Dave Schulps, senior editor of Trouser Press, spent more than six hours with Page, one of the longest interviews Page ever did. The interview was scheduled to happen on the East Coast after the band’s 1977 MSG gigs, but Page was too tired to talk. So Swan Song put Schulps on their chartered jet with the and flew him to California. Schulps ended up snagging the guitarist on three separate occasions a few days later in Beverly Hills. The interviews took place at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, on June 16 and 17, 1977, while the band had a brief break from touring. The discussion concluded on June 19, 1977 following a show earlier that night in San Diego.
DS: What were your ambitions as a young guitarist? You kept out of the limelight for quite a while, not playing with any groups except Neil Christian until you joined the Yardbirds.
JP: Very early, once I started getting a few chords and licks together, I did start searching feverishly for other musicians to play with, but I couldn’t find any. It wasn’t as though there was an abundance. I used to play in many groups… anyone who could get a gig together, really.
DS: This is before you joined Neil Christian?
JP: Just before Neil Christian. It was Neil Christian who saw me playing in a local hall and suggested that I play in his band. It was a big thing because they worked in London, whereas I was from the suburbs. So there I was, the 15-year-old guitarist marching into London with his guitar case. I played with him for a couple of years.
DS: Did he have a big local reputation at the time?
JP: In an underground sort of way. We used to do Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley numbers, bluesy things, before the blues really broke. In fact, half the reason I stopped playing with Neil Christian was because I used to get very ill on the road, glandular fever, from living in the back of a van. We were doing lots of traveling, the sort of thing I’m used to doing now. I was very undernourished then. It wasn’t working right either; people weren’t appreciating what we were doing. At that time they wanted to hear Top 20 numbers. I guess you could put pretty much akin to the pre-Beatles period in America, except that this was a couple of years before that. I was at art college for 18 months after I left Neil Christian, which was still before the Stones formed, so that dates it back a way. The numbers we were doing were really out of character for the audiences that were coming to hear us play, but there was always five or ten per cent, mostly guys, who used to get off on what we were doing because they were into those things themselves as guitarists, record collectors. You’ll find that nearly all the guitarists that came out of the ’60s were record collectors of either rock or blues. I used to collect rock and my friend collected blues.
DS: Did you swap?
JP: He wouldn’t have any white records in his collection. He was a purist. I remember going up to a blues festival in the back of a van the first time a big blues package tour came to England. That was the first time I met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards… pre-Stones.
DS: Were you into the blues as much as the Stones of was it more rock ‘n’ roll for you?
JP: I was an all-rounder, thank God.
DS: Do you think that’s helped your career?
JP: Immensely. I think if I was just labelled a blues guitarist I’d have never been able to lose the tag. When all the guitarists started to come through in America – like Clapton, Beck, and myself – Eric, being the blues guitarist, had the label. People just wanted to hear him play blues. I saw the guitar as a multifaceted instrument and this has stayed with me throughout. When you listen to the various classical guitarists like Segovia and Julian Bream, brilliant classical players, and Manitas de Plata doing flamenco, it’s totally different approaches to acoustic. Then there’s Django Reinhardt and that’s another approach entirely. In those early days I was very interested in Indian music, as were a lot of other people too. Most of the “textbook” of what I was forced to learn was while I was doing sessions, though. At that point you never knew what you were going to be doing when you got to the session. In America, you were a specialist. For example, you would never think of Steve Cropper to do a jazz session or film session or TV jingles, but in Britain you had to do everything. I had to do a hell of a lot of work in a short time. I still don’t really read music, to be honest with you. I read it like a six-year-old reads a book, which was adequate for sessions, and I can write it down, which is important.
DS: What was your first guitar?
JP: It was called a Grazioso. It was a Fender copy. Then I got a Fender, an orange Gretsch Chet Atkins hollow body, and a Gibson stereo which I chucked after two days for a Les Paul Custom which I stuck with until I had it stolen… or lost by T.W.A.
DS: What got you into guitar playing? You listened to a lot of music being a collector, so was it just hearing it on record?
JP: Exactly. I’ve read about many records which are supposed to have turned me on to want to play, but it was “Baby, Let’s Play House” by Elvis Presley. You’ve got to understand that in those days “rock ‘n’ roll” was a dirty word. It wasn’t even being played by the media. Maybe you’d hear one record a day during the period of Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. That’s why you were forced to be a record collector if you wanted to be a part of it. I heard that record and I wanted to be part of it; I knew something was going on. I heard the acoustic guitar, slap bass, and electric guitar – three instruments and a voice – and they generated so much energy I had to be part of it. That’s when I started.
Mind you, it took a long time before I got anywhere, I mean any sort of dexterity. I used to listen to Ricky Nelson records and pinch the James Burton licks, learn the note for note perfect. I only did that for a while, though. I guess that after one writes one’s first song you tend to depart from that. It’s inevitable.
DS: How old were you when you left Neil Christian and started going heavily into sessions?
JP: I left Neil Christian when I was about 17 and went to art college. During that period, I was jamming at night in a blues club. By that time the blues had started to happen, so I used to go out and jam with Cyril Davies’ Interval Band. Then somebody asked me if I’d like to play on a record, and before I knew where I was I was doing all these studio dates at night, while still going to art college in the daytime. There was a crossroads and you know which one I took.
