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Conducting an interview with jimmy page, lead guitarist and producer/arranger for england's premier 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 it's endurance, having remained intact(no personnel changes since it's 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 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 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 plants 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 cite jimmy as eing on 50-90% 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-sixties page joined one of the best known british rock bands, the yardbirds, leading to a legendary collaboration with 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 lp's.

g.p.:let's begin at the beginning.when you first started playing, what was going on musically?

j.p.: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 - 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 a part of this." there was just so much energy and vitality coming out of it.

g.p.:when did you get your first guitar?

j.p.: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 the time. but that first guitar was a grazzioso, which was like a copy of a stratocaster. then i git 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 60's sessions on.

g.p.:were your parents musical?

j.p.: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 artwork, which they thought was a loser's game.

g.p.:what music did you play when you first started?

j.p.: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 meeks, later. those seemed to be the most sustaining influences until i began to hear blues guitarists elmoe 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 the 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.

g.p.:do you remember the first band you were in?

j.p.:just friends and things. i played in a lot of different small bands around, but nothing you could ever get any records of.

g.p.:what kind of music were you playing with the early english rock band neil christian & the crusaders?

j.p.: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 towards top-ten records, so it was a bit of a struggle. but there'd always be a small section of the audience into what we were

g.p.:wasn't there a break in your music career at this point?

j.p.:yes,i stopped playing and went to art college for about two years, while concentrating more on blues playing on my own. and then from art college to the 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 (memphis-based rhythm and blues label) started influencing music to have more brass and
orchestral stuff.the guitar started taking a back seat with just the occasional riff. i didn't realize how rusty i was going to get until a rock and roll session turned up from france, and i could hardly play.i thought it was time to get out and i, did.

g.p.:you just stopped playing?

j.p.: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 mike 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 here 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 lead guitar thing as soon as (rhythm guitarist) 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 guitar 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 is on, he's probably the best there is, but at that time, and for a period afterwards, he had no respect whatsoever for audiences.

g.p.:you were playing acoustic guitar during your session period?

j.p.:yes, i had to do it on studio work. and you come to grips with it very quickly too, very quickly, because it is what is expected. there was a lot of busking (singing on street corners) in the early days, but as i say, i had to come to grips with it, and it was a good schooling.

g.p.:you were using the les paul for those sessions?

j.p.:the gibson "black beauty" les paul custom (ed. note: "black beauty," a term not officially adopted by gibson, is often applied to stock black les paul customs, both two- and three-pickup models.) 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 gretch chet atkins i'd had before for the les paul.

g.p.:what kind of amplifiers were you using for session work?

j.p.: a small supro,which i used until someone,i don't know who, smashed it up for me. i'm going to try to get another one. it's like a harmony amp,i think, and all of the first album (led zeppelin) was done on that.

g.p.:what do you remember most about your early days with the yardbirds?

j.p.: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.(ed. note: eric clapton played with the yardbirds prior to beck's joining.) i was really keen on doing anything, though, probably because of having had 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 the time.

g.p.:you thought the best period of the yardbirds was when beck was with them?

j.p.: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 l.p. of the same name) to jeffto 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 sort of 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 such and such," and no one would ever know what the example was at the end of the song.

g.p.:can you describe some of your musical interaction with beck during the yardbirds period?

j.p.: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 from old muddy waters records. but we were more into solos rather than a rhythm thing.the point is, you've got to have the parts worked out, and i'd find that i was doing what i was supposed to, while something totally different would be 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 l.p. 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 we had.

g.p.:did beck play bass on "over under  sideways down"?

j.p.:no, in fact,for that l.p. they just got him in to do the solos because they 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 if 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 diappeared. 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
twelve 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 goo lineup too, with (the who's drummer) keith moon and everything.

g.p.:wasn't that band going to be led zeppelin?

j.p.: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 to get out of the who and so did (who bass player) john entwistle, but when it came down to getting hold of a singer, it was either going to be steve winwood or steve marriot. finally it came down to marriot. 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 marriot's other commitment, to the 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).

g.p.:you only recorded a few songs with beck on record.

j.p.: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), "psycho daisies," "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.

g.p.were you using any boosters with the yardbirds to get all those sounds?

j.p.:a fuzztone which i'd virtually regurgitated from what i heard on "200 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 electronics 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.

g.p.:you were also doing all sorts of things with feedback.

j.p.: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 conciosly nicked it from anybody else; it was just going on. but pete townshend 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.

g.p.:you used a danelectro with the yardbirds?

j.p.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, d. it's like a modal tuning - a sitar tuning in fact.

g.p.:was "black mountain side" on led zeppelin an extension of that?

j.p.: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 a battering, that danelectro guitar, i'm afraid.

g.p.:do those songs work well now on the danelectro?

j.p.:i played them on that guitar before, so i'd 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; then it was vox tops and different cabinets - kind of a hodge podge, but it worked.

g.p.:you used a vox 12-string with the yardbirds?

j.p.:that's right. i can't remember the titles now - the mickiemost things, some of the b-sides. i remember there was one with an electric 12-string solo on the end of it which 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.

g.p.:you were using vox amps with the yardbirds?

j.p.:ac-30's. they've held up consistently well.even the new ones are pretty good. i got four in and tried them out, and they were all 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.

g.p.:were the ac-30's that you used with the yardbirds modified in any way?

j.p.: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 that 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 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 to get 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.

g.p.:what kind of guitar were you using on the first led zeppelin album?

j.p.: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.

g.p.:was the telecaster the one beck gave to you?

j.p.:yes. there was work done on it but only afterwards. i painted it; everyone painted their guitars in those days. and i had a reflective plastic sheeting underneath the pickguard that gives rainbow colors.

g.p.:it sounds exactly like a les paul.

j.p.:yeah, well, that's the amp and everything. you see, i could get a lot of tones out of the guitar which you normally couldn't. this confusion goes back to those early sessions again with the les paul. those may not sound like a les paul, but that's what i used. it's just different amps, mike 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 still do. the "stairway to heaven" (fourth untitled album) 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 any of the rest of the first album. it was a good versatile setup. i'm using a leslie on the solo on "good time bad times"(fourth l.p.)(sic). it was wired up for an organ thing then.

g.p.:what kind of acoustic guitar are you using on "black mountain side" and "babe i'm gonna leave you"(both on led zeppelin)?

j.p.: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 didn't seem to feel like it.

g.p.:do you just use your fingers when playing acoustic?

j.p.:yes. i used fingerpicks once, but i find them to spikey; 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.

