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Mixes of the Holy, Sound & Vision Apr. 2004

by Ken Richardson

Jimmy Page made an appearance at the International Surround Conference-actually, not the real Jimmy Page but an amazing simulation, Kevin Shirley, who engineered the stereo and multichannel mixes for Led Zeppelin's DVD and both the CD and DVD-Audio versions of How the West Was Won, was at the recent Beverly Hills event to share anecdotes on how the mixes were done. But he didn't just talk- he also inhabited Page by impersonating the guitarist's squeezed, clipped accent to a T.

"At the studio we used" Shirley said, "Jimmy would often be upstairs, because he sort of deplored the idea of repairing the Zeppelin stuff. But sometimes, it would have to be done. He'd come down every third day and say, ""What're you doin'? "Bonzo missed a drumbeat there.' "Ooooo...maybe he meant that. Lemme hear it.' So I'd play it. 'Now lemme hear how it was.' Pause. 'All right, I'm going upstairs to smoke.'"

"We're Gonna Groove" had a specific problem: "Apparently, Jimmy forgot to adjust a pedal, so when he started a solo, this little plinky plinky sound came out. So I said, 'What amplifier did you use?' 'I can't tell you that.' 'Why not?' 'It's a secret.' Now this is from 1970, and I was like, 'All right.' And he said, 'I know you'll tell everybody, won'tchu?' He's an intriguing guy. As it was, he did have amps hidden in other cases so nobody would know what he was using."

Some of the tapes had been stored in the tower of Page's "Tower House." Talk about intrguing: "It's a fascinating house," Shirley said. "There are ceramics of minotaurs on the floor, carvings of gargoyles on the walls." After the tapes were baked, Shirley transferred them to Pro Tools.

"I'm such a huge Zeppelin fan that the first time I saw these tapes, it was like looking at the Holy Grail. And transferring them, I nearly shat myself."

Other fixes had to be done. "Jimmy broke a string in his solo on 'Stairway to Heaven.' If you look at the video, when he gets to that wonderful little fanfare at the end of the solo, he plays it down an octave. But it's such a signature part of the song-what can you do? So we fixed it with another take. You see him playing down an octave, but you hear it normal, It would have spoiled the package if you didn't have that fanfare sound right.

"The idea was to finesse things, because being an entertainment package, it should be enjoyed without all the hiccups. A lot of people might take exception to that, but I felt it was important. This is a celebration of Zeppelin's music.

As for the actual mixes, "we did all the stereo ones first-which frustrated Jimmy, because he was dying to hear the surround mixes." For those, Shirley varied Robert Plant's vocals among the channels. "There's always a ton of leak all over his vocals, so I went through each and every vocal track and cleaned around the words. That's what I put in the left and right front. But in the center, I put his absolutely raw vocal mike-you can hear his foot-steps, his hands moving, his lips smacking. As a fan, I find that stuff really interesting.

"Jimmy was enthusiastic about surround sound. He was very interested in presenting Zeppelin in a new light." Does this mean we'll get the studio catalog in surround? "No I don't think he's interested in that. It may happen in the future, but it's so much work for these guys to do. They've all got families now. And the internal workings of the band are more complex than the Space Shuttle."

At the end, Shirley impersonated Plant, too, recalling when the singer attended the theatrical premiere of the DVD. "He came up to me afterward and very generously said, 'Lovely job you did...It's not like you were polishing a turd, though.'"
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

February 7, 1962 - Deborah Bonham, sister to John, was born in Redditch, Worcestershire, England
February 23, 1966 - Warren Grant, son of Peter, was born.
February xx, 1969 - Led Zeppelin enters the Billboard Top 40
February 16, 1969 - Led Zeppelin wrap up their first American tour in Baltimore, MD.
February 07, 1970 - Edinburgh gig cancelled after Plant receives facial injuries in a car accident
February 28, 1970 - The band performs as "The Nobs" in Copenhagen after threat of legal action from Countess Von Zeppelin
February xx, 1971 - John Paul Jones involved in legal issues regarding a musician who shares the same name
February xx, 1971 - Overdubs for the fourth album are recorded at Island Studios
February 14, 1972 - The band is refused admission into Singapore due to their long hair
February 16, 1972 - The Australian tour begins in Perth
February 21, 1972 - Led Zeppelin: Rock and Roll b/w Four Sticks (Atlantic 45-2865) 45 single is released in the US.
February xx, 1973 - The band makes final preparations for the European tour
February 16, 1973 - The release date for Houses Of The Holy is pushed back due to some sleeve problems
February xx, 1974 - Sessions for Physical Graffiti continue
February 14, 1974 - Page, Plant and Bonham attend a Roy Harper concert
February 04, 1975 - Zeppelin perform a last minute show at Nassau Coliseum to accomodate fans after being banned in Boston
February 24, 1975 - Physical Graffiti finally issued worldwide to phenomenal sales
February xx, 1976 - Media reports that Zeppelin are due to release an album entitled Obelisk
February xx, 1977 - Robert contracts a bout of tonsillitis postponing the American tour
February xx, 1978 - Robert Plant helps produce a record for punk band Dansette Damage
February 16, 1978 - The cases against Bonham, Cole & Grant stemming from the Oakland incident are heard and all receive suspended prison sentences and fines
February xx, 1979 - Although absent from the US stage or market, Led Zeppelin rank best in many music magazine categories
February xx, 1979 - Mixing sessions for In Through The Out Door take place at Polar Studios. Rumors fly of a European tour
February 03, 1980 - Robert joins Dave Edmund’s Rockpile at the Birmingham Top Rank
February 13, 2005 - Led Zeppelin receives a Grammy for Lifetime Achievment.
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