using the bow, I was listening to a classical station and heard this chap playing a gut-
strung guitar with a bow and it was absolutely abysmal. I thought, “I’m really on to something. I know what I’m doing.” This classical guy really
was pathetic. I almost wish I had a copy of it to play for you because it was really awful. He wasn’t doing anything at all.
GW: Your bow playing, especially on “Dazed and Confused”, is really enhanced by echo. What did you use?
Page: It was actually reverb. We used those old EMT plate reverbs.
GW: That’s a little surprising, because there are some areas on the record that sound like you’re using tape echo. In fact, Led Zeppelin I was the first
album that I can think of that employed such long echoes and delays.
Page: It’s a little difficult to remember, and I can’t tell you on exactly which tracks, but there was alot of EMT plate reverb put on to tape and
then delayed — machine delayed. You were only given so much time on those old spring reverbs.
GW: How did Atlantic react when you delivered the tape?
Page: They were very keen to get me. I had already worked with one of their producers and visited their offices in America back in 1964 when I met
[Atlantic Executives] Jerry Wexler, and Leiber and Stoller and so on. And they were aware of my work with the Yardbirds, because they were
pretty hip people, so they were very interested. And I made it very clear to them that I wanted to be on Atlantic rather than their rock label
Atco, which had bands like Sonny and Cher and Cream. I didn’t want to be lumped in with those people, I wanted to be associated with something
But to get back to your question. AtlanticUs reaction was very positive — I mean they signed us, didn’t they? And by the time they got the
second album, they were ecstatic.
LED ZEPPELIN II
U.S. release: October 22, 1969
Recorded at: Olympic Studios (London),
A&R Studios (New York), Juggy Sound Studios
(N.Y.), Mayfair Studios (N.Y.), Mystic Studios (L.A.),
Mirror Sound (L.A.), and Ra hut in Vancouver, British
Guitars: 1959 Les Paul, Vox 12-string
Amps: 100-watt Marshall, Vox Solid State
GW: Led Zeppelin I and II are extraordinarily three dimensional. What role did your engineers play?
Page: Glyn Johns was the engineer on the first album, and as I mentioned earlier, he had a bit of an attitude problem. I’ll tell you what he did.
He tried to hustle in on a producer’s credit. I said, “No way, I put this band together, I brought them in and directed the whole recording
process, I go my own guitar sound — I’ll tell you, you haven’t got a hope in hell”. And then we wend to Eddie Kramer for the second album and
Andy Johns after that. I consciously kept changing engineers because I didn’t want people to think that they were responsible for our sound. I
wanted people to know it was me.
GW: Did Eddie Kramer have an impact on Led Zep II?
Page: Yes, I would say he did, but don’t ask me what [laughs]. It’s hard to remember. Wait, here’s a good example. I told him exactly what I wanted
to achieve and in the middle of “Whole Lotta Love”, and he absolutely help me to get it. We already had a lot of the sounds on tape, including
a theramin and slide with backwards echo, but his knowledge of low-frequency oscillation helped complete the effect. If he hadn’t known how
to do that, I would have had to try for something else. So, in that sense, he was very helpful.
Eddie was always very, very good. I got along well with him, and I must say, when I went through all the old recordings for the boxed sets, all
of his work help up very well, very well. Excellent!
GW: What do you think your biggest accomplishment as a producer/engineer was?
Page: The one major thing I contributed was milking the drums in an ambient way — nobody was doing that. When I was playing sessions, I noticed that
the engineers would always place the bass drum mic right next to the head. The drummers would then play like crazy, but it would always sound
like they were playing on cardboard boxes. I discovered that if you move the mic away from the drums, the sound would have room to breathe, hence
a bigger drum sound. I kept exploring and expanding that approach, to the point that we were actually placing mics in hallways, which is how we got
the sound on “When The Levee Breaks”. That was purely in the search for ambience and getting the best out of the drums. So, it was always better
for me to find an engineer who knew exactly what I was talking about. After a while I didn’t have to argue because they KNEW that I knew what
I was talking about.
GW: Speaking of Eddie Kramer, who worked closely with Jimi Hendrix: Did you ever jam with Hendrix?
Page: No. And I never saw him play, either. This is a good story actually, back in the late sixties, I went right from working with The Yardbirds,
to touring and recording with Zeppelin, and that kept me very busy. In the first two years of any band, you just work solidly; if you’re going
to make an impression that’s what you have to do. We were no different. In fact, we probably worked for three years straight. Anyway, every time
I came back from tour and Hendrix was playing somewhere, I would always say to my self, “Oh I’m just so exhausted, ill see him next time”.
I just put it off and of course, there ultimately never was a next time. I’m really, really upset with myself for never seeing him. I really
wanted to hear him.
Now, did I ever meet him? I did actually go into a club in New York called Salvation, and he was there, but he was totally out of it. He
didn’t really know who anybody was — he was barely conscious. Somebody was just kind of holding him up. It is just kind of a shame that I never
really had a chance to talk with him or hear him… I heard his records, naturally, but it would’ve been a thrill to see how he worked things out
on stage. That’s quite another ballgame, as you know.
GW: As a producer, what did you think of his records?
Page: I thought they were excellent. Oh yeah. Jimi’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell was also a man inspired. He never played drums like that before or
since. He played some incredible stuff!!
GW: Although your playing styles were different, you and Jimi wee similar in that you both tried to achieve these great aural landscapes.
Page: Well, there were a lot of people going in that direction. Look at the Beatles. Here was a band that went from “Please Mr. Postman” to “I am the
Walrus” in a few short years.
GW: Why do you think recording has gotten so bland these days?
Page: Well, you had no drum machines in those days. You had to play everything, so there were all these natural crescendos and great ambient sounds
to work with. We would’ve probably done more experimentation with panning and echo on the Coverdale/Page album, but it got too complicated because
we were always working with 72 channels of sound. It got very difficult to do any positioning. But you are right, things like panning and extreme
positioning make for a very exciting listening experience. One of my favorite mixes is at the end of “When The Levee Breaks”, when everything
starts moving around except for the voice, which stays stationary. I’ll tell you a funny story about that song. Andy Johns did that mix with me,
and after we finished it, Glyn, Andy’s older brother, walked in. We were really excited and told him, “Youve got to listen to this”. Glyn listened
and just said, “Hmmph, Youll never be able to cut it. It will never work”. And he walked out. Wrong again Glyn. He must have been seething
The other thing I like about “Levee” is that something new is added to every verse. Check it out — the phrasing of the voice changes, lots of
backwards stuff is added.