DS: Do you remember your first studio session?
JP: I think it was called “Your Momma’s Out of Town,” by Carter Lewis and the Southeners. Wait a minute; I’d played on one before that, “Diamonds” by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, but that didn’t mean anything to me. They were both hits and that gave me impetus to keep on doing it. If “Your Momma’s Out of Town” hadn’t been a hit, though, I might have abandoned it then and there.
DS: In retrospect, you think you made the right move by doing sessions?
JP: I think so. It kept me off the road until such time as it became stagnant and it was time for a change. I was doing pretty well with Neil Christian, as far as money went, and to come out of that and go to art college on a $10 a week would seem like insanity to a lot of people, but I’d do it anytime if it were necessary – make a drastic change if it had to be.
DS: I’d be interested in your reminiscences of some of the groups you did or were supposed to have done sessions with. If you wouldn’t mind commenting, I’ll just run down a few of them. You worked with Them…
JP: A most embarrassing session. Before we even start, I should say that I was mainly called in to sessions as insurance. It was usually myself and a drummer, though they never mention the drummer these days, just me. On the Them session, it was very embarrassing because you noticed that as each number passed, another member of the band would be substituted for by a session musician. Talk about daggers! God, it was awful. There’d be times you’d be sitting there – you didn’t want to be there, you’d only been booked – and wishing you weren’t there.
DS: I heard Shel Talmy used to keep you around Who sessions and Kinks sessions, just in case you were needed, without really planning to use you in advance.
JP: Well, I was on “Can’t Explain” and on the B-side, “Bald Headed Woman,” you can hear some fuzzy guitar coming through which is me.
DS: Did you work concurrently with Big Jim Sullivan when you were doing these guitar sessions?
JP: At one point, Big Jim was the only guitarist on the whole session scene. That’s the reason they really picked up on me, because they just didn’t know anyone else but Jim. Obviously, there were many people about, but I was just lucky. Anyone needing a guitarist either went to Big Jim or myself. It’s a boring life. You’re like a machine.
DS: But you kept at it a pretty long while?
JP: I kept at it as long as the guitar was in vogue, but once it became something that was a tambourine and they started using strings or an orchestra instead, I decided to give it up.
DS: They stopped putting on guitar breaks?
JP: Exactly. It just wasn’t the thing anymore.
DS: What about Fifth Avenue’s “Just Like Anyone Would Do”?
JP: That’s a Shel Talmy thing, isn’t it? Wait a minute, I produced that! What am I talking about? That’s got a really good sound. I wrote that. It’s not good because I wrote it, but it’s got a fantastic sound on it. I used a double up-pick on the acoustic guitars. It had nice Beach Boys-type harmonies. The other side was “Bells Of Rhymney.”
DS: Did you play guitar on it?
JP: No, I just produced it.
DS: Who was the band?
JP: Just session musicians that were around. I think John Paul Jones was on bass.
DS: Was that your first production?
JP: No, but don’t ask me what the other ones were. That was during the period I was producing for Immediate Records and Andrew Oldham.
DS: How did you get involved with Oldham?
JP: I just knew him… I know all the crooks. Better not print that, he might sue me. Actually, I love Andrew. He’s one of the few producers I really respect. That’s true, I really do respect him.
DS: How did you come to work with Jackie De Shannon?
JP: Just happened to be on a session. She was playing guitar and she said, “I’ve never found a guitarist who could adapt so quickly to the sort of things I’m doing.” She had these odd licks and she said, “It’s usually a big struggle to get these things across.” I didn’t know what she was talking about, because I’d been quite used to adapting.
We wrote a few songs together, and they ended up getting done by Marianne Faithfull, P.J. Proby, and Esther Phillips or one of those coloured artists did a few. I started receiving royalty statements, which
was very unusual for me at the time, seeing the names of different people who’d covered your songs.
DS: What about “Beck’s Bolero”?
JP: Wrote it, played on it, produced it… and I don’t give a damn what he says. That’s the truth.
DS: What about your solo single, “She Just Satisfies”?
JP: I did it because I thought it would be fun. I played all the instruments except drums, which was Bobbie Graham. The other side was the same story.
DS: Why didn’t you do a follow-up to “She Just Satisfies”?
JP: Because I wanted to do “Every Little Thing” with an orchestra, and they wouldn’t let me do it.
DS: So you refused to do anything else?
JP: No, it was just left like that, and my contract ran out before I could do anything else. Simple as that.
DS: What about Mickie Most? You worked on his single and then later he produced the Yardbirds?
JP: “Money Honey” I did with him, but the B-side, “Sea Cruise,” wasn’t me. It was Don Peek, who toured England with the Everly Brothers. He was bloody good. He was the first guitarist to come to England who was doing finger tremolo, and all the musicians were totally knocked out. Clapton picked up on it straight away, and others followed soon after. Eric was the first one to evolve the sound with the Gibson and Marshall amps; he should have total credit for that. I remember when we did “I’m Your Witchdoctor,” he had all that sound down, and the engineer, who was cooperating to that point (I was producing, don’t forget), but was used to doing orchestras and big bands, suddenly turned off the machine and said, “This guitarist is un-recordable!” I told him to just record it and I’d take full responsibility; the guy just couldn’t believe that someone was getting that kind of sound from a guitar on purpose. Feedback, tremolo, he’d never heard anything like it.