g.p.:can you describe your picking style?

j.p.:i don't know, really. it's a cross between fingerstyle and flat picking. there's aguy 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 calluses on the left hand and allover the right as well. he can get so much attack on his strings, and he's really good.

g.p.:the guitar on "communication breakdown" on led zeppelin sounds as if it's coming out of a shoebox.

j.p.:yeah.i put it in a small room, a little tiny vocal booth-type thing and miked it from a distance. you see, there's a very old recording maxim that 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 those close-miking amps, just putting the microphone in front. but i'd have a mike right out the back as well. and then balance the two and get rid of all the phasing problems. really, you shouldn't have to use an e.q. 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 e.q. 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 it, as were all those who produced the early rock records
where there were only one or two mikes in the studio.

g.p.: the guitar solo on "i can't quit you baby" from led zeppelin is interesting - many pull-offs in a sort of sloppy but amazingly inventive style.

j.p.: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 b flat 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 filmtrack 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 filmtrack. rather than just trailing around through a tour with a recording moble truck waiting fo 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.

g.p.:is there an electric 12-string on "thank you"?

j.p.:yes; i think it's a fender or richenbacher.

g.p.:jumping ahead to led zeppelin ii, the riff in the middle of "whole lotta love" was a very composed and structured phrase.

j.p.:i had it worked out already 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.

g.p.:how is that descending riff done?

j.p.:with a medal slide and backwards echo. i think i came up with that first 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 thing that might sound a bit odd have, in fact, backwards echo involved in them as well.

g.p.:what kind of effect are you using on the beginning of "ramble on"(led zeppelin ii)?

j.p.: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.

g.p.:is the rest of the band in the studio when you put down the solos?

j.p.: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 the three.

g.p.:what is the effect on "out on the tiles" from led zeppelin iii?

j.p.: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 across. that's the very essence of it. and so, consequently, you've got to capture as much of the room sound as possible.

g.p.:on "tangerine" it sounds as if you're playing a pedal steel.

j.p.i am. and on the first l.p. 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. but nevertheless it fits. i use pedal steel on "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.

g.p.:you've also played other stringed instruments on records.

j.p.:"gallows pole" (on led zeppelin iii) was the first time for banjo and on "the battle of evermore" (fourth album) a mandolin was lying around. it wasn't mine; it was jonesy'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 on back to the studio days and developing a certain amount of technique. at least enough to be adapted and used. my fingerpicking is sort of a cross between pete seeger, earl scruggs, and total incompetence.

g.p.:was the fourth album the first time you used a double-neck?

j.p.:i didn't use a double neck 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 my beginning of building up harmonized guitars properly. "ten years gone" (physical graffitti) was an extension of that, and then "achilles last stand" (presence) is like the essential flow of it really, because there was time to think things out; i just had to more or less lay it down on the first track and harmonize on the second track. it was really fast working on presence. and i did all the guitar overdubs on the l.p. 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 it's 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.

g.p.:did playing the double-neck require a new approach?

j.p.:yes. the main thing is, there's an effect you can get where you leave the 12-string neck open as afr as the sound goes and play on the 6-string neck, and you get the 12-strings vibrating in'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

g.p.:do you think your playing on the fourth album is the best you've ever done?

j.p.:without a doubt. as far as consistency goes and as far as the quality of playing on a whole album, i would say yes. 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. using the guitar, 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 and give them
different treatments, so that they have enough frequency range and scope and everything to keep the listener as totally commited to it as the player is. it's a difficult project, but it's one that i've got to do.

g.p.:have you done anything towards this end already?

j.p.: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" (fourth l.p.), in the middle section of that. the sound 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.

g.p.:what is the amplifier setup you're using now?

j.p.:onstage? marshall 100s which 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 theramin, violin bow, and an echoplex echo unit.

g.p.:are there certain settings you use on the amp?

j.p.:depending on the acoustics of the place, the volume is up to about three. the rest is pretty standard.

g.p.:when was the first time you used the bow?

j.p.: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 blowing it, but the 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.

g.p.:what kinds of picks and strings do you use?

j.p.:herco heavy-gauge nylon picks and ernie ball super slinky strings.

g.p.:what guitars are you using?

j.p.: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 these fender string benders that was made for me by gene parsons (former drummer with the byrds and the flying burrito brothers). i've cut back from what i was going to use on tour. i have with me a martin guitar 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 grover tuners on it. i've got a gibson everly brothers which was given to me by ronnie wood. that's like the current favorite, but i don't take it out 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 keith richards' got one, and i've got one as well. 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.

g.p.:do you have other guitars?

j.p.: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 of my guitars before i left for america. there was a lot of old stuff hanging around which i don'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 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% right yet.

g.p.:what year is the les paul you're using now?

j.p.:'59. it's been rescraped (repainted), but that's all gone now because it chipped off. joe walsh got it for me.

g.p.:do you think that when you went from the telecaster to the les paul that you're playing changed?

j.p.: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's got a beautiful sustain to it. 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.

g.p.:do you use special tunings on the electric guitar?

j.p.: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.

g.p.:did you ever meet any of those folk players you admire - bert jansch, john renbourn, or any others?

j.p.:no, and the most terrifying thing of all happened about a few months ago. jansch's playing appeared as if it was going down or something,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 has 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 is django reinhardt. for this last l.p. 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 django, les paul, and people like that.

g.p.:you listen to les paul?

j.p.:oh yeah, you can tell jeff (beck) did too, can't you? have you ever heard "it's been a long, long time" (mid-forties single by the les paul trio with bing crosby on decca)? you ought to hear that. he does everything in one go. and it's just 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 goes into the 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 early records of les paul - the les paul trio and all that stuff. but i've got the capitol l.p.'s 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.

g.p.:you said that eric clapton was the one who synthesized the les paul sound.

j.p.:yeah, without a doubt. when he was with the bluesbreakers, 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.

g.p.:do you think you were responsible forany specific guitar sounds?

j.p.:the guitar parts in "trampled underfoot" (physical graffiti). (british rock journalist) nick kent 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.

g.p.:what's the most difficult aspect of recording a distinctive guitar sound?

j.p.:the trouble is keeping a seperation 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 kenneth 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, and 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 hadn'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. it's a totally different thing than what i'm doing.

g.p.:do you think he has a sustaining quality as a guitarist?

j.p.: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 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, and hasn't come through now with recognition from everybody. 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.

g.p.:do you feel that your playing grows all the time?

j.p.:i've got two different approaches, like 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 l.p., the fact that it was done in three weeks, and all the rest of it, was 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 l.p. it is on that level to me.
Jimmy Page isn't disturbed at any adverse criticism of Led Zeppelin III because he hasn't read any reviews.

