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.
Where: Chicago, Illinois (hotel and airplane)
What: Just the strangest experience I ever had, is what.
I’m sitting aboard Caesar’s Chariot, Led Zeppelin’s customized Boeing 707 jet. Appropriately named after the conquering emperor who was ultimately doomed by an addiction to his own glory, this flying fortress now carries on board an invading modern-day musical force. Zeppelin has just annihilated a sell out crowd of pagan revellers in St. Louis. We’re returning to Chicago where the band has set up its base of operations, the city that will represent ground zero for the next several weeks. For the previous two tours, in 1973 and 1975, they have adopted a similar strategy of positioning itself in one location and then flying out to concerts from a central point. It is the refuge for only the high and mightiest of groups. And it is the brainchild of tour manager Richard Cole, Peter Grant’s first lieutenant and long time fixer.
It (the 1977 tour) wasn’t a lot different to me from the 75 tour; it was the same process of working, you know. We had our 707 jet, and I worked out what cities were in range of Chicago. It was easier to leave at 3 or 4 or 5 in the afternoon and then just go to our plane and fly straight into the city we were performing in. It was specifically because it was much better and more comfortable for us to be based in one city and fly in and out. And leave straight afterwards and go straight back to Chicago.
And that’s where we’re headed now, back to the Windy City’s Ambassador East Hotel. I’e been sequestered there for eleven days, a week-and-a-half of unchecked excess and dark rumblings. The former balances the latter. The plane, for instance, has been refitted to accommodate a bar, two bedrooms, a 30ft. couch, and a Hammond organ. Luxury comes at an uncomfortable price – $2500 per day leasing fees. Still, amidst this opulence, you can’t help but notice how John Bonham lumbers about the cabin, a bottle of something in his hand, greeting everyone he encounters with barely-concealed contempt.
Bonzo walks by me and I don’t dare make eye contact. This is one of the many instructions I’ve been informed of during my stay. I’m still seat-buckled in, trying to make myself inconspicuous and ruminating over what I’d been through this past week or so. Only a couple days earlier was I finally granted my first audience with the guitarist. I had begun to think that might not ever happen. But my room phone rang one late morning and a voice informed me that Jimmy would see me now. As I was ushered – you never walked anywhere within the hotel compound without an escort – into his spectacular suite – multiple rooms exquisitely furnished – it was impossible not to notice the busted telephone, the hole in the wall, and a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels perched on his nightstand. Tell tale signs of an angry young musician. He would upend that bottle at regular intervals during our conversation. His speech would become increasingly slurred and deliberate but this was more than a guitarist getting drunk in the early afternoon. This is 1977, Zeppelin’s eleventh U.S. tour, and Page’s drinking habits are by now, well documented. No, there’s more, an underlying current of anger in every word slowly muttered. As if he’s in a constant posture of self-defense or even, paranoia. In fact, he’s ripped the telephone from the wall because he felt intruded upon and didn’t want spying ears listening in.
I’ve got two different approaches, Jimmy explained, as he fiddled with the remnants of a broken telephone receiver. I mean onstage is totally different than the way I approach it in the studio. (On) Presence, (I had) control over all the contributing factors to that LP – the fact that it was done in three weeks, and all the rest of it, is so good for me. It was just good for everything really, even though it was a very anxious point and the anxiety shows group-wise, you know. ‘Is Robert going to walk again from his auto accident in Greece and all that sort of thing (on August 4, 1975, Robert, Maureen, Plant’s sister, and the singer’s and guitarist’s children were in a rented car that skidded out of control; Robert suffered a broken ankle and elbow and the children were severely bruised and traumatized).â€
Obviously, Jimmy is still feeling the pain of that near-fatal crash. And so, the tour in 1977 kicks off under a black cloud. This is just a small taste of the underlying drama that will haunt every aspect of the operation. No one realizes it at the time but this will be the foursome’s final fully blown march across America, their swansong.
Upon boarding for the return flight, Janine Safer, Swan Song publicist, has instructed me that it may happen on tonight’s flight – the all important follow-up. You come to recognize, early on, that the Zeppelin machine is well oiled and finely tuned. Schedules are maintained and rigidly enforced. If anything is going to happen, it’s because Zeppelin wants it to. They wield total control over their own destinies, and the fates of everyone around them. So, when the press liaison informs you there are 15 minutes to be squeezed in during a flight that only lasts 30, you heed the instruction.
Indeed, after reaching cruising altitude, I’m accompanied to the rear of the plane. Safer is on point, a monster of a security guard follows her, then me, and another security soldier brings up the rear. Military precision, though, for all the world, this feels more than anything else like a dead man walking. And I’m about to understand why. I greet Jimmy (it’s hard to tell whether he recognizes me from a few days ago or not), sit down, and begin talking. As I’m hunched over, trying to hear him above the din of the whirring white noise, from behind, a vice-like grip grabs my right shoulder. I’m thinking that was a fast 15 minutes when I’m physically lifted from the seat and violently spun around. Standing before me is one seriously pissed-off John Paul Jones. And that’s when my world unravels.
Rosen, you fucking cunt liar, I should fucking kill you.
The venom in his voice staggers me. I feel as if I’m having an out-of-body experience. But each time I shut my eyes and open them, I’m still there, standing on an airplane traveling 600 miles an hour, hurtling towards a destination I know I don’t want to reach.
What makes this all the more unnerving is that John Paul and I had spent some illuminating time together just two days after I’d arrived. No Jack, no mutilated furniture. Only a soft-spoken bass player telling me about his life.
â€œThe first time, we all met in this little room just to see if we could even stand each other. It was wall-to-wall amplifiers and terrible, all old. Jimmy said, ‘Do you know a number called ‘The Train Kept A-Rolling?’ I told him, ‘No’ And he said, ‘It’s easy, just G to A’. He counted it out and the room just exploded, and we said, ‘Right, we’re on, this is it, this is going to work!’. And we just sort of built it up from there. (And now) I wouldn’t be without Zeppelin for the world.
And I believed him; you couldn’t help but believe him. Led Zeppelin was his life and passion and he was forever protecting it, as he told me, from those who would try to run it down. He was talking about critics, in the main, journalists who would tell him how much they admired the band and then turn around and write scathing reviews. And here, confronting me now, is all that passion turned poisonous. The bassist hurls curse after curse, and even motions in a gesture carrying with it physical implications. Though I’ve never been in a fight in my life, his veiled threats do not cause me much alarm. John Paul, I felt, was someone against whom I could probably hold my own. No, it is the standing mountains of muscled beef surrounding him – his security team – that give me pause. They shoot me looks that convey a pretty simple message: Make even the slightest motion towards this man before you, and what happens next will surely be one of the less pleasant moments you’ll ever experience.
At that point, it’s hard to determine whether it’s more the fear or embarrassment that has rendered me speechless and immobile. But, no, it’s the fear, definitely the fear. As I fall in and out of moments of lucidity, I’m trying to figure out why I’ve been singled out for Jonesy’s personal attentions. Then I see, there in his right hand, a copy of Rock Guitarists. It is a compilation of Guitar Player stories collected over the past several years. He has rolled it up into a tube shape and smacks it repeatedly into his open left palm. I had written the Jeff Beck story gracing the cover and had brought copies for he and Jimmy. Peace offerings. They both knew Jeff, of course, and I thought the gesture would present me as a writer with a bit of street cred. And in that terrible second, it hits me – no, not magazine as billyclub – but the realization: I have sent Jonesy off the deep end because I’ve betrayed his trust. Repeatedly I told him how honored I was to be on the road with him. And I know he believed what I said – until he read what I’d written. The very thing that has brought me here is going to bury me. I had been warned. On the very day I arrived, the rules were outlined for me. And now, only eleven days later, I had already broken the 5th commandment. Incidentally, he also demanded all the interview tapes be returned. I instantly obliged.
Chalk it up to inexperience – and maybe no little bit of stupidity. At this point, I’ve only been freelancing for about 3 ? years, plying my trade in various local and regional papers. I made my bones and cracked the inner sanctum of magazines like Creem and Circus. And then in December 1973, Guitar Player, after rejecting multiple submissions, accepted a Q&A on Jeff Beck and used it for that month’s cover. This is the story – the first one I’d ever written for GP – that would make Jones go crazy. It was my breakthrough as a fledgling scribe. And here, now, all that hard work was culminating with the opportunity of a lifetime. After nearly a year’s worth of phone calls to the Swan Song offices in New York, I was going to be given entree to Led Zeppelin. I’d be allowed to travel with the band on their private plane and stay with them in the same hotel. After all this, getting this close, I was going to leave empty handed. Or with a broken finger – same difference.
The JPJ encounter will finally resolve itself, but in order to put things in true perspective, it’s essential to understand the juggernaut that was Led Zeppelin. By 1977, the quartet had nothing left to prove and no one left to prove it to. On April 30th of that year, the band had set a new world’s record for the largest paid attendance at a single-artist performance. They drew 76,229 people to a concert at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan, and grossed a staggering $792,361.50 (also a record breaker). The concert was sold out in one day.
The year before, Led Zeppelin had been named the Best Group in the Circus Reader’s Poll. Page kicked Jeff Beck and Brian May a couple pegs down the popularity ladder to maintain his spot as Best Guitarist. Robert Plant was voted Number One Male Vocalist; and Plant and Page had a lock on the Best Songwriting team, pushing Elton John and Bernie Taupin down a notch.
Also, in 1976, the group issued Presence, an album that truly revealed the band’s complex musical makeup (though not selling tremendously well). And later that same year saw the release of the soundtrack for The Song Remains The Same, the film revealing personality-through-indulgence. This hedonism would be carried to ridiculous extremes on the upcoming tour.
Needless to say, here was a band that lived life like super heroes. They were pampered and treated as kings and couldn’t see, or refused to, that they were being devoured by the very machine they’d created. Still, when you were with them, you, too, became a part of their bigger-than-life adventure.
I am sure we all felt a little invincible on this tour, explains Gary Carnes, head of the lighting crew. By being associated with Led Zeppelin, it seemed impossible not to have a false sense of power. I am sure the band felt that way and I know everyone on the road crew had a feeling of being invulnerable.
On the day I arrived, a black limo had been sent to the airport to retrieve me. After a glass of champagne, I, too, could feel wings sprouting. Janine Safer, the group’s publicist, accompanied me, and as we rode back she instructed me on the Five Rules of Engagement:
◾Rule 1. Never talk to anyone in the band unless they first talk to you.
◾Rule 2. Do not talk to Peter Grant or Richard Cole – for any reason.
◾Rule 3. Keep your cassette player turned off at all times unless conducting an interview.
◾Rule 4. Never ask questions about anything other than music.
◾Rule 5. Most importantly, understand this – the band will read what is written about them. The band does not like the press. This is the one that would prove my undoing.
