Rock Magic: Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin, And a search for the elusive Stairway to Heaven by William Burroughs, Crawdaddy Magazine, June 1975.
When I was first asked to write an article on the Led Zeppelin group, to be based on attending a concert and talking with Jimmy Page, I was not sure I could do it, not being sufficiently knowledgeable about music to attempt anything in the way of musical criticism or even evaluation. I decided simply to attend the concert and talk with Jimmy Page and let the article develop. If you consider any set of data without a preconceived viewpoint, then a viewpoint will emerge from the data.
My first impression was of the audience. As we streamed through one security line after another–a river of youth looking curiously like a single organism: one well-behaved clean-looking middle-class kid. The security guards seemed to be cool and well-trained, ushering gate-crashers out with a minimum of fuss. We were channeled smoothly into our seats in the thirteenth row. Over a relaxed dinner before the concert, a Crawdaddy companion had said he had a feeling that something bad could happen at this concert. I pointed out that it always can when you get that many people together–like bullfights where you buy a straw hat at the door to protect you from bottles and other missiles. I was displacing possible danger to a Mexican border town where the matador barely escaped with his life and several spectators were killed. It’s known as “clearing the path.”
So there we sat, I decline earplugs; I am used to loud drum and horn music from Morocco, and it always has, if skillfully performed, an exhilarating and energizing effect on me. As the performance got underway I experienced this musical exhilaration, which was all the more pleasant for being easily controlled, and I knew then that nothing bad was going to happen. This was a safe and friendly area–but at the same time highly charged. There was a palpable interchange of energy between the performers and the audience which was never frantic or jagged. The special effects were handled well and not overdone.
A few special effects are much better than too many. I can see the laser beams cutting dry ice smoke, which drew an appreciative cheer from the audience. Jimmy Page’s number with the broken guitar strings came across with a real impact, as did John Bonham’s drum solo and the lyrics delivered with unfailing vitality by Robert Plant. The performers were doing their best, and it was very good. The last number, “Stairway to Heaven”, where the audience lit matches and there was a scattering of sparklers here and there, found the audience well-behaved and joyous, creating the atmosphere of a high school Christmas play. All in all a good show; neither low nor insipid. Leaving the concert hall was like getting off a jet plane.
I summarized my impressions after the concert in a few notes to serve as a basis for my talk with Jimmy Page. “The essential ingredient for any successful rock group is energy–the ability to give out energy, to receive energy from the audience and to give it back to the audience. A rock concert is in fact a rite involving the evocation and transmutation of energy. Rock stars may be compared to priests, a theme that was treated in Peter Watkins’ film ‘Privilege’. In that film a rock star was manipulated by reactionary forces to set up a state religion; this scenario seems unlikely, I think a rock group singing political slogans would leave its audience at the door.
“The Led Zeppelin show depends heavily on volume, repetition and drums. It bears some resemblance to the trance music found in Morocco, which is magical in origin and purpose–that is, concerned with the evocation and control of spiritual forces. In Morocco, musicians are also magicians. Gnaoua music is used to drive out evil spirits. The music of Joujouka evokes the God Pan, Pan God of Panic, representing the real magical forces that sweep away the spurious. It is to be remembered that the origin of all the arts–music, painting and writing–is magical and evocative; and that magic is always used to obtain some definite result. In the Led Zeppelin concert, the result aimed at would seem to be the creation of energy in the performers and in the audience. For such magic to succeed, it must tap the sources of magical energy, and this can be dangerous.”
I felt that these considerations could form the basis of my talk with Jimmy Page, which I hoped would not take the form of an interview. There is something just basically WRONG about the whole interview format. Someone sticks a mike in your face and says, “Mr. Page, would you care to talk about your interest in occult practices? Would you describe yourself as a believer in this sort of thing?” Even an intelligent mike-in-the-face question tends to evoke a guarded mike-in-the-face answer. As soon as Jimmy Page walked into my loft downtown, I saw that it wasn’t going to be that way.
We started talking over a cup of tea and found we have friends in common: the real estate agent who negotiated Jimmy Page’s purchase of the Aleister Crowley house on Loch Ness; John Michel, the flying saucer and pyramid expert; Donald Camel, who worked on ‘Performance’; Kenneth Anger, and the Jaggers, Mick and Chris. The subject of magic came up in connection with Aleister Crowley and Kenneth Anger’s film ‘Lucifer Rising’, for which Jimmy Page did the sound track.
Since the word “magic” tends to cause confused thinking, I would like to say exactly what I mean by “magic” and the magical interpretation of so-called reality. The underlying assumption of magic is the assertion of ‘will’ as the primary moving force in this universe–the deep conviction that nothing happens unless somebody or some being wills it to happen. To me this has always seemed self-evident. A chair does not move unless someone moves it. Neither does your physical body, which is composed of much the same materials, move unless you will it to move. Walking across the rooom is a magical operation. From the viewpoint of magic, no death, no illness, no misfortune, accident, war or riot is accidental. There are no accidents in the world of magic. And will is another word for animate energy. Rock stars are juggling fissionable material that could blow up at any time… “The soccer scores are coming in from the Capital…one must pretend an interest,” drawled the dandified Commandante, safe in the pages of my book; and as another rock star said to me, “YOU sit on your ass writing–I could be torn to pieces by my fans, like Orpheus.”
I found Jimmy Page equally aware of the risks involved in handling the fissionable material of the mass unconcious. I took on a valence I learned years ago from two ‘Life-Time’ reporters–one keeps telling you these horrific stories: “Now old Burns was dragged out of the truck and skinned alive by the mob, and when we got there with the cameras the bloody thing was still squirming there like a worm…” while the other half of the team is snapping pictures CLICK CLICK CLICK to record your reactions–so over dinner at Mexican Gardens I told Jimmy the story of the big soccer riot in Lima, Peru in 1964.
We are ushered into the arena as VIPs, in the style made famous by ‘Triumph of the Will’. Martial music–long vistas–the statuesque police with their dogs on leads–the crowd surging in a sultry menacing electricity palpable in the air–grey clouds over Lima–people glance up uneasily… the last time it rained in Lima was the year of the great earthquake, when whole towns were swallowed by landslides. A cop is beating and kicking someone as he shoves him back towards the exit. Oh lucky man. The dogs growl ominously. The game is tense. Tied until the end of the last quarter, and then the stunning decision: a goal that would have won the game for Peru is disqualified by the Uruguayan referee. A howl of rage from the crowd, and then a huge black known as La Bomba, who has started three previous soccer riots and already has twenty-three notches on his bomb, vaults down into the arena. A wave of fans follows The Bomb–the Uruguayan referee scrambles off with the agility of a rat or an evil spirit–the police release tear gas and unleash their snarling dogs, hysterical with fear and rage and maddened by the tear gas. And then a sound like falling mountains, as a few drops of rain begin to fall.
“Yes, I’ve thought about that. We all have. The important thing is maintain a balance. The kids come to get far out with the music. It’s our job to see they have a good time and no trouble.”
And remember the rock group called Storm? Playing a dance hall in Switzerland…fire…exits locked…thirty-seven people dead including all the performers. Now any performer who has never thought about fire and panic just doesn’t think. The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time, and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility. The bad vibes in that dance hall must have been really heavy. If the performers had been sensitive and alert, they would have checked to be sure the exits were unlocked.
Previously, over two fingers of whiskey in my Franklin Street digs, I had told Page about Major Bruce MacMannaway, a healer and psychic who lives in Scotland. The Major discovered his healing abilities in World War II when his regiment was cut off without medical supplies and the Major started laying on hands…”Well Major, I think it’s a load of bollocks but I’ll try anything.” And it turns out the Major is a walking hypo. His psychic abilities were so highly regarded by the Admiralty that he was called in to locate sunken submarines, and he never once missed.
I attended a group meditation seminar with the Major. It turned out to be the Indian rope trick. Before the session the Major told us something of the potential power in group meditation. He had seen it lift a six-hundred-pound church organ five feet in the air. I had no reason to doubt this, since he was obviously incapable of falsification. In the session, after some preliminary excercises, the Major asked us to see a column of light in the center of the room and then took us up through the light to a plateau where we met nice friendly people: the stairway to heaven in fact. I mean we were really THERE.
I turned to Jimmy Page: “Of course we are dealing here with meditation– the deliberate induction of a trance state in a few people under the hands of an old master. This would seem on the surface to have a little in common with a rock concert, but the underlying force is the same: human energy and its potential concentration.” I pointed out that the moment when the stairway to heaven becomes something actually POSSIBLE for the audience, would also be the moment of greatest danger. Jimmy expressed himself as well aware of the power in mass concentration, aware of the dangers involved, and of the skill and balance needed to avoid them…rather like driving a load of nitroglycerine.
“There IS a responsibility to the audience,” he said. “We don’t want anything bad to happen to these kids–we don’t want to release anything we can’t handle.” We talked about magic and Aleister Crowley. Jimmy said that Crowley has been maligned as a black magician, whereas magic is neither white nor black, good nor bad–it is simply alive with what it is: the real thing, what people really feel and want and are. I pointed out that this “either/or” straitjacket had been imposed by Christianity when all magic became black magic; that scientists took over from the Church, and Western man has been stifled in a non-magical universe known as “the way things are.” Rock music can be seen as one attempt to break out of this dead soulless universe and reassert the universe of magic.
Jimmy told me that Aleister Crowley’s house has very good vibes for anyone who is relaxed and receptive. At one time the house had also been the scene of a vast chicken swindle indirectly involving George Sanders, the movie actor, who was able to clear himself of any criminal charges, Sanders committed suicide in Barcelona, and we both remembered his farewell note to the world: “I leave you to this sweet cesspool.”
I told Jimmy he was lucky too have that house with a monster in the front yard. What about the Loch Ness monster? Jimmy Page thinks it exists. I wondered if it could find enough to eat, and thought this unlikely–it’s not the improbability but the upkeep on monsters that worries me. Did Aleister Crowley have opinions on the subject? He apparently had not expressed himself.
We talked about trance music. He had heard the Brian Jones record from recordings made at Joujouka. We discussed the possibility of synthesizing rock music with some of the older forms of trance music that have been developed over centuries to produce powerful, sometimes hypnotic effects on the audience. Such a synthesis would enable the older forms to escape from the mould of folk lore and provide new techniques to rock groups.
We talked about the special effects used in the concert. “Sure,” he said, “lights, lasers, dry ice are fine–but you have to keep some balance. The show must carry itself and not rely too heavily on special effects, however spectacular,” I brought up the subject of infra-sound, that is, sound pitched below 16 Hertz, the level of human hearing; as ultra-sound is above the level. Professer Gavreau of France developed infra-sound as a military weapon. A powerful infra-sound installation can, he claims, kill everyone in a five-mile radius, knock down walls and break windows. Infra-sound kills by setting up vibrations within the body so that, as Gavreau puts it, “You can feel all the organs in your body rubbing together.” The plans for this device can be obtained from the French Patent Office, and infra-sound generators constructed from inexpensive materials. Needless to say, one is not concerned with military applications however unlimited, but with more interesting and useful possibilities, reaching much further that five miles.
Infra-sound sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system. Need these vibrations necessarily be harmful or unpleasant? All music played at any volume sets up vibrations in the body and nervous system of the listener. That’s why people listen to it. Caruso as you wil remember could break a champagne glass across the room. Especially interesting is the possibility of rhythmic pulses of infra-sound; that is, MUSIC IN INFRA-SOUND. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it.
Jimmy was interested, and I gave him a copy of a newspaper article on infra-sound. It seems that the most deadly range is around 7 Hertz, and when this is turned on even at a low volume, anyone within range is affected. They feel anxious, ill, depressed, and finally exclaim with one voice, “I feel TERRIBLE!”…last thing you want at a rock concert. However, around the borders of infra-sound perhaps a safe range can be found. Buddhist mantras act by setting up vibrations in the body. Could this be done in a much more powerful yet safe manner by the use of infra-sound rhythms which could of course could be combined with audible music? Perhaps infra-sound could add a new dimension to rock music.
Could something be developed comparable to the sonar communication of dolphins, conveying an immediate sonar experience that requires no symbolic translation? I mentioned to Jimmy that I had talked with Dr. Truby, who worked with John Lilly recording dolphins. Dr. Truby is a specialist in inter-species communication, working on a grant from the government–so that when all our kids are born Venusians we will understand then when they start to talk. I suggested to him that ALL communication, as we know it, is actually inter-species communication, and that it is kept that way by the nature of verbal and symbolic communication, which must be indirect.
Do dolphins have a language? What is a language? I define a language as a communication system in which data are represented by verbal or written symbols–symbols that ARE NOT THE OBJECTS to which they refer. The word “chair” is not the object itself, the chair. So any such system of communication is always second-hand and symbolic, whereas we CAN conceive of a form of communication that would be immediate and direct, undercutting the need for symbols. And music certainly comes closer to such direct communication than language.
Could musical communication be rendered more precise with infra-sound, thus bringing the whole of music a second radical step forward? The first step was made when music came out of the dance halls, roadhouses, and night clubs, into Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium. Rock music appeals to a mass audience, instead of being the province of a relatively few aficionados. Can rock music make another step forward, or is it a self-limiting form, confirmed by the demands of a mass audience? How much that is radically new can a mass audience safely absorb? We came back to the question of balance. How much new material will be accepted by a mass audience? Can rock music go forward without leaving its fans behind?
We talked about Wilhelm Reich’s orgone accumulator, and I showed him plans for making this device, which were passed along to me by Reich’s daughter. Basically the device is very simple, consisting of iron or steel wool on the inside and organic material on the outside. I think this was highly important discovery. Recently a scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced an “electrical cell” theory of cancer that is almost identical to Reich’s cancer theory put forth 25 years ago. He does not acknowledge any indebtedness to Reich. I showed Jimmy the orgone box I have here, and we agreed that orgone accumulators in pyramid form and/or using magnetized iron could be much more powerful.
