I interviewed Jimmy Page four times, twice on the phone and twice in person. The first time was by accident, and it annoyed me.
I was on the phone with Robert Plant in 1998 talking about his latest Page and Plant collaboration with his former Led Zeppelin colleague, Walking into Clarksdale. About five minutes in, there were some clicks on the line, and then a voice. “Hello Dean, this is Jimmy Page.” I should have been thrilled that a rock god actually wanted to speak with me. But it threw me. I had questions prepared for Robert, not for Jimmy, and some of them were about Jimmy. I had a rhythm going with Robert and now I had to change key and bring Jimmy into the jam. Classic Led Zeppelin-style improvisation was required in the remaining minutes. I got through it OK, and then slapped myself on the side of the head for not appreciating my great gig.
The in-persons were for the Grammy lifetime achievement awards in 2005 and for the 2008 guitar documentary Page did with Bono and Jack White, It Might Get Loud. During the latter we bonded over the fact that we both have Brazilian wives.
The following transcript is from a phoner in 2003 to discuss the release of two live recordings: a self-titled Led Zeppelin DVD featuring footage from shows at the Royal Albert Hall (1970), Madison Square Garden (1973), Earls Court (1975), and Knebworth (1979), as well as bootleg clips; and a CD, How the West Was Won, taken from a pair of Los Angeles-area shows in 1972.
Jeff Beck once told me that Page was “a dark horse,” which I ran by Page for comment. “Slippery” is probably better. And “defensive” at times, especially if the questions are inane. He basically hasn’t done much since Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, when Page was 36. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He’s richer than god, and can do whatever he wants. I tried to get him to discuss it, but my questioning was muddled and he pounced.
** (March 2013) This is the full transcript. I previously published highlights **
IS THERE ANY COOL STUFF THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT? WERE THERE PARTICULAR PERFORMANCES YOU JUST COULDN’T FIND?
The only thing that there was … From the 1977 tour we had a visual reference with something in Seattle but there was no multitrack of it. My plan was to actually film that tour. Normally we would film the tours at the end, although we only did it twice beforehand! Once at Royal Albert Hall (in 1970) and the time when we did it at the end of the ’73 tour, which is Madison Square Garden, and that became The Song Remains The Same. The way that we were playing and the intensity of it, and actually the visual aspect of it as well, had taken on a whole element that was screaming out to be filmed, actually. But of course, you have to set out with recording trucks and all the rest of it, and we just actually never got around to filming that because that was the tragic time when Robert lost his son (Karac, to an infection, aged 5 in 1977), so enough said about that really.
It would have been nice to have had more footage, but in actual fact there wasn’t. Maybe that was a little bit off-putting from the past, but it got to the point where I thought, “No, I want to go in.” We reacquired the material of Royal Albert Hall. There were 10 canisters of that, which actually was quite a lot compared to what else we had around. We had Madison Square Garden numbers that didn’t make the film, and then the rest of the sources were video sources that were just relative to what was going on on the screens, on the gigs. We’ll talk about two venues there for Royal Albert Hall and Knebworth (1979), with multitrack recording as well.
We didn’t have very much. It got to the point for me, where we reacquired this material, and we had to pay for it from the Royal Albert Hall, and the rest of the band said, “Well, we gotta put it out. After all, we paid money for it (he ignored my question about how much they paid), so let’s see if we can get a bit of a return.” But when I went in to look for the multitrack tapes, the audio, I went, “I can see all this other stuff in there and I thought I’m not sure what sort of condition all the rest of this is in, in the audio format or the visual. But even if we have even less than what it looks, it’s got to go out.” It’s a journey really, right from the beginning, right to the end. Otherwise the Royal Albert Hall material would have preceded, chronologically, the Madison Square Garden by three years. So I thought, “No, we’ve got stuff from 1977, the last concerts we played in England. I see this in a much bigger picture, and I’m gonna recommend that this is what’s done.” And I went in and did it.
We have very limited footage of, what we actually had. We were so busy doing the concerts. You had to plan these things ahead. The ’77 thing would have been done. The ’73 one was done. We weren’t doing things like that. We didn’t have a documentary crew going round with us all the time. What would we do it for? We weren’t a television band. That sort of stuff’s for television. We didn’t do that.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF ON THE SCREEN AS A 26-YEAR-OLD AND NOTE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE IMPROVED AS A GUITARIST SINCE THEN?
I don’t look at it like that at all. I don’t see about what improves one way or the other. It all mutates from one thing to another. It’s just how you interpret things and how you play things at one point in time to how you interpret and play them in another point in time. The whole fact is that with a band like Led Zeppelin, if we had a number in 1970 that lasted five minutes long, and we did that same number in 1979 it wouldn’t be five minutes long because it wasn’t exactly the same. It would change all the time, just insomuch as I’m talking about a group endeavor there, and a group “collusion” so to speak. Individually as far as my own interpretation went, every night it would change because that’s what was bringing out a lot of the new departures and the new riffs. I was coming up with stuff all the time. That is something that is relative to being inspired by playing with other musicians which were really, really amazing to be playing with. All four of us played together, and we played beyond ourselves, jointly.