But he is aware that a number of Zeppelin fans would appreciate some backgrounding to the tracks of an album that has been greeted as either "their best yet" or "weaker rock."

At Jimmy's wooden boathouse home beside the Thames he spent a pleasant Saturday evening last weekend, listening to albums by Cream, Jody Grind, Tony Williams and Don Ellis before getting round to a track-by-track review of his group's third endeavour to relate their musical feelings.

He explained the origin of the songs and occasional quirks between tracks. And he hinted at the future, and the content of Led Zeppelin IV, already on the drawing board.

Immigrant Song: That's a voice at the beginning incidentally which somebody said was a wailing guitar. On stage this number has already developed into a much longer thing, with full instrumental passage. The hiss at the beginning is a tape build-up, then John Bonham comes in. It's not really tape hiss, it's echo feed-back. Robert wrote the lyrics to this one.

Friends: Again Robert wrote the words. He did them all except Tangerine. The idea was to get an Indian style with the strings. The string players were not Indian however, and we had to make on-the-spot changes. John Paul Jones wrote an incredible string arrangement for this and Robert shows his great range - incredibly high. He's got a lot of different sides to his voice which comes across here. It has a menacing atmosphere. A friend came into the studio during the recording and it was bloody loud and he had to leave. He said: "You've really done something evil!" Moog synthesizer at the end, and that's bottle-neck string bass with John Paul playing.

Celebration Day: The reason the voice is alone is the tape got crinkled in the studio and wouldn't go through the heads so the end got ruined, but it worked out all right by using the idea of bringing the synthesizer down in pitch to the voice. It was either that or leave the track out altogether. Why "Celebration?" It's saying "I'm happy," that's all.

Since I've Been Loving You: This was a 'live' track. John Paul plays organ and foot bass pedals at the same time. My guitar solo? It could have been better but y'know. You are never satisfied with a performance, although of course there are those lucky musicians who can play it perfect everytime. On these type of numbers, John decides his own drum beat to play. We might occasionally suggest the use of conga drums on a particular number, but he always fixes his own beat.

Out On the Tiles: This is Bonzo's riff. Originally we had a set of lyrics to go with this relating to a night out on the tiles.

Gallows Pole: A traditional song which stems from Lead Belly. I first found it by Fred Gerlac. He was one of the first white people on Folkways records to get involved in Lead Belly. We have completely rearranged it and changed the verse. Robert wrote a set of new lyrics. That's John Paul on mandolin and bass and I'm playing the banjo, six-string acoustic, 12-string and electric guitar. The bloke swinging on the gallows pole is saying wait for his relatives to arrive. The drumming builds nicely.

Tangerine: That's commonly known as a false start. It was a tempo guide, and it seemed like a good idea to leave it in - at the time. I was trying to keep the tempo down a bit. I'm not so sure now if it was a good idea. Everybody asks what the hell is going on. I did the pedal steel guitar and Robert doing the harmonies as well as lead.

That's The Way: Ah, this was written in Wales, where Robert and I stayed at a cottage. It was one of those days after a long walk and we were setting back to the cottage. We had a guitar with us. It was a tiring walk coming down a ravine, and we stopped and sat down. I played the tune and Robert sang a verse straight off. We had a tape recorder with us that sounds a bit strange, but it was part of the kite and we got the tune down. This wasn't recorded in Wales, if I gave that impression. The 'Los Paraguyos' bit is the mandolin.

Bron-Y-Aur Stomp: That's an acoustic bass, not a double bass. It's like an acoustic guitar with a reasonable body. John Paul took the frets out and he plays it acoustically. This has got the rattling of the kitchen sink - we've got everything in it! We overdubbed Bonham on castanets, and spoons.

Hats Off To (Roy) Harper: There's that freaky echo. The voice sounds like that because it went through a vibrato amp. This came out from a jam Robert and I had one night. There's a whole tape of us bashing different blues things. Robert had been playing harmonica through the amp then he used it to sing through. It's supposed to be a sincere hats off to Roy because he's really a talented bloke, who's had a lot of problems.

Which was Jimmy's favourite track?

"I like Gallows Pole. But there are others - the point is we had seventeen tracks to choose from to put on the album. Some were written out at the cottage. Some show different stages of development.

"There was a lot like our early stuff - pretty powerful. John Paul Jones wrote a piece which was all piano, which would have related to what's coming up in the future. This album was to get across more versatility and use more combinations of instruments. The next one will be just one long track on one side with these combinations of instruments, mandolin, banjo and so on. It would last about 25 minutes with instrumental sections. It's still in the planning stages.

"We'll never stop doing the heavy things, because that comes out of naturally when we play. But - there is another side to us. The new album is totally different from the others and I see that it's obviously a new direction.

"The fourth album should be our best, and if it isn't, well, we might as well give up and retire with red faces. I haven't read any of the reviews but people have got to give the LP a reasonable listening.

"Everybody in the band is going through some changes. There are changes in the playing and in the lyrics. Robert is really getting involved in his lyric writing."

Where did the cover idea come from?

"It was my idea to have a revolving wheel. I remembered those old gardening catalogues. You'd turn it to 'roses' and find out what kind of manure to use.

"There's a lot more to see on the wheel. When you get fed-up with the LP there is the added pleasure of ripping the cover apart to find out what's on the rest of the sleeve."
by Neville Marten

With some amazing new footage of Led Zeppelin now available on 5.1 surround sound DVD, we thought it was time to talk to the musical driving force behind the band that invented rock, Mr James Page!

He's the brain behind the greatest rock band of all time, he played most of rock's classic riffs and wrote the book on rock band production. But Jimmy Page's career began in the busy pop session studios of sixties London. Page played on hundreds of tracks. Some were memorable, like Dave Berry's The Crying Game and Joe Cocker's wonderful reworking of The Beatles' With A Little Help From My Friends, but mostly it was churning out forgettable rhythm tracks or hanging around as 'insurance', in case up-and-coming bands couldn't cut it in the studio.

Jimmy sometimes wound up playing tambourine for his troubles and found himself disliked or distrusted by the groups of the day, with rumours abounding as to who really played what on what - especially once his later fame had spread. Jimmy's own code of conduct prevents him from spilling such beans, yet he's happy to confess to simply doubling riffs or strumming acoustic guitar when his more inventive services weren't required.