GW: The first album was slammed by Rolling Stone magazine, which was very influential at the time. Did that affect your approach on the second album?
Page: Not at all. We knew what we had, and we kept improving all the time. Also, we were playing all the music live and people were responding to
what we were doing. That is the ultimate test. It did not really start bothering me until after the third album. After all we had accomplished
the press was still calling us a hype. So that is why the fourth album was untitled. It was a meaningless protest really, but we wanted to prove
that people were not buying us for the name.
GW: When you were borrowing from classic blues songs on the first two albums, did you ever think it would catch up to you?
Page: You mean getting sued? Well, as far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring some thing fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to
come up with some variation. In fact, I think in most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case
— but in most cases. So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that
— which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.
We did, however, take some liberties, I must say [laughs]. But never mind; we did try to do the right thing, it blew up in our faces… When
we were up at Headley Grange recording Physical Graffiti, Ian Stewart came by and we started to jam. The jam turned into Boogie With Stu, which
was obviously a variation on “Ooh My Head” by the late Ritchie Valens, which itself was actually a variation of Little Richard’s “Ooh My Soul”.
What we tried to do was give Ritchie’s mother credit because we heard she never received any royalties from any of her son’s hits, and Robert
did lean on that lyric a bit. So what happens? They tried to sue us for all of the song!! We had to say bugger off. We could not believe it. So
anyway, if there is any plagiarism, just blame Robert [laughs].
But seriously, blues men borrowed from each other constantly, and it is the same with jazz. It is even happened to us. As a musician, I am only
the product of my influences. The fact that I listened to so many various styles of music has a lot to do with the way I play. Which I think set
me apart from so many other guitarists of that time — the fact that I was listening to fold, classical and indian music in addition to the
blues and rock.
GW: You have often spoken about your folk and rockabilly influences in the past, but what were some of your favorite blues records and guitarists?
Page: I had lots of favorites. Otis Rush was important — “So Many Roads” sent shivers up my spine. There were a number of albums that everybody got
tuned into in the early days. There was one in particular called, I think, “American Folk Festival of The Blues”, which featured Buddy Guy
— he just astounded everybody. Then of course, there was “B.B. King Live at the Regal”. The first time I heard any of these people — Freddie
King, Elmore James — it just knocked one flat.
Now that I have said all of that I am missing one important person — Hubert Sumlin. I LOVED Hubert Sumlin. And what a compliment he was to
Howlin Wolf’s voice. He always played the right thing at the right time. Perfect.
GW: What was the impetus for the unaccompanied solo in the middle of “Heartbreaker” ?
Page: I just fancied doing it. I was always trying to do something different, or something that no one else had thought of. But the interesting thing
about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker” — it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded
in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.
GW: I have actually noticed that the tuning of the guitar was slightly higher.
Page: The pitch was off as well? I did not know that !! [laughs]
GW: Was the solo composed?
Page: No, it was made up on the spot. I think that was one of the first things I played through a Marshall… “Bring it On Home” was played through a
Marshall as well.
GW: What led you to use Marshall amps?
Page: At that time, it was state of the art reliability. They were really good for going out on the road. I was always having trouble with amps — fuses
blowing or whatever. By that time I was using a Les Paul anyway and that was just a classic setup.
LED ZEPPELIN III
U.S. RELEASE: OCTOBER 5, 1970
RECORDED AT: ROLLING STONES MOBILE STUDIO AT HEADLEY GRANGE,
HAMPSHIRE; ISLAND STUDIOS (LONDON); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
GUITARS: HARMONY ACOUSTIC, MARTIN ACOUSTIC, 1959 LES PAUL
AMP: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Led Zeppelin III is famous for its acoustic instrumentation, but it is also broadening the band’s sonic palette: the East Indian scales on
“Friends”, American country music on “Tangerine”, traditional English folk on “Gallows Pole”, and so on. Did that eclecticism reflect what you were
listening to on the road?
Page: No. As I was saying earlier, I used to listen to a broad variety of music, and I suppose that’s how it came out.
GW: Had you reached a dead end with the blues-based material found on the first two albums?
Page: No. We always had some blues on our albums. Playing the blues is actually the most challenging thing you can do. It is very hard to play something
original. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a prime example. That was the only song on the third album that we had played live prior to our
sessions, yet it was the hardest to record. We had several tries at that one. The final version is a live take with John Paul Jones playing organ
and foot bass pedals at the same time.
GW: I would not even call “Since IUve Been Loving You” a typical blues.
Page: Well, it all depends on how you define the blues. Everybody immediately locks into 12 bars, but I do not think it has to have 12 bars to have
that emotive quality. The blues can be anything.
GW: “Celebration Day” is a very unusual track. How was that created?
Page: There’s about three or four riffs going down on that one, isn’t there? Half was done with a guitar in standard tuning and the other half was
done on slide guitar tuned to an open A, I think. We put that together at Headley Grange. Because we rented the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording
studio, we could relax and take our time and develop the songs in rehearsals. We didn’t have to worry about wasting studio time. I do not
remember too much about that song other than that and what I told you earlier about the opening being erased. I used to play the whole thing
live on my electric 12-string.
GW: I heard that “Out On The Tiles” was inspired by a drinking song that John Bonham used to sing.
Page: Yeah. John Bonham used to do a lot of, sort of, rap stuff. He would just get drunk and start singing things like what you hear in the beginning of
“The Ocean”. He would stomp his feet and his fingers would get going. I think he originally had some lyrics about drinking pints of bitter, you
know: Now Im feeling better because I’m out on the tiles.
GW: How else did Bonzo influence the band?
Page: Besides being one of the best drummers I have ever heard, he was also one of the loudest. He was the reason we had to start buying bigger amps.
When we recorded “Levee”, we just used a pair of stereo mics in a hallway at Headley Grange. We could have used a separate microphone to mic the
bass drum but we did not need to — his kick sound was that powerful. And his playing was not in his arms, it was all in his wrist action.
Frightening!! I still do not know how he managed to get so much level out of a kit. And up until the last album, he always used both skins on his
GW: How did the indian influences come into the band?
Page: I went to India after I came back from a tour with the Yardbirds. I could not convince anyone else to come with me; they all wanted to go to San
Francisco. I had been listening to that music for quite a while and wanted to hear it first hand.
GW: So the indian music was your influence?
Page: Lets put this way; I had a sitar before George Harrison, I wouldn’t say I played it as well as he did, though. I think George used it well.
“Within You and Without” is extremely tasteful. He spent a lot of time studying with Ravi Shankar, and it showed.
