“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.