As part of the Clapton, Page and Beck 'Surrey mafia', Jeff and Jimmy had been buddies since junior school and a close bond would be forged with Clapton later on. Page would join Beck for a twin-guitar assault in the final incarnation of the Yardbirds and produce several John Mayall tracks with EC on guitar. There was true friendship and healthy rivalry between these three groundbreaking guitarists until the Yardbirds' messy break-up, which set Jeff against Jimmy, and some untimely releases of Clapton and Page jamming together, over which Page had little control but for which, it seems, Eric held him responsible.

When the Yardbirds folded, Page had no intention of quitting band life and less still of returning to the financially lucrative but artistically stifling world of pop sessions. The Yardbirds had forged a unique position in America with what had become a highly sophisticated improvisational act and, although nothing approaching the quality of their live shows was ever committed to vinyl, Jimmy's head was full of ideas. All he needed was a set of like-minded individuals to share his vision.

Having heard that Page was looking to re-form the Yardbirds, a similarly disillusioned session bassist and arranger contacted him and offered his services. Page had played on many a studio date with the talented John Paul Jones and accepted his offer immediately. It so happened that a penniless but distinctive singer had just moved from Kidderminster to London, looking for work, and was suggested to Page by Terry Reid - Reid was his first choice as vocalist, but couldn't join due to prior commitments - and producer Tony Secunda.

Having seen Robert Plant perform in the Midlands with his West Coast-influenced band Hobbstweedle, and after a meeting at Jimmy's houseboat on the Thames where the two discovered an almost identical taste in music, Plant became band member number three. Powerhouse drummer John 'Bonzo' Bonham was the final piece of the jigsaw. Suggested by Plant himself - the two had worked together in The Band Of Joy - Bonham was already playing with Tim Rose and musing over offers from both Joe Cocker and Chris Farlowe. The New Yardbirds, as the band was being sold to him, didn't initially appeal. But Bonzo knew the calibre of player on offer and Plant's efforts finally paid off.

The chemistry was instant. Jones said later: "The whole room just exploded - lots of silly grins. It was pretty bloody obvious from the first number that it was going to work." Plant added: "The power of it was remarkable." Page stated, simply: "We knew that it was really exciting, electrifying. We went from there to start rehearsals for the album."

The rest, as they say, is history. But we go back to the very beginning to find out, from the horse's mouth, just how the legend began...

The very first session you played on was a number one hit: Diamonds, by ex-Shadows Jet Harris and Tony Meehan

I'd actually done one session before that, with a bass player called Teddy Whadmore, which nobody knows about. I don't even know if it was ever released, but it was called Feeling The Groove. It was [producer] Glyn Johns who invited me to go and do the Diamonds session. Diamonds itself was fine, because it was chords, just strumming along. But when it came to the B-side, there were all these notes written out and I just couldn't do it. I had no idea what it was about, so I wasn't seen again for a while after that (laughs). It was a great idea of Glyn's to book me in there, but the arranger had written these dots and I just hadn't learned to read. The sessions started coming in fast and furious a little while later, as a result of Carter Lewis And The Southerners records, which sort of crept into the low end of the charts. It was like, Who's the guitarist on that? Right place at the right time, really.

After that they'd just say, Play what you want, which was fantastic. They knew they had a guitarist who knew what was going on around the music scene and, of course, the other musicians were from a generation before me: Vic Flick, Jim Sullivan, those guys. They weren't right up to the moment with all the stuff that influenced what we were listening to.

You joined The Yardbirds after their main singles successes, when they were more of a touring band. But even so, the difference between their music and that of Led Zeppelin was enormous. What happened in the transition?

Well, actually in the Yardbirds there were all these areas, freeform or whatever you might call it - improvisation, basically. And once Jeff left I developed things of my own within that format. I'd also been listening to lots of different sources of music that probably other people weren't. I'm sure Jeff would say so if you speak to him. It could have been anything from classical music to Ravi Shankar, but I also really got into the folk aspect of music too, because it was six strings and it was a guitar. I'd listened to country blues, but all of a sudden there were all these guys who were extending the fingerpicking technique.

People would tell me about [American guitarist] Sandy Bull and I'd say, I don't know about Sandy Bull; you want to start listening to some of these people over here; Bert Jansch, Davey Graham and Gordon Giltrap for heaven's sake. I was taking all that stuff on board but other people weren't interested in it. So by the time Keith Relf and Jim McCarty also didn't want to continue with the Yardbirds, I thought, I know exactly what I want to do. I had a good take on the state of radio at that point - they were playing albums and the really hip bands weren't doing singles.

It had gone into a very muso thing with people working out on stage and that wasn't conducive to going on television and miming. So there was a whole flow there and I had a good idea what I wanted on the first Zeppelin album, if I could just get the musicians.

You've got numbers like Babe I'm Gonna Leave You which, believe it or not, I heard from Joan Baez. But the arrangements I had around the idea took it into a realm that no-one else had dreamed of. The first album had so many ideas that were quite radical at the time, even though they were very blues-based.

The infamous releases of yourself and Eric Clapton jamming: what actually happened there?

The Bluesbreakers were playing over in Putney and Eric came to stay at my house. I had a Simon tape recorder that you could DI into, so the two guitars went into the machine and I just did these tapes of Eric and myself playing. It so happened that a very short time after that I was asked to produce some tracks for John Mayall's Bluesbreakers - I was working with Immediate and this all preceded the Decca period. So I did one session - Witchdoctor, Telephone Blues, Sitting On Top Of The World and Double Crossing Time - and I told them about the stuff I'd done with Eric. They said that Eric was under contract and that the stuff belonged to them. I played it to them - I was really championing Eric, as you would - and they wanted to put it out.

I said, You can't do that, but in the end the other instruments were put on, some by members of The Stones, and it went out.

What do you make of that unique scenario - the great guitar triumvirate?

You mean Eric, Jeff and me? Do you think there was something in the water in that part of Surrey? (Laughs.) It's quite amazing actually, as it was a very small radius that we were all from, wasn't it? The one thing that's really important is that every one of us - and most of the guitarists within other bands at the time - went to art college. Isn't that odd? The other thing that I can say as far as Eric, Jeff and myself went, is that we all had pals who were record collectors and that really helped us along our way - in very individual ways, too.

What did you think of Jimi Hendrix when he turned up?