I actually went to see a Ravi Shankar concert one time, and to show you how far back this was, there were no young people in the audience at all
— just a lot of older people from the Indian embassy. This girl I knew was a friend of his and she took me to see him after the concert, she
introduced him to me and I explained that I had a sitar, but did not know how to tune it. He was very nice to me and wrote down the tunings
on a piece of paper.
LED ZEPPELIN IV
U.S. RELEASE: NOVEMBER 8, 1971
RECORDED AT: ISLAND STUDIOS (LONDON);
ROLLING STONES MOBILE UNIT (HEADLEY GRANGE); SUNSET SOUND (LA)
GUITARS: FENDER ELECTRIC 12-STRING, LES PAUL, TELECASTER
AMP 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Instead of talking about the music on IV, which has been dissected in detail in at least two issues of Guitar World, we thought we would discuss
the album jacket are with you.
Page: It is a thing of the past now, isn’t it? It is painful to look at these CDUs. I must admit I wear glasses now, but it takes a magnifying glass
too read these little things.
GW: Do you think jacket are affected the listening experience?
Page: I do not know about that. I know people used too make a big deal about it.
GW: I think it actually did color your albums. As absurd as this may sound, “Houses of the Holy” will always be an orange-sounding album in my mind.
Page: Actually, I tend to agree with you. But I do not know if I’m the best judge. Robert and I came up with the design of IV together. Robert had
actually bought the print that is on the cover from a junk shop in Reading. We then came up with the idea of having the picture — the man
with the sticks — represent the old way on a demolished building, with the new way combing up behind it. The illustration on the inside was my
idea. It is the Hermit character from the Tarot, a symbol of self-reliance and wisdom, and it was drawn by Barrington Colby.
The typeface for the lyrics to Stairway was also my contribution. I found it in a really old arts ad crafts magazine called Studio, which started
in the late 1800’s. I thought the lettering was so interesting, I got someone to work up a whole alphabet.
GW: What do you think of the artwork on Led Zeppelin III?
Page: A disappointment. I will take responsibility for that one. I knew the artist and described what we wanted with this wheel that made things
appear and change. But he got very personal with this artwork and disappeared off with it. We kept saying “Can we take a look at it? Can we
see where it is going?” Finally, the album was actually finished and we still did not have the art. It got to the point where I had to say,
“Look, I have got to have this thing”. I was not happy with the final result — I thought it looked teeny-bopperish. But we were on top of a
deadline, so of course there was no way to make any radical changes to it. There are some silly bits–little chunks of corn and nonsense like
that. But it is no worse than my first meeting with an artist from Hipgnosis, who were the people that designed Pink Floyd covers. We had
commissioned them to design “Houses of the Holy”, and this guy Storm came in carrying this picture of an electric green tennis court with a tennis
racquet on it. I said, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?” And he said, “Racket — don’t you get it?”. I said “Are you
trying to imply that our music is a racket?? Get out!!” We never saw him again. We ended up dealing with one of the other artists [laughs]. That
was a total insult — racket. He had some balls!! Imagine. On a first meeting with a client!
GW: Weren’t there other problems with the design of “Houses”?
Page: Yeah, when the proofs for the album came back, they did not look anything like the original artwork. Again, we were on a deadline and there was not
much to be done. I suppose it does not matter now. But back then it was a problem.
GW: Were there any album covers that sparked your imagination when you were growing up?
Page: I really loved this one Howlin Wolf album that had a rocking chair and a guitar on the cover. I do not know why it was so powerful for me, because
it really was not such and amazing image. Maybe I just liked the music inside, and that made me like the cover.
There was also a John Lee Hooker album on the Crown label that had this great painting of a guitar on the cover that I liked. But, again, maybe
it was just the music inside — it was definitely one of Hooker’s best recordings. Usually, in those days, I would have preferred to see a
picture of the artist. With that in mind, it is odd hat we rarely put our pictures on our covers [laughs].
GW: One music-oriented question before we move on to “Houses of the Holy”: Tell me how you got that sound on Black Dog.
Page: We put my Les Paul through a direct box, and from there into a mic channel. We used the mic amp of the mixing board to get distortion. Then
we ran it through two Urie 1176 Universal compressors in series. Then each line was triple-tracked. Curiously, I was listening to that track
when we were reviewing the tapes and the guitars almost sound like an analog synthesizer.
HOUSES OF THE HOLY
U.S. RELEASE: MARCH 28, 1973
RECORDED AT : ROLLING STONES MOBILE UNIT (STARGROVES); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
(LONDON); ELECTRIC LADY(NEW YORK)
GUITARS: LES PAUL, FENDER 12-STRING ELECTRIC, STRATOCASTER
AMP: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Did you feel any pressure to live up to the standards set by the fourth album and “Stairway To Heaven” ?
Page: Of course, but we did not let it get in the way. My main goal was to just keep rolling. It is very dangerous to try and duplicated yourself.
I will not name any names, but I am sure you have heard bands that endlessly repeat themselves. After four or five albums they just burn up.
With us, you never knew what was coming.
GW: What was the origin of “The Song Remains the Same”?
Page: It was originally going to be an instrumental — an overture that led into “The Rain Song”. But I guess Robert had different ideas. You know,
“This is pretty good, Better get some lyrics–quick!” [laughs]
GW: How did it come together?
Page: I had all the beginning material together, and robert suggested that we break down into half-time in the middle. After we figured out that we
were going to break it down, the song came together in a day.
GW: Did you keep a notebook or cassette tape of ideas?
Page: I always did that. And then I would patch them together later. I always had a cassette recorder around. That’s how both “The Song Remains The
Same” and “Stairway” came together — from bits of taped ideas.
GW: What guitar did you use on “Song”, was it the Gibson Doubleneck??
Page: No, I used a Fender 12-string in the studio. And before the Fender, I used a Vox 12-string. You can hear the Vox on things like “Thank You” and
“Living Loving Maid” on the Second album.
GW: “Houses” is so bright-sounding. Did you vari-speed the tape up a notch to get everything to sparkle more??
Page: No, the only song I can think of that we vari-speeded up were a couple of overdubs on “Achilles Last Stand”. However, I applied the vari-speed to
the overall track of “No Quarter”. I dropped the whole song a quarter tone because it made the track sound so much thicker and more intense.
GW: Apart from “No Quarter”, “Houses” is a happy sounding album, suggesting that you were on top of the world at that time. “The Crunge”, for example,
is a complete goof.