Not much to get lost in translation here. Seemed simple enough. I do hesitate for the briefest of moments before handing to Janine two copies of a special issue Guitar Player magazine. I’ve brought them along because I thought they might curry favour with the band. Little did I know. She tells me she’ll personally deliver them to John Paul and Jimmy.
I have arrived during the first leg of the American tour. The kickoff segment began on April 1 – April Fool’s Day – in Dallas, Texas, and notwithstanding record-breaking attendances and grosses to come, everything seems filtered through a glass, darkly. No one is able to erase Plant’s near disastrous car accident a couple years earlier and now, the 51-show, thirty-city invasion kicks off a month late due to the singer’s contraction of tonsillitis. Additionally, Peter Grant has suffered through the ignominy of a wife dumping. And so it didn’t take long before the Fantastic Four started succumbing to the weight of this terrible cloud bearing down upon them. After only the second performance, in Chicago, Page was taken sick, owing to what Jack Calmes describes as the rockin’ pneumonia. Calmes is head of Showco, the company that provided lights, sound, staging, and logistics for the tour.
There was an extraordinary amount of tension at the start of that tour, recalls Calmes. It just got off to a negative start. It was definitely much darker than any Zeppelin tour ever before that time (Jack and company were involved in the 1973 and 1975 tours). The kind of people they had around them had deepened into some really criminal types. I think Richard Cole and perhaps some of the band and everybody around the band was so far into drugs at that point, that the drugs turned on them. They still had their moments of greatness (but) some of the shows were grinding and not very inspired.
Indeed, of the four or five performances I witnessed, the band felt as if it was merely playing by numbers. Though there was no opening act and they often played for more than three hours, the music had no life, no emotion. Many crowds grew unruly during the marathon performances, throwing firecrackers and various other garbage at the stage. I saw more than one Zeppelin bouncer grab an offending party and muscle him/her outside.
Gary Carnes, Showco’s lighting chief, had a bird’s eye view of every show. Sitting on stage about ten feet in front of the guitarist, he heard conversations, sotto voce, between Page and Plant.
I could hear what they were saying. Quite often Robert would announce a song and Jimmy would go, ‘Robert, how does that song go? And Robert would sort of turn around and hum it to him. And Jimmy would go, ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, I got it, I got it. Or Robert would announce a song and Jimmy would go into the wrong song. And the times when Jimmy couldn’t remember how a song went, it was just very, very rare but it did happen.
Besides these problems inside the arenas, there were almost nightly rituals of crazed Zeppelin fans outside engaging in minor scuffles with local police. Prior to the St. Louis show, I witnessed ardent but non-ticketed fans attempting to break through barricades. Roaming packs of hard core Zep devotees threw beer cans and generally engaged in low-key mayhem. During one arrival, Peter Grant emerged from his limo and walked over to a phalanx of policemen holding at bay a crowd of rowdy would-be gate crashers. Though I couldn’t hear specifically what the 300-pound plus manager was saying, his actions were startlingly clear. He pointed to several of his own security crew and motioned them in the direction of the battling cops. Grant would make certain no one entered the concert with a ticket.
Peter Grant, former bouncer and wrestler, was, in many respects, the physical embodiment of a lead zeppelin. Standing over six feet and weighing over 300 pounds, he used his intimidating presence to maintain order and to keep his charges safe and worry-free. He was protective, and by â€™77, insanely so. He isolated them as much as possible; hence, the private plane and the ritualized hierarchy of security, handlers, and crew. He brooked no insubordination from his own people, and with outsiders his brand of justice was swift and not necessarily just. His raison d’etre was simple – protecting his band and their finances. When a bootlegger or unauthorized photographer was identified, it was the lucky offending party who was let off with merely a severe verbal reprimand and confiscation of unauthorized t-shirts and film. I never saw an incident escalate from there, but I was told about one.
I took the plans and everything over to the band in England before this tour happened, recalls Showco’s president, Jack Calmes. They had their offices on Kings Road and spent most of the time down the street in the pub. But we had a big meeting and we were upstairs in Peter Grant’s office and they said, ‘OK, Calmes (purposely mispronouncing his name as Calm-us instead of the proper Cal-mees), what have you got for this tour? So I stood up and gave my presentation and showed them all these cool lighting effects and lasers and said the price will be $17,500 per show. The whole room went dead silent. They kind of looked at the window and Bonham went over and raised the window like they were going to throw me out of the window. And they might have done it. Then after this drama went on for what seemed like a long time, they all just started dying laughing. Because I’m sure I looked like I was about to shit my pants.
Zeppelin humour. Well, no one was laughing when John Paul Jones confiscated my tapes. I can understand Jack’s apprehension because the flight back seemed interminable. We returned to the Ambassador East, I packed my bags, and prepared for an early-morning flight back to Los Angeles. Menacing scowls from bouncers told me I was an unwanted entity and I made a hasty retreat. Janine came to my hotel room door and encouraged me to go and talk to John Paul, to try and explain my side of the story. I went down to his hotel suite, knocked, and as it swung open, my head went blank, my tongue shrivelled and I stood there, once again, like an idiot. As a failsafe, I had written him a letter. I handed it to him, he took it, and shocked me by returning my tapes. He told me he thought I was a lowlife piece of shit and the worst writer heâ€™d ever read, but that I did have a responsibility to the magazine.
I wrote the story and the cover appeared on GP’s July 1977 issue. It was a great piece and though I wish it could have been more extensive, I was quite happy with it. Page was on the cover and John Paul was the main feature.
One evening, about a month after the Zeppelin road trip, I’m at the Starwood club in West Hollywood. I’m sitting there with my brother, Mick, watching Detective, the band Swan Song was signing to its label. Mick tells me John Paul Jones is in the corner and he’s walking this way. I’d told him about the encounter and I know he’s just goofing with me. I turn around and once again, Jonesy confronts me. I don’t know whether to go into a boxer’s crouch or what when he extends his hand in friendship. He had read my letter and understood that what I’d written in that Jeff Beck story was created by an inexperienced journalist. He loved the story. We hugged.
Not that it’s important but the offending line was, “A contemporary of Beck, Jimmy Page has failed to recreate the magic he performed as guitarist for The Yardbirds. Led Zeppelin started off as nothing more than a grandiose reproduction of Beck’s past work..” and so on. It was stupid and ridiculous and I’m ashamed to this day for authoring it.
Jones was in town to see Detective and to play six nights at the Inglewood Forum, another record-breaking achievement. Following Los Angeles, the band flew to Oakland for the final dates of the tour. If there had been no significance attributed to the Zeppelin curse, what happened in Northern California certainly breathed new life into the legend. It was a terrible, dark, and ominous way to finish things out. Jack Calmes was there and he describes the violence of Zeppelin’s last dance.
I was standing right by the trailer when all this went down. Peter Grant’s kid (Warren), kind of spoiled, was there, and he walked into a secure area and one of Bill Graham’s guards kind of moved him aside; he didn’t hurt him or anything. The Bindon brothers and Peter grabbed this guy, took him into one of the trailers, and beat the crap out of him. I wasn’t in the trailer but I was right outside and this guy was a pretty tough guy and they were taking him apart in there. From what I understand they tried to pull out one of his eyes, really bad shit. John Bindon, who was in on this, subsequently murdered a guy and went to prison for life.
The Bindon brothers were the thugs that were friends of Peter Grant’s and were on this whole tour as security guards. And they kind of brought an element of darkness into this thing. The only thing I remember about John Bindon is that we were in The Roxy (in Los Angeles, prior to the Oakland shows) and he was in the back corner with Zeppelin and he had his dick out swinging it for a crowd of about 50 people that could see it.
Yeah, John Bindon later stabbed this guy through the heart; it sounds like something out of a blues song.
Richard Cole, another principal, takes up the story.
When the band came off the stage, Peter went after the guy with Johnny Bindon. I was outside the caravan with an iron bar, making sure no one could get in and get hold of them because people were after Granty and Bindon then. The next day, the four of us got arrested. Fortunately we were lucky because one of our security guys knew one of the guys on the S.W.A.T. team and said to them, “These guys aren’t dangerous, I’ve worked for them for years”. And so they agreed and they asked Peter and John Bindon and John Bonham and myself to meet them. They handcuffed us, took us off to jail, and then they let us out after an hour or so. And off we went.
And indeed, if the saga of Led Zeppelin was being played out in the lyrics of an unfinished blues song, this was not the final verse. The 77 tour had taken a terrible toll on everyone and all anyone could think of was putting as much distance between himself and fellow musicians as possible. Following this ordeal in Oakland, the members separated: John Paul remained in California and went on a camping trip with family; Jimmy and Peter remained in San Francisco; and Bonzo, Cole, and Plant headed to New Orleans, the site of their next show. Within hours of arriving at the Royal Orleans hotel, Robert received a call from his wife. The last verse was being written.
The first phone call said his son was sick, describes Cole, and the second phone call, unfortunately, Karac had died in that time.
The song would never again remain the same. In 1979, the band played some warm up dates at Denmark’s Falkoner teatre and, in August, the pair of landmark shows at Knebworth. About a year later, on September 24, 1980, John Bonham would be found dead of an overdose. He was at Page’s house at the time.
I will never forget the final words I heard Robert Plant say sums up lighting director, Gary Carnes. It would be my final show with them, my 59th show with them. I was on stage and this was the second show at Knebworth. The band had just finished playing ‘Stairway To Heaven. Robert stood there just looking out over a sea of screaming fans with cigarette lighters. There were about 350,000 people in the audience. It was a magical, mystical moment. He then walked to the edge of the downstage portion of the stage with the microphone. And again, just stood there looking. And then he said, ‘It is very, very hard to say â€¦.. Goodnight. It was an enchanting thing to witness. I will never forget that moment.
* * *
Conducting an interview with Jimmy Page, lead guitarist and producer/arranger for England’s notorious hard rock band Led Zeppelin, amounts very nearly to constructing a mini-history of British rock and roll.
Perhaps one of Zeppelin’s more outstanding characteristics is its endurance, the band has remained intact, (there has been no personnel changes since its inception) through an extremely tumultuous decade involving not only rock, but popular music in general. Since 1969 the group’s four members – Page, bass player John Paul Jones, vocalist Robert Plant, and drummer John Bonham – have produced eight albums (two are doubles) of original and often revolutionary compositions with a heavy metal sound. For as long as the band has been an entity, their records, coupled with several well-planned and highly publicized European and American tours, have exerted a profound and acutely recognizable influence on rock groups and guitar players on both sides of the Atlantic. Page’s carefully calculated guitar frenzy, engineered through the use of distortion, surrounds Plant’s expressive vocals to create a tension and excitement rarely matched by Zeppelin’s numerous emulators.