We talked about the film ‘Performance’ and the use of cut-up techniques in this film. Now the cut-up method was applied to writing by Brion Gysin in 1959; he said that writing was fifty years behind painting, and applied the montage method to writing. Actually, montage is much closer to the facts of perception thatn representational painting. If for example you walked through Times Square, and then put on canvas what you had seen, the result would be a montage…half a person cut in two by a car, reflections from shop windows, fragments of street signs. Antony Balch and I collaborated on a film called ‘Cut-Ups’, in which the film was cut into segments and rearranged at random. Nicholas Roeg and Donald Camel saw a screening of the film not long before they made ‘Performance’.
Musical cut-ups have been used by Earl Browne and other modern composers. What distinguishes a cut-up from, say, an edited medley, is that the cut-up is at some point random. For example, if you made a medley by taking thirty seconds from a number of scores and assembling these arbitrary units–that would be a cut-up. Cut-ups often result in more succinct meanings, rather than nonsense. Here for example is a phrase taken from a cut-up of this article: “I can see the laser gate crashers with an appreciative cheer from the 13th row.” (Actually a gate crasher was extricated by security from the row in front of us; an incident I had forgoten until I saw this cut-up.)
Over dinner at the Mexican Gardens, I was suprised to hear that Jimmy Page had never heard of Petrillo, who started the first musicians’ union and perhaps did more than any other one man to improve the financial positioin of musicians by protecting copyrights. One wonders whether rock music could have gotten off the ground without Petrillo and the Union, which put musicians in the big money bracket, thereby attracting managers, publicity, and the mass audience.
Music, like all the arts, is magical and ceremonial in origin. Can rock music return to these ceremonial roots and take its fans with it? Can rock music use older forms like Moroccan trance music? There is at present a wide interest among young people in the occult and all means of expanding consciousness. Can rock music appeal directly to this interest? In short, there are a number of disparate tendencies waiting to be synthesized. Can rock music serve as a vehicle for this synthesis?
The broken guitar strings, John Bonham’s drum solo, vitality by Robert Plant–when you get that many people to get it, very good. Buy a straw hat at the door–the audience all light matches. Cool well-trained laser beams channelled the audience smoothly. A scattering of sparklers. Danger to a Mexican border town. We start talking over a cup of the mass unconscious–cut to a soccer riot photo in Lima. The Uruguayan referee as another rock star. Sound like falling mountains of the risks involved. It’s our job to see trouble and plateau the center of the room–remember the stairway to Switzerland? Fire really there. You can’t see it if you refuse–underlying force the same. I mean we were playing a dance hall in heaven at the moment when the stairway actually possible for the audience was unlocked.
WORD FOR WORD
WILLIAM BURROUGHS: I really, really enjoyed the concert. I think it has quite a lot, really, in common with Moroccan trance music.
JIMMY PAGE: Yes, yes.
WB: I wondered if you consciously were using any of that….
JP: Well, yes, there is a little on that perticular track, “Kashmir”–a lead bass on that–even though none of us have been to Kashmir. It’s just that we’ve all been very involved in that sort of music. I’m very involved in ethnic music from all over the world.
WB: Have you been to Morocco?
JP: No. I haven’t, and it’s a very sad admission to make. I’ve only been to, you know, India and Bangkok and places like that through the Southeast.
WB: Well, I’ve never been east of Athens.
JP: Because during the period when everybody was going through trips over to, you know, Morocco, going down, way down, making their own journeys too Istanbul, I was at art college during that period and then I eventually went straight into music. So I really missed out on all that sort of traveling. But I know musicians that have gone there and actually sat in with the Arabs and played with them.
WB: Yeah, well they think of music entirely in magical terms.
WB: And their music is definitely used for magical purposes. For example, the Gnaoua music is to drive out evil spirits and Joujouka music is invoking the God Pan. Musicians there are all magicians, quite consciously.
JP: Yes, I know. One is so aware of the energies that you are going for, and you could so easily….I mean, for instance, the other night we played in the Philadelphia Spectrum, which really is a black hole as a concert hall….The security there is the most ugly of anywhere in the States. I saw this incident happen and I was almost physically sick. In fact, if I hadn’t been playing the guitar I was playing it would’ve been over somebody’s head. It was a double-neck, which is irreplaceable, really, unless you wait another nine months for them to make another one at Gibson’s.
What had happened, somebody came to the front of the stage to take a picture or something and obviously somebody said, “Be off with you.” And he wouldn’t go. And then one chap went over the barrier, and then another, and then another and then another, and they all piled on top of…you could see the fists coming out…on this one solitary person. And they dragged him by his hair and they were kicking him. It was just sickening. Now, what I’m saying is this….Our crowds, the people that come to see us are very orderly. It’s not the sort of Alice Cooper style, where you actually TRY to get them into a state where they’ve got to go like that, so that you can get reports of this, that and the other. And the wrong word said at that time could’ve just sparked off the whole thing.
WB: Yes, there’s sort of a balance to be maintained there.
JP: Yeah, that’s right.
WB: The audience the other night was very well behaved.
WB: Have you used the lasers in all of the concerts?
JP: Over here, yes.
WB: Very effective.
JP: I think we should have more of them, don’t you? About thirty of them! Do you know they bounced that one off the moon. But it’s been condensed….it’s the very one that they used for the moon. I was quite impressed by that.
WB: That isn’t the kind of machine that would cause any damage….
JP: Uh, if you look straight into it, yes.
WB: Yes, but I mean…it doesn’t burn a hole in…
JP: No….it’s been taken right down. I’m just waiting for the day when you can get the holograms…get three-dimensional. The other thing I wanted to do was the Van de Graaff Generator. You used to see them in the old horror films….
WB: Oh yes…Frankenstein, and all that.
JP: When we first came over here… when the draft was really hot and everything…if you stayed in the country for more than six months, you were eligible for it, they’d drag you straight into the draft.
WB: I didn’t realize that.
WB: Oh, I thought you had to be an American citizen.
JP: Noo. No no. We almost overstayed our welcome. I was producing and having to work in studios here, and the days coming up to the six month period were just about…it was just about neck and neck. And I still had a couple more days left and a couple more days to work on this lp.
WB: Were they right there with the papers?
JP: Well, not quite, I mean obviously it would have taken some time, but somebody would’ve been there…You know, they do keep an eye on people.
WB: Did you ever hear about something called infra-sound?
JP: Uh, carry on.
WB: Well, infra-sound is sound below the level of hearing. And it was developed by someone named Professor Gavreau in France as a military weapon. He had an infra-sound installation that he could turn on and kill everything within five miles. It can also knock down walls and break windows. But it kills by setting up vibrations within the body. Well, what I was wondering was, whether rhythmical music at sort of the borderline of infra-sound could be used to produce rhythms in the audience–because, of course, any music with volume will set up these vibrations. That is part of the way the effect is achieved.
WB: It’s apparently…it’s not complicated to build these infra-sound things.
JP: I’ve heard of this, actually but not in such a detailed explanation. I’ve heard that certain frequencies can make you physically ill.
WB: Yes. Well, this can be fatal. That’s not what you’re looking for. But it could be used just to set up vibrations….
JP: Ah hah…A death ray machine! Of course, when radio first came out they were picketing all the radio stations, weren’t they, saying “We don’t want these poisonous rays” [laughter]….Yes, well…certain notes can break glasses. I mean, opera singers can break glasses with sound, this is true?
WB: That was one of Caruso’s tricks.
JP: But it is true?
WB: Of course.
JP: I’ve never seen it done.
WB: I’ve never seen it done, but I know that you can do it.
JP: I want laser NOTES, that’s what I’m after! Cut right through.
WB: Apparently you can make one of these things out of parts you can buy in a junk yard. It’s not a complicated machine to make. And actually the patent…it’s patented in France, and according to French law, you can obtain a copy of the patent. For a very small fee.
JP: Well, you see the thing is, it’s hard to know just exactly what is going on, from the stage to the audience…You can only…I mean I’ve never seen the group play, obviously. Because I’m part of it….I can only see it on celluloid, or hear it. But I know what I see. And this thing about rhythms within the audience. I would say yes. Yes, definitely. And it is…Music which involves riffs, anyway, will have a trance-like effect, and it’s really like a mantra….And we’ve been attacked for that.
WB: What a mantra does is set up certain vibrations within the body, and this, obviously does the same thing. Of course, it goes….it comes out too far. But I was wondering if on the borderline of infra-sound that possibly some interesting things could be done.
JP: Last year we were playing [sets] for three hours solid, and physically that was a real…I mean, when I came back from the last tour I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t even know where I was going. We ended up in New York and the only thing that I could relate to was the instrument onstage. I just couldn’t….I was just totally and completely spaced out.
WB: How long was that you played recently? That was two hours and a half.
JP: That was two and a half hours, yes. It used to go for three hours.
WB: I’d hate to give a three-hour reading….
“Okay, I’m ready”, says Jimmy Page, clapping his hands together with a loud smack. “What are we going to talk about this time? Zeppelin? Again? Oh, gawd, didn’t we already do this ?”, he whines, rolling his black eyes skyward. I’m getting a severe case of deja vu. Well all right. Get out your surgeon’s masks and thumb screws, I’m ready for dissection. In the past, a little of Pagey’s sarcasm would have sent the most hardened music journalist scurrying over the hills and far away. But it is clear from his mock outrage that the god of guitar thunder is not really throwing lightning bolts — he is merely teasing. Despite his protest, one gets the feeling that there is nothing in the world that he would rather discuss that his groundbreaking work with rock’s most mythic outfit, Led Zeppelin.
And there is much to talk about. First and foremost are two new Led Zep box sets on Atlantic Records: “Led Zeppelin — Boxed Set 2” and “Led Zeppelin — The Complete Studio Recordings”. In addition, Led Zeppelin, the four-CD/ cassette compilation that was first issued in the fall of 1990, is being made available once again. “Boxed Set 2”, a two-CD retrospective contains the 31 tracks form the band’s studio albums that were not included on the original four-disc boxed set. In addition, the mini-box includes “Baby Come On Home”, a never before released song recorded during Zep’s first studio sessions in October 1968.
“The Complete Studio Recordings”, a 10-CD boxed set, is comprised of all nine Led Zeppelin studio albums, each digitally remastered. The set comes in a cube-shaped box and includes six hardcover, full color booklets: a 64-page tome containing complete credits, rare pictures, and an essay; and five booklets, each housing two CDs and reproductions of all original album artwork.
Not long in to the interview however, it becomes clear that Page has much more on his mind than blimps and boxes. He is here to stake his claim as one of rock’s most interesting and innovative producers — the prime architect of Led Zeppelin.
And it’s about time. Although no one would ever argue his status a guitar genius, few ever mention Page’s brilliant work in the recording studio as a producer, arranger and engineer. Unlike the Beatles and the Stones, Led Zeppelin never relied on the outside guidance of a George Martin or Jimmy Miller. Instead, they followed the direction of their intrepid bandleader/ guitarist as he ruthlessly steered the band through one successful experiment after another.
As Page himself explains: “Many people think of me as just a riff guitarist, but I think of myself in broader terms. As a musician I think my greatest achievement has been to create unexpected melodies and harmonies within a rock and roll framework. And as a producer I would like to be remembered as someone who was able to sustain a band of unquestionable individual talent, and push it to the forefront during its working career. I think I really captured the best of our output, growth, change and maturity on tape — the multifaceted gem that is Led Zeppelin.”
It can be argued that Page errs in his assessment–on the modest side.
For Jimmy Page, the producer, didn’t simply record a great four-piece band; he created sweeping aural vistas. Each song in Led Zeppelin’s catalog packs the
wallop of a full-blown, three-dimensional, four-star rock and roll movie. Page, in the director’s seat, brought us intense X-rated features like the
orgasmic “Whole Lotta Love”, Disney-esque fantasies like the whimsical “The Song Remains The Same” and huge, exotic 70mm epics like “Kashmir” and “Stairway
No one in rock before or since has equalled Page’s flair for the dramatic. He made John Bonham’s drums sound like volcanic eruptions and Robert Plant’s
vocals reverberate as if they were sung from the top of Mount Olympus. Even John Paul Jones’s nimble bass benefitted from Page’s studio acumen, as thanks
to him it grooved with unprecedented clarity. But above all, Page was able to manipulate the sound of his own guitar so that it changed colors and hues like
some blues-rock chameleon. From the tortured scream of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” to the mysterious and mellow acoustic ambience of “Black Mountain Side”,
Zep’s dark lord of the Les Paul covered all the bases with uncanny style.
Page claims that the mighty Zeppelin was designed so its music would have shadow and light. Screw that — Zeppelin lived in nothing less than
technicolor. Pagey and company didn’t invent heavy metal, they turned it into an artform.
So here he is. Dressed in black, imperious, meticulous, and still unable to resist the siren call of a Les Paul, which he picks up several times during the
interview to demonstrate a point. When asked about his technique, Page states, “My guitar playing developed because I had that great unit to work with.
I don’t really have a technique, as such, when you think of people with technique. But I think it’s harder to come up with fresh ideas, fresh
approaches and a fresh vision.”
Fresh ideas, as anyone who reads the following transcript will no doubt agree, are Jimmy’s stock in trade.
Guitar World: Let’s start by talking about the new CD boxes: “Boxed Set 2” and “The Complete Studio Recordings”.
Jimmy Page: We approached Set 2 the same way we approached the four-CD set released before. Engineer George Marino and I transferred the
original analog tapes to a digital format, then we used some modern EQ’s to make them sparkle. Then we pieced the tracks together so
that the box has a certain flow — both aesthetically and technically.
I think the fun thing about Set 2 is the unreleased track from the Led Zeppelin I sessions, “Baby Come on Home”. It’s kind of an R & B
thing and Plant’s singing is excellent. He’s just flying on it.
GW: Why didn’t you put it on the first album?
Page: I don’t think we finished it — the backing vocals weren’t very clever. And, at the time, we thought everything else was better. Simple as that,
really. But don’t get me wrong, the track is good. It’s just that we set such a high standard for ourselves.
GW: Were any of the tracks in bad shape?