Page: I played a Strat on that one — I wanted to get that tight James Brown feel. You have to listen closely, but you can hear me depressing a whammy
bar at the end of each phrase. Bonzo started the groove on “The Crunge”, then Jonesy started playing that descending bass line and I just came in
on the rhythm. You can really hear the fun we were having on “Houses” and “Physical Graffiti”. And you can also hear the dedication and commitment.
U.S. RELEASE: FEBRUARY 24, 1975
RECORDED AT: RONNIE LANEUS MOBILE STUDIO (HEADLEY GRANGE); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
GUITARS: LES PAUL, DANELECTRO, STRATOCASTER
AMPS 100-WATT MARSHALL.
GW: If “Houses of the Holy” was one of your tightest productions, then “Physical Graffitti” is one of your loosest. Did you make a conscious
decision to retreat from a highly polished sound?
Page: Yes, but not completely. “In My Time of Dying” is a good example of something more immediate. It was just being put together when we recorded
it. It is jammed at the end and we do not even have a proper way to stop the thing. But I just thought it sounded like a working group. We could
have tightened it up, but I enjoyed its edge. On the other hand, “Kashmir”, “In the Light” and “Ten Years Gone” are all very ambitious.
GW: The recording, though, does not seem as punchy as some of your previous efforts.
Page: It doesn’t ? Maybe. I look at it as a document of a band in a working environment. People might say it is sloppy, but I think this album is
really honest. “Physical” is a more personal album, and I think it allowed the listener to enter our world. You know, “Here is the door.
I am in”.
GW: Did you ever force a song, or did you discard ideas that did not automatically click?
Page: We forced things on occasion. Actually, “Levee” is a good example. We tried “Levee” in just an ordinary studio and it sounded really labored.
But once we got Bonzo’s kit setup in the hall in Headley Grange and heard the result, I said, “Hold on!! Let’s try this one again!!” And it worked.
But we were never a band to try 90 takes. If the vibe was not there, we tended to drop it.
GW: You and Plant were travelling to places like Morocco and the Sahara Desert around this time, and you can really hear the influence in songs like
“Kashmir”. Whose Idea was it to explore Morocco?
Page: I did a joint interview with William Burroughs for Crawdaddy magazine in the early Seventies, and we had a lengthy discussion on the hypnotic
poser of rock and how it paralleled the music of Arabic cultures. This was an observation Burroughs had after hearing “Black Mountain Side”,
from our first album. He then encouraged me to go to Morocco and investigate the music first hand, something Robert and I eventually did.
U.S. RELEASE: MARCH 31, 1976
RECORDED AT : MUSICLAND STUDIOS (MUNICH)
GUITARS: LES PAUL
AMPS: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: You have said in the past that “Presence” is one of your favorite albums. Why??
Page: I guess it was because we made it under almost impossible circumstances. Robert had a cast on his leg and no one knew whether he would walk again.
It was hairy!
GW: So you remember it fondly because it was a triumph over adversity.
Page: That is exactly it. It was a reflection of the height of our emotions of the time. There are no acoustic songs, no keyboards, no mellowness. We
were also under incredible deadline pressure to finish the record. We did the whole thing in 18 days. I was working an average of 18 to 20 hours a
day. It was also gruelling because nobody else really came up with song ideas. It was really up to me to come up with all the riffs, which is
probably why “Presence” is so guitar-heavy. But I don’t blame anybody. We were all kind of down. We had just finished a tour, we were non-
resident and Robert was in a cast so I think everybody was a little homesick. Our attitude was summed up in the lyrics on “Tea For One”.
GW: What is your strongest memory of that time?
Page: Fighting the deadline. We only had three weeks to work because The Rolling Stones had time booked after us. So after the band finished
recording all its parts, me and the engineer, Keith Harwood, just started mixing until we would fall asleep. Then whoever would wake up first would
call the other and we would go back in and continue to work until we passed out again.
GW: Didn’t you have the power at that time to demand more time from the record company to finish the album?
Page: Of course, but I did not want to. I did not want the record to drag on. Under the circumstances I felt that if it had dragged on, a negative,
destructive element might have entered the picture. The urgency helped us to created an interesting album.
GW: Why isn’t the live album, “The Song Remains The Same”, included in the boxed sets?
Page: That will be done in the future. I would not mind paying some attention to the laser disc and video, s sell. In fact, I remember seeing part of
the video and noticing a horrendous edit in it.
We also have live tapes going back to 1970, that go all the way through Knebworth in 1979. But I don not think Robert is very keen on it coming
out. In fact, right after we had lost Bonzo I wanted to do a chronological live album, because I knew how good his drumming was and I thought it would be a great tribute.
Most of our songs were designed for live performance, and it is great to hear them in that setting. Also It is interesting to see how the songs
evolved and changed in concert. But Robert has never been keen on doing it. You can not very well do it if someone is vetoing the bloody thing.
It is a lot of work to go through all these tapes, and I am not going to do it if he is going to stop it.
IN THROUGH THE OUTDOOR
U.S. RELEASE: AUGUST 15, 1979
RECORDED AT : POLAR STUDIOS(STOCKHOLM)
GUITARS: LES PAUL, STRATOCASTER, TELECASTER
AMPS: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: That record seems to be dominated by John Paul Jones; at least his contribution seems to be more significant than no other albums. Did you
feel that it might be more interesting for you to function as an accompanist rather than at center stage?
Page: See, you had a situation with “Presence” where Jonesy did not contribute anything, and that was a strain. I mean I would have preferred having
some input at that point. But he had bought a new synthesizer [Yamaha GX-1] and it inspired him to come up with a bunch of things for “In
Through the Outdoor”. He also started working closely with Robert, which was something that had not happened before.
GW: I thought maybe you were losing your enthusiasm for the band.
Page: Never. Never. In fact, Bonzo and I had already started discussing plans for a hard-driving rock album after that. We both felt that “In Through
the Outdoor” was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All of My Love”. I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine
people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought “That is not us. That is not us”. In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted
to pursue that direction in the future.
GW: Led Zeppelin accomplished so much. Didn’t you ever want a hit single?
Page: No not really. We just wanted to write really good music that would hold up on its own. Chart music tends toe a little disposable.
Even less tunes on this one – it boasts but five tracks. Less members, too – Cross quit in the middle of the sections with the band carrying on as a trio (they even have their portraits on the front cover, quite an unusual treat for a King Crimson album; in fact, quite an unusual treat for any prog band album).