But the prodigious contributions of James Patrick Page, born in 1945 in Middlesex, England, date back to well before the formation of his present band. His work as a session guitarist earned him so lengthy a credit list (some sources site Jimmy as having been on 50-90 per cent of the records released in England from 1963 to 1965) that he himself is no longer sure of each and every cut on which he played. Even without the exact number of his vinyl encounters known, the range of his interaction as musician and sometime-producer with the landmark groups and individuals of soft and hard rock is impressive and diverse: the Who, Them, various members of the Rolling Stones, Donovan, and Jackie DeShannon to name a few. In the mid-’60s, Page joined one of the best-known British rock bands, the Yardbirds, leading to a legendary collaboration with rock/jazz guitarist Jeff Beck. When the Yardbirds disbanded in 1968, Page was ready to start his own group. According to Jimmy, at the initial meeting of Led Zeppelin, the sound of success was already bellowing through the amps, and the musicians’ four-week introductory period resulted in Led Zeppelin, their first of many gold-record-winning LPs.
Let’s start at the beginning. When you first started playing, what was going on musically?
Jimmy Page: I got really stimulated by hearing early rock and roll, knowing that something was going on that was being suppressed by the media which it really was at the time. You had to stick by the radio and listen to overseas radio to even hear good rock records – like Little Richard and things like that. The record that made me want to play guitar was ‘Baby, Let’s Play House’ by Elvis Presley. I just sort of heard two guitars and bass and thought, “Yeah, I want to be part of this.” There was just so much vitality and energy coming out of it.
When did you get your first guitar?
When I was about 14. It was all a matter of trying to pick up tips and stuff. There weren’t many method books, really, apart from jazz which had no bearing on rock and roll whatsoever at that time. But that first guitar was a Grazzioso which was like a copy of a Stratocaster; then I got a real Stratocaster; then one of those Gibson “Black Beauties” which stayed with me for a long time until some thieving magpie took it to his nest. That’s the guitar I did all the ’60s sessions on.
Were your parents musical?
No, not at all. But they didn’t mind me getting into it; I think they were quite relieved to see something being done instead of art work, which they thought was a loser’s game.
What music did you play when you first started?
I wasn’t really playing anything properly. I just knew a few bits of solos and things, not much. I just kept getting records and learning that way. It was the obvious influences at the beginning: Scotty Moore, James Burton, Cliff Gallup – he was Gene Vincent’s guitarist – Johnny Weeks, later, and those seemed to be the most sustaining influences until I began to hear blues guitarists Elmore James, B.B. King, and people like that. Basically, that was the start: a mixture between rock and blues. Then I stretched out a lot more, and I started doing studio work. I had to branch out, and I did. I might do three sessions a day: A film session in the morning, and then there’d be something like a rock band, and then maybe a folk one in the evening. I didn’t know what was coming! But it was a really good disciplinary area to work in, the studio. And it also gave me a chance to develop on all of the different styles.
Do you remember the first band you were in?
Just friends and things. I played in a lot of different small bands around, but nothing you could ever get any records of.
What kind of music were you playing with [early English rock band] Neil Christian and the Crusaders?
This was before the Stones happened, so we were doing Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, and Bo Diddley things mainly. At the time, public taste was more engineered toward Top 10 records, so it was a bit of a struggle. But there’d always be a small section of the audience into what we were doing.
Wasn’t there a break in your music career at this point?
Yes, I stopped playing and went to art college for about two years, while concentrating more on blues playing on my own. And then I went from art college to the [early British rock mecca] Marquee Club in London. I used to go up and jam on a Thursday night with the interlude band. One night somebody came up and said, “Would you like to play on a record?” and I said, “Yeah, why not?” It did quite well, and that was it after that. I can’t remember the title of it now. From that point I started suddenly getting all this studio work. There was a crossroads: Is it an art career or is it going to be music? Well anyway, I had to stop going to the art college because I was really getting into music. Big Jim Sullivan – who was really brilliant – and I were the only guitarists doing those sessions. Then a point came where Stax Records [the Memphis-based rhythm and blues label] started influencing music to have more brass and orchestral stuff. The guitar started to take a back trend, and there was just the occasional riff. I didn’t realize how rusty I was going to get until a rock and roll session turned up in France, and I couldn’t play. I thought it was time to get out, and I did.
You just stopped playing?
For a while I just worked on my stuff alone, and then I went to a Yardbirds concert at Oxford, and they were all walking around in their penguin suits. (Lead singer)Keith Relf got really drunk and was saying “Fuck you” right into the mic and falling into the drums. I thought it was a great anarchistic night, and I went back into the dressing room and said, “What a brilliant show!” There was this great argument going on; [bass player] Paul Samwell-Smith saying, “Well, I’m leaving the group, and if I was you, Keith, I’d do the very same thing.” So, he left the group, and Keith didn’t. But they were stuck, you see, because they had commitments and dates, so I said, “I’ll play the bass if you like.” And then it worked out that we did the dual guitar thing as soon as [previously on rhythm guitar] Chris Dreja could get it together with the bass, which happened, though not for long. But then came the question of discipline. If you’re going to do dual lead guitars riffs and patterns, then you’ve got to be playing the same things. Jeff Beck had discipline occasionally, but he was an inconsistent player in that when he’s on, he’s probably the best there is, but at that time, and for a period afterward, he had no respect whatsoever for audiences.
You were playing acoustic guitar during your session period?
Yes, I had to do it on studio work. And you come to grips with it very quickly too, very quickly, because it’s what is expected. There was a lot of busking [singing on street corners] in the earlier days, but as I say, I had to come to grips with it, and it was a good schooling.
You were using the Les Paul for those sessions?
The Gibson “Black Beauty” Les Paul Custom. I was one of the first people in England to have one, but I didn’t know that then. I just saw it on the wall, had a go with it, and it was good. I traded a Gretsch Chet Atkins I’d had before for the Les Paul.
What kinds of amplifiers were you using for session work?
A small Supro, which I used until someone, I don’t know who, smashed it up for me. I’m going to try and get another one. It’s like a Harmony amp, I think, and all of the first album [Led Zeppelin] was done on that.
What do you remember most about your early days with the Yardbirds?
One thing is it was chaotic in recording. I mean we did one tune and didn’t really know what it was. We had Ian Stewart from the Stones on piano, and we’d just finished the take, and without even hearing it [producer] Mickie Most said, “Next.” I said, “I’ve never worked like this in my life,” and he said, “Don’t worry about it.” It was all done very quickly, as it sounds. It was things like that that really led to the general state of mind and depression of Relf and [drummer] Jim McCarty that broke the group up. I tried to keep it together, but there was no chance; they just wouldn’t have it. In fact, Relf said the magic of the band disappeared when Clapton left [British rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton played with the Yardbirds prior to Beck’s joining]. I was really keen on doing anything, though, probably because of having all that studio work and variety beforehand. So it didn’t matter what way they wanted to go; they were definitely talented people, but they couldn’t really see the woods for the trees at that time.
You thought the best period of the Yardbirds was when Beck was with them?
I did. Giorgio Gomelsky [the Yardbird’s manager and producer] was good for him because he got him thinking and attempting new things. That’s when they started all sorts of departures. Apparently (co-producer) Simon Napier-Bell sang the guitar riff of ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ (on LP of the same name) to Jeff to demonstrate what he wanted, but I don’t know whether that’s true or not. I never spoke to him about it. I know the idea of the record was to emulate the sound of the old ‘Rock Around the Clock’-type record – that bass and backbeat thing. But it wouldn’t be evident at all; every now and again he’d say, “Let’s make a record around such and such,” and no one would ever know what the example was at the end of the song.
Can you describe some of your musical interaction with Beck during the Yardbirds period?
Sometimes it worked really great, and sometimes it didn’t. There were a lot of harmonies that I don’t think anyone else had really done, not like we did. The Stones were the only ones who got into two guitars going at the same time, like on old Muddy Waters records. But we were more into solos rather than a rhythm thing. The point is, you’ve got to have parts worked out, and I’d find that I was doing what I was supposed to, while something totally different was coming from Jeff. That was all right for the areas of improvisation, but there were other parts where it just did not work. You’ve got to understand that Beck and I came from the same sort of roots. If you’ve got things you enjoy, then you want to do them – to the horrifying point where we’d done our first LP (Led Zeppelin) with ‘You Shook Me’, and then I heard he’d done ‘You Shook Me’ (Truth). I was terrified because I thought they’d be the same. But I hadn’t even known he’d done it, and he hadn’t known that we had.
“There was a lot of busking in the earlier days, but I had to come to grips with it.”
Did Beck play bass on ‘Over Under Sideways Down’.
No. In fact for that LP they just got him in to do the solos because they’d had a lot of trouble with him. But then when I joined the band, he supposedly wasn’t going to walk off anymore. Well, he did a couple of times. It’s strange: if he’d had a bad day, he’d take it out on the audience. I don’t know whether he’s the same now; his playing sounds far more consistent on records. You see, on the ‘Beck’s Bolero’ (Truth) thing I was working with that, the track was done, and then the producer just disappeared. He was never seen again; he simply didn’t come back. Napier-Bell, he just sort of left me and Jeff to it. Jeff was playing and I was in the box [recording booth]. And even though he says he wrote it, I wrote it. I’m playing the electric 12-string on it. Beck’s doing the slide bits, and I’m basically playing around the chords. The idea was built around (classical composer) Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. It’s got a lot of drama to it; it came off right. It was a good line up too, with (the Who’s drummer) Keith Moon, and everything.
Wasn’t that band going to be Led Zeppelin?
It was, yeah. Not Led Zeppelin as a name; the name came afterwards. But it was said afterwards that that’s what it could have been called. Because Moony wanted get out of the Who and so did [Who bass player] John Entwhistle, but when it came down to getting a hold of a singer, it was either going to be (guitarist/organist/singer with English pop group Traffic) Steve Winwood or [guitarist/vocalist with Small Faces] Steve Marriott. Finally it came down to Marriott. He was contacted, and the reply came back from his manager’s office: “How would you like to have a group with no fingers, boys?” Or words to that effect. So the group was dropped because of Marriott’s commitment to Small Faces. But I think it would have been the first of all those bands sort of like the Cream and everything. Instead, it didn’t happen – apart from the ‘Bolero’. That’s the closest it got. John Paul (Jones) is on that too; so is Nicky Hopkins (studio keyboard player with various British rock groups).
You only recorded a few songs with Beck?
Yeah. ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ [The Yardbirds’ Greatest Hits], ‘Stroll On’ [Blow Up], ‘The Train Kept A-Rollin” [Having a Rave-up with the Yardbirds], and ‘Psycho Daisies’ [available only on the B-side of the English single release of ‘Happenings Ten Years Ago’ and an obscure bootleg titled More Golden Eggs], ‘Bolero’, and a few other things. None of them were with the Yardbirds but earlier on – just some studio things, unreleased songs: ‘Louie Louie’ and things like that; really good though, really great.
Were you using any boosters with the Yardbirds to get all those sounds?