I thought it was great. I was doing sessions when he first came over and Jeff would come round and say, There's this wild man, he's fantastic; he does this and he does that. The tragedy is that I never got to hear him play live. Never. And the thing is that it was an audio-visual experience with Hendrix, wasn't it? But Zeppelin had started off and he'd be at the Albert Hall and I'd say, I'll see him next time. But it got to the stage when there wasn't a next time. I did get to see him play once; we were on a Zeppelin tour and they were playing the Monterrey film in a club. It was like, Wow! So it was way down the line before I actually got to see him play, even on film.

If you asked people to sum up Led Zeppelin in one word, a lot of them would say riffs.

Well, when you think of what a riff is, it's hypnotic and that's going back to the blues, which is coming out of Africa. We didn't know that at the time. Interestingly, I've just got a bootleg from a gig in Orlando and in between every song I'm playing all these riffs. Somebody played it to me and I thought, Crikey, they're really good riffs! They never got used again, but they just came out on the spur of the moment. It was such an inspiring time, playing with inspired people, and we were all absolutely on top of it.

Your solos, especially on the first couple of albums, sound like you were on the seat of your pants and just going for it.

Do you mean like Communication Breakdown? Yeah, there was a lot of that - just take a deep breath and blast. Later on it got to the point where I'd think, How am I going to start it off? That's all - on things like Stairway. What used to happen was the channels would get used up on the desk, so maybe you'd be going on to the same track as the vocal - where he's not singing, you're punching in and out. Usually I'd prefer to have three cracks at a solo and choose the best of them. If you didn't get it in three, or even with a composite, then you might as well forget it. There wasn't any point in standing there all night, because you'd peak reasonably quickly.

The whole thing was to take a deep breath and inhale the vibe of the song beforehand; from the initial track to the overdubs, filigree work, the vocals and here we go to sum it all up - now! And you really had to be on the moment. That's how I used to do it anyway: take a deep breath and then boom. There were guitar parts that were worked around songs, which is quite clear, but as far as the solos went, I really wanted to keep that fresh element to it, warts and all. People can say whatever they want about my technique, but that's what it was: just bite your lip and go.

You played a lot of slide in Led Zeppelin, but it didn't obviously come from the blues or country.

Well, the first slide thing I ever tried to play was blues: it was Dust My Broom by Elmore James. Again, a record collector friend of mine had it and I didn't even know what I was hearing. In those days I would just get a suspension bush from a car, because it was just the right length: nobody was cutting up microphone stands back then. I tried to make a bottleneck once but I wasn't too successful so I stuck to the steel (laughs) - anyway, it's a bit dodgy for a guitarist, cutting up all that glass. I started right there and just developed other things. But there were all manner of other aspects to slide playing; things like Santo And Johnny, for instance. There was a track by them called Summertime and that was astonishing; he pulled notes from heaven knows where and it was really scary to listen to. But the way I'd do it, as with everything else I did, wasn't quite orthodox. I just tried to adapt what I could do to whatever it appeared the song was.

Were any songs arranged beforehand or did they just happen in the studio - the freeform section in Whole Lotta Love, for instance?

That whole sonic wave middle section in Whole Lotta Love was worked out beforehand, but of course it became organic and grew. There was all the padding and the swirling, the sort of Jurassic Park bits (laughs).

How did you learn your production skills?

I got an old Buddy Holly record the other day, at a filling station, and it was one of those things with a choir on it, which is a bit of a drag. But to find out I had to put the first track on, which was Peggy Sue. And the first thing I noticed was that you could hear the guy opening up the reverb on the drums as each pattern goes by. I was transported back to the front room of my parents' house in Epsom, listening to these things and every nuance of what was changing within the sonic picture. There was also some [producer] Joe Meek stuff that I came back to listen to and I remember that there was this great suction of a limiter on there. Listening to it with my ears now was very interesting, but at the time I was trying to emulate these real sonic movements that I could hear on everything, but maybe I was hearing beyond.

I was listening in effect to what was being applied to vocals and guitars across the board, from Ricky Nelson to Gene Vincent and Elvis - definitely all that Sam Phillips, Sun Studios stuff. I paid a lot of attention and when it came out of that into the limiters and compressors of Joe Meek, then it all started to take on a framework.

But I tell you what, I had an album by a guy called Dick Rosmini, called Adventures For 12-String, 6-String & Banjo, and it had the best-recorded acoustic guitar sound I'd ever heard up until that point. This American singer I was working with, Jackie De Shannon, knew Dick Rosmini and asked him how he recorded it and he said, You need an RCA limiter. It took quite a while to get one, but I got one and after that things sort of changed.

But it was all part of this apprenticeship of listening and learning. And bit by bit I had all these production ideas, like turning the tape over and putting the echo on it and then turning it back again for backwards echo. They were quite radical things at the time.
In a sense you were defining rock music production, the same way that The Beatles and George Martin were doing for pop. How conscious were you of them?

There's no doubt about it: George Martin was doing some amazing stuff, wasn't he? I actually saw The Beatles' first London concert - at Walthamstow Baths, I think. Love Me Do was just scraping into the charts and they played Please Please Me that night, before it had been released. But they didn't go down too well and I actually heard John Lennon going past saying, Fuck these London audiences. But of course it was all to change soon after that.

The thing was, because I had respect for quite a number of different musicians and bands down south, I wasn't that impressed when I saw them and even less so when I heard the album. I wasn't into the fact that they could do A Taste Of Honey in three-part harmony, and the fact that they were doing Please Mr Postman I just couldn't take too seriously. But when you think of the short time between that and when they recorded I Am The Walrus and Blue Jay Way, it was like, Wahey! Hang on to your head here. It was a different thing entirely. So I would say that, apart from the fact that they completely revolutionised the music business, in as much as people suddenly started looking for bands who wrote their own songs and that really opened things up for everyone else, they really progressed and developed into something astonishing. I really loved George Harrison's contributions too.

The first album was recorded with minimal equipment, but your arsenal of guitars and amplifiers grew as your success did. Can you talk us through some of the equipment you used most famously?

On the first album I had a little Supro amp, a wah-wah pedal and a Tonebender and that's all. The Telecaster did just about everything on that album. I had inherited some Super Beatle amplifiers from the Yardbirds days and that's what was used on the second album. They were brilliant. Then of course I went to Hi-Watts and ended up with Marshalls. I also had these funny cabinets that were left over from Rickenbacker amps. The amps actually weren't that good because I don't like transistors, I like things with valves. I like to see the thing burn when you hit a chord - that blue glow.