HOW HAS THIS PROJECT HELPED INTRA-BAND RELATIONS?
We haven’t really had a chance to see that much of each other. There were a couple of times when the other members individually came in to have a listen to this or check that out, sound wise or whatever. There was more coming together actually afterwards on the covers and the artwork. But that’s it. It’s really more a question of coming together for that, more in a business capacity than in a social capacity. The thing is – you’ve gotta understand and I’m sure you do and I’m sure everyone else understands it too – that since 1980 when we lost John and everyone continued living their own lives, shall we say? And an interpretation of that may be the music and how they presented themselves musically in their various formats and incarnations. Everyone grows, and that’s life. What I do know, what you have to understand that in the first place, there were four very different personalities anyway in Led Zeppelin, very different personalities. But when they bonded musically, the four elements joined together, took on a fifth element – a thing which is totally intangible and it can’t be charted, which was that magical element.
HAVE YOU EVER DETECTED ANY (NEGATIVE) REVISIONISM TOWARDS LED ZEPPELIN OVER THE YEARS?
I don’t think so. The thing is in the passage of time and the way that music has changed, there’s still the element of music that’s made across acoustic and electric instruments – OK, we call the drums an acoustic instrument. There’s also the element of music which is made purely on computers, using samples and electronic processing and imagination. There’s those two forms. Now anyone who plays an instrument has got an access point at some point or the other with Led Zeppelin. There’s that element to see musicians who are just actually almost at the point of shall we call it jamming? Or shall we just call it total inspiration? Or whatever you like. It’s what that is. It doesn’t seem to be something which is passé. OK, certainly you can see by the sorta clothes that we wear that it’s of its moment! But nevertheless the fact that it’s on the edge of what is being played and there’s so much spontaneity that is there all the time. There’s no way you could go on stage with Led Zeppelin, and a) know what was going to happen between the time you walked on and you walked off because things were going to change and go in so many directions; or b) go on there and start thinking about something else. You had to be totally, totally involved. It’s like a sacrifice you were there for. And that’s how it is. That’s why the music is what it is and what it was, and why each concert, each venue was different to the one before, because there were just so many different elements that would happen.
LED ZEPPELIN WAS YOUR BABY AND THEN IT WENT AWAY. YOU WERE JOBLESS IN A WAY AT THE AGE OF 36, WITH SO MUCH UNFULFILLED POTENTIAL
If you said to me, “I grew up to Led Zeppelin,” I’d say to you, “It might surprise you but I grew up to Led Zeppelin as well. I just happened to be one of the members.” That’s the only difference. But when we lost John and because we had this musical bond of being able to improvise at any point, you couldn’t bring at that point in time another drummer in to fulfill that role. Because what would you do? Would you actually play them something that was improvised, and say, ‘Well look, we improvised that. Can you learn it because then we’re going to play it the same every night?’ Of course not.
I don’t know what you mean about being out of a job. I was no more out of a job than anybody else. Of course I wasn’t out of a job … I did film scores, and I had a band with Paul Rodgers. If you wanna go back a couple of years I did a tour with the Black Crowes (in 1999) and I did something with Puff Daddy (the widely reviled “Kashmir” remake for the Godzilla film soundtrack, though Jeff Beck dug it). I don’t consider that being out of work.
YOU NEVER FRETTED ABOUT HAVING A LACK OF A PROPER OUTLET FOR YOUR TALENT ON A LEVEL WITH LED ZEPPELIN?
That would be totally unrealistic to think at any point that you were gonna have something which is going to be – I don’t know what you’re implying – almost competitive relative with Led Zeppelin. That would be totally unrealistic and that would be absolutely foolish to think that. However if you’re making statements within another area or whatever, and if it’s music, then it’s totally valid, at least to yourself. Because if you believe in what you’re doing musically, that’s the most important thing. If you don’t believe in it, then quite clearly you might feel sort of not very comfortable about going out on stage or whatever it would be. But for me, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve just really enjoyed playing music and creating new music as well. For me, it was new music anyway. Or even if it’s same picture but a different frame. I just really enjoy playing. When I did the project with the Black Crowes I was having a whale of a time. I just really enjoyed playing … And I tell you what, I really enjoyed playing their music too.
I INTERVIEWED JEFF BECK A FEW YEARS AGO AND HE SAID, “OH PAGEY, HE’S A DARK HORSE” AND HE HAD THIS GRIM LOOK ON HIS FACE. I DON’T REALLY KNOW IF THAT’S THE CASE — DO YOU WALLOW IN PEOPLE’S MISCONCEPTIONS OF YOU ARE?
I have no idea what their conceptions or their misconceptions are.