Fuzztone which I’d virtually regurgitated from what I heard on ‘2000 Pound Bee’ by the Ventures. They had a Fuzztone. It was nothing like the one this guy, Roger Mayer, made for me; he worked for the Admiralty [British Navy] in the electronic division. He did all the fuzz pedals for Jimi Hendrix later – all those octave doublers and things like that. He made this one for me, but that was all during the studio period, you see. I think Jeff had one too then, but I was the one who got the effect going again. That accounted for quite a lot of the boost and that sort of sustain in the music.
You were also doing all sorts of things with feedback?
You know ‘I Need You’ [Kinkdom] by the Kinks? I think I did that bit there in the beginning. I don’t know who really did feedback first; it just sort of happened. I don’t think anybody consciously nicked it from anybody else; it was just going on. But Pete Townshend [lead guitarist of the Who] obviously was the one, through the music of his group, who made the use of feedback more his style, and so it’s related to him. Whereas the other players like Jeff and myself were playing more single notes and things than chords.
You used a Danelectro with the Yardbirds?
Yes, but not with Beck. I did use it in the latter days. I used it onstage for ‘White Summer’ [Little Games]. I used a special tuning for that; the low string down to B, then A, D, G, A, and D. It’s like a modal tuning, a sitar tuning, in fact.
Was ‘Black Mountain Side'[on Led Zeppelin] an extension of that?
I wasn’t totally original on that. It had been done in the folk clubs a lot; Annie Briggs was the first one that I heard do that riff. I was playing it as well, and then there was [English folk guitarist] Bert Jansch’s version. He’s the one who crystallized all the acoustic playing, as far as I’m concerned. Those first few albums of his were absolutely brilliant. And the tuning on ‘Black Mountain Side’ is the same as ‘White Summer’. It’s taken a bit of battering, that Danelectro guitar, I’m afraid.
Do those songs work well now on the Danelectro?
I played them on that guitar before, so I thought I’d do it again. But I might change it around to something else, since my whole amp situation is different now from what it used to be; now it’s Marshall. Back then it was Vox tops and different cabinets – kind of hodge-podge, but it worked.
You used a Vox 12-string with the Yardbirds?
That’s right. I can’t remember the titles now; the Mickie Most things, some of the B-sides. I remember there was one with an electric 12-string solo on the end of it that was all right. I don’t have copies of them now, and I don’t know what they’re called. I’ve got Little Games, but that’s about it.
You were using Vox amps with the Yardbirds?
AC30s. They’ve held up consistently well. Even the new ones are pretty good. I tried some; I got four in and tried them out, and they were reasonably good. I was going to build up a big bank of four of them, But Bonzo’s kit is so loud that they just don’t come over the top of it properly.
Were the AC30s that you used with the Yardbirds modified in any way?
Only by Vox; you could get these ones with special treble boosters on the back, which is what I had. No, I didn’t do that much customizing apart from making sure all the points, soldering contacts, and things were solid. The Telecasters changed rapidly, you could tell because you could split the pickups – you know that split sound you can get – and again you could get an out-of-phase sound, and then suddenly they didn’t do it anymore. So they obviously changed the electronics. And there didn’t seem to be any way of getting it back. I tried to fiddle around with the wiring, but it didn’t work so I just went back to the old one again.
What kind of guitar were you using on the first Led Zeppelin album?
A Telecaster. I used the Les Paul with the Yardbirds on about two numbers and a Fender for the rest. You see the Les Paul Custom had a central setting, a kind of out-of-phase pickup sound which Jeff couldn’t get on his Les Paul, so I used mine for that.
Was the Telecaster the one Beck gave to you?
Yes. There was work done on it, but only afterwards. I painted it; everyone painted their guitars in those days. And I had reflective plastic sheeting underneath the pickguard that gives off rainbow colors.
It sounds exactly like a Les Paul.
Yeah, well that’s the amp and everything. You see, I could get a lot of tones out of the guitar that you normally couldn’t. This confusion goes back to the early sessions again with the Les Paul. Those might not sound like a Les Paul, but that’s what I used. It’s just different amps, mic placings, and all different things. Also, if you just crank it up to distortion point so you can sustain notes, it’s bound to sound like a Les Paul. I was using the Supro amp for the first album, and I still use it. The ‘Stairway to Heaven’ solo was done when I pulled out the Telecaster, which I hadn’t used for a long time, plugged it into the Supro, and away it went again. That’s a different sound entirely from the rest of the first album. It was a good, versatile setup. I’m using a Leslie on the solo on ‘Good Times Bad Times’. It was wired up for an organ thing then.
What kind of acoustic guitar are you using on ‘Black Mountain Side’ and ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’ [both on Led Zeppelin]?
That was a Gibson J-200, which wasn’t mine; I borrowed it. It was a beautiful guitar, really great. I’ve never found a guitar of that quality anywhere since. I could play so easily on it, get a really thick sound; it had heavy-gauge strings on it, but it just didn’t seem to feel like it.
Do you just use your fingers when you play acoustic?
Yes. I used fingerpicks once, but I find them too spiky; they’re too sharp. You can’t get the tone or response that you would get, say, the way classical players approach gut-string instruments. The way they pick, the whole thing is the tonal response of the string. It seems important.
Can you describe your picking style?
I don’t know, really; it’s a cross between fingerstyle and flatpicking. There’s a guy in England called Davey Graham, and he never used any fingerpicks or anything. He used a thumbpick every now and again, but I prefer just a flatpick and fingers because then it’s easier to get around from guitar to guitar. Well, it is for me, anyway. But apparently he’s got calouses on the left hand and all over the right as well; he can get so much attack on his strings, and he’s really good.
The guitar on ‘Communication Breakdown’ sounds as if it’s coming out of a little shoebox.
Yeah. I put it in a small room, a tiny vocal booth-type thing and miked it from a distance. You see, there’s a very old recording maxim which goes, “Distance makes depth.” I’ve used that a hell of a lot on recording techniques with the band generally, not just me. You’re always used to them close-miking amps, just putting the microphone in front, but I’d have a mic right out the back, as well, and then balance the two, to get rid of all the phasing problems; because really, you shouldn’t have to use an EQ in the studio if the instruments sound right. It should all be done with the microphones. But see, everyone has gotten so carried away with EQ pots that they have forgotten the whole science of microphone placement. There aren’t too many guys who know it. I’m sure Les Paul knows a lot; obviously, he must have been well into that, as were all those who produced the early rock records where there were one or two mics in the studio.
The solo on ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’ is interesting – many pull-offs in a sort of sloppy but amazingly inventive style.
There are mistakes in it, but it doesn’t make any difference. I’ll always leave the mistakes in. I can’t help it. The timing bits on the A and Bb parts are right, though it might sound wrong. The timing just sounds off. But there are some wrong notes. You’ve got to be reasonably honest about it. It’s like the film track album [The Song Remains the Same]; there’s no editing really on that. It wasn’t the best concert, playing-wise, at all, but it was the only one with celluloid footage, so there it was. It was all right; it was just one “as-it-is” performance. It wasn’t one of those real magic nights, but then again it wasn’t a terrible night. So, for all its mistakes and everything else, it’s a very honest film track. Rather than just trailing around through a tour with a recording mobile truck waiting for the magic night, it was just, “There you are – take it or leave it.” I’ve got a lot of live recorded stuff going back to ’69.
Jumping ahead to the second album [Led Zeppelin II], the riff in the middle of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ was a very composed and structured phrase.
I had it worked out already, that one, before entering the studio. I had rehearsed it. And then all that other stuff, sonic wave sound, and all that, I built it up in the studio, and put effects on it and things – treatments.
How is that descending riff done?
With a metal slide and backwards echo. I think I came up with that before anybody. I know it’s been used a lot now, but not at the time. I thought of it on this Mickie Most thing. In fact, some of the things that might sound a bit odd have, in fact, backwards echo on them, as well.
What kind of effect are you using on the beginning of ‘Ramble On’ [Led Zeppelin II]?
If I can remember correctly, it’s like harmony feedback, and then it changes. To be more specific, most of the tracks just start off bass, drums, and guitar, and once you’ve done the drums and bass, you just build everything up afterwards. It’s like a starting point, and you start constructing from square one.
Is the rest of the band in the studio when you put down the solos?
No, never. I don’t like anybody else in the studio when I’m putting on the guitar parts. I usually just limber up for a while and then maybe do three solos and take the best of three.
Is there an electric 12-string on ‘Thank You’ [Led Zeppelin]?
Yes. I think it’s a Fender or Rickenbacker.
What is the effect on ‘Out on the Tiles’ [Led Zeppelin III]?
Now that is exactly what I was talking about: close-miking and distance-miking; that’s ambient sound. Getting the distance of the time lag from one end of the room to the other and putting that in as well. The whole idea, the way I see recording, is to try and capture the sound of the room live and the emotion of the whole moment and try to convey that. That’s the very essence of it. And so, consequently, you’ve got to capture as much of the room sound as possible.
On ‘Tangerine’ [Led Zeppelin III] it sounds as if you’re playing a pedal steel.
I am. And on the first LP there’s a pedal steel. I had never played steel before, but I just picked it up. There’s a lot of things I do first time around that I haven’t done before. In fact, I hadn’t touched a pedal steel from the first album to the third. It’s a bit of a pinch really from the things that Chuck Berry did. Nevertheless, it fits. I use pedal steel in ‘Your Time is Gonna Come’ [Led Zeppelin]. It sounds like a slide or something. It’s more out of tune on the first album because I hadn’t got a kit to put it together.
You’ve also played other stringed instruments on records?
‘Gallows Pole’ [Led Zeppelin III] was the first time for banjo, and on ‘The Battle of Evermore’, [Led Zeppelin IV] a mandolin was lying around. It wasn’t mine, it was Jonesey’s. I just picked it up, got the chords, and it sort of started happening. I did it more or less straight off. But, you see, that’s fingerpicking again, going back to the studio days and developing a certain amount of technique – at least enough to be adapted and used. My fingerpicking is a sort of cross between Pete Seeger, Earl Scruggs, and total incompetence.
The fourth album was the first time you used a double-neck?
I didn’t use a doubleneck on that, but I had to get one afterwards to play ‘Stairway to Heaven’. I did all those guitars on it; I just built them up. That was the beginning of my building up harmonized guitars properly. ‘Ten Years Gone’ [Physical Graffiti] was an extension of that, and then ‘Achilles’ Last Stand’ [Presence] is like the essential flow of it really, because there was no time to think things out; I just had to more or less lay it down on the first track. It was really fast working on Presence. And I did all the guitar overdubs on that LP in one night. There were only two sequences. The rest of the band, not Robert, but the rest of them I don’t think really could see it to begin with. They didn’t know what the hell I was going to do with it. But I wanted to give each section its own identity, and I think it came off really good. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it in one night; I thought I’d have to do it in the course of three different nights to get the individual sections. But I was so into it that my mind was working properly for a change. It sort of crystallized and everything was just pouring out. I was very happy with the guitar on that whole album as far as the maturity of the playing goes.