Page: Not really. We were very fortunate in that area. I’ve heard horror stories about Eric Clapton’s early sessions — that the tape was
literally falling apart when they went to remaster them for his “Crossroads” boxed set.
The recordings them selves were also pretty clean, except for the odd bit of distortion here and there. The only real problem I can remember
encountering was when we were putting the first boxed set together. There was an awfully squeaky bass drum pedal on “Since IUve Been Loving
You”. It sounds louder and louder every time I hear it! [laughs]. That was something that was obviously sadly overlooked at the time.
GW: I also notice that you can faintly hear Bonzo click his sticks together before some of the riffs in “Black Dog”.
Page: That’s correct. He did that to keep time and to signal the band. We tried to eliminate most of them, but muting was much more difficult in
those days than it is now.
GW: Since this is Boxed Set 2, I would like to think of this interview as the second part of the interview Guitar World conducted around the first boxed
set [GW Jan. 1991]. We want this to be The Jimmy Page Interview 2, if you will.
Page: Let’s go.
LED ZEPPELIN I
U.S. release: January 12, 1969
Recorded at: Olympic Studios (London)
Guitars: 1958 Telecaster, 10-string Fender 800 Pedal Steel
GW: Let’s start from the beginning. What did you want Led Zeppelin to be?
Page: I had alot of ideas from my days with The Yardbirds. The Yardbirds allowed me to improvise a lot in live performance and I started building
a textbook of ideas that I eventually used in Zeppelin. In addition to those ideas, I wanted to add acoustic textures. Ultimately, I wanted
Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses — a combination that had never been done before.
Lots of light and shade in the music. Prime example of that is “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”.
GW: How did “Babe” evolve?
Page: This is a good time to clear something up that I’ve really taken offence to. There’s a book written by our former road manager, Richard Cole
[Stairway to Heaven, HarperCollins Publishers] that has made me completely ill. I’m so mad about it that I can’t even bring myself to
read the whole thing. The two bits that I have read are so ridiculously false, that Im sure if I read the rest I’d be able to sue Cole and the
publishers. But it would be so painful to read that it wouldn’t be worth it.
The one false story has to do with “Babe Im Gonna Leave You”. The book claims that when Robert came to my house to initially discuss the band,
I played him a recording of Joan Baez singing “Babe” and asked him, “Can you imagine us playing something like this?” The book claims that Robert
picked up my guitar and started playing *ME* the arrangement that eventually appeared on the album. Arrrghh! Can you believe that?
First of all, I had worked out the arrangement long before Robert came to my house and secondly, Robert didn’t even play the flippin’ guitar in
those days!! Thirdly, I didn’t ask him if he could imagine playing that song, I TOLD him that I wanted to do it. And you can take that right to
the horse’s mouth.
That’s just in the two pages that I read. You can imagine how inaccurate the rest of the book must be. That’s a definite punch on the nose. I’d
love to know who his source of information was.
GW: In addition to having such a strong direction musically, you also had a unique approach to the business aspect of the band in the beginning. By
self-producing the first album and tour, weren’t you attempting to keep record company interference to a minimum and maximize the band’s artistic
Page: That’s true. I wanted artistic control in a vise grip, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do with these fellows. In fact, I financed and
completely recorded the first album before going to Atlantic. It wasn’t your typical story where you get an advance to make an album — we
arrived at Atlantic with tapes in hand.
The other advantage to having such a clear vision of what I wanted the band to be was that it kept recording costs to a minimum. We recorded the
whole first album in a matter of 30 hours. That’s the truth. I know because I paid the bill [laughs]. But it wasn’t all that difficult because
we were well-rehearsed, having just finished a tour of Scandinavia, and I knew exactly what I wanted to do in every respect. I knew where all the
guitars were going to go and how it was going to sound — everything.
GW: The stereo mixes on the first two albums are incredible and very innovative. Was this planned ahead of time as well?
Page: I wouldn’t go that far. But, certainly, after the overdubs were completed I had an idea of the stereo picture and where the echo returns would be.
For example, on “How Many More Times”, you’ll notice there are times where the guitar is on one side and the echo return is on the other.
Those things were my ideas.
I would say the only real problem we had with the first album was leakage from the vocals. Robert’s voice was extremely powerful and it
would get on some of the other tracks. But oddly, the leakage sounds intentional. I was very good at salvaging things that went wrong.
For example, the rhythm track in the beginning of “Celebration Day” was completely wiped by an engineer. I forget what we were recording, but I
was listening through the headphones and nothing was coming through. I started yelling “What the hell is going on!!” Then I noticed that the
red recording light was on what used to be the drums. The engineer had accidentaly recorded over Bonzo! And that is why you have that synthesizer
drone from the end of “Friends” going into “Celebration Day”, until the rhythm track catches up. We put that on to compensate for the missing
drum track. That’s called “salvaging” [laughs].
GW: What was the first song you recorded together?
Page: I don’t remember, really. I could find out for you, but not for another couple of years. I’ve seen enough of those old tapes for a while!
GW: “Good Times Bad Times” kicks off Led Zeppelin I and Boxed Set 2. What do you remember about that particular track?
Page: The most stunning thing about the track, of course, is Bonzo’s amazing kick drum. It’s superhuman when you realize he was not playing with
double kick. That’s one kick drum!! That’s when people started understanding what he was all about.
GW: What did you use to overdrive the Leslie on the solo?
Page: [thinks hard] You know, I don’t remember what I used on “Good Times Bad Times”, but curiously, I do remember using the board to overdrive a
Leslie cabinet for the main riff in “How Many More Times”.It doesn’t sound like a Leslie because I wasn’t employing the rotating speakers.
Surprisingly, that sound has real weight. The guitar is going through the board, then through an amp which was driving the Leslie cabinet. It was a
very successful experiment.
But for most of the recorded I was using a Supro amp, a wah-wah and a distortion unit called a Tonebender, which was one of Roger Mayer’s
GW: How did you develop the backwards echo at the end of “You Shook Me” ?
Page: Didn’t I tell you about that before? No? Well, I should because it’s important — it proves that I pioneered that effect. When I was still in
The Yardbirds, our producer Mickie Most would always try to get us to record all these horrible songs. He would say, “Oh, c’mon, just try it.
If the song is bad we won’t release it”. And, of course it would always get released [laughs]. During one session, we were recording “Ten Little
Indians”, which was an extremely silly song that featured a truly awful brass arrangement. In fact, the whole track sounded terrible. In a
desperate attempt to salvage it, I hit upon an idea. I said, “Look, turn the tape over and employ the echo for the brass on a spare track. Then
turn it back over and we’ll get the echo preceding the signal.” The result was very interesting — it made the track sound like it was going
Later, when we recorded “You Shook Me”, I told the engineer, Glyn Johns, that I wanted to use backwards echo on the end. He said, “Jimmy, it can’t
be done”. I said “Yes, it can. I’ve already done it.” Then he began arguing, so I said, “Look, Im the producer. Im going to tell you what to
do, and just do it.” So he grudgingly did everything I told him to, and when we were finished he started refusing to push the fader up so I could
hear the result. Finally, I had to scream, “Push the bloody fader up!” And low and behold, the effect worked perfectly. When Glyn heard the
result, he looked bloody ill! He just couldn’t accept that someone knew something that he didn’t know — especially a musician! The pompous git!
The funny thing is, Glyn did the next Stones album and what was on it? Backwards echo! And I’m sure he took full credit for the effect.
GW: When people talk about early Zeppelin, they tend to focus on the band’s heavier aspects. But your secret weapon was your ability to write great
hooks. “Good Times Bad Times” has a classic pop hook. Did playing sessions in your pre-Yardbirds days hone your ability to write memorable parts?
Page: My session work was invaluable. At one point I was playing at least three sessions a day, six days a week! And I rarely ever knew in advance what I
was going to be playing. But I learned things even on my worst Sessions — and believe me, I played on some horrendous things. I finally called
it quits after I started getting calls to do Muzak. I decided I couldn’t live that life anymore; It was getting too sill. I guess it was destiny
that a week after I quit doing sessions Paul Samwell-Smith left The Yardbirds, and I was able to take his place. But being a session musician
was good fun in the beginning — the studio discipline was great. They’d just count the song off, and you couldn’t make any mistakes.
GW: Did your blues purist friends ever rag on you for playing jingles?
Page: I never told them what I was doing. I’ve got a lot of skeletons in my closet, I’ll tell ya!! [laughs]
GW: Were you ever a blues purist like Eric Clapton?
Page: The blues appealed to me, but so did rock. The early rockabilly guitarists like Cliff Gallup and Scotty Moore were just as important to
me as the blues guitarists.
GW: How did “How Many More Times” evolve?
Page: That has the kitchen sink on it, doesn’t it? It was made up of little pieces I developed when I was with the Yardbirds, as were other numbers
such as “Dazed And Confused”. It was played live in the studio with cues and nods.
GW: John Bonham received songwriting credit for “How Many More Times”. What was his role?
Page: I initiated most of the changes and riffs, but if something was derived from the blues, I tried to split the credit between band members. [ED.
Note: Robert Plant did not receive any songwriting credits on Led Zeppelin I, as he was still under contract to CBS.] And that was fair,
especially if any of the fellows had input on the arrangement. But, of course, you never get any thanks afterwards — and that comment, by the
way, is not directed towards John Bonham.
GW: You also used the bow on that track.
Page: Yes, like I said, we used the kitchen sink. I think I did some good things with the bow on that track, but I really got much better with it
later on. For example, I think there is some really serious bow playing on the live album. I think some of the melodic lines are pretty
incredible. I remember being really surprised with it when I heard it play back. I thought, “Boy, that really was an innovation that meant
something”. Curiously enough, sometime after I had been using the bow, I was listening to a classical station and heard this chap playing a gut-
strung guitar with a bow and it was absolutely abysmal. I thought, “I’m really on to something. I know what I’m doing.” This classical guy really
was pathetic. I almost wish I had a copy of it to play for you because it was really awful. He wasn’t doing anything at all.
GW: Your bow playing, especially on “Dazed and Confused”, is really enhanced by echo. What did you use?
Page: It was actually reverb. We used those old EMT plate reverbs.
GW: That’s a little surprising, because there are some areas on the record that sound like you’re using tape echo. In fact, Led Zeppelin I was the first
album that I can think of that employed such long echoes and delays.
Page: It’s a little difficult to remember, and I can’t tell you on exactly which tracks, but there was alot of EMT plate reverb put on to tape and
then delayed — machine delayed. You were only given so much time on those old spring reverbs.
GW: How did Atlantic react when you delivered the tape?
Page: They were very keen to get me. I had already worked with one of their producers and visited their offices in America back in 1964 when I met
[Atlantic Executives] Jerry Wexler, and Leiber and Stoller and so on. And they were aware of my work with the Yardbirds, because they were
pretty hip people, so they were very interested. And I made it very clear to them that I wanted to be on Atlantic rather than their rock label
Atco, which had bands like Sonny and Cher and Cream. I didn’t want to be lumped in with those people, I wanted to be associated with something
But to get back to your question. AtlanticUs reaction was very positive — I mean they signed us, didn’t they? And by the time they got the
second album, they were ecstatic.
LED ZEPPELIN II
U.S. release: October 22, 1969
Recorded at: Olympic Studios (London),
A&R Studios (New York), Juggy Sound Studios
(N.Y.), Mayfair Studios (N.Y.), Mystic Studios (L.A.),
Mirror Sound (L.A.), and Ra hut in Vancouver, British
Guitars: 1959 Les Paul, Vox 12-string
Amps: 100-watt Marshall, Vox Solid State
GW: Led Zeppelin I and II are extraordinarily three dimensional. What role did your engineers play?
Page: Glyn Johns was the engineer on the first album, and as I mentioned earlier, he had a bit of an attitude problem. I’ll tell you what he did.
He tried to hustle in on a producer’s credit. I said, “No way, I put this band together, I brought them in and directed the whole recording
process, I go my own guitar sound — I’ll tell you, you haven’t got a hope in hell”. And then we wend to Eddie Kramer for the second album and
Andy Johns after that. I consciously kept changing engineers because I didn’t want people to think that they were responsible for our sound. I
wanted people to know it was me.
GW: Did Eddie Kramer have an impact on Led Zep II?
Page: Yes, I would say he did, but don’t ask me what [laughs]. It’s hard to remember. Wait, here’s a good example. I told him exactly what I wanted
to achieve and in the middle of “Whole Lotta Love”, and he absolutely help me to get it. We already had a lot of the sounds on tape, including
a theramin and slide with backwards echo, but his knowledge of low-frequency oscillation helped complete the effect. If he hadn’t known how
to do that, I would have had to try for something else. So, in that sense, he was very helpful.
Eddie was always very, very good. I got along well with him, and I must say, when I went through all the old recordings for the boxed sets, all
of his work help up very well, very well. Excellent!
GW: What do you think your biggest accomplishment as a producer/engineer was?
Page: The one major thing I contributed was milking the drums in an ambient way — nobody was doing that. When I was playing sessions, I noticed that
the engineers would always place the bass drum mic right next to the head. The drummers would then play like crazy, but it would always sound
like they were playing on cardboard boxes. I discovered that if you move the mic away from the drums, the sound would have room to breathe, hence
a bigger drum sound. I kept exploring and expanding that approach, to the point that we were actually placing mics in hallways, which is how we got
the sound on “When The Levee Breaks”. That was purely in the search for ambience and getting the best out of the drums. So, it was always better
for me to find an engineer who knew exactly what I was talking about. After a while I didn’t have to argue because they KNEW that I knew what
I was talking about.
GW: Speaking of Eddie Kramer, who worked closely with Jimi Hendrix: Did you ever jam with Hendrix?
Page: No. And I never saw him play, either. This is a good story actually, back in the late sixties, I went right from working with The Yardbirds,
to touring and recording with Zeppelin, and that kept me very busy. In the first two years of any band, you just work solidly; if you’re going
to make an impression that’s what you have to do. We were no different. In fact, we probably worked for three years straight. Anyway, every time
I came back from tour and Hendrix was playing somewhere, I would always say to my self, “Oh I’m just so exhausted, ill see him next time”.