But certainly better in quality than SABB and maybe even better than LTIA; at least, this is inarguably the most easily accessible and immediately likeable record of the band’s entire “prog-metal” period. I thought primarily that this was the result of a somewhat more careful and attentive approach to songwriting, but turns out that I was wrong: parts of it were recorded live just as well as parts of SABB. Well, guess some things just can’t be solved easily, can they? Anyway, live or not, this album is more listenable than its predecessor because it is mostly music, not just pointless and uninspired jamming. It’s also tremendously heavy, maybe the heaviest album the band ever did, and that provides a level of energy that was often missing earlier when you needed it so badly. Of course, heaviness is not a virtue by itself – you have to think of good riffs and clever production, and that’s on here, too.
The first side on here is pretty much spotless, aside from a couple overlong solos, but you just have to get used to these things when you’re dealing with King Crimson. The title track is a great rifffest: beginning with a captivating ascending guitar line, it is soon metamorphosed into a convincing heavy melody that is, while not fast enough to get the laurel wreath of ‘Great Deceiver’, nothing short of genius. Kurt Cobain would be proud of that fat guitar/bass interplay, that’s for sure. Then there’s ‘Fallen Angel’, yet another Moody Blues-ish ballad sung quite convincingly by Wetton.
In the hands of Justin Hayward this song might have been turned into a medieval-stylicised, romantic chef-d’aeuvre; here it just feels good and kinda awkward, but it works all the same. Also, Wetton’s vocals are suspiciously reminiscent of Lake’s (I guess he should have had no trouble with singing ‘Schizoid Man’ on stage even without the distorted vocals), and this gives the song a certain ELP feel, so maybe that’s why I like it (I mean, it gives it the Lake feel, not the Emerson feel). It does take some time to enjoy the overlong jam session in the middle, and the song could have been far more great and hard-hitting in a shorter, abbreviated version; but eventually, its grim, spooky noodling grows on you, creating stately gothic moods the likes of which you could previously only find in obscure Krautrock compositions.
Finally, ‘One More Red Nightmare’ is one more classic, based on another, though this time a bit more lackluster, heavy riff, but what gives me the shivers about the song is the way Wetton sings the lyrics: his usual ‘careless’, a trifle intentionally off-key vocals, quite often irritating otherwise, make the tune totally! It’s about fear of flying, as far as I can see, and the rushed, speeded, stuttering vocals, together with the refrain ‘one more red nightmaaaare!’, really give the impression of a paranoid fear of something. I get so excited that I don’t even notice the usual solo wanking all over the place.
Unfortunately, the second side starts on a really low note (the one that costs the album one rating point – sorry Red lovers), the usual trademark of ‘bad Crimson’: ‘Providence’ is the same kind of atonal, messy jam that ‘Fracture’ was on the last record and even worse. Recorded with Cross still at the violin, it mostly features bits and pieces of drums and bass recorded over this stupid “violing” that seems to drag and drag on forever – just more dated experimentation. A bad idea that reduces the album to much less than forty minutes of listenable music. Oh well, at least we have ‘Starless’. You might think it’s horrendous just by looking at the running time – 12:18.
Don’t worry, it isn’t. A rare case when a lengthy King Crimson jam is endurable in all of its lengthiness. Apparently an outtake from the previous album (although it really is hard to talk in terms of outtakes when we deal with constant mixtures of new studio tracks and live improvisations), it should have appeared there instead of the far inferior ‘Starless And Bible Black’. A dark, bitter tune, it’s probably the closest they ever got to replicating the bliss of ‘Epitaph’ (Fripp even uses the same guitar pedal he used on the intro to ‘Epitaph’).
There are tons of beautiful, emotional guitar lines, Wetton’s singing has never been better, and the lengthy solo passage is breathtaking. It seems that Fripp keeps repeating the same note on his guitar over and over, but he manages to build up the tension so well that I’m left almost stunned – just because of the very nature of this paradox: this is maybe the simplest musical idea that Bob has ever put to life and it works so much better than tons of far more complicated ones.
Actually, the whole album, except for that wretched ‘Providence’, is simpler and more ‘available’ than the previous two, and it shows that even if the Frippergang’s main purpose was to experiment with song structure, chord progressions and bizarre instrumentation in the wildest mode possible, they hadn’t still gone as far as to forget the basics of songwriting business entirely. Red, more so than any album since In The Court Of The Crimson King, demonstrates that they still knew how to make great simple tunes and that King Crimson was still a band making music, not just weird, psychic (psychic, not psychedelic) background noises for one-day consumption. Would they take notice of their ‘reincarnation’, you think?
Unfortunately not. Fripp disbanded the band shortly after, saying they’d turned into dinosaurs and their place was in the trash bin – more than two years before the punks reminded all the others of the same. Silly thing, really – if he’d disbanded the band after Starless, I’d certainly understand that. But disband them just as they were becoming used to writing and performing good music? Man, these proggers are one weird bunch of starpers!!!
The original King Crimson band– Robert Fripp (guitar), Ian McDonald (keys, reeds, vocals), Michael Giles (drum kit, backing vocals), Greg Lake (bass, vocals), and Peter Sinfield (lyrics) was a group positioned to do something great– when Ian McDonald joined Giles, Giles & Fripp (an off kilter pop band and the prototype for King Crimson), and eventually the arrival of vocalist Greg Lake, the band’s former pop sensibilities were largely replaced by a neoclassical form and a love for improv. The only resulting document of this group in the studio is this album.
I’m going to briefly jump into the sound before talking about the music– if you’re not interested, skip to the next paragraph. Fripp has remastered the album for what seems like the millionth time– this time from the original session tapes. The result is stunning– there’s a clarity here not present on previous editions, the production seems to have slightly changed, Lake often sounds like he’s singing right in your ear, the vocal harmonies, always for me one of the things that separated this album from similar achievements (the stunning playing of Fripp and Giles being the other) are clear and distinct. And for an album of dynamic, it has long gone without any clear hearing– “Moonchild”, which often sounded like unfocused tinkling, finally sounds coherent on record. From a sonic standpoint, this is finally the treatment the record deserves.
The music is this album is breathtaking– the sound is in some ways very 1969– mellotrons abound, lead playing splits between reeds and guitars, and a unique, high tuned drum sound, but there’s a certain timeless quality to some of the tracks that make it stand out, even when seeped in the technology of the time. The album’s opener, “21st Century Schizoid Man”, is the closest thing to a hit the band had– a group composition, the song opens with a whisper, mellotron effects, before exploding into power chord guitar and wailing sax– Lake’s voice, never a favorite of mine, takes a powerful and harsh edge and runs through two verses before the song breaks into a syncopated rhythm over which McDonald (on sax) and Fripp both take brilliant solos before coming back around to the verse again. By the time this ended for the first time, I was hooked. The level of playing on here, in particular hearing the four musicians playing complex lines in unison, will grab hold of anyone. Combine that with a great metal hook, and you’ve got something in many ways overwhelming.