DS: Was Clapton the first guitarist to use feedback, or were others using it before him?
JP: No, there were a few guitarists doing it. I don’t know who was the first, though, I really don’t. Townshend, of course, made it a big feature of his scene, because he didn’t play single notes. Beck used it. I used it as much as I could.
DS: Do you like Townshend’s style?
JP: Oh, yeah. Lots of attack. Really good. He had his limitations, though. He was no Beck, but he was all right.
DS: Were you getting off much on the other English guitarists at that time?
JP: Sure. I really was, yeah. More so then than I do now.
DS: Was it mostly Clapton, Townshend, and Beck?
JP: Well, yeah. It was just like a little clan really. Beck, myself, and Clapton were sort of “arch-buddies,” and Townshend was sort of on the periphery. He came from another area of London. We were all in
commuting distance from Richmond, which is where it was all going on. Townshend came from Ealing. Albert Lee was the only other guitarist really worth noting. He was like a white elephant. He was so good…
very much in the Nashville tradition. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that all the good musicians who’ve stuck to it from those days have come through.
DS: You were originally offered the job as Clapton’s replacement in the Yardbirds, but you turned it down, suggesting Beck instead. How did that come about?
JP: Giorgio Gomelsky approached me and said that Eric wasn’t willing to expand and go along with the whole thing. I guess it was probably pretty apparent to them after they did “For Your Love.” Clapton didn’t like that at all. By that time they had already started using different instruments like harpsichords and at that point Clapton felt like he was just fed up. The rest of the band, especially Gomelsky, wanted to move further in that direction.
The very first time I was asked to join the Yardbirds, though, was not at that time, but sometime before then. Gomelsky said that Eric was going to have a “holiday,” and I could step in and replace him. The way he put it to me, it just seemed really distasteful and I refused. Eric had been a friend of mine and I couldn’t possibly be party to that. Plus Eric didn’t want to leave the band at that stage.
DS: When Beck joined the Yardbirds he was supposedly asked to play in Clapton’s style, at least in the beginning.
JP: A lot of things the Yardbirds were doing with Eric other people were doing at the same time, so it wasn’t really hard for Beck to fit in. When you say “playing in his style,” there were obviously certain passages and riffs that had to be precise and it was only a matter of time until the next recording, at which time Beck could assert his own identity.
DS: You mentioned you were good friends with Beck before the Yardbirds. How did your friendship come about? Did you see the Yardbirds often when Beck was with them?
JP: When I was doing studio work I used to to see them often, whenever I wasn’t working. I met Beck through a friend of mine, who told me he knew this guitarist I had to meet who’d made his own guitar. Beck showed up with his homemade guitar one day and he was really quite good. He started playing this Scotty Moore and James Burton stuff; I joined in and we really hit it off well.
We used to hang out a hell of a lot when he was in the Yardbirds and I was doing studio work. I remember we both got very turned on to Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto by Segovia and all these sorts of music. He
had the same sort of taste in music as I did. That’s why you’ll find on the early LPs we both did a song like “You Shook Me.” It was the type of thing we’d both played in bands. Someone told me he’d already recorded it after we’d already put it down on the first Zeppelin album. I thought, “Oh dear, it’s going to be identical,” but it was nothing like it, fortunately. I just had no idea he’d done it. It was on Truth but I first heard it when I was in Miami after we’d recorded our version. It’s a classic example of coming from the same area musically, of having a similar taste. It really pissed me off when people compared our first album to the Jeff Beck Group and said it was very close conceptually. It was nonsense, utter nonsense. The only similarity was that we’d both come out of the Yardbirds and we both had acquired certain riffs individually from the Yardbirds.
DS: Under what circumstances did you finally join the Yardbirds when Paul Samwell-Smith quit in late summer of 1966?
JP: It was at a gig at the Marqueen Club in Oxford which I’d gone along to. They were playing in front of all thses penguin-suited undergraduates and I think Samwell-Smith, whose family was a bit well to do, was embarrassed by the band’s behaviour. Apparently Keith Relf had gotten really drunk and he was falling into the drum kit, making farting noises to the mike, being generally anarchistic. I thought he had done really well, actually, and the band had played really well that night. He just added all this extra feeling to it. When he came offstage, though, Paul Samwell-Smith said, “I’m leaving the band.” Things used to be so final back then. There was no rethinking decisions like that. Then he said to Chris Dreja, “If I were you, I’d leave too.” Which he didn’t. They were sort of stuck.
Jeff had brought me to the gig in his car and on the way back I told him I’d sit in for a few months until they got things sorted out. Beck had often said to me, “It would be really great if you could join the band.” But I just didn’t think it was a possibility in any way. In addition, since I’d turned the offer down a couple of times already, I didn’t know how the rest of them would feel about me joining. It was decided that we’d definitely have a go at it; I’d take on the bass, though I’d never played it before, but only until Dreja could learn it as he’d never played it either. We figured it would be easier for me to pick it up quickly, then switch over to a dual guitar thing when Chris had time to become familiar enough with the bass.
DS: How did Beck leave the group?