I just put it off and of course, there ultimately never was a next time. I’m really, really upset with myself for never seeing him. I really
wanted to hear him.
Now, did I ever meet him? I did actually go into a club in New York called Salvation, and he was there, but he was totally out of it. He
didn’t really know who anybody was — he was barely conscious. Somebody was just kind of holding him up. It is just kind of a shame that I never
really had a chance to talk with him or hear him… I heard his records, naturally, but it would’ve been a thrill to see how he worked things out
on stage. That’s quite another ballgame, as you know.
GW: As a producer, what did you think of his records?
Page: I thought they were excellent. Oh yeah. Jimi’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell was also a man inspired. He never played drums like that before or
since. He played some incredible stuff!!
GW: Although your playing styles were different, you and Jimi wee similar in that you both tried to achieve these great aural landscapes.
Page: Well, there were a lot of people going in that direction. Look at the Beatles. Here was a band that went from “Please Mr. Postman” to “I am the
Walrus” in a few short years.
GW: Why do you think recording has gotten so bland these days?
Page: Well, you had no drum machines in those days. You had to play everything, so there were all these natural crescendos and great ambient sounds
to work with. We would’ve probably done more experimentation with panning and echo on the Coverdale/Page album, but it got too complicated because
we were always working with 72 channels of sound. It got very difficult to do any positioning. But you are right, things like panning and extreme
positioning make for a very exciting listening experience. One of my favorite mixes is at the end of “When The Levee Breaks”, when everything
starts moving around except for the voice, which stays stationary. I’ll tell you a funny story about that song. Andy Johns did that mix with me,
and after we finished it, Glyn, Andy’s older brother, walked in. We were really excited and told him, “Youve got to listen to this”. Glyn listened
and just said, “Hmmph, Youll never be able to cut it. It will never work”. And he walked out. Wrong again Glyn. He must have been seething
The other thing I like about “Levee” is that something new is added to every verse. Check it out — the phrasing of the voice changes, lots of
backwards stuff is added.
GW: The first album was slammed by Rolling Stone magazine, which was very influential at the time. Did that affect your approach on the second album?
Page: Not at all. We knew what we had, and we kept improving all the time. Also, we were playing all the music live and people were responding to
what we were doing. That is the ultimate test. It did not really start bothering me until after the third album. After all we had accomplished
the press was still calling us a hype. So that is why the fourth album was untitled. It was a meaningless protest really, but we wanted to prove
that people were not buying us for the name.
GW: When you were borrowing from classic blues songs on the first two albums, did you ever think it would catch up to you?
Page: You mean getting sued? Well, as far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring some thing fresh to anything that I used. I always made sure to
come up with some variation. In fact, I think in most cases, you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case
— but in most cases. So most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. And Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn’t always do that
— which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn’t get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.
We did, however, take some liberties, I must say [laughs]. But never mind; we did try to do the right thing, it blew up in our faces… When
we were up at Headley Grange recording Physical Graffiti, Ian Stewart came by and we started to jam. The jam turned into Boogie With Stu, which
was obviously a variation on “Ooh My Head” by the late Ritchie Valens, which itself was actually a variation of Little Richard’s “Ooh My Soul”.
What we tried to do was give Ritchie’s mother credit because we heard she never received any royalties from any of her son’s hits, and Robert
did lean on that lyric a bit. So what happens? They tried to sue us for all of the song!! We had to say bugger off. We could not believe it. So
anyway, if there is any plagiarism, just blame Robert [laughs].
But seriously, blues men borrowed from each other constantly, and it is the same with jazz. It is even happened to us. As a musician, I am only
the product of my influences. The fact that I listened to so many various styles of music has a lot to do with the way I play. Which I think set
me apart from so many other guitarists of that time — the fact that I was listening to fold, classical and indian music in addition to the
blues and rock.
GW: You have often spoken about your folk and rockabilly influences in the past, but what were some of your favorite blues records and guitarists?
Page: I had lots of favorites. Otis Rush was important — “So Many Roads” sent shivers up my spine. There were a number of albums that everybody got
tuned into in the early days. There was one in particular called, I think, “American Folk Festival of The Blues”, which featured Buddy Guy
— he just astounded everybody. Then of course, there was “B.B. King Live at the Regal”. The first time I heard any of these people — Freddie
King, Elmore James — it just knocked one flat.
Now that I have said all of that I am missing one important person — Hubert Sumlin. I LOVED Hubert Sumlin. And what a compliment he was to
Howlin Wolf’s voice. He always played the right thing at the right time. Perfect.
GW: What was the impetus for the unaccompanied solo in the middle of “Heartbreaker” ?
Page: I just fancied doing it. I was always trying to do something different, or something that no one else had thought of. But the interesting thing
about that solo is that it was recorded after we had already finished “Heartbreaker” — it was an afterthought. That whole section was recorded
in a different studio and was sort of slotted in the middle. If you notice, the whole sound of the guitar is different.
GW: I have actually noticed that the tuning of the guitar was slightly higher.
Page: The pitch was off as well? I did not know that !! [laughs]
GW: Was the solo composed?
Page: No, it was made up on the spot. I think that was one of the first things I played through a Marshall… “Bring it On Home” was played through a
Marshall as well.
GW: What led you to use Marshall amps?
Page: At that time, it was state of the art reliability. They were really good for going out on the road. I was always having trouble with amps — fuses
blowing or whatever. By that time I was using a Les Paul anyway and that was just a classic setup.
LED ZEPPELIN III
U.S. RELEASE: OCTOBER 5, 1970
RECORDED AT: ROLLING STONES MOBILE STUDIO AT HEADLEY GRANGE,
HAMPSHIRE; ISLAND STUDIOS (LONDON); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
GUITARS: HARMONY ACOUSTIC, MARTIN ACOUSTIC, 1959 LES PAUL
AMP: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Led Zeppelin III is famous for its acoustic instrumentation, but it is also broadening the band’s sonic palette: the East Indian scales on
“Friends”, American country music on “Tangerine”, traditional English folk on “Gallows Pole”, and so on. Did that eclecticism reflect what you were
listening to on the road?
Page: No. As I was saying earlier, I used to listen to a broad variety of music, and I suppose that’s how it came out.
GW: Had you reached a dead end with the blues-based material found on the first two albums?
Page: No. We always had some blues on our albums. Playing the blues is actually the most challenging thing you can do. It is very hard to play something
original. “Since I’ve Been Loving You” is a prime example. That was the only song on the third album that we had played live prior to our
sessions, yet it was the hardest to record. We had several tries at that one. The final version is a live take with John Paul Jones playing organ
and foot bass pedals at the same time.
GW: I would not even call “Since IUve Been Loving You” a typical blues.
Page: Well, it all depends on how you define the blues. Everybody immediately locks into 12 bars, but I do not think it has to have 12 bars to have
that emotive quality. The blues can be anything.
GW: “Celebration Day” is a very unusual track. How was that created?
Page: There’s about three or four riffs going down on that one, isn’t there? Half was done with a guitar in standard tuning and the other half was
done on slide guitar tuned to an open A, I think. We put that together at Headley Grange. Because we rented the Rolling Stones’ mobile recording
studio, we could relax and take our time and develop the songs in rehearsals. We didn’t have to worry about wasting studio time. I do not
remember too much about that song other than that and what I told you earlier about the opening being erased. I used to play the whole thing
live on my electric 12-string.
GW: I heard that “Out On The Tiles” was inspired by a drinking song that John Bonham used to sing.
Page: Yeah. John Bonham used to do a lot of, sort of, rap stuff. He would just get drunk and start singing things like what you hear in the beginning of
“The Ocean”. He would stomp his feet and his fingers would get going. I think he originally had some lyrics about drinking pints of bitter, you
know: Now Im feeling better because I’m out on the tiles.
GW: How else did Bonzo influence the band?
Page: Besides being one of the best drummers I have ever heard, he was also one of the loudest. He was the reason we had to start buying bigger amps.
When we recorded “Levee”, we just used a pair of stereo mics in a hallway at Headley Grange. We could have used a separate microphone to mic the
bass drum but we did not need to — his kick sound was that powerful. And his playing was not in his arms, it was all in his wrist action.
Frightening!! I still do not know how he managed to get so much level out of a kit. And up until the last album, he always used both skins on his
GW: How did the indian influences come into the band?
Page: I went to India after I came back from a tour with the Yardbirds. I could not convince anyone else to come with me; they all wanted to go to San
Francisco. I had been listening to that music for quite a while and wanted to hear it first hand.
GW: So the indian music was your influence?
Page: Lets put this way; I had a sitar before George Harrison, I wouldn’t say I played it as well as he did, though. I think George used it well.
“Within You and Without” is extremely tasteful. He spent a lot of time studying with Ravi Shankar, and it showed.
I actually went to see a Ravi Shankar concert one time, and to show you how far back this was, there were no young people in the audience at all
— just a lot of older people from the Indian embassy. This girl I knew was a friend of his and she took me to see him after the concert, she
introduced him to me and I explained that I had a sitar, but did not know how to tune it. He was very nice to me and wrote down the tunings
on a piece of paper.
LED ZEPPELIN IV
U.S. RELEASE: NOVEMBER 8, 1971
RECORDED AT: ISLAND STUDIOS (LONDON);
ROLLING STONES MOBILE UNIT (HEADLEY GRANGE); SUNSET SOUND (LA)
GUITARS: FENDER ELECTRIC 12-STRING, LES PAUL, TELECASTER
AMP 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Instead of talking about the music on IV, which has been dissected in detail in at least two issues of Guitar World, we thought we would discuss
the album jacket are with you.
Page: It is a thing of the past now, isn’t it? It is painful to look at these CDUs. I must admit I wear glasses now, but it takes a magnifying glass
too read these little things.
GW: Do you think jacket are affected the listening experience?
Page: I do not know about that. I know people used too make a big deal about it.
GW: I think it actually did color your albums. As absurd as this may sound, “Houses of the Holy” will always be an orange-sounding album in my mind.
Page: Actually, I tend to agree with you. But I do not know if I’m the best judge. Robert and I came up with the design of IV together. Robert had
actually bought the print that is on the cover from a junk shop in Reading. We then came up with the idea of having the picture — the man
with the sticks — represent the old way on a demolished building, with the new way combing up behind it. The illustration on the inside was my
idea. It is the Hermit character from the Tarot, a symbol of self-reliance and wisdom, and it was drawn by Barrington Colby.
The typeface for the lyrics to Stairway was also my contribution. I found it in a really old arts ad crafts magazine called Studio, which started
in the late 1800’s. I thought the lettering was so interesting, I got someone to work up a whole alphabet.
GW: What do you think of the artwork on Led Zeppelin III?
Page: A disappointment. I will take responsibility for that one. I knew the artist and described what we wanted with this wheel that made things
appear and change. But he got very personal with this artwork and disappeared off with it. We kept saying “Can we take a look at it? Can we
see where it is going?” Finally, the album was actually finished and we still did not have the art. It got to the point where I had to say,
“Look, I have got to have this thing”. I was not happy with the final result — I thought it looked teeny-bopperish. But we were on top of a
deadline, so of course there was no way to make any radical changes to it. There are some silly bits–little chunks of corn and nonsense like
that. But it is no worse than my first meeting with an artist from Hipgnosis, who were the people that designed Pink Floyd covers. We had
commissioned them to design “Houses of the Holy”, and this guy Storm came in carrying this picture of an electric green tennis court with a tennis
racquet on it. I said, “What the hell does that have to do with anything?” And he said, “Racket — don’t you get it?”. I said “Are you
trying to imply that our music is a racket?? Get out!!” We never saw him again. We ended up dealing with one of the other artists [laughs]. That
was a total insult — racket. He had some balls!! Imagine. On a first meeting with a client!
GW: Weren’t there other problems with the design of “Houses”?
Page: Yeah, when the proofs for the album came back, they did not look anything like the original artwork. Again, we were on a deadline and there was not
much to be done. I suppose it does not matter now. But back then it was a problem.
GW: Were there any album covers that sparked your imagination when you were growing up?
Page: I really loved this one Howlin Wolf album that had a rocking chair and a guitar on the cover. I do not know why it was so powerful for me, because
it really was not such and amazing image. Maybe I just liked the music inside, and that made me like the cover.
There was also a John Lee Hooker album on the Crown label that had this great painting of a guitar on the cover that I liked. But, again, maybe
it was just the music inside — it was definitely one of Hooker’s best recordings. Usually, in those days, I would have preferred to see a
picture of the artist. With that in mind, it is odd hat we rarely put our pictures on our covers [laughs].
GW: One music-oriented question before we move on to “Houses of the Holy”: Tell me how you got that sound on Black Dog.
Page: We put my Les Paul through a direct box, and from there into a mic channel. We used the mic amp of the mixing board to get distortion. Then
we ran it through two Urie 1176 Universal compressors in series. Then each line was triple-tracked. Curiously, I was listening to that track
when we were reviewing the tapes and the guitars almost sound like an analog synthesizer.
HOUSES OF THE HOLY
U.S. RELEASE: MARCH 28, 1973
RECORDED AT : ROLLING STONES MOBILE UNIT (STARGROVES); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
(LONDON); ELECTRIC LADY(NEW YORK)
GUITARS: LES PAUL, FENDER 12-STRING ELECTRIC, STRATOCASTER
AMP: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: Did you feel any pressure to live up to the standards set by the fourth album and “Stairway To Heaven” ?
Page: Of course, but we did not let it get in the way. My main goal was to just keep rolling. It is very dangerous to try and duplicated yourself.
I will not name any names, but I am sure you have heard bands that endlessly repeat themselves. After four or five albums they just burn up.
With us, you never knew what was coming.
GW: What was the origin of “The Song Remains the Same”?
Page: It was originally going to be an instrumental — an overture that led into “The Rain Song”. But I guess Robert had different ideas. You know,
“This is pretty good, Better get some lyrics–quick!” [laughs]
GW: How did it come together?
Page: I had all the beginning material together, and robert suggested that we break down into half-time in the middle. After we figured out that we
were going to break it down, the song came together in a day.