When you started playing the doubleneck did it require a new approach on your part?
Yes. The main thing is, there’s an effect you can get where you leave the 12-string neck on and play on the 6-string neck, and you get the 12-strings vibrating in sympathy. It’s like an Indian sitar, and I’ve worked on that a little bit. I use it on ‘Stairway’ like that – not on the album but on the soundtrack and film. It’s surprising; it doesn’t vibrate as heavily as a sitar would, but nonetheless, it does add to the overall tonal quality.
You think your playing on Led Zeppelin IV is the best you’ve ever done?
Without a doubt, as far as consistency and the quality of playing on a whole album. But I don’t know what the best solo I’ve ever done is – I have no idea. My vocation is more in composition, really, than in anything else. Building up harmonies, orchestrating the guitar like an army – a guitar army – I think that’s where it’s at, really, for me. I’m talking about actual orchestration in the same way you’d orchestrate a classical piece of music. Instead of using brass and violins you treat the guitars with synthesizers or other devices; give them different treatments, so that they have enough frequency range and scope and everything to keep the listener as totally committed to it as the player is. It’s a difficult project, but it’s the one I’ve got to do.
“I don’t like anybody else in the studio when I’m putting on the guitar parts.”
Have you done anything towards this end already?
Only on these three tunes: ‘Stairway to Heaven’, ‘Ten Years Gone’, and ‘Achilles Last Stand’, the way the guitar is building. I can see certain milestones along the way, like ‘Four Sticks’ [Led Zeppelin IV], in the middle section of that. The sounds of those guitars – that’s where I’m going. I’ve got long pieces written; I’ve got one really long one written that’s harder to play than anything. It’s sort of classical, but then it goes through changes from that mood to really laid-back rock, and then to really intensified stuff. With a few laser notes thrown in, we might be all right.
What is the amplifier setup you’re using now?
Onstage? Marshall 100s that are customized in New York so they’ve got 200 watts. I’ve got four unstacked cabinets, and I’ve got a wah-wah pedal and an MXR unit. Everything else is total flash [laughs]. I’ve got a harmonizer, a theremin, a violin bow, and an Echoplex echo unit.
Are there certain settings you use on the amp?
Depending on the acoustics of the place, the volume is up to about three, and the rest is pretty standard.
When was the first time you used the violin bow?
The first time I recorded with it was with the Yardbirds. But the idea was put to me by a classical string player when I was doing studio work. One of us tried to bow the guitar, then we tried it between us, and it worked. At that point I was just bowing it, but other effects I’ve obviously come up with on my own – using wah-wah and echo. You have to put rosin on the bow, and the rosin sticks to the string and makes it vibrate.
What kind of picks and strings do you use?
Herco heavy-gauge nylon picks and Ernie Ball Super Slinky strings.
What guitars are you using?
God, this is really hard, there are so many. My Les Paul, the usual one, and I’ve got a spare one of those if anything goes wrong. I’ve got a double neck; and one of those Fender string-benders that was made for me by Gene Parsons [former drummer with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers]. I’ve cut it back from what I was going to use on tour. I have with me a Martin and a Gibson A-4 mandolin. The Martin is one of the cheap ones; it’s not the one with the herringbone back or anything like that. It’s probably a D-18, it’s got those nice Grovers [tuning machines] on it. I’ve got a Gibson Everly Brothers, which was given to me by Ronnie Wood [guitarist with the Rolling Stones]. That’s the current favourite, but I don’t take it on the road because it’s a really personal guitar. I keep it with me in the room. It’s a beauty; it’s fantastic. There’s only a few of those around; Ron’s got one, and [Rolling Stones guitarist] Keith Richards has one, and I’ve got one. So it’s really nice. I haven’t had a chance to use it on record yet, but I will because it’s got such a nice sound. Let’s see, what else have we got? I know when I come onstage it looks like a guitar shop, the way they’re all standing up there. But I sold off all my guitars before I left for America; there was a lot of old stuff hanging around which I didn’t need. It’s no point having things if you don’t need them. When all the equipment came over here, we had done our rehearsals, and we were really on top, really in tip-top form. Then Robert caught laryngitis, and we had to postpone a lot of dates and reshuffle them, and I didn’t touch a guitar for about five weeks. I got a bit panicky about that – after two years off the road that’s a lot to think about. And I’m still only warming up; I still can’t coordinate a lot of the things I need to be doing. Getting by, but it’s not right; I don’t feel 100 per cent right yet.
What year is the Les Paul you’re using now?
1959. It’s been rescraped [repainted], but that’s all gone now because it chopped off. [Eagles guitarist] Joe Walsh got it for me.
Do you think when you went from the Telecaster to the Les Paul that your playing changed?
Yes, I think so. It’s more of a fight with a Telecaster, but there are rewards. The Gibson’s got a stereotyped sound maybe. I don’t know. But it has a beautiful sustain to it, and I like sustain because it relates to bowed instruments and everything. This whole area that everyone’s been pushing and experimenting in, when you think about it, it’s mainly sustain.
Do you use special tunings on the electric guitar?
All the time; they’re my own that I’ve worked out, so I’d rather keep those to myself, really. But they’re never open tunings; I have used those, but most of the things I’ve written have not been open tunings, so you can get more chords into them.
Did you ever meet any of those folk players you admire – Bert Jansch, John Renbourn or any of them?
No, and the most terrifying thing of all happened about a few months ago. Jansch’s playing appeared as if it was going down, and it turns out he’s got arthritis. I really think he’s one of the best. He was, without any doubt, the one who crystallized so many things. As much as Hendrix had done on electric, I think he’s done on acoustic. He was really way, way ahead. And for something like that to happen is such a tragedy, with a mind as brilliant as that. There you go. Another player whose physical handicap didn’t stop him was Django Reinhardt. For his last LP they pulled him out of retirement to do it; it’s on Barclay Records in France. He’d been retired for years, and it’s fantastic. You know the story about him in the caravan and losing fingers and such. But the record is just fantastic. He must have been playing all the time to be that good – it’s horrifyingly good. Horrifying. But it’s always good to hear perennial players like that; like Les Paul, and people like that.
You listen to Les Paul?
Oh, yeah. You can tell Jeff [Beck] did too, can’t you? Have you ever heard ‘It’s Been a Long, Long Time’ [mid-’40s single by the Les Paul Trio with Bing Crosby]? You ought to hear that. He does everything on that, everything in one go. And it’s just one guitar; it’s basically one guitar even though they’ve tracked on rhythms and stuff. But my goodness, his introductory chords and everything are fantastic. He sets the whole tone, and then he goes into this solo which is fantastic. Now that’s where I heard feedback first – from Les Paul – also vibratos and things. Even before B.B. King, you know, I’ve traced a hell of a lot of rock and roll – little riffs, and things – back to Les Paul, Chuck Berry, Cliff Gallup and all those. It’s all there. But then Les Paul was influenced by Reinhardt, wasn’t he? Very much so. I can’t get my hands on the records of Les Paul, the Les Paul trio, and all that stuff. But I’ve got all the Capitol LPs and things. I mean, he’s the father of it all: multi-tracking and everything else. If it hadn’t been for him, there wouldn’t have been anything, really.
You said that Eric Clapton was the person who synthesized the Les Paul sound?
Yeah, without a doubt. When he was with the Bluesbreakers [British blues band with John Mayall], it was just a magic combination; he got one of the Marshall amps, and away he went. It just happened. I thought he played brilliantly then, really brilliantly. That was very stirring stuff.
Do you think you were responsible for any specific guitar sounds?
The guitar parts in ‘Trampled Under Foot’ [Physical Graffiti], this guy Nick Kent [British rock journalist], he came out with this idea about how he thought that was a really revolutionary sound. And I hadn’t realized that anyone would think it was, but I can explain exactly how it’s done. Again, it’s sort of backwards echo and wah-wah. I don’t know how responsible I was for new sounds because there were so many good things happening around that point, around the release of the first Zeppelin album, like Hendrix and Clapton.
Were you focusing on anything in particular on the first Led Zeppelin LP with regards to certain guitar sounds?
The trouble is keeping a separation between sounds, so you don’t have the same guitar effect all the time. And that’s where that orchestration thing comes in; it’s so easy, I’ve already planned it, it’s already there; all the groundwork has been done now. And the dream has been accomplished by the computerized mixing console. The sort of struggle to achieve so many things is over. As I said, I’ve got two things written, but I’ll be working on more. You can hear what I mean on Lucifer Rising [soundtrack for the unreleased Ken Anger film]. You see, I didn’t play any guitar on that, apart from one point. That was all other instruments, all synthesizers. Every instrument was given a process so it didn’t sound like what it really was – the voices, drones, mantras, even tabla drums. When you’ve got a collage of, say, four of these sounds together, people will be drawn right in, because there will be sounds they haven’t heard before. That’s basically what I’m into: Collages and tissues of sound with emotional intensity and melody, and all that. But you know, there are so many good people around, like John McLaughlin, and people like that. It’s a totally different thing than what I’m doing.
Do you think he has a sustaining quality as a guitarist?
He’s always had that technique right from when I first knew him when he was working in a guitar shop. I would say he was the best jazz guitarist in England then, in the traditional mode of [jazz stylist] Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow; a combination of those two is exactly what he sounded like. He was easily the best guitarist in England, and he was working in a guitar shop. And that’s what I say – you hear so many good people around under those conditions. I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t know one musician who’s stuck to his guns, who was good in the early days that hasn’t come through now with recognition from everybody. [British pop/rock guitarist] Albert Lee, and all these people that seem to be like white elephants, got recognition. I think he’s really good, bloody brilliant. He’s got one of those string benders, too, but I haven’t heard him in ages. But I know that every time I’ve heard him, he’s bloody better and better.
Do you feel your playing grows all the time?
I’ve got two different approaches, I’m a schizophrenic guitarist, really. I mean, onstage is totally different than the way that I approach it in the studio. Presence and my control over all the contributing factors to that LP – the fact that it was done in three weeks, and all the rest of it – is so good for me. It was just good for everything really, even though it was a very anxious point, and the anxiety shows, group-wise – you know, “Is Robert going to walk again from his auto accident in Greece?” and all this sort of thing. But I guess the solo in ‘Achilles’ Last Stand’ on Presence is in the same tradition as the solo from ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on the fourth LP. It is on that level to me.
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.
Led Zep Conquers States, ‘Beast’ Prowls to the Din of Hordes by Cameron Crowe (Rolling Stone 187, May 22nd 1975)
“Looking back on it, this tour’s been a flash. Really fast. Very poetic, too. Lots of battles and conquests, back dropped by the din of the hordes. Aside from that fact that it’s been our most successful tour on every level. I just found myself having a great time all the way through.”
Backstage at the last show on Led Zeppelin’s North American itinerary, Robert Plant was ready to celebrate. In two-and-a-half months of sold out concerts the band had barnstormed its way to a once elusive critical acceptance, a complete commercial resurgence of its six-album catalogue and a concert gross of more than 5 million dollars.