The following track, “I Talk to the Wind”, is quite the opposite– delicate, with quiet guitars, reeds, a brilliant flute solo, and soft harmonies, makes you realize this band is not a one trick pony. This may be the finest lead vocal Lake has ever sung– he sounds relaxed, confident, and without that air of pretension that so often dominates his singing. Again, simply breathtaking, but in its own way. Skipping ahead a bit to “Moonchild”, the first two minutes are similar– quiet musical performance and a great lead vocal from Lake before meandering into an extended guitar, vibes and drums improv. While the trio improv is a bit overlong, it does (at least on this edition, not nearly as well on previous ones), work without having a feeling of draggin.
The other two tracks on the album are really the only ones that lack a timeless quality, largely in part because they’re dominated by the lush mellotron strings that clearly point to their era. “Epitaph” is probably my least favorite track on the album, dark, building, boiling, with some great guitar work from Fripp, I find it (and to a lesser extent the album closer) marred by Lake’s overblown vocal delivery. The album closer, again dominated by the string sounds and Lake’s vocal, is also washed in vocal harmonies, features a really incredible reed bridge, and some great distorted guitar interplaying with the mellotron– while it feels dated, its one of those period pieces whose performance is so brilliant and whose composition is so strong, it gets past its sound.
The album was one of a kind– while Crimson would continue and produce many stunning albums, McDonald and Giles abdicated leaving Fripp to continue. This is an effort that would never be repeated– it also, unfortunately, established King Crimson as a progressive rock band, a sound that, by the mid-70s, they largely abandoned, and by the 80s, they totally turned their back on. Nonetheless, its a great record, and definitely should be heard.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra are widely known for breaking new ground in the world of popular music. They (unsurprisingly) upset many jazz purists (one of them would be musician Wynton Marsalis), while conversely, offering new ways of looking at jazz.
This band may have been responsible for helping listeners (particularly of the younger crowd) ease their way into works of “pure” (for lack of a better term) jazz, but saying that largely undermines the integrity and musical power that The Mahavishnu Orchestra possessed. So to be more specific, this band may have helped broaden the appreciation of jazz, especially to a younger audience, while also (and more importantly) blowing the minds of many with their own dazzling musicianship.
Led by guitar virtuoso John McLaughlin, the Mahavishnu Orchestra specialized in blending rock with elements of jazz, Eastern, R&B, classical, country and other elements to form an indescribable brand of music. Not only that, every musician in this band were virtuosos, so the band were not without exhibiting feverish flights of aggression and intensity. However, this band were one of the rare breed of virtuosos who displayed a sense of taste, passion and fluidity in their virtuosic displays, and could rarely be criticized for dryness, or exhibiting nothing more than virtuosic chops all by itself. Another gift this band seemed to possess was a certain accessibility to their music — it was complex and technical, yet, it could be very addictive, and utterly inviting.
These tracks (which were all composed by John McLaughlin) all seem to be exercises in spirituality. Birds are creatures that fly – they seem to soar above everything. Fire = passion, inspiration, stamina, energy – a life-affirming source. This is transcendent, high-energy music played with soul, passion and purpose. The title track features a main lick, which gives off a slightly ominous, but penetratingly regal sound, while drummer Billy Cobham’s crash cymbal seems to add a bit more atmospheric relevance to it’s ever-present mystical aura. This main lick is in an astounding 18/8 time signature (but is really a set of 9/8, played twice), and features McLaughlin (guitar) and violinist Jerry Goodman dueling to the point where the two respective instruments sound indistinguishable–the two seem to become one.
On a personal note: I’ve listened to this one track on repeat for two hours straight, and I could have easily kept it on repeat — it was THAT addicting. Funky numbers like “Celestial Terrestrial Commuters” groove in 19/16, but still remain tasteful and addicting. The band softens things up with tracks like “Thousand Island Park” and “Hope.” The former sounding like an unconventional cross between Indian classical and folk-country music (very hard to describe), which is very beautiful and soothing, though it isn’t without some lightning-fast soloing. The latter sounding like a mix of Oriental, classical and instrumental ballad.
On “One Word,” the band really lets loose with a forbidding and frightening fire that will send many running for cover. For the majority of the first half, the band seems to play in a straightforward R&B-rock jam: John uses the wah-wah (or what I call the ‘wow-wow’) pedal to tasty effect, and bassist Rick Laird lays down some solid grooves underneath it all, and later, the rest of the musicians trade licks with one another on their respective instruments. The second half is where it gets more intense, as tension is built from drummer Billy Cobham, as he gets a solo spot. Here, he exhibits his drumming skills, which start off smoothly, then escalate in speed and dynamics.
Upon hearing this, you know to expect some sort of explosion ahead. Then, John McLaughlin (and band) kick in with a 13/8 meter, and for the rest of the song, this 13-rhythm continually increases in speed to reach a hair-raising climax. Within this 13-rhythm, closer inspection will reveal an almost mathematical technique in McLaughlin’s guitar line: a 6-5-4-3-2; 6 strokes/notes on the first line, 5 on the second, 4 on the third, 3 on the fourth and 2 on the fifth. McLaughlin is basically blazing and zigzagging on a pentatonic minor scale, and you will find McLaughlin, Jerry Goodman (on the violin) and Jan Hammer (synth/keyboard)–not to mention Billy Cobham pounding out this 6-5-4-3-2 pattern on the snare–playing this exact motif in unison, while Rick Laird is anchoring this spiritually cathartic flame with an utterly tense bassline to produce something so beautiful, divine, searing, orgasmic and powerfully devastating: it is my absolute favorite moment out of the entire (original) Mahavishnu Orchestra catalog.
Much of the album is hard to describe in mere words, so this review is pretty much over. This album is recommended to all rock music fans, particularly if you’re a fan of Hendrix or King Crimson. Prog-rock fans will probably love it, and they may find it to fall closer to that category, than it does pure jazz. If you’re new to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this is probably the best place to start, then pick up 1971’s INNER MOUNTING FLAME.
Review During a time when record labels thought it would be prudent to cash in on the punk phenomenon of the late 1970s and almost went under in the process, this album brought kids into record stores and saved the industry. That said, the album is not viewed favorably amongst the buying public because it lacks a “How Many More Times”-esque head-banger.