GW: Did you keep a notebook or cassette tape of ideas?
Page: I always did that. And then I would patch them together later. I always had a cassette recorder around. That’s how both “The Song Remains The
Same” and “Stairway” came together — from bits of taped ideas.
GW: What guitar did you use on “Song”, was it the Gibson Doubleneck??
Page: No, I used a Fender 12-string in the studio. And before the Fender, I used a Vox 12-string. You can hear the Vox on things like “Thank You” and
“Living Loving Maid” on the Second album.
GW: “Houses” is so bright-sounding. Did you vari-speed the tape up a notch to get everything to sparkle more??
Page: No, the only song I can think of that we vari-speeded up were a couple of overdubs on “Achilles Last Stand”. However, I applied the vari-speed to
the overall track of “No Quarter”. I dropped the whole song a quarter tone because it made the track sound so much thicker and more intense.
GW: Apart from “No Quarter”, “Houses” is a happy sounding album, suggesting that you were on top of the world at that time. “The Crunge”, for example,
is a complete goof.
Page: I played a Strat on that one — I wanted to get that tight James Brown feel. You have to listen closely, but you can hear me depressing a whammy
bar at the end of each phrase. Bonzo started the groove on “The Crunge”, then Jonesy started playing that descending bass line and I just came in
on the rhythm. You can really hear the fun we were having on “Houses” and “Physical Graffiti”. And you can also hear the dedication and commitment.
U.S. RELEASE: FEBRUARY 24, 1975
RECORDED AT: RONNIE LANEUS MOBILE STUDIO (HEADLEY GRANGE); OLYMPIC STUDIOS
GUITARS: LES PAUL, DANELECTRO, STRATOCASTER
AMPS 100-WATT MARSHALL.
GW: If “Houses of the Holy” was one of your tightest productions, then “Physical Graffitti” is one of your loosest. Did you make a conscious
decision to retreat from a highly polished sound?
Page: Yes, but not completely. “In My Time of Dying” is a good example of something more immediate. It was just being put together when we recorded
it. It is jammed at the end and we do not even have a proper way to stop the thing. But I just thought it sounded like a working group. We could
have tightened it up, but I enjoyed its edge. On the other hand, “Kashmir”, “In the Light” and “Ten Years Gone” are all very ambitious.
GW: The recording, though, does not seem as punchy as some of your previous efforts.
Page: It doesn’t ? Maybe. I look at it as a document of a band in a working environment. People might say it is sloppy, but I think this album is
really honest. “Physical” is a more personal album, and I think it allowed the listener to enter our world. You know, “Here is the door.
I am in”.
GW: Did you ever force a song, or did you discard ideas that did not automatically click?
Page: We forced things on occasion. Actually, “Levee” is a good example. We tried “Levee” in just an ordinary studio and it sounded really labored.
But once we got Bonzo’s kit setup in the hall in Headley Grange and heard the result, I said, “Hold on!! Let’s try this one again!!” And it worked.
But we were never a band to try 90 takes. If the vibe was not there, we tended to drop it.
GW: You and Plant were travelling to places like Morocco and the Sahara Desert around this time, and you can really hear the influence in songs like
“Kashmir”. Whose Idea was it to explore Morocco?
Page: I did a joint interview with William Burroughs for Crawdaddy magazine in the early Seventies, and we had a lengthy discussion on the hypnotic
poser of rock and how it paralleled the music of Arabic cultures. This was an observation Burroughs had after hearing “Black Mountain Side”,
from our first album. He then encouraged me to go to Morocco and investigate the music first hand, something Robert and I eventually did.
U.S. RELEASE: MARCH 31, 1976
RECORDED AT : MUSICLAND STUDIOS (MUNICH)
GUITARS: LES PAUL
AMPS: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: You have said in the past that “Presence” is one of your favorite albums. Why??
Page: I guess it was because we made it under almost impossible circumstances. Robert had a cast on his leg and no one knew whether he would walk again.
It was hairy!
GW: So you remember it fondly because it was a triumph over adversity.
Page: That is exactly it. It was a reflection of the height of our emotions of the time. There are no acoustic songs, no keyboards, no mellowness. We
were also under incredible deadline pressure to finish the record. We did the whole thing in 18 days. I was working an average of 18 to 20 hours a
day. It was also gruelling because nobody else really came up with song ideas. It was really up to me to come up with all the riffs, which is
probably why “Presence” is so guitar-heavy. But I don’t blame anybody. We were all kind of down. We had just finished a tour, we were non-
resident and Robert was in a cast so I think everybody was a little homesick. Our attitude was summed up in the lyrics on “Tea For One”.
GW: What is your strongest memory of that time?
Page: Fighting the deadline. We only had three weeks to work because The Rolling Stones had time booked after us. So after the band finished
recording all its parts, me and the engineer, Keith Harwood, just started mixing until we would fall asleep. Then whoever would wake up first would
call the other and we would go back in and continue to work until we passed out again.
GW: Didn’t you have the power at that time to demand more time from the record company to finish the album?
Page: Of course, but I did not want to. I did not want the record to drag on. Under the circumstances I felt that if it had dragged on, a negative,
destructive element might have entered the picture. The urgency helped us to created an interesting album.
GW: Why isn’t the live album, “The Song Remains The Same”, included in the boxed sets?
Page: That will be done in the future. I would not mind paying some attention to the laser disc and video, s sell. In fact, I remember seeing part of
the video and noticing a horrendous edit in it.
We also have live tapes going back to 1970, that go all the way through Knebworth in 1979. But I don not think Robert is very keen on it coming
out. In fact, right after we had lost Bonzo I wanted to do a chronological live album, because I knew how good his drumming was and I thought it would be a great tribute.
Most of our songs were designed for live performance, and it is great to hear them in that setting. Also It is interesting to see how the songs
evolved and changed in concert. But Robert has never been keen on doing it. You can not very well do it if someone is vetoing the bloody thing.
It is a lot of work to go through all these tapes, and I am not going to do it if he is going to stop it.
IN THROUGH THE OUTDOOR
U.S. RELEASE: AUGUST 15, 1979
RECORDED AT : POLAR STUDIOS(STOCKHOLM)
GUITARS: LES PAUL, STRATOCASTER, TELECASTER
AMPS: 100-WATT MARSHALL
GW: That record seems to be dominated by John Paul Jones; at least his contribution seems to be more significant than no other albums. Did you
feel that it might be more interesting for you to function as an accompanist rather than at center stage?
Page: See, you had a situation with “Presence” where Jonesy did not contribute anything, and that was a strain. I mean I would have preferred having
some input at that point. But he had bought a new synthesizer [Yamaha GX-1] and it inspired him to come up with a bunch of things for “In
Through the Outdoor”. He also started working closely with Robert, which was something that had not happened before.
GW: I thought maybe you were losing your enthusiasm for the band.
Page: Never. Never. In fact, Bonzo and I had already started discussing plans for a hard-driving rock album after that. We both felt that “In Through
the Outdoor” was a little soft. I was not really very keen on “All of My Love”. I was a little worried about the chorus. I could just imagine
people doing the wave and all of that. And I thought “That is not us. That is not us”. In its place it was fine, but I would not have wanted
to pursue that direction in the future.
GW: Led Zeppelin accomplished so much. Didn’t you ever want a hit single?
Page: No not really. We just wanted to write really good music that would hold up on its own. Chart music tends toe a little disposable.
Review Possibly the best “live” album ever released. Even better than The Song Remains The Same. This is Led Zeppelin live as they’ve never been heard! What started as a one-off fund rasier in London grew to what is now a full fledged tour. Why? Because this band belongs in the Rock’N’Roll Hall Of Fame now!
You’ve never heard Zep songs this lush in a live setting. The Crowes have the Zep songs down pat (I’ve read that they sat around listening to all the Zep albums). From the first note to the last, what a treat. All the force of Zep plus two other guitars and a keyboard player.
Highlights from the Zep catalog include Ten Years Gone, with a slow bluesy guitar romp that’s incredible; Jimmy’s slide guitar on In My Time Of Dying is stupendous and wait until you hear the organ intro and outro on Your Time Is Gonna Come, it’ll make you cry it’s so sweet. And That’s just the first disc!
The Lemon Song opens side two with all the gut=wrenching blues of the first Zep album rolled into one song; and then the three guitar attack of Nobody’s Fault But Mine just absolutely ignites the song like never before; and then there’s the Out On The Tiles/Whole Lotta Love Medley that finishes the album will leave you wishing that you had been there.
Then there’s the other cover tunes(problems with Sony keep most of the Crowes tune off the album which is disappointing because Rich Robinson’s best solos are on them, i.e., Remedy, No Speak No Slave), Shape Of Things is done ala Jeff Beck Group with the lead solo done Yardbirds (? ); BB King’s Woke Up This Morning will definitely wake you up with it’s foot stopmin’ pace and Jimmy rips this solo out that shreds!
The slide guitar battles on Sloppy Drunk are incredible (more shredding), not to mention Willie Dixon’s Mellow Down Easy and the Mac’s Oh Well are equally awesome. Too bad they take after Pearl Jam and have soundboards available for every show. The textures of the Zep songs will please even those who don’t buy live albums because the sound too different from the record(cd) will enjoy these discs.
This release suparses the musicmaker Excess All Areas as there aren’t any gaps in between the songs. The only disappointment is that both shows weren’t released in their entirety (the shows were recorded Oct. 18 & 19. 1999) If you love loud hard guitar based music then this is an absolute must have collection.
Review For many people, Jimmy Page IS the soul of Led Zep. Back in 1999, after finishing his world tour with Robert Plant – he went on tour with the Black Crowes presumably to fill the hole in the soul. And you know what? The combination worked.
I had no idea what to expect when I heard that the two had teamed up. The Black Crowes? All I knew was their cover “Hard to Handle” and “Shake Your Money Maker.” So the real reason for me buying this may have been Jimmy Page – but it takes two to tango – and incredibly, the Black Crowes made a perfect fit.
Live At The Greek is a trip into the heady past of Zep and its roots. Chris Robinson doesn’t have quite the same range as Plant – but comes close surprisingly in spirit and feel. Surprisingly, he feels like a young Plant bursting out of the gates. It’s not easy singing any Zep song, but Robinson does his best in hitting the high notes. He succeeds on most tracks -like Celebration Day, Out on the Tiles, Sick Again, Custard Pie -but he kinda flops on Heartbreaker. (That’s a minor foible though) The band just rocks though and never lets up – twin guitars playing Zep and the blues – creating a full on sound that even Zep couldn’t do in its later touring years.
Ironically, the Page-Black Crowes combination evokes much of Zep’s early years precisely because of the straight arrangements and the blues covers. More so than Page-Plant could really do. Of course there’s no substitute for the real thing, but you can’t blame a guy like Jimmy Page for jamming the world’s greatest rock songs can you?
Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about fantasy, mostly about sexual fantasy (e.g. AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rosie”), but sometimes it is just about Rock ‘n’ Roll fantasy.
Such as, what if Jimmy Page found himself at a lose end and wanted to go out on tour? So who could he pick as a backing band? Perhaps his long time admirers and possibly America’s tightest jamming band The Black Crowes? And what could they pick as a set list? A selection of Led Zeppelin’s finest and just for good measure some of the finest standards laid down? Well, for once it was not fantasy, but reality. Rehearsals took place and dates were set and this amazing combination hit the road, playing to packed arena’s the length and breadth of America, with astounding results.
Fortunately plans were made to record the event for all time and here are the results. At first only released on the Internet, but sense was seen and the whole Shishkerbang was let loose on the eagerly awaiting Rock Public. For those amongst you who may feel that it is sacrilegious for anyone else to perform these songs, especially for old Robert (Percy) Plant not to be singing, hollering, and cajoling every nuance out of these classic’s.
Fear not. Chris Robinson, the Crowes’ vocalist, does not even attempt to imitate the great man, singing everything in his own style giving each song a new slant. The rest of the Crowes play with such abandon, I have never heard them play with such verve and panache, and this is somebody who has been a huge fan of the band for over ten years. The rhythm section of Pipien and Gorman keep a lock sold groove going whilst losing nothing of the looseness that keeps the music spontaneous and alive.
Probably the biggest sound difference on the Zeppelin classics is that although John Paul Jones used to double up on bass and keyboards (an exemplary job he did, too) in that band his use of piano was very sparing, whereas Ed Harsch is not frightened to push the piano right to the front of the sounds cape, soloing when any opportunity arises. But it is the three pronged guitar attack that floors you. Combining together to give the raunchiest guitar sound that has ever been heard on this little planet. (Lynyrd Skynyrd are stunning, make no mistake, this is just one step beyond) Obviously it’s Jimmy Page that steals the show. I doubt he has ever played better. However, the playing of Chris’s brother Rich Robinson, and new at the time Crowes guitarist, is of outstanding class, pushing their guest player to the outer limits of his ability.
The Song selection is spot on. The guitar duel in “You Shook Me” is nothing short of jaw dropping, specially as it follows a version of that old Elmore James classic “Shake Your Money Maker”, which rattles the roof tops and would bring a smile to even the most stern of anorak Rock ‘n’ Roll connoisseurs. Chris Robinson turns in a truly saucy version of “The Lemon Song”. The choice of Jimmy Page’s contemporary guitarist/songwriter Peter Green’s finest song written whilst in Fleetwood Mac, “Oh Well” is a pure delight.
There has never been a better version of “Heartbreaker” with Jimmy Page really stepping out on this one. So topped and tailed with “Celebration day” and “Whole Lotta Love” across two hours of music spread over two CD’s. You get Six cover versions and fourteen classic Zeppelin tracks (all with credit due to Willie Dixon and C. Burnett), played by a bunch of guys, who are having the time of their lives. This is certainly one of the top three Rock ‘n’ Roll Live albums of all time.
As an extra – if you have a computer you can watch them performing snippets of the songs live from your disc drive plus some very good stills taken from the Greek, where it becomes even more apparent how well they all gelled as a unit and what a good time they were having.