JP: It was on the Dick Clark tour when there were a few incidents. One time in the dressing room I walked in and Beck had his guitar up over his head, about to bring it down on Keith Relf’s head, but instead smashed it on the floor. Relf looked at him with total astonishment and Beck said, “Why did you make me do that?” Fucking hell. Everyone said, “My goodness gracious, what a funny chap.” We went back to the hotel and Beck showed me his tonsils, said he wasn’t feeling well and was going to see a doctor. He left for L.A. where we were headed in two days time anyway. When we got there, though, we realized that whatever doctor he was claiming to see must have had his office in the Whiskey. He was actually seeing his girlfriend and had just used the doctor bit as an excuse to cut out on us.
These sort of things went on and it must have revived all the previous antagonism between him and the rest of the band. I think that that, and a couple of other things, especially the horrible wages we were being paid, helped bring about his behaviour, which had obviously stewed behind everybody’s back. That quote you mentioned, that Keith Relf had said, “The magic of the band left when Eric left,” I think really has to be taken into account. They were prepared to go on as a foursome, but it seemed that a lot of the enthusiasm had been lost. Then Simon Napier-Bell called up with the news that he was selling his stakes in the band to Mickie Most. I think they must have cooked it up, actually, the three of them: Napier-Bell, Most and Beck. This way Beck could have a solo career, which he had already begun in a way with the recording of “Beck’s Bolero.”
DS: How did Peter Grant come to manage the Yardbirds?
JP: Peter was working with Mickie Most and was offered the management when Most was offered the recording… I’d known Peter from way back in the days of Immediate because our offices were next door to Mickie Most and Peter was working for him. The first thing we did with him was a tour of Australia and we found that suddenly there was some money being made after all this time.
I was only on a wage, anyway, with the Yardbirds. I’d like to say that because I was earning about three times as much when I was doing sessions and I’ve seen it written that “Page only joined the Yardbirds
for the bread.” I was on wages except when it came to the point when the wages were more than what the rest of the band were making and it was cheaper for Simon Napier-Bell to give me what everybody else was getting.
DS: How lucrative was it to be a session musician?
JP: It was very lucrative and I saved up a lot of money, which is why it didn’t bother me that I was working for a lot less money in the Yard-birds. I just wanted to get out of only playing rhythm guitar and have a chance to get into something more creative. As they were a really creative band, there were obvious possibilities, especially the idea of dual lead, that really excited me. Nobody except maybe the Stones had done anything that approached what we wanted to do, and even the Stones didn’t really use dual leads, at least not in the way we had in mind. I mean we immediately settled into things like stereo riffs on “Over, Under, Sideways, Down” and all kinds of guitar harmonies onstage. Everything fell into place very easily.
DS: Why did the group finally split?
JP: It just got to a point where Relf and McCarty couldn’t take it anymore. They wanted to go and do something totally different. When it came to the final split, it was a question of begging them to keep it together, but they didn’t. They just wanted to try something new. I told them we’d be able to change within the group format, coming from a sessions back-ground I was prepared to adjust to anything. I hated to break it up without even doing a proper first album.
DS: What about your own desire for stardom, did that have any role in your quitting sessions to join the Yardbirds in the first place?
JP: No. I never desired stardom, I just wanted to be respected as musician.
DS: Do you feel the extent of your stardom now has become a burden for you in any way?
JP: Only in relation to a lot of misunderstandings that have been laid on us. A lot of negative and derogatory things have been said about us. I must say I enjoyed the anonymity that was part of being one fourth of a group. I liked being a name but not necessarily a face to go with it. The film, The Song Remains The Same, I think, has done a lot to put faces to names for the group.
DS: And after Relf and McCarty said they were quitting the Yardbirds, you planned to keep the group going with Chris Dreja and bring in a new drummer and singer, is that right?
JP: Well, we still had these dates we were supposed to fulfil. Around the time of the split John Paul Jones called me up and said he was interested in getting something together. Also, Chris was getting very
into photography; he decided he wanted to open his own studio and by that time was no longer enamoured with the thought of going on the road. Obviously, a lot of Keith and Jim’s attitude of wanting to jack it in had rubbed off on him, so Jonesy was in.
I’d originally thought of getting Terry Reid in as lead singer and second guitarist but he had just signed with Mickie Most as a solo artist in a quirk of fate. He suggested I get in touch with Robert Plant, who was then in a band called Hobbstweedle. When I auditioned him and heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me I’d been singing for a few years already, he hadn’t become a big name yet. So I had him down to my place for a little while, just to sort of check him out, and we got along great. No problems. At this time a number of drummers had approached me and wanted to work with us. Robert suggested I go hear John Bonham, whom I’d heard of because he had a reputation, but had never seen. I asked Robert if he knew him and he told me they’d worked together in this group called Band Of Joy.
DS: So the four of you rehearsed for a short time and went on that Scandinavian tour as the New Yardbirds.
JP: As I said, we had these dates that the Yardbirds were supposed to fulfil, so we went as the Yardbirds. They were already being advertised as the New Yardbirds featuring Jimmy Page, so there wasn’t much we could do about it right then. We had every intention of changing the name of the group from the very beginning, though. The tour went fantastically for us, we left them stomping the floors after every show.
DS: Who actually named Led Zeppelin? I’ve heard that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon claim to have thought up the name.