Jimmy Page, reeling in the depths of addiction, is not as prominent on “In Through The Out Door”. John Paul Jones, on the other hand, is all over the place, be it on piano or synthesizer, and has 6 writing credits on the album. “In the Evening” is a fine opener (although Robert Plant does sound like he guzzled a bottle of Liquid Plummer) and a song which benefits mightily from Jones’ contributions. “Fool In The Rain” and “All My Love”, the two most played songs off the album on FM radio, are excellent examples of the skills of all four members. Page and John Bonham, in particular, are outstanding on “Fool”, creating a sophisticated, layered sound which does not rely on million-mile-an-hour guitar leads and over-the-top drum bombast.
The 10 minute “Carouselambra” continues the fine tradition of Zeppelin epics (“Kashmir”, “Achilles’ Last Stand”) with some excellent keyboard and bass work from Jones and understated yet tasty double-neck guitar and guitar-synth work from Page. Plants lyrics are indecipherable, however, without a lyric sheet. But he is crystal clear on “I’m Gonna Crawl”. Page belts out one of his pristine blues solos here, easily the best lead on the album, while Jones has a synth-orchestra opening the track.
That leaves two other songs: “South Bound Saurez” and “Hot Dog” are the true definition of filler. Page does not sound at all sober in his “Hot Dog” lead, stumbling through pentatonic scales and sounding as if his right hand is permanently attached to the B-string bender on his Telecaster because he uses it so much. “South Bound” is one of the songs which you can listen to on the radio if nothing else is on. It is not the quality of “Fool In the Rain”.
Overall, this album is good but confusing. It does have sparkling musicianship but some filler material as well. The production is not up to Page standards, either; given his health cicra 1978-79, it is not all surprising. But what is strong is very strong indeed. “Carouselambra” alone is worth the price of the album. It is also an interesting experience to listen to Zeppelin as they musically evolved over the course of a decade. “In Through The Out Door” is an album a true Led Zeppelin fan cannot be without.
Review This is Led Zeppelin’s most maligned album, most of said malign coming from ultra-orthodox rock fans who can’t stand musical diversity. Because unlike their previous, guitar-riff based albums this one features John Paul Jones on keyboards in the lead role, with Jimmy Page playing along beside him instead of in front of him (for once).
Since Page was pretty whacked out on heroin during the making, his guitar playing skills do leave something lacking especially compared to his best work on songs like Achilles Last Stand or Black Dog.
However, the use of keyboards on the songs gives them a very different and unique feel.
In The Evening: A song with a standard rock sound and standard blues lyrics, the huge, slamming riff makes a great opener. Too bad you can’t understand any of the lyrics except ‘oh oh I need your love’.
South Bound Saurez (sic): An interesting little piece featuring Jones’ piano, but not an especially classic piece. You can’t understand any of the lyrics, though.
Fool in the Rain: A mellow, happy little riff about a slightly less happy subject; a guy waiting for his date and imagining he’s been stood up, when actually he’s waiting in the wrong place (whoops). Very enjoyable and spiced up by the fast little jam section in the middle.
Hot Dog: weirdness. A mock-country song that demonstrates their sense of humour if not much else.
Carouselambra: Whoa, they really opened the floodgates now. The first part contains keyboards, drums, bass and vocals but no guitar. The second bit has Page plucking out fuzzy little arpeggios while Robert Plant occasionally belts out something, and then it returns to a full synthesized speed-fest. You can’t understand any of the lyrics (starting to notice a pattern?) which is a shame because they can almost compete with Bob Dylan in terms of inscrutable mysticism. Great, underrated song.
All My Love: Another synth-heavy one. It’s the most sincere song on the album, dedicated to Robert Plant’s son (not daughter as a lot of people think for some reason) who died in ’77. Nice melody and cool solo.
I’m Gonna Crawl: A cool bluesy ending to the album, it might seem a bit repetative at first until they start to mix things up.
All in all…well, if you’re a really over-the-top fan like me you’d buy it even if it was crap. It isn’t. It’s as good as any of their other albums, just very different, and musical diversity is what made the band so great. So head out to your closest locally-owned, non-chain music store and get this album!
Concert Memories :: Led Zeppelin :: January 31, 1969
I was at the famous IB/Led Zep (their debut, of course) show at the Fillmore East in NY. At the time, I was a fairly regular attendee to the Fillmore, and I always collected (and still have) some of their handbills which listed upcoming shows. I don’t recall The Move ever being listed on the bill.
I seem to remember that for a brief time (perhaps in the very first listing of the show) the opening act for IB was listed as the “New Yardbirds” which, of course, was Zeppelin’s early name. After that, the bill listed only Iron Butterfly and Led Zeppelin. Fillmore’s shows were always at 8pm and 11pm on Friday and Saturday.
I know I went to one of the early shows, but I’m not sure which day. I’ve read various reports of the audience walking out after Zeppelin, or IB refusing to go on, but to my knowledge, none of that occurred to the extent it was reported.
At the show I attended, it looked like about 1/3 or less of the audience left before IB came on, most of them slightly older than I was (in 68 I was 15), who no doubt had come just based on the word of mouth about Page’s new band. I think prior to that show, Zeppelin had only played one show in Boston. I hope that helps.
There were 2 shows each night; 8.30 pm and 11.00 or 11.30 pm, depending on the venue. A typical warm-up act would usually play about 30 min, with a 1 song encore. The main act would usually come on around 9.45 pm and play for 50 min (two 25 min sets, with a 10 min break in between). The Fillmore had a capacity of about 3,000 or so. The first shows on Friday were always about half-full, but the late shows were generally sold-out or 90% full.
Everybody thought Zeppelin was from California. They had no following at all, and Iron Butterfly was big. Both bands were under Atlantic Records, Zeppelin (Atlantic) and Butterfly (ATCO). What I remember is, the first night Friday, both bands played well for the first show. The second show went on around midnight and ended around 2.30 am Though I’m a Zeppelin fan, both bands were pretty equal on the first night. After every late show, most of the fans hung out in front of the Fillmore, waiting for the bands to come out. The Move (a British rock band) though scheduled, did not play.
I’m note sure why, it could have been a better gig or a dispute over fee. Bill Graham was notorious for not paying opening acts. He felt they should be thankful for just being on the bill. Like I said, the first night Zeppelin and Butterfly played equally well.
I was in line for the pre-order of this superlative CD set. My vinyl copies of most of the originals that were culled for this song roster have suffered a strange fate that I can only account for by vaguely remembering that I had my records stacked on the floor and leaning against a heat-radiator which (while a student in Buffalo NY), was hot for endless winters… Stunned to find them warped beyond playability I have lived without this music for a long time. I find much of digital (CD) music generally sonically disappointing these days and was hesitant to replace my now-useless LP’s with dubious digital versions.