The second album was done on the Les Paul and I stuck with that all the way through. Then again, I'd bring in other guitars because of their sonic quality. In a way it would have been a good idea if I'd have got into Strats, but the reality was that I loved the sound of the Les Paul. I just found that I could get so much tonal quality out of it. It was very user-friendly to play as well. It is odd though, because where I was coming from - listening to rockabilly and blues records - that was a Strat. But Leo Fender built all those wonderful guitars and I loved the fantastic mechanics of the Strat, but he put amps that went with them too. That was the difference with Fender.

I got the double-neck specifically for doing Stairway To Heaven live. I'd recorded the thing and then wondered how I was going to do it on stage, so I got the guitar to suit the number. I used to have the switch in the middle so that both necks were on at once, so you'd get all that sympathetic resonance coming through from the other neck. I used to end the song like that.

Here's something that I did want to say to you because it's quite interesting, actually. In those days of learning and eventually finding that I couldn't bend an E string in the way that I could hear it on records, I was actually using a banjo string on the top - an .008 - and de-stringing everything else. I'd get a set of Fenders or Gibsons and put their first string on the second and throw the sixth string away.

That was how things were done - I think Eric was doing a similar thing as well. Then I went to LA with Jackie De Shannon and went to a music store there - I was trying to meet James Burton if I could have done - and they said that I could get strings right now: Ernie Ball Super Slinkies. Of course, from that point on it was history.

As a rule, the Les Paul was always strung up with an .008. Later on, you know how people in the 1980s made strange decisions - how they looked, what music they played etc? (Laughs.) I don't think I looked too bad in the eighties, but I definitely changed my strings because of the heavy sets that were around then. But I forgot that the really good guitar sounds had been done with all this quite light stringing.

As a producer who's been working since the days of valve mixing desks and ancient technology, what do you think of modern advances in recording?

If I had a choice I'd still prefer to record in analogue. It's heartening, as I hear that there's a studio in the East End called Toe Rag that has all the early stuff. I think he's got some of it out of EMI and it's all valve stuff. The White Stripes' album was done there and so forth. But I tell you what: the room has got to be good that they're playing in, as everything depends on how it all sounds acoustically. Is it too dead or too live, y'know?

I've worked with ProTools in the past, but with analogue too, and mixing on to digital. But it's the first time on this project - the new DVDs - that I've actually worked in analogue going to complete digital. I had quite a lot of stuff to load up and I thought I'd be mixing in two weeks. But when I was still loading five or six weeks later I thought, Oh my goodness gracious! But there's so much you can do with ProTools - although you can't play CDs backwards and hear messages from Satan (laughs).

Are you pleased with the way the DVD has turned out?

It's an epic! I loaded all the live stuff that we had, which isn't that much, surprisingly. I mean, we thought we had three nights recorded from Earl's Court or whatever, but then you find out that the recording truck broke down on the first night, the bass drum wasn't being recorded on the second night and all that sort of stuff. But I did discover two performances from 1972 which I remember at the time were really good. I always wanted to capture what we were doing in LA, as we always played at our optimum there. I have memories of that place that somehow just brings something out of you, whether it was the Yardbirds or Zeppelin. LA is always fantastic, and I hope I haven't jinxed myself with that. Each member of the band was playing at their best during those performances and giving like 150 per cent. And when the four of us were playing like that, we combined to make a fifth element. That was the magic, the intangible.

Did you ever suppose that people would be playing your riffs in guitar shops 30 years down the line?

Well, not in guitar shops, no. But I knew the quality of the musicianship and the power of our collective force, and I knew we were making really good music. I don't want to be pretentious, but it was a little more intellectual than some of the other stuff that was going on at that point. I think that's why it just shot through, because it had so many nuances and calibres to it. You always hope that it'll stand the test of time, and I still do.

Would Led Zeppelin have been so successful if you'd done singles and pandered to the press the way other bands did?

No, if we'd have done the thing of going and miming to singles on Top Of The Pops once, we'd have had to have made the next album recognisable simply by what had gone beforehand. That would have been a terrible trap to have got involved in, because the reason why every album was different was because each one was a summing up of where we were at that point in time. They were all very honest statements. It was what it was, because it was what it was, y'know?
ON MAY 5, 1973, A CAPACITY CROWD OF 56,800 paid $309,000 to watch Led Zeppelin perform for nearly three hours in a Tampa, Florida, football stadium. The largest paid concert attendance for a single musical act in the history of the United States, it topped the Beatles' previous high of 55,000 and a mere $301,000 at Shea Stadium. Records are made to be broken, but if there's any shattering to be done at this point, Led Zeppelin will probably be the ones to crack the mark again. Like their namesake, they defy gravity to ride a core of flaming vapor, the acknowledged heavyweight band champions of the world.
When Jimmy Page brought his New Yardbirds back from Scandinavia in 1968, he could only guess at the implicit power contained within the group. As the original Yardbirds' final lead guitarist, he had inherited their experimental mantle after a farewell at the Luton College of Technology in July, hoping to augment the loss of Keith Relf and Jim McCarty with singer-guitarist Terry Reid and drummer Paul Francis. Reid had signed a solo contract with producer Mickie Most, however, and suggested a young vocalist named Robert Plant in his place.

"I went up to see him sing," Jimmy reminisced to England's ZigZag, "he was in a group called Obstweedle or Hobbstweedle, something like that [actually, Obbstweedle], who were playing at a teachers training college outside of Birmingham - to an audience of about twelve people... you know, a typical student set up, where drinking is the prime consideration and the group is only of secondary importance." He didn't care for the band's San Francisco outlook, "but Robert was fantastic, and having heard him that night, and having listened to a demo he had given me [of songs recorded with his previous group, Band of Joy], I realized that without a doubt his voice had an exceptional and very distinctive quality.

Plant was indeed a find, a multi-octave spread built on a freewheeling vocal attitude that would often discard words for rococo improvising, spiraling upwards in tandem with Page. Robert recommended another ex-Band of Joy member, drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham, and when Chris Dreja decided to pursue a career in photography, John Paul Jones was added on bass, an acquaintance from Jimmy's session days who had arranged, among other things, Donovan's 'Mellow Yellow'. They dropped the name of the New Yardbirds - "We felt it was working under false pretenses" - and, courtesy of Keith Moon, became Led Zeppelin.

In a small rehearsal space in London, they put the pieces together. "We played for a while, and then we started laughing at each other. Maybe it was from relief or maybe from the knowledge that we knew we could groove together. But that was it. The statement of our first two weeks together is our first album. Between us we wrote seven of the tracks and it only took us thirty hours to cut it. I suppose it was the fact that we were confident and prepared which made things flow so smoothly in the studio. We recorded them almost exactly as we'd been doing them live."