After this tour the Black Crowes went back into the studios to record their next album, the very heavily Zeppelin influenced “Lions”, since when, it’s been rumoured, they have disbanded, probably feeling it would be hard to top the Jimmy Page tour. One is also left to reflect what a shame it was that “Led Zeppelin” never recorded a decent live album. “The Song Remains The Same” is not a bad album, but hardly a killer. “Live at the Greek” leaves it for dead.
Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas – March 23rd, 1985
Disc 1: Closer, City Sirenes, Make Or Break, The Morning After, Together, Cadillac, Prelude, Money Can’t Buy, Radioactive, Live In Peace, Midnight Moonlight, You Lost That Loving Feeling
Disc 2: introduction, bass solo, The Chase, guitar solo, drum solo, I Just Want To Make Love To You, Full Circle, Someone To Love, Cut Loose, Boogie Mama, Everybody Needs Somebody
Smugglers on Tarantura features a brand-new soundboard recording from The Firm’s first US tour. Recorded weeks after their first album, this is an authentic recording from the March 23rd, 1985 show in Austin, Texas which has never circulated before. It is very clear and the mix between the instruments is very good, but the audience sounds very far away giving it a clinical feel. There are also three cuts in the tape: after “Live In Peace”, at 2:27 in “Full Circle”, and between the final number “Cut Loose” and the first encore “Boogie Mama”. Only the second cut results in any loss of music.
This joins a small list of commercially released titles covering the Firm. An early vinyl title was released called European Tour ’84 with the show on December 3rd, 1984 in Frankfurt. Boots on compact disc include The Firm with the December 8th, 1984 from Hammersmith Odeon, London show and You Never Close Your Eyes with the Costa Mesa, California show on March 16th, 1985 (a unique show where “Fortune Hunter”, a song that dates from the XYZ sessions but not released until 1986′s Mean Business, is given its debut) both on Midas Touch which were released in the early nineties.
Jimmy Page’s Firm (BM 029) is listed as a Los Angeles show but is really a tape from December 12th, 1984 at the Hammersmith Odeon. Double Closer on Blimp (010/11/12/13) is a four-disc set with soundboards from the LA Forum on March 14th, 1985 and Oakland Coliseum on March 15th, 1985 and is one of the most popular titles.
Somethin’ Else (misspelled Something’ Eles on the cover) on Rag Doll (RDM-942010A/B) contains the May 11th, 1985 Spectrum Philadelphia tape and Radioactive on Dakota has a soundboard tape from the May 22nd, 1985 in the Wembley Arena in London. Playhouse Theater (Luxor-006) is a 2cdr set which contains the May 20th, 1985 Edinburgh soundboard and most recently United Kingdome, a 4cdr set on the Perfect Stranger label surfaced with the May 22nd, 1985 and December 8th, 1984 London tapes.
The common assumption about The Firm, that they were long on potential but short on execution, is true. Rodgers belts out powerful vocals and Page plays interesting riffs on the guitar, but they seem undermined by the rhythm section who play the standard arena-rock beats translated for the eighties corporate rock consumer. The set list begins with the juxtaposition of the opening songs from The Firm, “Closer” and “Make Or Break” with the Jimmy Page solo tune “City Sirenes” from the Death Wish II soundtrack and the Paul Rodgers song The Morning After” from his 1983 solo LP Cut Loose.
The set list is compiled from The Firm LP except for “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, three songs from Page’s movie soundtrack, four songs from Cut Loose and the Mean Business song “Cadillac”. Before the third song “Make Or Break” Rodgers says, “How are we doing tonight? Nice to be in Austin, Texas” confirming the location of the tape. “Prelude” is introduced as “a classical piece by Chopin, I think was his name. Anybody ever hear of him?” and the instrumental is segued directly with the following song “Money Can’t Buy”.
“Radioactive” was the band’s only real big hit and is received warmly by what can be heard of by the audience. Rodgers begins the introduction to “Midnight Moonlight” by saying, “we got a number that is very special to us. We firsted it on the ARMS tour. And actually Ronnie Lane is here somewhere tonight. We’d like to say a big hello to him…” Page chimes in by saying, “I can tell you folks without him and the ARMS tour we wouldn’t even be here”. After a version reminiscent of the ARMS tour Rodgers says, “that was for you, Ronnie.”
The lengthy solo section of the show follows the band introduction with Franklin producing some melodies on the fretless bass leading into “The Chase”. Page plays a guitar solo that is very similar to the one he played at the 1979 Knebworth shows including using the violin bow before a four-minute drum solo. They play a very heavy version of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and “Someone To Love”, which Rodgers introduces as a favorite. “Boogie Mama” is the first encore followed by a fun version of the Solomon Burke standard “Everybody Needs Someone To Love”.
Right when they arrive at the “you, you, you” Page has a malfunction and the band stop playing, leaving a minute of crowd noise between 3:15-4:15 until they pick it up again. The song runs for another two minutes and unfortunately fades out right when Page plays perhaps his most furious solo of the evening. The ending is the only disappointment on this tape. Smugglers is limited to one hundred numbered copies and is packaged in a thin cardboard sleeve and is another interesting release by the Tarantura label.
Being a dedicated Led Zeppelin Fan and Yardbirds fan before that, means I have a continued interest in all things Zeppelin, including the individual members and the music long after the end of the “golden era” of their albums. I bought the first single Atlantic vinyl 45 of Communication Breakdown b/w Good Times, Bad Times, then bought all their albums, then the first CDs, then remastered CDs, DVDs, and live recordings. I saw them 3 times in concert, including the great Long Beach Concert in the early 70’s now on CD. I stood above Jimmy Page in the second tier and don’t think my ears recovered for three hours after the concert was over. Wow. Great performance I obviously will never forget (the other two concerts I attended were the earlier Los Angeles Forum after III came out and Kezar Stadium Golden Gate Park San Francisco Houses of the Holy album tour).
Of course I had to have this book and I think any fan will have to have it. I am not trying to talk anyone out of reading it, it’s not bad but not great either. A bit of a disappointment to me overall. I read the inside jacket information before purchase, much of which I now think is “hype” (excuse the term – early reviews said Led Zeppelin was all “hype” with little talent, then there is the Superhype Music name). The positive of the book is that you hear the actual words from Mr. Page rather than a writer who may be prejudiced for or against him and the group. However, out of the 300 pages, less than 100 pages is actual interviews of Page, the rest is the author’s writings about Page, Led Zeppelin, later projects and “musical interludes” which are sometimes interesting but are not Page. The “oral autobiography” I expected is not that but an incomplete look into the group and other projects. So much has not been covered.
One thing as a musician that I had expected more of and was talked about on the jacket was that the book “encompasses Page’s entire career beginning with his early days as England’s top session guitarist”, but in my opinion there is little detailed information about that time, there are references to much of that work but not specifics, it says for example that he worked on Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” which is true but by not spelling out exactly what he did implies he was lead guitar, he was not. And from other readings I have done, he was not lead guitar for many of the records he is credited to as being on, like the early Kinks, yes he played on their records also with The Who, but did not play lead, same for the recording of the movie Goldfinger theme. I don’t need him to be lead, it would just be nice to have more exact information instead of vague references that imply the wrong information.
Next, the cover says the book does this: “Examining every major Led Zeppelin track” – it depends on your definition of “major.” There are maybe five or six tracks that are talked about in some detail but not enough information for anyone wishing to know how songs got created, the inspiration, how chords changes and other musical phrases were worked out, things like that. There is a little about alternate tunings for guitar which I liked to know and I did find it fascinating that Page would purposely play every concert solo differently at different times so that it would be a new challenge for him and so it would not get boring for him or the audience. He talks about lyrics and how Plant evolved into a major lyricist for the band. But what do certain lyrics mean? Not there. Some information about album artwork. There is an interesting interlude about the equipment Page used: primary guitars, amps, and effects. (Recommended: It Might Get Loud, a DVD with Page, The Edge, and Jack White.)
Some of the book’s other “musical interludes” seem unnecessary, maybe put in due to lack of interview material (not only is there less than 100 pages of interviews, the book uses a not so small type size giving the impression that it is a larger book than it is, also when the first question of a chapter is posed, does it really take a whole page to do that? Very dramatic, black page with white lettering, but a waste of space.) The interlude on “fashion” was not something I felt I had to read, I thought this book would be about the musical genius of Jimmy Page (is he known for fashion? I think he is mostly known for playing guitar, songwriting and producing.) Some of the other interludes might appeal to others, but not to me. The interview with Jeff Beck with Jimmy Page seemed to be from separate interviews and put together, were they in the same room at the time? I have no idea. The interlude with Yardbird Chris Dreja went on too long, I stopped caring and skipped over the end of it. Interview with Eric Clapton? Not here. A chapter on “The Astrology of Jimmy Page”, huh? A long interlude with Paul Rodgers, who I have enjoyed in his many groups, but why here? An interlude with Led Zeppelin publicist I also found unnecessary. I need books that inspire me, that make me want to read throughout the night to finish it, books I HAVE to read. This wasn’t one.
I know that I have read much of this material before, not sure where – I suspect from a small sized book about the album IV (my personal favourite and I’m sure for many fans, it has everything, every song is well done. I still listen to it regularly after 40 years). I found at least some of the interviews have been published before and this is not unique material.
Having read other books about the group which go into detail about the legendary nightlife of the group and was not something I wished to rehash, I was looking for something new, something with more in depth material about Page’s early works and the creation of the Led Zeppelin music, how and why he played what he did. I was frankly disappointed in this book. Oh well, as a fan I guess I might be disappointed in anything less than the full picture. This is not bad book and is fine if you don’t expect too much.
I interviewed Jimmy Page four times, twice on the phone and twice in person. The first time was by accident, and it annoyed me.
I was on the phone with Robert Plant in 1998 talking about his latest Page and Plant collaboration with his former Led Zeppelin colleague, Walking into Clarksdale. About five minutes in, there were some clicks on the line, and then a voice. “Hello Dean, this is Jimmy Page.” I should have been thrilled that a rock god actually wanted to speak with me. But it threw me. I had questions prepared for Robert, not for Jimmy, and some of them were about Jimmy. I had a rhythm going with Robert and now I had to change key and bring Jimmy into the jam. Classic Led Zeppelin-style improvisation was required in the remaining minutes. I got through it OK, and then slapped myself on the side of the head for not appreciating my great gig.
The in-persons were for the Grammy lifetime achievement awards in 2005 and for the 2008 guitar documentary Page did with Bono and Jack White, It Might Get Loud. During the latter we bonded over the fact that we both have Brazilian wives.
The following transcript is from a phoner in 2003 to discuss the release of two live recordings: a self-titled Led Zeppelin DVD featuring footage from shows at the Royal Albert Hall (1970), Madison Square Garden (1973), Earls Court (1975), and Knebworth (1979), as well as bootleg clips; and a CD, How the West Was Won, taken from a pair of Los Angeles-area shows in 1972.
Jeff Beck once told me that Page was “a dark horse,” which I ran by Page for comment. “Slippery” is probably better. And “defensive” at times, especially if the questions are inane. He basically hasn’t done much since Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980 following the death of drummer John Bonham, when Page was 36. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. He’s richer than god, and can do whatever he wants. I tried to get him to discuss it, but my questioning was muddled and he pounced.
** (March 2013) This is the full transcript. I previously published highlights **
IS THERE ANY COOL STUFF THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT? WERE THERE PARTICULAR PERFORMANCES YOU JUST COULDN’T FIND?
The only thing that there was … From the 1977 tour we had a visual reference with something in Seattle but there was no multitrack of it. My plan was to actually film that tour. Normally we would film the tours at the end, although we only did it twice beforehand! Once at Royal Albert Hall (in 1970) and the time when we did it at the end of the ’73 tour, which is Madison Square Garden, and that became The Song Remains The Same. The way that we were playing and the intensity of it, and actually the visual aspect of it as well, had taken on a whole element that was screaming out to be filmed, actually. But of course, you have to set out with recording trucks and all the rest of it, and we just actually never got around to filming that because that was the tragic time when Robert lost his son (Karac, to an infection, aged 5 in 1977), so enough said about that really.
It would have been nice to have had more footage, but in actual fact there wasn’t. Maybe that was a little bit off-putting from the past, but it got to the point where I thought, “No, I want to go in.” We reacquired the material of Royal Albert Hall. There were 10 canisters of that, which actually was quite a lot compared to what else we had around. We had Madison Square Garden numbers that didn’t make the film, and then the rest of the sources were video sources that were just relative to what was going on on the screens, on the gigs. We’ll talk about two venues there for Royal Albert Hall and Knebworth (1979), with multitrack recording as well.
We didn’t have very much. It got to the point for me, where we reacquired this material, and we had to pay for it from the Royal Albert Hall, and the rest of the band said, “Well, we gotta put it out. After all, we paid money for it (he ignored my question about how much they paid), so let’s see if we can get a bit of a return.” But when I went in to look for the multitrack tapes, the audio, I went, “I can see all this other stuff in there and I thought I’m not sure what sort of condition all the rest of this is in, in the audio format or the visual. But even if we have even less than what it looks, it’s got to go out.” It’s a journey really, right from the beginning, right to the end. Otherwise the Royal Albert Hall material would have preceded, chronologically, the Madison Square Garden by three years. So I thought, “No, we’ve got stuff from 1977, the last concerts we played in England. I see this in a much bigger picture, and I’m gonna recommend that this is what’s done.” And I went in and did it.
We have very limited footage of, what we actually had. We were so busy doing the concerts. You had to plan these things ahead. The ’77 thing would have been done. The ’73 one was done. We weren’t doing things like that. We didn’t have a documentary crew going round with us all the time. What would we do it for? We weren’t a television band. That sort of stuff’s for television. We didn’t do that.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF ON THE SCREEN AS A 26-YEAR-OLD AND NOTE HOW MUCH YOU HAVE IMPROVED AS A GUITARIST SINCE THEN?