JP: It was Moon, I’m sure, despite anything Entwistle may have said. In fact, I’m quite certain Richard Cole asked Moon for his permission when we decided to use the name. Entwistle must have just been upset that the original Led Zeppelin never took off.
DS: What original Led Zeppelin?
JP: We were going to form a group called Led Zeppelin at the time of “Beck’s Bolero” sessions with the line up from that session. It was going to be me and Beck on guitars, Moon on drums, maybe Nicky Hopkins on piano. The only one from the session who wasn’t going to be in it was Jonesy, who had played bass. Instead, Moon suggested we bring in Entwistle as bassist and lead singer as well, but after some discussion we decided to use another singer. The first choice was Stevie Winwood, but it was decided that he was too heavily committed to Traffic at the time and probably wouldn’t be too interested. Next, we thought of Steve Marriott. He was approached and seemed to be full of glee about it. A message came from the business side of Marriott, though, which said, “How would you like to play guitar with broken fingers? You will be if you don’t stay away from Stevie.” After that, the idea sort of fell apart. We just said, “Let’s forget about the whole thing, quick.” Instead of being more positive about it and looking for another singer, we just let it slip by. Then the Who began a tour, the Yardbirds began a tour and that was it. Remembering that session when we did “Bolero,” the band seemed to be almost tied up; it was really close to happening.
DS: What were the original ideas behind Zeppelin when the band first got together? Was it immediately decided to be a high energy thing?
JP: Obviously, it was geared that way from the start. When Robert came down to my place for the first time, when I was trying to get an idea what he was all about, we talked about the possibilities of various types of things, “Dazed And Confused,” for example. Then I played him a version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” It was the version by Joan Baez, the song is traditional, and I said, “Fancy doing this?” He sort of looked at me with wonder and I said, “Well, I’ve got an idea for an arrangement,” and started playing it on acoustic guitar. That’s indicative of the way I was thinking with regards to direction. It was very easy going.
DS: How was the material chosen for the first Zeppelin album?
JP: The stuff was all originally put forward by me as the material to include in the program we played in concert. It had all been well rehearsed as we’d tour Scandinavia as the New Yardbirds before recording the album. We also had a few other things we were doing at the time which never got recorded: “Flames,” written by Elmer Gantry, was a really good number; “As Long As I Have You,” was a Garnett Mimms number we had done with the Yardbirds which Janis Joplin had recorded. There were a lot of improvisations on the first album, but generally we were keeping everything cut and dried. Consequently, by the time we’d finished the first tour the riffs which were coming out of these spaces, we were able to use for the immediate recording of the second album.
DS: The first album is said to have been recorded in 30 hours.
JP: That’s right, about 30 hours of recording time. Before we started recording we had already played the numbers live and I already had a good idea of what was going to go on as far as the overdubs went.
DS: There weren’t many overdubs done on the album at any rate, were there?
JP: Not many. On “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” there’s an acoustic guitar dubbed over and there’s some pedal steel on “Your Time Is Gonna Come.”
DS: When did you learn to play pedal steel?
JP: For that session. We also had worked out a version of “Chest Fever” in rehearsals, though we never played it onstage. That had organ and pedal steel on it.
DS: What was the recording of the second album like? How long did it take you as opposed to the first album?
JP: It was done wherever we could get into a studio, in bits and pieces, so I couldn’t even tell you how long it actually took. I remember we did a vocal overdubs in an eight-track studio in Vancouver were they didn’t even have proper headphones. Can you imagine that? It was just recorded while we were on the road.
DS: Was it recorded entirely on the road?
JP: No. “Thank You,” “The Lemon Song,” and “Moby Dick” were overdubbed on tour and the mixing of “Whole Lotta Love” and “Heartbreaker” was done on tour. In other words, some of the material came out of rehearsing for the next tour and getting new material together. The most important thing about Zeppelin II is that up to that point I’d contributed lyrics. Robert wrote “Thank You” on his own. That was the first one and it’s important because it’s when he began to come through as a lyricist. I’d always hoped that he would.
DS: There was a bit of a fuss made at one point because on the first couple of albums you were using a lot of traditional and blues lyrics and tunes and calling them your own.
JP: The thing is they were traditional lyrics and they went back far before a lot of people that one related them to. The riffs we did were totally different, also, from the ones that had come before, apart from something like “You Shook Me” and “I Can’t Quit You,” which were attributed to Willie Dixon. The thing with “Bring It On Home,” Christ, there’s only a tiny bit taken from Sonny Boy Williamson’s version and we threw that in as a tribute to him. People say, “Oh, ‘Bring It Oh Home’ is stolen.” Well, there’s only a little bit in the song that relates to anything that had gone before it, just the end.
DS: Your next album, Led Zeppelin III, presented a very different image of Led Zeppelin from the first two albums. Most importantly, it was predominantly acoustic. It was a very controversial album. How and why did the changes that brought about the third album take place?
JP: After the intense touring that had been taking place through the first two albums, working almost 24 hours a day, basically, we managed to stop and have a proper break, a couple of months as opposed to a couple of weeks. We decided to go off and rent a cottage to provide a contrast to motel rooms. Obviously, it had quite an effect on the material that was written.
DS: Did you write the whole album there?