And live, Led Zeppelin had quickly established themselves as a powerhouse of stage charisma and pyrotechnics. Coming across the ocean in an uproar of guitar and vocal mayhem, their earliest and most apparent roots were blues, Willie Dixon songs ('You Shook Me', 'I Can't Quit You Baby') mingled in sexual metaphor and electronic extension, pinioned by the folk-ish calm of 'Black Mountain Side' and 'Communication Breakdown's amphetamine acceleration. Page, frustrated in his attempts to imbue the Yardbirds with his personality, had taken calculated vengeance here, showcasing a mastery of his instrument that instantly rearranged the pop hierarchy of Clapton, Hendrix and Beck. Led Zeppelin had their antecedents - Beck himself had scored heavily with his own Yardbirds' spin-off, featuring vocalist Rod Stewart - but the vacuum created by the demise of Cream called for nothing less than the colossal. With the short-lived fad of the supergroup (Blind Faith) seemingly shaky, Led Zeppelin demonstrated they could not only be the biggest, but the best.

Primeval, not primitive, the march of the dinosaurs that characterized their first release broke open the flattened planes of Zeppelin's appeal. They seemed to bask in the glory of stardom, swashbuckling and daring rock and rollers. For American audiences, much of England's lure had always been its slightly decayed air of kinky glamor, and as Robert sang of having his lemon squeezed, strange stories circulated of dead sharks being found in deserted Zeppelin hotel rooms. The promise of lifestyle drew as many adherents as their music drew critics, "Who said that white men couldn't sing blues?" queried critic John Mendelssohn in a devastating Rolling Stone parody of Led Zeppelin II. "I mean, like, who?"

"That's the sort of thing we used to get," Page noted. "The public was always 100 percent behind us, but we had few allies in the press." The last is an understatement. As the beachhead of what would become a full-blown metallic invasion (Deep Purple, Humble Pie, as well as Black Sabbath and Grand Funk Railroad), Led Zeppelin were unmercifully called to task, victims of their own abrupt rise and decibel attack. Much of the criticism was unfounded; they might have been blatant, but there was conscientious effort behind each of the tracks on their albums, especially after Plant began writing lyrics. His strain of Celtic mysticism surfaced in Led Zeppelin III, whose material grew to life in "a small derelict cottage in South Snowdonia," Bron-Y-Aur, a bucolic setting of gallows poles and highwaymen.

By late 1971, even the critics had to reconsider. Were Zeppelin as crass as portrayed, the expectation might have been a hurried succession of albums and tours, exploiting their formula to indifference. Instead, there was no formula, and Zeppelin showed a distinct willingness to remove themselves totally from the public eye when it came time to work, "You can compare it to a successful author," Plant told Hit Parader's Lisa Robinson. "If he writes a book and it's a fantastic success - then he's not expected to follow it up immediately with something else, because that makes him a slave to the wrong thing... it has to be presented to the people when it's ready. It's the same with us."

Their wait was rewarded with 'Stairway To Heaven', on a fourth album which bore no name but a series of runic symbols, one for each member. The song was written in stages, beginning at the Bron-Y-Aur cottage, moving from acoustic soft to slashing electric in deliberate movements, its verses reminiscent of The Faerie Queene, opening to a miles-long depth and resolve. On the same album, 'Rock and Roll' let their fans know that megatonnage could never be forgotten.

It is this ability to be in all places at once that has allowed Led Zeppelin to outlast their many imitators. Future albums (Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti) have shown an even greater leaning to the unexpected, an absorption of structures from Moroccan to Jamaican to James Brown rhythm and blues that transforms each into the stylized energy emphasis of Zeppelin's own. Arguably the world's most popular group (in the sense that there are only unreliable measuring sticks), they travel in style: a private jet, one of the world's largest sound systems, their own record company (Swan Song), and a manager, Peter Grant, whose burly ex-wrestler's figure befits their image. Along with platinum albums, even misfortunes take on grander scales: while performing the final concerts of their 1973 tour in New York, their hotel safe-deposit box was milked of $180,000 in cash.

And yet they've never talked of solo careers - "Once you've done a 'Stairway,' and you've listened to it after you've recorded it," says Robert, "you've reached a point where you can't play with anybody else" - or given any less than their utmost.

"It's a bit awe-inspiring," admits Page." You drive up and see all those people and it hits you that you're the people they've all come to see. To coin a phrase, it's your arses that are on the line. But then I suppose that's one of the reasons people always come to see us and always came to see us in the past, is that we try our hardest. We've never ever gone out there and chewed gum and sort of messed about, we've always played our bullocks off. Whether you like it or not is another issue altogether. When you've done all you can do, then you're happy with what you're doing and you're not compromising." Beset by a broken left finger before a recent tour, he promptly developed a three-finger style to compensate, seemingly unaffected.

© Lenny Kaye and David Dalton 1977
excerpted from Rock 100, Cooper Square Press, 1999

The following conversations with Page and took place over a period of two weeks. We began over tea in Plant's suite at Chicago's Ambassador Hotel. The talk continued 3 days later in Page's darkened room. "It's still morning" he shivered, sitting, underneath a blanket on his sofa. "We may have to talk for three hours before I make any sense." The resulting interview, from which most of this material is taken, stretched into late afternoon. Page, a soft spoken man, apparently preferred candles to electric light. A visit to Plant several days later provided more material and one final visit with Page on the plane flight to New York supplied the remaining details.

It wasn't until Led Zeppelin's last American tour in '73 that the media fully acknowledged the band's popularity.

PLANT: We decided to hire our first publicity firm after we toured here in the summer of '72. That was the same summer that the Stones toured and we knew full well that we were doing more business than them. We were getting better gates in comparison to a lot of people who were constantly glorified in the press. So without getting too egocentric, we thought it was time that people heard something about us other than that we were eating women and throwing the bones out the window. That whole lunacy thing was all people knew about us and it was all word-of-mouth. All those times of lunacy were ok, but we aren't and never were monsters, Just good-time boys, loved by their fans and hated by their critics.

Do you feel, any competition with the Stones?

PAGE: Naw. I don't think of it that way. I don't feel any competition at all. The Stones are great and always have been. Jaggers lyrics are just amazing. Right on the ball every time. I mean, I know all about how we're supposed to be the biggest group in the world and all, but I don't ever think about it. I don't feel that competition enters into it. It's who makes good music and who doesn't... And who's managed to sustain themselves.

What motivates you at this point?