I don’t look at it like that at all. I don’t see about what improves one way or the other. It all mutates from one thing to another. It’s just how you interpret things and how you play things at one point in time to how you interpret and play them in another point in time. The whole fact is that with a band like Led Zeppelin, if we had a number in 1970 that lasted five minutes long, and we did that same number in 1979 it wouldn’t be five minutes long because it wasn’t exactly the same. It would change all the time, just insomuch as I’m talking about a group endeavor there, and a group “collusion” so to speak. Individually as far as my own interpretation went, every night it would change because that’s what was bringing out a lot of the new departures and the new riffs. I was coming up with stuff all the time. That is something that is relative to being inspired by playing with other musicians which were really, really amazing to be playing with. All four of us played together, and we played beyond ourselves, jointly.
HOW HAS THIS PROJECT HELPED INTRA-BAND RELATIONS?
We haven’t really had a chance to see that much of each other. There were a couple of times when the other members individually came in to have a listen to this or check that out, sound wise or whatever. There was more coming together actually afterwards on the covers and the artwork. But that’s it. It’s really more a question of coming together for that, more in a business capacity than in a social capacity. The thing is – you’ve gotta understand and I’m sure you do and I’m sure everyone else understands it too – that since 1980 when we lost John and everyone continued living their own lives, shall we say? And an interpretation of that may be the music and how they presented themselves musically in their various formats and incarnations. Everyone grows, and that’s life. What I do know, what you have to understand that in the first place, there were four very different personalities anyway in Led Zeppelin, very different personalities. But when they bonded musically, the four elements joined together, took on a fifth element – a thing which is totally intangible and it can’t be charted, which was that magical element.
HAVE YOU EVER DETECTED ANY (NEGATIVE) REVISIONISM TOWARDS LED ZEPPELIN OVER THE YEARS?
I don’t think so. The thing is in the passage of time and the way that music has changed, there’s still the element of music that’s made across acoustic and electric instruments – OK, we call the drums an acoustic instrument. There’s also the element of music which is made purely on computers, using samples and electronic processing and imagination. There’s those two forms. Now anyone who plays an instrument has got an access point at some point or the other with Led Zeppelin. There’s that element to see musicians who are just actually almost at the point of shall we call it jamming? Or shall we just call it total inspiration? Or whatever you like. It’s what that is. It doesn’t seem to be something which is passé. OK, certainly you can see by the sorta clothes that we wear that it’s of its moment! But nevertheless the fact that it’s on the edge of what is being played and there’s so much spontaneity that is there all the time. There’s no way you could go on stage with Led Zeppelin, and a) know what was going to happen between the time you walked on and you walked off because things were going to change and go in so many directions; or b) go on there and start thinking about something else. You had to be totally, totally involved. It’s like a sacrifice you were there for. And that’s how it is. That’s why the music is what it is and what it was, and why each concert, each venue was different to the one before, because there were just so many different elements that would happen.
LED ZEPPELIN WAS YOUR BABY AND THEN IT WENT AWAY. YOU WERE JOBLESS IN A WAY AT THE AGE OF 36, WITH SO MUCH UNFULFILLED POTENTIAL
If you said to me, “I grew up to Led Zeppelin,” I’d say to you, “It might surprise you but I grew up to Led Zeppelin as well. I just happened to be one of the members.” That’s the only difference. But when we lost John and because we had this musical bond of being able to improvise at any point, you couldn’t bring at that point in time another drummer in to fulfill that role. Because what would you do? Would you actually play them something that was improvised, and say, ‘Well look, we improvised that. Can you learn it because then we’re going to play it the same every night?’ Of course not.
I don’t know what you mean about being out of a job. I was no more out of a job than anybody else. Of course I wasn’t out of a job … I did film scores, and I had a band with Paul Rodgers. If you wanna go back a couple of years I did a tour with the Black Crowes (in 1999) and I did something with Puff Daddy (the widely reviled “Kashmir” remake for the Godzilla film soundtrack, though Jeff Beck dug it). I don’t consider that being out of work.
YOU NEVER FRETTED ABOUT HAVING A LACK OF A PROPER OUTLET FOR YOUR TALENT ON A LEVEL WITH LED ZEPPELIN?
That would be totally unrealistic to think at any point that you were gonna have something which is going to be – I don’t know what you’re implying – almost competitive relative with Led Zeppelin. That would be totally unrealistic and that would be absolutely foolish to think that. However if you’re making statements within another area or whatever, and if it’s music, then it’s totally valid, at least to yourself. Because if you believe in what you’re doing musically, that’s the most important thing. If you don’t believe in it, then quite clearly you might feel sort of not very comfortable about going out on stage or whatever it would be. But for me, I’ve never had a problem. I’ve just really enjoyed playing music and creating new music as well. For me, it was new music anyway. Or even if it’s same picture but a different frame. I just really enjoy playing. When I did the project with the Black Crowes I was having a whale of a time. I just really enjoyed playing … And I tell you what, I really enjoyed playing their music too.
I INTERVIEWED JEFF BECK A FEW YEARS AGO AND HE SAID, “OH PAGEY, HE’S A DARK HORSE” AND HE HAD THIS GRIM LOOK ON HIS FACE. I DON’T REALLY KNOW IF THAT’S THE CASE — DO YOU WALLOW IN PEOPLE’S MISCONCEPTIONS OF YOU ARE?
I have no idea what their conceptions or their misconceptions are.
THERE’S A WHOLE MYTHOLOGY THAT SURROUNDED LED ZEPPELIN
I IMAGINE YOU’RE A REGULAR GUY, BUT-
– I don’t know how regular I am. As a kid or whatever, I was never quite like one of the others. But that didn’t bother me. I didn’t have a problem with that, and I still don’t.
(BLACK CROWES SINGER) CHRIS ROBINSON TOLD ME THAT YOU WENT TO THE PUB WITH HIM AND JUST HUNG OUT LIKE REGULAR PEOPLE
Chris Robinson, yeah. I had a great … We could just talk music and source music, and we were all coming from the same point. So that was great. We didn’t mention Led Zeppelin once.
I’M SURE HE WAS DYING TO, BUT THOUGHT IT INAPPROPRIATE!
No, no. We were talking about blues.
DID YOU READ KEITH RICHARDS’ COMMENTS IN UNCUT MAGAZINE WHERE HE DESCRIBED LED ZEPPELIN AS “A MANUFACTURED BAND”?
What was a manufactured band?
“… THEY WERE PROFESSIONALLY PUT TOGETHER.”
How can it be professionally put together? The way that it came together was so organic that that really surprises me. I thought he was quite an intuitive person, really. The only thing I’ve heard before that has ever reached my ears about Keith and Led Zeppelin was the fact that he liked the music, but he didn’t really enjoy Robert’s singing. Well that’s just a matter of taste really, whether you do or you don’t. But I’ve never heard him being quite so scathing, and that’s quite interesting because I’ve actually played with Keith in the past, and I’ve had some good times with him, so I don’t really understand what that’s all about really. That’s one of those things that’s a bit confrontational just to see whether I’ll rise to the bait, but I don’t.
ARE THERE ANY OVERDUBS ON THIS DVD?
That’s a good point. When you play, for example, for 3-1/2 hours there’s got to be some areas where there might be a wrong note played! And there was the occasional fix here and there. But believe me it was really kept to the minimum. The whole idea of this really was to try and keep it in the essence of what it was. So there was no instruments or such overdubbed, but there might have been the occasional fix where it was absolutely necessary, but in the scale of the overall, believe me it was quite minimal. If there was a wrong chord at the end of a number or something, I might have took it from earlier on in the number and replaced it… You can’t fix music like that. The thing is, it’s changing all the time. It’s what it is. It’s not like the thing of verses and choruses, so you can just suddenly put an instrument on because he’s playing the same thing every night anyway. It wasn’t like that. That’s the beauty of the thing.
WHY DID PICK THOSE PARTICULAR 1972 L.A. SHOWS (LA FORUM, 6/25, LONG BEACH ARENA, 6/27) FOR HOW THE WEST WAS WON?
That’s all we had. When I loaded all the live material, which is what I did at the beginning of this – because I wasn’t quite sure how the visual stuff, the condition of that and how we were gonna have to put this together – I loaded all the live tapes that we had and actually the two sets of those were the two L.A. performances from 1972. The only other thing that got loaded was something from a university that was done for a bit of a laugh, and it actually sounded too much of a laugh to actually wanna ever put that out and be measured up by it, because that was something that had a quite a few mistakes on it. We were playing numbers when we had just sorta recorded them and maybe played it for the first time and it was a lot to remember in the set. Consequently you’re gonna come unstuck a little bit. And it’s just something that will never see the light of day. That’s all there is. There’s just one other performance. Everything else is now out that we had live-wise. Isn’t that great? It’s not like, “Oh yeah, there’s a whole sequence of this stuff coming.” There’s not. This is it. That’s why it’s all being done right now, as it is. It gives a full chronological live audio and visual of the DVDs and the little gems and nuggets that come from the West Coast performance in 1972 where that L.A. crowd were really drawing it out of us. Fantastic. That’s it. Live-wise that is it.
DO YOU ACTUALLY REMEMBER THAT L.A. CONCERT?
I remember every aspect of it because of course a lot of it was just improvisation. I remember all the concerts that we’ve actually got there very well. To actually go through it bit by bit and hear sections of it, you go, “Yeah, yeah, that’s really good” or “I played really well there” or “My god, that’s embarrassing, that bit I just played then.” So it goes.
IF PAGE AND PLANT ARE ON ICE, HOW ABOUT PAGE AND JONES (BASSIST JOHN PAUL JONES)?
“If Page and Plant are on ice, how about Page and Jones?” Why don’t you ask Mr. Jones about that? Who said Page and Plant are on ice? … Robert Plant and I were working together, right? And then Robert Plant went back to being solo again, and he’s been through 3 different incarnations of what he’s doing in his solo thing, and that’s great. That’s all right. I think that’s brilliant, good. If I do something musically, it will probably be something which will be quite surprising to what you would expect me to do. And I won’t tell you what it is because otherwise it won’t be a surprise. You’ll have to wait and find out what it is.
WHAT DO YOU WANT PEOPLE TO GO AWAY WITH WHEN THEY LISTEN TO THIS SEVEN HOURS OF MUSIC?
I want them to see just how much fun we were having. Actually, how much fun and how much freedom we had.
“Forget the myths”
Monday, February 14, 2005. It’s the morning after and Jimmy Page is in Los Angeles celebrating Led Zeppelin’s first ever Grammy. The only thing that’s riling him is the failure of Robert Plant to turn up.
“It wouldn’t have taken much to pop over here and meet everybody, would it?” he grumbles to anyone who will listen.
Fast-forward one week and, back in London after receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award, Page has come to accept his former partner-in-crime’s absence. “I’m sure Robert had good reasons,” he observes diplomatically.
But Page still makes no attempt to conceal his own delight at the belated recognition by the American music industry, which for years seemed to begrudge Led Zep their success.
“I’m sure people must have thought we’d been nominated in the past,” he says. “But, you know, we never even got a single Grammy nomination until now. I never thought it would happen. So, of course, I really enjoyed it.”
That they were overlooked for so long verges on the perverse. Led Zeppelin sold some 70 million albums in America. The band’s fourth release alone found a place in 18 million American homes, making it the fifth best-selling album in recording history. Among British groups, only The Beatles have outsold them.
Yet the American rock establishment never quite approved of Led Zeppelin. Too cocky. Too loud. Too damn successful, and not afraid to enjoy the trappings of that success to the hilt. “Give an Englishman 50,000 watts, a chartered Lear jet, a little cocaine and some groupies and he thinks he’s a god,” Rolling Stone once sneered at the height of Zep’s success.
Today, Page can afford to laugh off such brickbats. “After a while there was no point in caring about what anybody said,” he shrugs. “We knew what sort of quality we had and so did the fans.” And, in the end, Rolling Stone was more right than it realised. In a way, Led Zeppelin were gods, and their dominance of ’70s rock’n’roll – particularly in America – was every bit as mighty as The Beatles’ in the ’60s.
For the 25 years since the band broke up, Jimmy Page has been the main keeper of the flame and custodian of the Zeppelin legacy. Robert Plant couldn’t wait to get out from under the group’s shadow and make a new life. John Paul Jones has similarly distanced himself from his past. And John Bonham, of course, is sadly dead.
Which leaves Page. It was the guitarist who remastered the Zeppelin catalogue for a 10-disc box set at the beginning of the ’90s. And it was Page who painstakingly pieced together the posthumous live album How The West Was Won and the recent Led Zeppelin DVD, which swiftly became the best-selling music release in the short history of the format.
Unlike Plant, he hasn’t made a string of solo albums. Instead, when the singer made clear his reluctance to continue touring with the former Zeppelin guitarist following their temporary late-’90s reunion, Page took to the road playing Zep songs with The Black Crowes.
In talking to him, it swiftly becomes obvious why he was so delighted with the Grammy. Now 61, slightly less than one-fifth of his life was spent in Led Zeppelin. But he clearly does regard those dozen years as his lifetime’s achievement.
In fact, long before Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page had already enjoyed a music career that would have been sufficient to earn him a place in the rock history books. Indeed, when he first joined forces with Plant in the summer of 1968, the contrast between them could hardly have been greater. By his own admission, Plant was a 19-year-old ingénue whose nascent singing career was going nowhere fast – so much so that he’d been reduced to laying tarmac to pay the rent and was thinking of resuming his training as an articled clerk with a Midlands chartered accountant. Page was only four-and-a-half-years older, but in terms of experience it might as well have been half a lifetime. Growing up in the same triangle of the Surrey stockbroker belt that produced Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Page was playing an electric guitar before the ’50s were over. By the time he was 17, he was already famous on the London music scene as the hottest young guitar slinger in town, long before anyone had heard of either of his Surrey compatriots.
His first studio session was playing on “Diamonds” with two former members of The Shadows, Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. It was also Page’s first No 1, topping the British charts in January 1963.