“We had no trouble adjusting to the tour at all,” Plant continued. “Normally, it takes a while to get into the swing of things. Not this time. I’ve never been more into a tour before. The music’s gelled amazingly well. Everyone loved Physical Graffiti. That meant a lot. It’s like we’re on an incredible winning streak.”
The 33-date tour was not without turbulence, though. The first week and a half, based out of Chicago’s Ambassador Hotel, was plagued by health problems. Jimmy Page’s left ring finger – broken in a slamming train door – kept him in almost constant pain or depression. “This is so damn futile,” he grumbled daily. “I can’t fucking play the way I should.”
Several days into the tour, Plant fell victim to the flu season; one concert, in St. Louis, was postponed. No sooner was Plant back in action than John “Bonzo” Bonham develop stomach problems that forced the highly combustible drummer to keep an uneasily low profile for the first leg of the tour. Only bassist/keyboard player John Paul Jones remained a fit specimen. “Nothing exciting ever happens to me,” he said.
There were also some problems at halls along the way. A February 4th show at the Boston Garden was cancelled by city officials after early arrivals caused $30,000 damage. At mid-March dates in Seattle, 500 or so concertgoers were refused admission to the Coliseum when their tickets turned out to be counterfeit; one alleged scalper was arrested with $1475 in his pockets; and three people were busted for giving Jimmy Page a $2100 Les Paul guitar that belonged to local music teacher. And in Los Angeles, a wire service claimed that a massive bust had occurred at a concert by the group; the raid had actually happened at the Shrine Auditorium during a performance by Robin Trower.
“It’s typical,” said Swan Song Records veep Danny Goldberg. “What can I say? Sometimes it seems like Zeppelin are now where the Stones once were. The media automatically assumed us to be the bad boys. You know, blame it on Led Zeppelin… ”
Jimmy Page, however, has no complaints. “The last thing I want to be,” he said, “is respectable. ”
According to Page, the Texas/West Coast part of the tour was where the group “hit new peaks every night.” After ten days of convalescing, Page’s broken finger healed to the point where he spent afternoons furiously composing new material on an acoustic guitar. Plant boasted that “my voice was getting so good by the end I felt like I could sing anything.” One night at the Forum, he moved out of the spacey middle of “Dazed and Confused” and led the band into Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock ” and, later, even a version of “Take It Easy.”
The Los Angeles concerts (two nights in Long Beach, three at the Forum) played to audiences familiar with Physical Graffiti. “Trampled Underfoot” and “Kashmir,” two numbers which had received a mild reception at the tour’s outset, were now crowd favourites, overshadowing older standards like “The Song Remains The Same” and “Over The Hills And Far Away.” It was the show closing “Stairway To Heaven,” however, that consistently drew the biggest response.
But not all the response was favourable. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, critic Robert Hilburn said: “Besides setting box-office records on this tour, the English group also may be setting some kind of record for the most clichés in a single concert: a mini light show, steam from dry ice covering the stage [three different times], the bands name spelled out in lights… An explosion at the rear of the stage and, of course, the obligatory 20-minute solo.”
He dismissed the show as “a numbing combination of intense, tenacious music and hopelessly limited imagination.”
Page is quick to defend the act’s length. “We need that amount of time to get everything across. You put on a support act and they’re gonna want to do at least an hour – probably an hour and a half – so that makes the whole show about five hours long, including gear changeovers. Some halls have to get everybody out by 11:00, so where does that leave the headliner?
“We established a policy long ago that our concerts would feature only Zeppelin and the people would know exactly what they were coming to hear. Myself, I get fed up with hearing about groups who only do a 50-minute show. It’s not right. It all depends on how much a performer has got to say, I suppose, and Zeppelin has got quite a bit to put across.”
The final ten dates, Zeppelin used an entire floor at Hollywood’s Continental Hyatt House as its base. So many groupies waited hopefully in the lobby that an entirely different group appeared to pick them up. Locals took to calling the hotel the Riot House.”
As always, and armed guard sat outside each of the groups member’s rooms. Page, for one, disliked the menacing flavour of it all. “We had some vague death threats earlier in the tour,” he explained. “I imagine that makes the armed guards a necessity, but . . . Christ.” He let out an exasperated sigh. “This is one thing that really bothers me. I don’t think we’re a band that’s hated by any means. I get good, warm feelings from our fans. We’re not the sort of band people really want to be nasty to.”
Flying back and forth to concerts in Seattle, Vancouver and San Diego, the band and their 18-person entourage made frequent pilgrimages to L.A. Nightspots like the Troubadour (for Bobby “Blue” Bland and Kokomo), the Roxy (for Suzi Quatro) and the Greenhouse Restaurant, where Jimmy Page met long time idol Joni Mitchell. Page had been bashful about an introduction, telling acquaintances that “if she’s been hit on half as many times as I’ve been hit on tonight, she doesn’t want to know,” but eventually they enjoyed some small talk together.
Los Angeles also saw the increased activity of John Bonham. At a party hosted by Zeppelin in honour of the Pretty Things, Bonham threw several stomach punches at Sounds correspondent Andy McConnell. McConnell, who’d had an amicable meeting with the drummer earlier that afternoon, shined a flashlight in Bonham’s face and cracked, “You’re an ugly fucker aren’t you?” Bonzo responded by knocking McConnell across the room.
“You just don’t do things like that to Bonzo,” said one Zeppelin roadie, “especially when he’s had a few drinks. After a certain point the Beast goes on the prowl and the only thing that amuses him is pillage. ”
Earlier on the tour, in Texas, Bonham took a fancy to a custom Corvette. The owner was tracked down and offered an irrefusable amount. Bonham then “paid a small fortune” to have the car towed to L.A., where he couldn’t get it insured. Undaunted, he snapped up a $1400 Ford hot rod for the sole purpose of dragging on Sunset Strip. In two weeks racing anyone who dared accept this challenge, he was stopped only once.
“When the cop got to the window,” said Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs, a passenger at the time, “Bonzo turned on the charm. He told him we were musicians, that we’d been rehearsing all day and we are blowing off a little steam. He didn’t get a ticket. ”
On the afternoon of the tour’s close, Plant emphasized that the group would always remain a road band. “We’ve played every single market that there is to play in the last few years … Apart from Bangkok and India, which we’ll get to in the next year. There’s no reason why other than the fact that we just love to play. We love touring too much to give it up. We took a film crew on our last tour, you know. The movie will be out soon and that one film will be the end-all story of why we have such a great time on the road.” But when asked the movie’s release date, Zeppelin manager Peter Grant only snickered. “You must be talking about the most expensive home movie ever made,” he said with laughter in his voice. “Just say it’s held up in production.”
Outside of the three sold-out English shows at Earl’s Court in late May, Zeppelin has no firm plans. Plant, Bonham and Jones will return to their families in various parts of Britain, while Page, the group’s only bachelor, will sojourn through Europe and the Far East. “I feel the need to aimlessly travel, to soak up some new experiences,” the guitarist explained. “This is something I’ve looked forward to doing for years.”
As the group left for home, Swan Song exec Goldberg discouraged rumours of another U.S. tour as early as this summer. “They could come back in June or they can come back in ’77. Once they get working on something, you never know when they’ll come up for air.”
Last summer, when the cold steel elevator doors of Hollywood’s infamous Continental Hyatt House slid apart to reveal the ninth floor, visitors were immediately met by two menacing security guards. The uniformed officers demanded an official note of authorization before visitors could step one foot onto the carpeted floor. If no note was presented, one of the burly cops silently reached a hairy arm into the compartment and smashed the button marked ‘lobby’. The elevator was sent hurtling downward.
There were similar welcomes throughout the United States on Led Zeppelin’s whirlwind Houses of the Holy tour. By the end of the group’s stay in America, security guards had sent fleets of sleazy, ornamented groupies, eager young journalists, and snap-happy photographers grumbling back to the clogged main floors of hotels and motels. Mobs of hundreds had patiently milled around stage doors in hot anticipation of the inevitable appearance of any one of the four English lads who whipped over sixty major American cities into a summer frenzy.
Reaction to Led Zep’s smash U.S. tour this past summer is still sending earthquaking tremors across the country, but Led Zeppelin themselves, caught in the middle of the quake, feel no pain at all. While Alice Cooper threatened to quit touring be-cause of the exhausting pace, and David Bowie actually gave it all up, Led Zeppelin still loved every minute of it.
On and on
Robert Plant, fresh from the shower and clad only in a white terry cloth towel, strode to a window overlooking the English countryside. For a moment Plant quietly reflected upon the grueling nature of Led Zep’s much publicized cross-country jaunt.
“Since we were last in America,” he spun around and grinned widely to reveal a conspicuously missing molar, “I’ll bet we haven’t had six weeks off altogether. We’ve been playing like a group who’s trying to make it, you know. But we’ve made it… long ago.”
Plant’s remark, and the massive amount of worldwide roadwork the band undertook last year, has led some to speculate that this past tour may have been Zeppelin’s swan song to the life of Holiday Inns. After all, with glamorous and rustic mansions situated throughout the forests and beaches of Europe, why on earth would Plant, Jimmy Page, John Bonham or John Paul Jones want to spend their days on the road? Con-ceivably, if the group was to retire from live performances, there would be no more dramatic time than now. With a record-shattering sold-out tour of America’s largest arenas and stadiums behind them, Zep fever appears to have reached an overwhelm-ing pinnacle. And despite an unfortunate New York robbery of $ 180,000 from a hotel safe, there is no financial need for the band ever to subject themselves to a tour again.
“I mean,” Plant added, plopping onto the springy queen size bed and leaning against the headboard, “there’s no reason why we should have to play again. We’ve played every single market that there is to play in the last twelve months . . . apart from Bangkok and India, which we’ll get to in the next two years. But we got the balls in us and we enjoy playing too much to ever quit. I can’t stop smiling when I’m playing. I like to see people enjoying themselves. I think that ten years from now it’ll still be the same, too,” he added. “The magnetism that the group holds can’t wane for any reason that I can see. We’ve tried to stay away from all the passing hypes and fads in the musical business. There’s no reason why we should follow them at all. We can just set our own standards. I think that people appreciate that. Obviously, I can’t see what I’ll be doing in eight years from now. . . but I’ll tell you one thing. As long as I’m feeling ‘Black Dog’, I’ll be singing it.”
Best and brightest
In another section of England, virtuoso guitarist Jimmy Page sunk into a deep green sofa and listened in comfort while a stereo pumped out Al Green records. “It was a terrific tour,” he reflected in his clipped English accent. “The reaction was really fantastic. Very, very warm.”