JP: Just certain sections of it. “That’s The Way,” “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp,” quite a few things. It was the tranquillity of the place that set the tone of the album. Obviously, we weren’t crashing away at 100 watt Marshall stacks. Having played acoustic and being interested in classical guitar, anyway, being in a cottage without electricity, it was acoustic guitar time. It didn’t occur to us not to include it on the album because it was relative to the changes within the band. We didn’t expect we’d get trashed in the media for doing it.
DS: Was there a rethink by the band about the stage act, since you were faced with having to perform material from a predominantly acoustic LP?
JP: It just meant that we were going to have to employ some of those numbers onstage without being frightened about it. They were received amazingly well.
DS: Had you wanted to bring in more of the English folk roots to Zeppelin or was it just the influence of living in the cottage that gives the album a pastoral feeling?
JP: It has that because that’s how it was. After all the heavy, intense vibe of touring which is reflected in the raw energy of the second album, it was just a totally different feeling. I’ve always tried to capture an emotional quality in my songs. Transmitting that is what music seems to be about, really, as far as the instrumental side of it goes, anyway. It was in us, everything that came out on Zeppelin III can still be related to the essence of the first album when you think about it. It’s just that the band had kept maturing.
DS: Were you surprised when the critical reaction came out?
JP: I just thought they hadn’t understood it, hadn’t listened to it. For instance, Melody Maker said we’d decided to don our acoustic guitars because Crosby, Stills and Nash had just been over there. It wasn’t until the fourth LP that people began to understand that we weren’t just messing around.
DS: You did take a lot of stock in the criticism of the third record. Personally, you seemed to be hit hard by it at the time.
JP: To pave the way for 18 months without doing any interviews, I must have. Silly, wasn’t I? That was a lot of the reason for putting out the next LP with no information on it at all. After a year’s absence from both records and touring, I remember one agent telling us it was a professional suicide. We just happened to have a lot of faith in what we were doing.
DS: Was the cover of the fourth album meant to bring out that whole city/country dichotomy that had surfaced on the third record?
JP: Exactly. It represented the change in the balance which was going on. There was the old countryman and the blocks of flats being knocked down. It was just a way of saying that we should look after the earth, not rape and pillage it.
DS: Do you think it the third record was good for the band, regardless of the critical reaction, because it showed people that the band was not just a heavy metal group, that you were more versatile than that?
JP: It showed people that we weren’t going to be a stagnant group. There were some people who knew that already and were interested to see what we’d come up with; there were others who thought we were just an outright hype and were still living back in the ’60s. They just didn’t take anything we did seriously. A lot of them have since come around. You should read that Melody Maker review, though, it’s absolutely classic. I felt a lot better once we started performing it, because it was proving to be working for the people who came around to see us. There was always a big smile there in front of us. That was always more important than any proxy review. That’s really how the following of the band has spread, by word of mouth. I mean, all this talk about a hype, spending thousands on publicity campaigns, we didn’t do that at all. We didn’t do television. Well we did a pilot TV show and a pilot radio show, but that’s all. We weren’t hyping ourselves. It wasn’t as though we were thrashing about all over the media.
It didn’t matter, though, the word got out on the street.
DS: Once a band is established it seems to me that bad reviews can’t really do anything to a band.
JP: No, you’re right. But you’ve got to understand that I lived every second of the albums. Whereas the others hadn’t. John Paul and Bonzo would do the tracks and they wouldn’t come in until needed. And Robert would do the vocals. But I’d be there all the time and I’d live and cringe to every mistake. There were things that were right and wrong on a subjective level.
DS: You said that “Hats Off To (Roy) Harper” was written as a tribute to him. Did you hope to draw attention to him?
JP: In a way. I mean hats off to anybody who sticks by what they think is right and has the courage not to sell out. We did a whole set of country blues and traditional blues numbers that Robert suggested. But that was the only one we put on the record.
DS: It seems that of the big groups, only you and the Who have managed to stay together for such a long time without personnel changes, and the Who don’t really seem to get on with each other very well.
JP: Yeah, we’ve always had a strong bond. It became very apparent when Robert was injured before we made Presence.
DS: The fourth album was to my mind the first fully realized Zeppelin album. It just sounded like everything had come together on that album.
JP: Yeah, we were really playing properly as a group and the different writing departures that we’d taken, like the cottage and the spontaneity aspects, had been worked out and came across in the most disciplined form.
“Rock And Roll” was a spontaneous combustion. We were doing something else at the time, but Bonzo played the beginning of Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” with the tape still running and I just started
doing that part of the riff. It actually ground to a halt after about 12 bars, but it was enough to know that there was enough of a number there to keep working on it. Robert even came in singing on it straight away.
I do have the original tape that was running at the time we ran down “Stairway To Heaven” completely with the band. I’d worked it all out already the night before with John Paul Jones, written down the changes
and things. All this time we were all living in a house and keeping pretty regular hours together, so the next day we started running it down. There was only one place where there was a slight rerun. For some
unknown reason Bonzo couldn’t get the timing right on the twelve-string part before the solo. Other than that it flowed very quickly. While we were doing it Robert was pencilling down lyrics; he must have written three quarters of the lyrics on the spot. He didn’t have to go away and think about them. Amazing, really.