After that, he became the first name that stellar producers such as Shel Talmy, Andrew Loog Oldham and Mickie Most called on when they had a hit to record. Among those whose records Page’s guitar graced were Them (“Here Comes The Night”), The Who (“Can’t Explain”), Lulu (“Shout”), Tom Jones, Donovan (“Hurdy Gurdy Man”), Herman’s Hermits (“I’m Into Something Good”), The Kinks (“You Really Got Me”), Chris Farlowe (“Out Of Time”), and even Val Doonican (“Walk Tall”).
By early 1965, round about the same time an awestruck teenage Robert Plant was seeing Sonny Boy Williamson at Birmingham Town Hall and sneaking backstage to nick one of his harmonicas, the 21-year-old Page was actually recording with the blues legend in a London studio. That same year, he was invited to replace Clapton in The Yardbirds. As he was making far more money playing sessions, he turned down the gig and recommended his mate Jeff Beck, taking up a post as a staff producer on Oldham’s Immediate Records instead. He ended up producing tracks for John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, whose lineup by then featured Clapton.
In short, he was, as Stephen Davis put it in Hammer Of The Gods, “The wise hack of the pop world, a consummate pro making a fortune while the rest of his generation of English musicians toiled for little money.” Yet Page was also growing increasingly dissatisfied with playing anonymously on other people’s records, and when he was asked a second time to join The Yardbirds in 1966, he agreed, even though the invitation was initially to play bass, before he switched to a dual lead guitar role alongside Beck.
By that time, The Yardbirds had already passed their zenith and, as early as late 1966, Page and Beck were talking about a new band that was to include another well-known London sessioner, John Paul Jones, on bass. Steve Marriott and Steve Winwood were both approached to fill the vocalist spot. In the end, it never happened but, as Page explains below, the idea became the prototype of the band that he would eventually put together with the assistance of new manager Peter Grant when The Yardbirds finally disintegrated in the summer of 1968.
What happened next was either fate or simply a slice of extraordinary luck. Singer Terry Reid, who Page had got to know on a ‘British Invasion’ package tour of America, was approached to join the new band and declined the invitation, but recommended his old Midlands mucker instead.
Unconvinced by the Buffalo Springfield covers Plant was singing with his then band, it took a musical bonding session over a mutual love of the blues at Page’s Pangbourne home on the Thames before the guitarist was convinced he’d found a singer with the right alchemy to realise his vision.
The story of how over the next dozen years Led Zeppelin trampled the rock world underfoot has literally become the stuff of legend. Yet, according to Page, off the road, the four members of Zeppelin were as meek and mild as a bunch of church mice. “Two of us lived in the south and two lived in the Midlands and, apart from when we got together to do rehearsals and write and record, we were all family men with separate lives,” he says. But when they came together, he concedes they “created this fifth monster”.
At this point, he’s talking mostly about their musical chemistry. But it might just as easily apply to the lifestyle that went with the band, and which Page once famously likened to “a stag party that never ends”. For Zeppelin on tour invented the template for Rock’n’Roll Babylon later lampooned in movies such as This Is Spinal Tap and Almost Famous. Many of the greatest excesses were undoubtedly down to the mercurial John Bonham. It was the drummer who was at the heart of the notorious incident involving the groupie and the ‘mud shark’ at the Edgewater Hotel, Seattle in 1969. And it was Bonham who in 1971 reduced John Paul Jones’ room at the Tokyo Hilton to matchwood with a samurai sword, earning the group a lifetime ban from Hilton hotels worldwide.
Page was less into mindless destruction and more interested in serious and serial debauchery. He reputedly indulged some strange tastes. In Pasadena in 1969, he was said to have enjoyed the spectacle of two groupies sharing a bath in his hotel room with four live octopuses. On the road in LA in 1972, he became infatuated with 14-year-old schoolgirl Lori Maddox and spent the next 18 months hiding her in his hotel room. Then there is the lurid account of Pamela Des Barres in her book Rock Bottom, which paints a picture of drug-taking with drag queens in the toilets of the transvestite clubs Page was said to enjoy visiting after a typical Zeppelin show.
He was also famously fascinated – some would say unhealthily obsessed – with the occult and, in particular, the black magic practices of Aleister Crowley, the self-styled “Great Beast” who was once dubbed by the press as the “most evil man in Britain”. Page even bought Crowley’s former castle on the shores of Loch Ness. When a series of disasters and mishaps befell the band, from Plant’s car crash and the loss of his son to Bonham’s death at Page’s home in Windsor, some superstitious and/or mischievous souls were all too ready to blame the guitarist’s dabblings with the occult.
It’s not an area of his life Page has ever been prepared to talk about. Certainly, such talk seems a long way from the avuncular image Page presents today, a born-again family man who rises early to ready his kids for school and is clearly appreciating the opportunity to lead his life away from the pressures and excesses of rock’n’roll touring.
There is an undeniable air of irritation on the part of Zeppelin’s former members about the stories of drug-crazed hell-raising. They make no effort to deny the stories, but there’s a feeling that the lurid headlines have in some way served to obscure or diminish the potency of the music they made. Was that the reason that Zep never received a Grammy nomination, let alone won an award, when the band was still on active service?
As Page will insist to Uncut in the quiet and cultured tones of lace-curtained Surrey suburbia that have never left him: “Forget the myths. Because it was really all about the music.”
Today, Jimmy Page is talking about a new album, which, apart from a live recording with The Black Crowes, will be his first since 1998’s Walking Into Clarksdale with Robert Plant. There are no plans for them to work together again and, talking to the two of them, it’s hard to envisage the circumstances in which that might happen.
But then, Jimmy Page has already achieved enough to last several lifetimes.
Why do you think it took America more than 30 years to give Led Zeppelin a Grammy?
Over the years I’ve tried to say to myself that perhaps we weren’t Grammy material. But quite clearly we were. Yet we never even got nominated in what I call our active career. Maybe there were reasons. I’d come to think we’d been overlooked for good, so the Lifetime Achievement Award was really nice.
But all these years on, is there sometimes a frustration that everybody concentrates so heavily on the dozen years you spent in one band?
Not really, because it was a great life in Zeppelin.
But, as Robert likes to point out, it was only part of your life…
But it’s what Led Zeppelin means across the board – the playing, the writing, and the fact that we made so many groundbreaking statements. To me, Zeppelin is a multi-faceted phenomenon. When I did the CD boxset I had to listen to everything we’d ever done. It was the first time I’d ever done that, really, and I could really feel what a great body of work it was.
Does it surprise you all these years on that there is still such an appetite to put Led Zeppelin on magazine covers?
What you should remember is that we get all this acclaim now, but we used to get bad reviews consistently. Every time we had an album out, it got bad reviews. But with hindsight, I can see how if somebody got Led Zeppelin III, which was so different from what we’d done before, and they only had a short time to review it on the record player in the office, then they missed the content. They were in a rush and they were looking for the new “Whole Lotta Love” and not actually listening to what was there. It was too fresh for them and they didn’t get the plot. So, in retrospect, it doesn’t surprise me that the diversity and breadth of what we were doing was overlooked or under-appreciated at the time. Although it wasn’t overlooked by those who were buying the records. I think Melody Maker dismissed the fourth album in one paragraph. That’s fantastic! But reviews are very transient. It doesn’t matter now what they said, does it?
You’ve become the keeper of the Zeppelin legacy. Why do you think the band’s legend has endured so well?
Forget the myths. Because it was really all about the music. As far as the studio recordings are concerned, they were performed with such class. The input was coming from four people. It was a textbook approach. That’s the way it should be when you’re writing songs and performing them – playing together and everyone relating to each other. But we didn’t have a proper testament of what was going on live, which was why it was important to put the DVD together. It wasn’t only a chronological potted history from the early TV appearances right up to Knebworth. I think it got inside Zeppelin and gave people a chance to see how it was when we were onstage together and firing on pure spontaneity.
In going through all the archive material for the box set, the live album and the DVD, were there favourite or most memorable musical moments that stood out for you?
What struck me most is that it was a period of growth throughout. The first album is really roaring. The four members came together and created this fifth monster [laughs]. The beauty of playing in the band was that when we went onstage we never actually knew what was going to go on within the framework of the songs. They were constantly changing. New parts would come out on the night. The spontaneity was on the level of ESP, which meant it was always exciting. That’s what you can see on the DVD. The Albert Hall in 1970 was a big, big gig for us with all the media there and our families, and you can see we’re all still really listening intently to each other. Then, by the time we get to Madison Square Garden in 1975, you can see how the music has taken us over. It’s become very physical by then and the music is just exploding out of us.
When you were putting the band together and went up to Birmingham to see Robert for the first time, did you already have a vision of the music you wanted to make?
I certainly had a good idea of the sort of direction I wanted us to go in. It goes back to the band I was going to form with Jeff Beck, in which we wanted a Steve Marriott or Steve Winwood-type vocalist. That was the call. And the person we accessed at that point for Zeppelin was Terry Reid. If you’re familiar with his vocal style on an album like River, that’s the way I was thinking. And having a really dynamic drummer was always going to be very important within the framework of it, because it was going to be a trio instrumentally with the fourth member being the singer and using the voice as an instrument. I knew the material I wanted us to do as well. I had a game plan for it. Definitely. But the four musicians that eventually came together as Zeppelin were a gift from on high. You know, you can get four really good musicians but it doesn’t mean they’re going to play as a band. The thing about Zeppelin was that we always played as a band.
So Robert wasn’t the first choice. But he became the best singer of them all in that style you once called “the primeval wail”, didn’t he?
Yes. Absolutely. And he was a damn fine lyricist as well. I was writing lyrics in the early days and encouraging him to write more because I knew he was going to be a much better lyricist than I ever was. Then it got to the point where he was writing all the lyrics, and I was very content with that because it allowed me to concentrate totally on the music.
I talked to him the other day and he’s very dissatisfied with his singing on the first couple of albums. Why do you think he’s so self-critical?
I know he’s not happy with the ad-libs on Led Zeppelin I, but I think he should be really pleased with his vocal approach. He was performing in a very inspired way, like everyone else in the band. What he did was really fitting in terms of where we were going. It was an essential element. And millions would agree with me and not with him on how great his singing was on those first couple of records.
Was it a conscious decision to move in a more acoustic direction on Led Zeppelin III?
There were a lot of bands at the time who had a hit and a format and they stuck to that. What we were doing was different. When we went in the studio, it was a summing up of where we were at that point in time. So there was no way the third album was going to be like the first. Then there was no way the fourth album was going to be like the third. If there was a Zeppelin philosophy, it was always: “Ever onwards. Let’s see what we can do next.”
A lot of people would say Physical Graffiti in 1975 was a kind of high-water mark for Zeppelin.
I’d probably agree with that.
Were the later records more difficult to make, with so many other things going on around the band?
Up to Graffiti, we hadn’t experienced any of the tragedies that happened. First of all there was Robert’s accident. The album that was done around that period was Presence. That was recorded in just over three weeks from beginning to end, and the urgency of it is there if you listen. But it’s not an easy album for a lot of people to access. And because a lot of people found that a difficult album to listen to, I think the writing took another shift on the next album, which was In Through The Out Door and was recorded in Stockholm, again over a quite short period of time. It wasn’t rushed. It was just that we worked so very fast. And again, it was a summing up of where we were at that moment in time. When Robert lost his son, that was another tragedy and it affected him deeply.
Then after the various traumas within the band and the punk onslaught on the so-called dinosaur bands, Knebworth was an amazing comeback, wasn’t it?
Look at the DVD and you can see we were really thrilled to be playing again. We were about to embark on the American tour and the game plan was definitely for another album, which I think would have been different again.
I was going to ask you that. Just when you seemed to have survived all of the traumas and come out the other side, John Bonham died. Where do you think Led Zeppelin might have gone if that hadn’t happened?
For my part, I’d already discussed the next album with him. We said we were going to resort to some really intense riffing. I don’t want necessarily to call it heavy, but you know what I mean by that. That’s the way I figured the next album should be, because the music had started to lighten up on In Through The Out Door and I wanted to get back to that sort of urgent intensity we managed to evoke. That was the discussion I had with Bonzo, anyway. But who knows? The potential was definitely still there.
Do you think it was inevitable that you and Robert would get back together again in the ’90s?
No, not necessarily. In fact, it wasn’t inevitable at all. But Unledded was great fun to do. We took it around the world again. The seductive playing of the Egyptians – thousands of people had never heard anything like that before, so it was great to represent that sort of musical tapestry. We even had Nigel Eaton playing hurdy-gurdy onstage with us. The album was like one dress rehearsal and then – “Let’s do it.” That was great, but on tour it got even better, like you always do on the road when things start to fall into place and mutate.
Did you feel that if you were going to do old Zeppelin material you had to represent the songs in a new way to make it meaningful, and not come over as some kind of nostalgia act?
But we never did the songs in the same way. Never. In Zeppelin we may have had the framework, but it would change all the time. That’s the way we played and I’d always played like that in all the bands I’d ever been with from day one. There was always the capability to improvise. You go onstage and you have a benchmark. But then you say, “Right, let’s see what’s going to happen tonight.” That not only keeps you on your toes, but it gives a sharp edge to the music as well.
What’s next? Is there going to be a new record?
Yes, there is. My main intention this year is to get up to speed. The way to look at it is that I took a year out. I had some things to sort out and that’s done and now it’s time to get back on a serious roll this year. And hopefully there will be some music. What I need to be doing is trying to make a new musical statement. I had some great fun playing with The Black Crowes. But we were doing a lot of Zeppelin material on that tour. Then I was busy doing the DVD and the How The West Was Won live album. That was great fun as well. But now’s the time to do something that makes people say, “I didn’t think you’d do that, but I can see why you’ve done it.” We’ll see what we come up with. I’m not retired yet, if that’s what you’re thinking.
One suggestion I read last year was that you might make a collaborative album with different singers and songwriters, as Carlos Santana has done recently.
That’s not what I’ve got in mind at the moment, although other people did make some overtures of that kind. There are so many avenues I could take at this point. Or maybe they’re footpaths. It’s just a question of which one to commit to, because when you get involved in a project it’s a time-consuming thing. Let’s put it this way: I’ve got a line drawing. I just haven’t filled the colour in yet.
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.