Perhaps a major factor in Page’s extreme pleasure with their recent American tour was the presence of a highly proficient lighting crew. “It was something new for us,” he beamed. “We’ve had lighting before on other occasions when people have just turned up and done it, but we’ve never really planned anything. This time we routined all the lighting before we came over. It took about three or four days rehearsing to get it really tight, so that it augmented our set. It was really well-received, and sometimes you found the lighting effects getting applause on their own, which is really good. It made more of a show that way.
“We rehearsed the whole show at this place called Old Street Studios in England. It’s an abandoned film studio. You see, it’s very difficult to get rehearsal rooms in England because of the noise. Anywhere, for any group, it’s the same story. Every group is up against the same problem. But the studio we used is a nice place that nobody uses for films anymore. The film business is a bit crummy, I suppose. Everybody makes cheap budget films and they don’t use those places anymore.”
The three-hour extravaganza of a set that the band rehearsed in the empty studio was their first in a long while that didn’t include any acoustic material. “We had no room, man,” Plant explained, his eyes agog, “we played for three hours as it was. Christ, I mean we just couldn’t. Physically, there was no space left inside my lungs to do much more than three hours, ’cause I really push it out, you know. I didn’t want to over-fatigue myself because I did a little bit of chasing around at night.”
Too much too long
Plant then honked out a series of guffaws that ended in a coughing spasm. “But sometimes I think we played too long. A lot of groups only play for an hour, you know. After three hours, there’s no room for anything more. We’ve done a lot of acoustic stuff onstage in the past, of course, like ‘Bron-Y–Aur Stomp’ where the audience used to get up and start clapping and every-thing, but now we’ve got ‘The Song Remains The Same’, ‘The Rain Song’, and “No Quarter’ and we really enjoyed doing them. So to break it all with an acoustic thing in the middle wouldn’t be right. We’ve got a lot of acoustic stuff in the can, though. Stuff that we’ve written here, there and everywhere that’s real good.”
Although Robert has said time and again that he wouldn’t be at all sur-prised if Zep ended up doing “an Incredible String Band-type trip,” Page elicited a different response. “I’d be surprised,” he chortled. “I don’t see what he means, really. We may have a little bit of fun at home or something, but I can’t see anything seriously materializing. I like playing rock ‘n roll too much. But that doesn’t mean to say that we couldn’t sit down and play ‘The Battle of Evermore’ after having done a really heavy rock ‘n roll set. That’s the way we are, that’s the way the group’s al-ways been. We can turn our hand to anything. That’s the important part, really. You just can’t stereotype Led Zeppelin. If this tour showed us in one light, that doesn’t mean we won’t come back again doing something completely different.”
It may come as a surprise that the next Zep LP will not be a live one capitalizing on the attention given the tour last summer. “We didn’t record at all this last tour,” revealed Robert. “There’ve been many attempts to capture what we consider to be Led Zeppelin on stage, right? And even with all the modern mobile recording equipment, we haven’t been able to capture the magic of it all. I mean, you might as well buy a bootleg, and they’re really bad. But you’ve got to capture the magic, and if you don’t capture it, there’s no point in doing a live album. To me, live albums in the past have always been an excuse to get a record out when you’ve got no material. We have all the material in the world, and if we can’t capture the vibe on a live record than why bother?”
The alternative? The band dragged along a film crew for the last half of the itinerary dates for an upcoming movie.
Now that the monster tour is over, the band has entered a period of what Plant wistfully calls “sleep”, as the quartet breaks up for a well-deserved rest until they enter the studios once again for a new LP. One possible project arising in the interlude before the sessions may be a Yardbirds reunion album involving Jimmy Page. Even Alice Cooper has publicly pined for a reappearance of the group and now, according to Page, something special may be brew-ing.
“I’ve got good memories of the band,” Jimmy agrees, “I mean, there were obviously ups and down and personality conflicts, but it was a great time in my life. If a reunion album happened, and it was presented in the right way, it would be really good. But somehow, I just can’t see Jeff Beck doing it. I think everybody else might do it, I don’t know about Jeff, though. He just doesn’t like to give credit to anybody else. He’s a silly boy.”
Yet when it comes to silly boys, Led Zeppelin had more than enough blowzy, sensational tales circulating about their last tour to fill a set of encyclopedias. “Well,” deadpanned Plant after a very long pause, “I’m a family man.” One of the group’s roadies, sitting in the room, burst out in hysterics. “What can I say?” Robert shrugged. “We’re not hooligans. We had a good time, that’s all. I don’t think we ever hurt anybody.
“I mean, girls who showed us their knickers in clubs only showed them because they wanted them to be ripped off and sniffed. It’s a game, isn’t it? And you all have a laugh when the game’s over . . . but of course,” Plant tried his best to stave off a laughing fit, “it’s usually one of our roadies that rides along with us and then gets us a bad reputation with his shenanigans.”
“Okay,” the roadie chuckled, “next time you need two motorcycles and a live octopus at three in the morning, go ask someone else.”
“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.
They’ve certainly seen worse than this dark oak lined bar where Sydney Harbour glitters seductively just through the panelled doors. And they’ve certainly done this whole thing before, one of them with forgivable ill-humour.
But today they are jocular, blokey and their living-legend status is resting comfortably with them.
Robert Plant exchanges a firm handshake and throws a dismissive, “New Zealand, eh? Well, at least you’ve not apologising for it,” at which Jimmy Page roars with laughter and starts in about Canadians always apologising for being Canadians.
There is mutual hilarity, Robert leaves looking for a coffee, and Jimmy settles back with the air of nothing to prove – and not much to say, really.
By the time Plant returns, we’ve canvassed good places to stay in Marrakesh, illicit substances found therein and the five interviews already this morning (“and I haven’t had bloody lunch yet”). And this is day four. There’s talk of their performing on some television show tonight hosted by Andrew Denton whose previous programme closed with various people – Rolf Harris among them – doing versions of Stairway to Heaven.
Maybe you should do a Rolf song tonight, then?
“Too obvious,” pronounces an imperious Plant sweeping back into the room and challenging: “So, how’s New Zealand then? Still all getting pissed at that racetrack?”
At 47, Robert Plant is, despite some facial crumpling, an unimpressive figure: taller than expected, draped in a flowing hippie shirt, encased in crushed velvet pants, the unruly ringlets constantly pushed back over the ears and shoulders … He’s also a formidable interview subject.
While 50-year–old Page, all in faded black and languid beneath a worrying amount of seemingly windswept hair, offers anecdotes and mild laughter, Plant makes disconcertingly penetrating eye contact and is not a man to suffer fools at all – and he’s suffered a few at the previous day’s press conference.
Someone said “dinosaur,” to which he tartly rejoined, “Look, we are old blokes. But you journalists are neve short of the old cliché, are you?”
Plant might well feel miffed at the reception he is occasionally given. He is a witty, well read and sharply barbed conversationalist, who will – and often enough to make for awkwardness, does – answer a question with a monosyllabic “yes” or “no” to leave interviewers despairing. He’d done it to a few over these days in Sydney where he and Page have been promoting their new album No Quarter.
There’s something disconcerting about taking to Robert Plant – less so the pug-nosed, personable Jimmy Page – because here is the man who was the pivot of the sexual and pharmaceutical excess that was Led Zeppelin on tour in the 70s. The stories are legion and legendary, the girl in handcuffs, the customised jet (“Airforce One with satin sheets”), the notorious fish incident at the Edgewater Inn…
And the other stuff: Plant lost his son, drummer John Bonham died in Jimmy Page’s house, tour manager Richie Cole telling all the heroin ‘n’ harem stories in his Led Zepplin Uncensored, the occult, Stairway to Heaven …
Plant and Page carry that with them, and it’s difficult to get your head round, especially if you have only 20 minutes – and it’s ebbing away while Plant gets a coffee.
These guys not only invented a whole genre of music but also were ambassadors of the lifestyle. They made a million when a million meant something and when a truckload of cocaine was a very big truck indeed.
Understandably these aren’t matters either warms to and even when Plant broaches such subjects himself he’s quick to shut them down. He mentions dismissively being “crowned the kings of rock tedium.”
And the crown rests uneasily?
“It’s in the bin, it’s a paper crown anyway and comes from a glossy magazine with a bloke on the cover with his tongue sticking out,” he sniffs.
“Let it pass that at one time that bloke might have been him.
But settling back with a coffee on its way, he’s laughing about cricketer Geoffrey Boycott in the lobby (“still got that same bird with him with the tinsel skirt on”) and confusing Page with his reference to that racetrack in New Zealand.
“We didn’t play … oh, you and the Big Log thing” says Page, who seemingly gets considerable private humour out of Plant’s solo Big Log album/tour. “We played at Western Springs and Richie had that motorbike…”
He embarks on an enjoyable reminiscence, then is reminded of playing the Auckland Town Hall when he was in the Yardbirds, way back in the mid-60s.
“Yeah, with Roy Orbison and the Walker Brothers on the bill ,” he recalls with remarkable clarity, given the manipulation of body chemistry since then. He strikes you as a loose, likeable fellow.
But jocularity isn’t why anyone is in this room for scrupulously timed interviews. Page and Plant are back – not as half of Led Zeppelin but as musicians with a new album and that has placed them and the media on this collision course again. Both remind the press of the consistently poor critical reception Led Zepp got.
Plant is a man who takes himself seriously – and challenges all others to do the same. And he’s keen to talk up No Quarter, an album born of an MTV Unplugged invitation. It’s a musical cross-fertilisation which sees them revisiting some Zepp material, notably a swirling version of Kashmir with Egyptian musicians, a claustrophobically intense reworking of Gallows Pole and The Battle of Evermore with Indian vocalist Najma Akhtar. There’s dull stuff, too, but also new songs: the hypnotic Yallah and City Don’t Cry, extended chant pieces recorded in Marrakesh with musicians of the Gnawa, a religious fraternity whose members are descendants of slaves brought from across the Sahara by Arab traders.
But the story of No Quarter starts slightly further back, when Page was remastering the Zepp albums.
“There’s no doubt for me there was a certain amount of nostalgia when I was listening to that variety of material” says Page. “I couldn’t fail to think I’d want to work with Robert again, but he was really busy touring – and there was the whole time-span of 14 years apart.
“But MTV gave us something that was concrete other than just meeting in offices to discuss old Zeppelin business or getting together to do charity things. And if we were coming back together again, we didn’t want to step backwards but move forward in every respect with new material or pulling new colours into the old songs. And presenting the Celtic-Gaelic aspect in higher focus…and exactly the same with the Egyptians.”
No Quarter Addresses those often over-looked aspects of Led Zeppelin and Plant makes a dismissive comment about journalists who think “Whole Lotta Love and Black Dog sums up a career of 12 years.”
By deliberately not inviting former Zepp keyboard player John Paul Jones into the project (he, somewhat miffed, says it would have been nice to have been told rather than read about it in the paper), they have avoided all the “Led Zeppelin Reunion” headlines. This was an opportunity to address unfinished musical business, not Zepp business, and when Martin Meissonnier (a French producer) provided them with some percussion loops, “it gave us the opportunity to get in a room and see what we could do after all that time,” says Page. “And the momentum of the writing process was so fast we worked with Michael [Lee, drums] and Charlie [Jones, bass] who had been Robert’s rhythm section.”