“Black Dog” was a riff that John Paul Jones had brought with him. “Battle of Evermore” was made up on the spot by Robert and myself. I just picked up John Paul Jones’s mandolin, never having played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting. The same thing happened with the banjo on “Gallows Pole.” I’d never played one before either. It was also John Paul Jones’s instrument. I just picked it up and started moving my fingers around until the chords sounded right, which is the same way I work on compositions when the guitar’s in different tunings.
DS: When did Sandy Denny come to sing on “Battle Of Evermore”?
JP: Well, it sounded like an old English instrumental first off. Then it became a vocal and Robert did his bit. Finally we figured we’d bring Sandy by and do a question-and-answer-type thing.
“Misty Mountain Hop” we came up with on the spot. “Going To California” was a thing I’d written before on acoustic guitar. “When The Levee Breaks” was a riff that I’d been working on, but Bonzo’s drum sound
really makes a difference on that point.
DS: You’ve said that when you heard Robert’s lyrics to “Stairway To Heaven” you knew that he’d be the band’s lyricist from then on.
JP: I always knew he would be, but I knew at that point that he’d proved it to himself and could get into something a bit more profound than just subjective things. Not that they can’t be profound as well, but there’s a lot of ambiguity implied in that number that wasn’t present before. I was really relieved because it gave me the opportunity to just get on with the music.
DS: Did you know you’d recorded a classic when you finished?
JP: I knew it was good. I didn’t know it was going to become like an anthem, but I did know it was the gem of the album, sure.
DS: You recorded the fourth record on a few different studios, right?
JP: It was recorded on location at Headley Grange in Hampshire. “Stairway” was done at Island, as were the overdubs. “Four Sticks” was done at Island, because it had a lot of chiming guitars and things. “When The Levee Breaks” is probably the most subtle thing on there as far as production goes because each 12 bars has something new about it, though at first it might not be apparent. There’s a lot of different effects on there that at the time had never been used before. Phased vocals, a backwards echoed harmonica solo. Andy Johns was doing the engineering, but as far as those ideas go, they usually come from me. Once a thing is past the stage of being a track, I’ve usually got a good idea of how I’d like it to shape up. I don’t want to sound too dictatorial, though, because it’s not that sort of thing at all. When we went into Headley Grange it was more like, “Okay, what’s anybody got?”
DS: And it turned out that you had more than anyone else?
JP: It usually does.
DS: Was the idea of the symbols on the cover of the fourth album yours?
JP: Yeah. After all this crap that we’d had with the critics, I put it to everybody else that it’d be a good idea to put out something totally anonymous. At first I wanted just one symbol on it, but then it was decided that since it was our fourth album and there were four of us, we could each choose our own symbol. I designed mine and everyone else had their own reasons for using the symbols that they used.
DS: Do you envision a relationship between Zeppelin cover art and the music n the albums?
JP: There is a relationship in a way, though not necessarily in a “concept album” fashion.
DS: Does Robert usually come into sessions with the lyrics already written?
JP: He has a lyric book and we try to fuse song to lyric where it can be done. Where it can’t, he just writes new ones.
DS: Is there a lot of lyric changing during a session?
JP: Sometimes. Sometimes it’s more cut and dried, like on “The Rain Song.”
DS: There are a few tracks on the fifth album that seemed to exhibit more of a sense of humour than Zeppelin had been known for. “The Crunge” was funny and “D’yer Mak’er” had a joke title which took some people a while to get.
JP: I didn’t expect people not to get it. I thought it was pretty obvious. The song itself was a cross between reggae and a ’50s number, “Poor Little Fool,” Ben E. King’s things, stuff like that. I’ll tell you one thing, “The Song Remains The Same” was going to be an instrumental at first. We used to call it “The Overture.”
DS: You never performed it that way.
JP: We couldn’t. There were too many guitar parts to perform with.
DS: But once you record anything with overdubs, you end up having to adapt it for the stage.
JP: Sure. Then it becomes a challenge, a tough challenge in some cases. “Achilles” is the classic one. When Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards came to hear us play, Keith said, “You ought to get another guitarist; you’re rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business.” Quite amusing. There are times when I’d just love to get another guitarist on, but it just wouldn’t look right to the audience.
DS: The Houses Of The Holy album was the last one that came out on Atlantic before you formed Swan Song. How did the label get started?
JP: We’d been thinking about it for a while and we knew if we formed a label there wouldn’t be the kind of fuss and bother we’d been going through over album covers and things like that. Having gone through, ourselves, what appeared to be an interference, or at least an aggravation, on the artistic side by record companies, we wanted to form a label where the artists would be able to fulfil themselves without all of that hassle. Consequently the people we were looking for the label would be people who knew where they were going themselves. We didn’t really want to get bogged down in having to develop artists, we wanted people who were together enough to handle that type of thing themselves, like the Pretty Things. Even though they didn’t happen, the records they made were very, very good.
DS: The Physical Graffiti album was not all new material. Why was this?
JP: Well, as usual, we had more material than the required 40-odd minutes for one album. We had enough material for one and a half LPs, so we figured let’s put out a double and use some of the material we had done previously but never released. It seemed like a good time to do that sort of thing, release tracks like “Boogie With Stu” which we normally wouldn’t be able to do.
DS: Who’s Stu?
JP: Ian Stewart from the Stones. He played on “Rock And Roll” with us.
DS: Which other tracks on Physical Graffiti had been recorded previously?