THERE’S A WHOLE MYTHOLOGY THAT SURROUNDED LED ZEPPELIN
I IMAGINE YOU’RE A REGULAR GUY, BUT-
– I don’t know how regular I am. As a kid or whatever, I was never quite like one of the others. But that didn’t bother me. I didn’t have a problem with that, and I still don’t.
(BLACK CROWES SINGER) CHRIS ROBINSON TOLD ME THAT YOU WENT TO THE PUB WITH HIM AND JUST HUNG OUT LIKE REGULAR PEOPLE
Chris Robinson, yeah. I had a great … We could just talk music and source music, and we were all coming from the same point. So that was great. We didn’t mention Led Zeppelin once.
I’M SURE HE WAS DYING TO, BUT THOUGHT IT INAPPROPRIATE!
No, no. We were talking about blues.
DID YOU READ KEITH RICHARDS’ COMMENTS IN UNCUT MAGAZINE WHERE HE DESCRIBED LED ZEPPELIN AS “A MANUFACTURED BAND”?
What was a manufactured band?
“… THEY WERE PROFESSIONALLY PUT TOGETHER.”
How can it be professionally put together? The way that it came together was so organic that that really surprises me. I thought he was quite an intuitive person, really. The only thing I’ve heard before that has ever reached my ears about Keith and Led Zeppelin was the fact that he liked the music, but he didn’t really enjoy Robert’s singing. Well that’s just a matter of taste really, whether you do or you don’t. But I’ve never heard him being quite so scathing, and that’s quite interesting because I’ve actually played with Keith in the past, and I’ve had some good times with him, so I don’t really understand what that’s all about really. That’s one of those things that’s a bit confrontational just to see whether I’ll rise to the bait, but I don’t.
ARE THERE ANY OVERDUBS ON THIS DVD?
That’s a good point. When you play, for example, for 3-1/2 hours there’s got to be some areas where there might be a wrong note played! And there was the occasional fix here and there. But believe me it was really kept to the minimum. The whole idea of this really was to try and keep it in the essence of what it was. So there was no instruments or such overdubbed, but there might have been the occasional fix where it was absolutely necessary, but in the scale of the overall, believe me it was quite minimal. If there was a wrong chord at the end of a number or something, I might have took it from earlier on in the number and replaced it… You can’t fix music like that. The thing is, it’s changing all the time. It’s what it is. It’s not like the thing of verses and choruses, so you can just suddenly put an instrument on because he’s playing the same thing every night anyway. It wasn’t like that. That’s the beauty of the thing.
WHY DID PICK THOSE PARTICULAR 1972 L.A. SHOWS (LA FORUM, 6/25, LONG BEACH ARENA, 6/27) FOR HOW THE WEST WAS WON?
That’s all we had. When I loaded all the live material, which is what I did at the beginning of this – because I wasn’t quite sure how the visual stuff, the condition of that and how we were gonna have to put this together – I loaded all the live tapes that we had and actually the two sets of those were the two L.A. performances from 1972. The only other thing that got loaded was something from a university that was done for a bit of a laugh, and it actually sounded too much of a laugh to actually wanna ever put that out and be measured up by it, because that was something that had a quite a few mistakes on it. We were playing numbers when we had just sorta recorded them and maybe played it for the first time and it was a lot to remember in the set. Consequently you’re gonna come unstuck a little bit. And it’s just something that will never see the light of day. That’s all there is. There’s just one other performance. Everything else is now out that we had live-wise. Isn’t that great? It’s not like, “Oh yeah, there’s a whole sequence of this stuff coming.” There’s not. This is it. That’s why it’s all being done right now, as it is. It gives a full chronological live audio and visual of the DVDs and the little gems and nuggets that come from the West Coast performance in 1972 where that L.A. crowd were really drawing it out of us. Fantastic. That’s it. Live-wise that is it.
DO YOU ACTUALLY REMEMBER THAT L.A. CONCERT?
I remember every aspect of it because of course a lot of it was just improvisation. I remember all the concerts that we’ve actually got there very well. To actually go through it bit by bit and hear sections of it, you go, “Yeah, yeah, that’s really good” or “I played really well there” or “My god, that’s embarrassing, that bit I just played then.” So it goes.
IF PAGE AND PLANT ARE ON ICE, HOW ABOUT PAGE AND JONES (BASSIST JOHN PAUL JONES)?
“If Page and Plant are on ice, how about Page and Jones?” Why don’t you ask Mr. Jones about that? Who said Page and Plant are on ice? … Robert Plant and I were working together, right? And then Robert Plant went back to being solo again, and he’s been through 3 different incarnations of what he’s doing in his solo thing, and that’s great. That’s all right. I think that’s brilliant, good. If I do something musically, it will probably be something which will be quite surprising to what you would expect me to do. And I won’t tell you what it is because otherwise it won’t be a surprise. You’ll have to wait and find out what it is.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO GO AWAY WITH WHEN THEY LISTEN TO THIS SEVEN HOURS OF MUSIC?
I want them to see just how much fun we were having. Actually, how much fun and how much freedom we had.