But still I could not resist the compulsion to go after this set and I will testify that I am not disappointed. This is a highly recommended re-creation of much of the classic-period (as I would define it) Genesis repertoire.
These kinds of musical exercises can pretty much go in one of two basic directions, a faithful recreation, maybe with a few of the original cast being one; I was pleased to see that Mr. Hackett and company took the other fork – avoiding the county-fair ‘oldies-show’ pitfall while re-imagining the music from a modern point of view and taking advantage of the bias of your particular instrument/s while opening the process up to folks who are equally enthusiastic about the journey.
I can see that a fair amount of time has gone into the track sequence and the various ways these songs were re-conceived and performed. The engineering of the material (primarily Roger King) is wonderful in it’s innovation, punch and clarity and the reclamation of Steve Hackett’s guitar authority within these songs, for my ears, reinvigorates and expands the originals. That hanging guitar sustain at the commencement of ‘The Chamber of 32 Doors’ will tell you all you need to know about Mr. Hackett’s approach to this music and his role in it’s original conception.
I confess that I went out and bought a sub-woofer, to upgrade the near-antique conglomeration of Hi-Fi (see how old I am?) components I cling to, essentially at the time of committing to this music purchase. I was stunned at the contribution to the output of my almost silly-looking paired Tandberg Fasett speakers those new-found lower bass notes made and this recording has plenty of those, even at the more subtle, low bass setting I prefer to maintain.
There are so many exemplary performances and vocal treatments here that both pay homage to and build upon the originals. I was afraid I would miss Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins’ voices but after a couple of playings and the expected getting-used-to period, I came to realize that it was the music that held steadfast and the new players brought something to the endeavor.
I have read through the various reviews here and agree with many of the comments; I also disagree with a few perspectives. So, I think that Gary O’Toole hit his marks on all his vocalizations; these never sounded better. Contrary to some opinions here, I greatly enjoy Amanda Lehmann’s handling of ‘Ripples’ and found that it opened up a new way of hearing that song, so-far “owned” by Phil Collins. Forget about who she is or is not sounding sort-of like; just listen to the intent of the music. I hit the repeat button a few times here (I had a similar reaction to hearing Shelby Lynne sing ‘Surfer Girl’ on Brian Wilson’s Musicares tribute video; I think some of this may involve getting over the gender bias of an original music and see what new may come of it). Rob Townsend’s wind contributions really do nudge a lot of this music into the improvisational jazz arena that it often tends toward. I have greatly enjoyed Mr. Hackett’s association and projects involving Steven Wilson and have yet to be disappointed with those outcomes; in so doing, I have become a huge fan of Mr. Wilson’s work with Porcupine Tree and on his own – this originating with these more recent collaborations of two creative thinkers. The participation of the Hungarian jazz ensemble Djabe in support of this music (and vice-versa) seems like a natural collaborative extension of their combined musical capabilities and interests.
Without pursuing the ‘favorites’ quagmire (okay, I’ll allow Musical Box…), I highly recommend this music purchase: obviously to Genesis freaks but also to younger listeners possibly new to what we still call ‘progressive rock’ – those who may find something missing or redundant in much of the musical out-pour these days. The long form, epic, ‘tone poem-ish’ nature of Mr. Hackett’s recent original works and now this particular ‘musical rehash’ – which may suffer under the “progressive” moniker – lends itself to introspection, absorption and a degree of musical feeling that remains with you after the demands of the day inevitably take you back over. The original or traditional classical and other musical references (the music-box intro; Greensleeves) which ‘set up’ or embellish certain selections help to redefine, enrich those pieces and bridge the chasm to other music forms and your own music memory.
Get it, queue it up, crank it up (I definitely agree with that fellow!) and sit down and listen. It’s quite excellent.
Wow! Quite the feat! Obviously, a great deal of work, and love, were put into this album, not to mention production!
Having heard Genesis mostly from “Selling England by The Pound”, onward (except for “Watcher of the Skies”) there are some songs I’d never heard before. The third, for example, is a killer instrumental with Steve playing an insane, frantic Jeff Beck-like, seething solo. In fact, Jeff was one of Steve’s influences, and he quotes Jeff (from the Yardbird’s: “I Can’t Make Your Way”) fom 6:05 to 6:11 minutes into the track, “Fountain of Salmacis”, one of the great pieces I’d never heard before.
Prior to that, (though I haven’t really read the notes), I’m guessing that’s probably Steve singing through some device on “Dance on a Volcano”, which I’m sure most people would agree would have been much better suited to Paul Carrack, (who sings on a couple of other pieces), in the upper registers. However, in a couple of sections (when the vocal “octavider”, or whatever it is, goes ominously low) it couldn’t sound cooler! Perhaps if he’d sung the “whole” song like that, it might have worked better.
But there’s plenty of amazing things happening throughout this album. Like “Watcher of the Skies”,(imagine Steve playing this with King Crimson, since three key members of that band are playing it with him), and the amazing interpretation of “Firth of Fifth”, with some beautiful classical guitar in the middle, and then Steve demonstrating he’s one of the best rock guitarists in the world in the following section, not just with speed, but taste, and (more importantly something sorely missing these days),”creativity”.
The orchestra, at the beginning of this piece, recalls something enchanting, and beautiful not unlike “Nutcracker Suite”. Too bad that section wasn’t even longer! “Your Own Special Way” is nice, but occasionally there’s a little synth “riff” that sounds a little too “soft rock”, but Steve (I think wisely), leaves out the familiar riff in the chorus, and does a brilliant solo, that I can’t possibly imagine being topped by anyone on the planet!
“Waiting Room Only” is the “strange” piece, pretty much a “Number Nine”-ish, weird bit of Hackettry- at first. But by about two minutes into the piece, it starts to get rather interesting, and soon, more “musical”, with some fairly cool stuff going on.
I have to admit that I don’t really care for the following version of “I Know What I Like”, except for the funny bits, and the famous solo that Steve pretty much keeps intact and even adds to, that is only now becoming deservedly recognized for being the very first “real” example of the two-handed, finger-tapping technique in rock guitar, years before Eddie Van Halen unjustly got all the credit.
At the beginning of “Los Endos”, Steve demonstrates that he can play a pretty decent bit ot Flamenco, and then the band goes into high energy mode, the rest of the song being intact with all kinds of great little moments, with great drumming and layered drums, synth guitar, mellotron, and so forth.
Overall, a great album, especially for the usually low price. But if you’re not that familiar with Steve Hackett, he has even better albums- since, and prior. But this is still a “keeper” considering that almost all of it is superb.