JP: “Black Country Woman” and “The Rover” were both done at the same time we did “D’yer Mak’er.” “Bron-Yr-Aur” was done for the third record. “Down By The Seaside,” “Night Flight,” and “Boogie With Stu” were all from the sessions for the fourth album. We had an album and a half of new material, and this time we figured it was better to stretch out than to leave off. I really fancied putting out a song called “Houses of the Holy” on the album.
DS: Do you consider “Kashmir” one of your better compositions?
JP: Yeah. There have been several milestones along the way. That’s definitely
one of them.
DS: If you were to put together a “Best Of Zeppelin” album, what tracks would you choose for it?
JP: That’s a very difficult question. I haven’t thought about it.
DS: What other milestones would you mention?
JP: “Communication Breakdown.” …It’s difficult, only because I don’t know the running times and if you mean a single LP or a double. It would probably be about three songs from each LP. I’d be very conscious of a balance of the sides. There are some tracks which are obvious.
DS: Are there any plans to put out an album like that?
JP: Not at this moment.
DS: Do you think that you’ll do one eventually?
JP: I’m going to work on a quad thing. I have one idea of a chronological live LP which would be two or three albums going back through “Communication Breakdown,” “Thank You,” and all those sorts of numbers.
We’ve got recordings starting with the Albert Hall in 1969 and 1970 with two a year from then on. It would go all the way through.
DS: The Presence album was recorded after Robert’s accident and you’ve said it was the album you were most intensely involved with since the first album.
JP: As far as living it uninterrupted from beginning to end, yeah, definitely. I did 18-hour sessions, 24-hour sessions to complete it.
DS: Is there any reason that Presence is a totally electric guitar-oriented album?
JP: I think it was just a reflection of the total anxiety and emotion at the period of time during which it was recorded. It’s true that there are no acoustic songs, no mellowness or contrasts or changes to other instruments. Yet the blues we did, like “Tea For One,” was the only time I think we’ve ever gotten close to repeating the mood of another of our numbers, “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” The chordal structure is similar, a minor blues. We just wanted to get a really laid-back blues feeling without blowing out on it at all. We did two takes in the end, one with a guitar solo and one without. I ended up sitting there thinking, “I’ve got this guitar solo to do,” because there have been blues guitar solos since Eric on Five Live Yardbirds and everyone’s done a good one. I was really a bit frightened of it. I thought, “What’s to be done?” I didn’t want to blast out the solo like a locomotive or something, because it wasn’t conductive to the vibe of the rest of the track. I was extremely aware that you had to do something different than just some B.B. King licks.
DS: You’ve always seemed to be conscious of not repeating blues cliches.
JP: I probably do it more onstage than on record. it’s evident on the live album when we do “Whole Lotta Love.”
I’ll tell you about doing all the guitar overdubs to “Achilles Last Stand.” There were basically two sections to the song when we rehearsed it. I know John Paul Jones didn’t think I could succeed in what I was attempting to do. He said I couldn’t do a scale over a certain section, that it just wouldn’t work. But it did. What I planned to try and get that epic quality into it so it wouldn’t just sound like two sections repeated, was to give the piece a totally new identity by orchestrating the guitars, which is something I’ve been into for quite some time. I knew it had to be jolly good, because the number was so long it just couldn’t afford to be half-baked. It was all down to me how to do this. I had a lot of it mapped out in my mind, anyway, but to make a long story short, I did all the overdubs in one night.
DS: Do you know how many tracks you did?
JP: No, I lost count eventually. Not many people picked up on that number but I thought as far as I can value tying up that kind of emotion as a package and trying to convey it through two speakers, it was fairly successful. Maybe it’s because it was a narrative, I don’t know.
DS: Were you upset that the first live LP was a film soundtrack?
JP: Dead right. It was a shame. For a time, the movie was shelved and we were going to come over here with what we’d learned, and do some more footage, but after Robert’s accident we were forced to tie it all up. We’d done work with it already and it had to come out. It was recorded across three nights, but in fact the music for the footage mainly came from the first night. It was the best vocal performance. It wasn’t like they had drop-ins and that sort of thing, but they just didn’t have complete footage. So we had to come up with the fantasy sequences to fill it up. Had we been a band that’s the same every night, it would have been very easy for them to link one night’s performance with another. As far as live albums go, most groups will record over half a dozen nights and take the best of that, but as it was a visual, we couldn’t do that.
DS: Do you like the movie?
JP: Oh, it was an incredible uphill struggle. We’d done a bit of work on it and stopped, did more, then stopped again. Three times in all. At that point, we’d decided to redo the thing, making sure the filmmakers did have everything covered properly. As far as it goes, I’m really pleased that it’s there. Purely because it’s an honest statement, a documentary. It’s certainly not one of the magic nights. It was not one of the amazing nights you get now and again, but you’d have to have the entire film crew traveling with you all the time to catch one. That would be just too costly to do. We’d gotten to the point where we were so far into it we couldn’t pull out. We’d put so much money into it. By that point, we knew it was going to be all right, but the director was very stubborn and it would have been a lot easier had he just done what he’d been asked to do.
Getting back to your original question, though, it was frustrating because I did have this concept of this chronological live LP which really would have been a knockout.
DS: It still sounds like a viable thing for you to do in the future.
JP: I’ll get to it. I’ll do it eventually.