Later they relocated to Marrakesh for four days to record with the Gnawa, back to the city that Plant clearly loves. He accords considerable respect to the musicians of the region and is acutely aware of the history of western musicians – , Ornette Coleman and others – going to the area to record or rip off. Bill Laswell, who has recorded both the Gnawa and Master Musicians of Jajouka for his Axiom label, is “doing basically the equivalent of what Alan Lomax did in the Mississippi Delta in the 50s – field recordings of the very highest quality,” Plant says.
“The trouble is, a lot of other people are going out to Morocco now and are fusing – if that’s the right word – with the different musical traits there, but in a very obvious and flaccid way. So you get this sort of jazzy fusion mix with Gnawa or Berber music, but neither idiom gains from it.
“We’d never met the Gnawa when we went there but they were very patient and smiling is a great currency. There was a lot of that going on. Establishing some kind of spiritual relationship comes when you are making the music to some degree. But these people are spiritual tradesmen, so they know how far to go to get the results they need – and what they were doing with us was having a morning jam. And that about as far as it went.
“But it still makes a lot of other stuff I do feel useless. I waste a lot of time diddling about in rock star mode – which is pretty innocuous, really, and a very fine line between parody and invention – or in some great illumination of art and skill. Somewhere between that and Cliff Richard is a huge chasm.”
The spiritual aspect of the Gnawa – a people whose musical ceremonies are most often held to placate spirits and for healing purposes – is something both feel attracted to. Plant dismisses ‘negative music or negative attitudes” with a sniff of derision and maturely observes there’s a lot of negative music out there today, “but you can trade anger for solutions, rather than compounding the fury.”
With No Quarter the idea was to reopen doors. Page notes that 20 years ago they recorded Four Sticks and Friends (both reconsidered on No Quarter) with Indian musicians in Bombay, and Plant indicates that after sessions with the Meissonnier tapes they could hear possibilities opening up.
“We did a lot of work developing the music before going to Morocco and it was so strong and powerful it almost begged the question whether we needed to do any of the MTV stuff and whether it might be nice to just make a new record and be counted along with everybody else in a totally contemporary form without using the past and reiterating it. But, of course, the lure was working with the Egyptians and making Kashmir, Four Sticks and Friends the way we’d always dreamed of.
“We didn’t envision Kashmir this way originally, but as time goes by, you know, you can elaborate things and make them into something which is probably more fitting for the mood of the song.”
As you get older?
“As you get old,” he laughs. ”And also the fact that there’s now the whole linking of North African music with – well, between everywhere and everywhere. Youssou N’Dour [from Senegal] is in the charts with Seven Seconds now. It’s great all this meld is taking place … but I can’t see Aerosmith working with a gamelan orchestra!
“So there are certain marriages made in hell. But if you’ve written songs that can have a new incarnation, then it’s worth exploring. We were very lucky because we travelled when we were young and used our concert tours over this way to go through Thailand and India. We were inspired by the big, beautiful world and, as Jimmy says, recorded in India in ’72. Then you go from that to … last year I played in Chicago, before Jimmy and I got together, with James Cotton, a great harp player. He played so fantastically – so there’s another reference across and sideways. All that blues thing alongside the Celtic stuff and the North African musics.
“James wasn’t all that well and there certainly wasn’t much Johnnie Walker left within a mile of the gig but his playing was fantastic. But because he wasn’t Robert Cray, the polite burghers of Chicago weren’t’ sure whether they should be standing up, sitting down or getting popcorn.
“It’s all labels – that’s the problem we’ve got,” he says in exasperation … and without a pause for breath adds, “Well, it’s been nice meeting you.”
The interview – polite but perfunctory – is terminated firmly, unequivocally, and professionally. No chance to compliment Robert on his contribution to the Arthur Alexander tribute album or even blurt, “So Jimmy, just how did you write Stairway?”
On departure the conversation turns back to Marrakesh, Plant offering the name of a cheap hotel ($60 a day) and Page, smiling but unstirring from his leather chair, says impishly, “You’ll like it there.” There are some nice-to-have-met-you lines but by the time you reach the door they are already asking the record company guy if they’ve got any more of these.
It’s a long day … but they’ve known longer.
Plant and Page live with impossible, and somewhat tedious, expectations so you have to respect their professionalism and patience. Playing with Gnawa musicians or an orchestra of Egyptian musician might not be as innovative as they wish to claim, but somehow their peers who don’t explore the parameters seem less interesting. No Quarter doesn’t always work, but at least it tries.
Rock culture, however, doesn’t applaud effort, only results. Sales mean more than sentiment, so it must have given them great satisfaction to see that – once again despite typically indifferent reviews – No Quarter debuted on the American charts at number four and in Britain at seven. And it didn’t even have a new Stairway on it.
But that crown’s in the bin, of course.
Robert Plant stands on a small stage 4,500 miles from his birthplace, and yet he’s never been so close to home.
We’re in Clarksdale, in the very heart of the Mississippi Delta, which the former Led Zeppelin frontman has appointed as the setting for the American debut of his latest musical shenanigan, with his new band, the Sensational Space Shifters.
Plant is headlining the 25th annual Sunflower Blues Festival, topping a bill that features such stalwarts as James “Super Chikan” Johnson and Charlie Musselwhite. With his new confederates, he’s mixing and mashing songs from a lifetime of devotion to this heartland, once known as the golden buckle in the Cotton Belt.
In a blinding performance, the band roars through retooled versions of Zeppelin’s Black Dog, Bron-Yr-Aur and even a burst of Whole Lotta Love, also making selections from his solo catalogue alongside nods to Howlin’ Wolf, Bukka White, Willie Dixon and other blues titans.
This place lent its name to the 1998 collaboration that marked Plant’s first studio work with Jimmy Page in two decades, Walking Into Clarksdale, and it’s a true spiritual home from home. That’s obvious from the minute he sits down the following morning on the front porch swing of one of the festival’s organisers, a personal friend who got him to take up their longtime invitation.
“The whole reason for coming to America right now was that I’ve been asked a zillion times to play at this festival, and I wanted it to be Africa returning to Africa,” he tells me, acknowledging the extraordinary flavours of Space Shifter Juldeh Camara. The Gambian master musician adds to the feeling of a music that came out of African-American pockets of the South, now being sent back there.
Plant says he has almost completed a new album with the Space Shifters, “12 tracks, 11 originals and no sentimental stuff”. If they deliver on disc as they do on stage, it’ll be a record to savour. The group, who made their British debut at Womad last month, boasts lusty guitar lines from both the longtime collaborator Justin Adams and Liam “Skin” Tyson, with some vocals by Plant’s partner Patty Griffin.
The frontman’s working choices of recent years have been peripatetic. After he and Alison Krauss had taken bluegrass and Americana to a massive new audience by selling three million copies worldwide of the 2007 collaboration Raising Sand, he constructed the Band of Joy, featuring Griffin, guitarist Buddy Miller and others, for a tour and self-titled 2010 album. For Plant, a change is better than a rest.
“The events between 1968 and 1980 were the kind of cornerstone for everything I’ve been able to do, they gave me the springboard,” he says, referring to the Zeppelin era. “All I’m doing is using the same amount of licence, with different people, to what we did in 1969.
“That was the great thing about the adventures with Alison, and singing with Patty and Buddy, that I started singing differently. Somebody said to me in London when we played the Forum recently, ‘You had your big voice back.’ I put the big voice away for quite a long time because I thought, we know how to do that. So it was good to get it out again. It’s all the same really, you just have to use the right colours for the right picture.”
Plant is on sharp and thoughtful form. The lines on his face may be trying to betray his 64 years, but his unquenchable inquisitiveness is infectious, as he joins the improbable dots between the Delta and his West Midlands heritage with a level of knowledge that’s scholarly but never showy.
“I don’t know when it was that I first came here,” he muses. “If I said I came looking for Robert Johnson… I was actually just looking for clues. And I found clues.
“When I came here in the 1980s, before the museum was here, when RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough were still playing, there was still an actual scene for that grinding [blues] stuff, so it was very easy for white kids to get on to that. I suppose that was the last really great flurry.”
More recently, Plant visited Clarksdale’s reopened Roxy club. “I went there in winter and saw Lightnin’ Malcolm with Kimbrough’s grandson, playing hip hop drums against this grinding, excessive guitar thing. It was really good, fire baskets blazing and the stars over the Mississippi. Suddenly I thought wow, how did I get here?”
For a boy from West Bromwich, the route might seem serpentine, but in inspirational terms, it was really a direct route from the Black Country to the Mississippi River. On Plant’s earliest recordings, long before Zeppelin and even before the original Band of Joy, you can hear that he had answered the call of the Delta, and it’s been in his bones ever since.
“I’ve got friends I went to school with, back home in Worcestershire, who’ve still got their programmes from going to see those festivals at the Birmingham Town Hall or wherever it was they played – Manchester Free Trade Hall – where you’d see Howlin’ Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor. We’re talking about 48 years ago. It doesn’t figure, really, but maybe that’s why it works. Maybe that was the draw for me.”
I remind him of a favourite tale he has told before of one particular British visit by another of his heroes, Sonny Boy Williamson, who tried to cook up his favourite repast, rabbit, in the only thing he could find in his hotel room, a coffee percolator, and promptly fell asleep. Legend has it that the whole floor had to be evacuated. “It was a bit of a stink,” says Plant with some understatement.
“But the connections for me were just those voices, drifting through West Midland adolescence. Unexplainable, really. In the British racial exchanges, we learned a lot from Studio One and all that great stuff coming out of Kingston, for sure, thanks to people like Chris Blackwell at Island Records. But this stuff was foreign.”
It informed Plant’s earliest ambitions and never budged, even when he and an early collaborator, drummer John Bonham, first met up with Page and bassist John Paul Jones. “It seemed to go hand in hand with a kind of underground, bohemian sub-culture coming along, that wanted to get as far away from the Cliff Richard world,” he says.
“So much Zeppelin did come from here. Almost subconsciously, just through the floor of the room where we were recording. With Jimmy’s enthusiasm and knowledge and record collection, between the two of us, on that level, we had such a mutual preference towards that stuff, and the wild side of rock ’n’ roll.”
The festival date featured a fine version of John Mayall’s I’m Your Witchdoctor, with Plant recognising how the blues went from the US to Britain and back again in an “upside down” reimagining.
“Without the people from around here, where would we have been? What would Mick and Keith have done?” he wonders. “It’s all a long way back, even to go back to Led Zeppelin or the Stones or whatever, but it did shape, and still does shape, the music from around here. It goes through to the Black Keys, to Jack White, to all over the place. There’s nothing new under the sun – you just get a can of paint out.”