PAGE: I love playing. If it was down to just that, it would just be utopia. But it's not. It's airplanes, hotel rooms, limousines and armed guards standing outside rooms. I don't get off on that part of it at all. But its the price I'm willing to pay to get out and play. I was very restless over the last 18 months where we were laid off and worked on the album.

PLANT: There's a constant conflict, really, within me. As much as I really enjoy what I do at home . . . I play on my own little soccer team and I've been taking part in the community and living the life of any ordinary guy, I always find myself wistful and enveloped in a feeling I can't really get out of my system. I miss this band when we aren't playing. I have to call Jimmy up or something to appease that restlessness. The other night when we played for the first time again I found the biggest smile on my mouth.

What's this rumor, Jimmy about a solo album?

PAGE: Chalk that off to Keith Richard's sense of humor. I did what could possibly be the next Stones B side. It was Rick Grech, Keith and me doing a number called "Scarlet." I can't remember the drummer. It sounded very similar in style and mood to those Blonde on Blonde tracks.. It was great, really good. We stayed up all night and went down to Island Studios where Keith put some reggae guitars over one section. I just put some solos on it, but it was eight in the morning or the next day before I did that. He took the tapes to Switzerland and someone found out about them. Keith told people that it was track from my album. I don't need to do a solo album and neither does anybody else in the band. The chemistry is such that there's nobody in the background who's so frustrated that he has to bring out his own LPs. I don't really like doing that Townshend number of telling everybody exactly what to play. I don't like that too much. A group's a group after all, isn't it? I've managed to continue undaunted in the midst of such criticism, especially in the early days of Zeppelin.

How much do you believe in yourself?

PAGE: I may not believe in myself but I believe in what I'm doing. I know where I'm going musically. I can see my pattern and I'm going much slower than I thought I'd be going . I can tell how far I ought to be going, I know how to get there, all I've got to do is keep playing. That might sound a bit weird because of all the John McLaughlins who sound like they're in outer space or something. Maybe it's the tortoise and the hare. I'm not a guitarist as far as a techcian goes, I just pick it up and play it. Technique doesn't come into it. I deal in emotions. It's the harmonic side that's important. That' the side I expected to be further along on than I am now. That just means to say that I've got to keep at it.. There's such a wealth of arts and styles within the instrument . . flamenco, jazz, rock, blues... you name it it's there. In the early days my dream was to fuse all those styles. Now composing has become just as important. Hand- hand with that, I think it's time to travel, start gathering some real right-in-there experiences with street musicians around the world. Moroccan musicians, Indian musicians - - - it could be a good time to travel around now. This year. I don't know how everyone else is gonna take that, but that's the direction I'm heading in right now. This week, I'm a gypsy. Maybe next week it'll be glitter rock.

What would you gain from your travels?

PAGE: Are you kidding? God. you know what you can gain when you sit down with the Moroccans. As a person and as a musician. That's how you grow. Not by living like this ordering up room service in hotels. It's got to be the opposite end of the scale. The balance has got to swing exactly the opposite. To the point where maybe I'll have an instrument and nothing else. I used to travel like that a long while ago. There's no reason I can't do it again. There's always this time thing. You can't buy time. Everything, for me, seems to be a race against time. Especially musically. I know what I want to get down and I haven't got much time to do it in. I had another idea of getting a traveling medicine wagon with a dropdown side and traveling around England. That might sound crazy to you, but over there it's so rural you can do it. Just drop down the side and play through big battery amps and mixers and it can be as temporary or as permanent as I want it to be. I like change and I like contrast. I don't like being stuck in one situation, day to day. Domesticity and all that isn't really for me. Sitting in this hotel for a week is no picnic. That's when the road fever starts and that's when the breakage's start, but I haven't gotten to that stage yet. I've been pretty mellow so far. Mind you, were only into the tour a week.

How well do you remember your first American tour?

PLANT: Nineteen years and never been kissed, I remember it well. It's been a long time. Nowadays we're more into staying in our rooms and reading Nietzsche. There was good fun to be had, you know, it's just that in those days there were more people to have good fun with than there are now. The States were much more fun.. L.A. was L.A. It's not L.A. now. L.A infested with jaded 12-year-olds is not the L.A. that I really dug. It was the first place I ever landed in America: the first time I ever saw a cop with a gun, the first time I ever saw a 20-foot-long car. There were a lot of fun-loving people to crash into. People were genuinely welcoming us to the country and we started out on a path of positive enjoyment. Throwing eggs from floor to floor and really silly water battles and all the good fun that a 19-year-old boy should have. It was just the first steps of learning how to be crazy. We met a lot of people who we still know and a lot of people who have faded away. Some Died. Some of them just grew up. I don't see the point in growing up.

You seem sincerely depressed over the matter.

PLANT: Well, I am. I haven't lost my innocence particularly. I'm always ready to pretend I haven't. Yeah, it is a shame in a way. And it's a shame to see these young chicks bungle their lives away in a flurry and rush to compete with what was in the old days the goodtime relationships we had with the GTOs and people like that. When it came to looning, they could give us as much of a looning as we could give them. It's a shame, really. If you listen to "Sick Again," a track from Physical Graffiti, the words show I feel a bit sorry for them. "Clutchin pages from your teenage dream in the lobby of the Hotel Paradise/Through the circus of the L.A. queen how fast you learn the downhill slide." One minute she's 12 and the next minute she's 13 and over the top. Such a shame. They haven't got the style that they had in the old days... way back in '68. The last time I was in L.A. I got very bored. Boredom is a horrible thing. Boredom is the beginning of all destruction and everything that is negative. Every place is determined by the characters who are there . It's just that the character rating at the moment has zeroed right out. Of course, I enjoy it all, but as a total giggle. It's funny. I miss it all the clamor. The whole lot. It's all a big rush. From the shit houses to the classiest hotels, it's all been fun. From the Shadowbox Motel where the walls crumbled during the night seven years ago, to the Plaza, where the attorney general staying one floor above complained about me playing Little Feat records too loud last night.

Do you feel you have to top yourselves with each album?

PAGE: NO. Otherwise I would have been totally destroyed by the reviews of our last album, wouldn't I? You see, this is the point. I just don't care. I don't care what critics and other people think. So far I've been very, very fortunate because it appears that people like to hear the music I like to play. What more fortunate position can a musician be in? But I will still carry on changing all the time. You can't expect to be the same person you were three years ago. Some people expect you to be and can't come to terms with the fact that if a year has elapsed between LPs, that means one year's worth of changes. The material consequently is affected by that, the lyrics are affected by that .. the music too. I don't feel I have to top myself at all. It took a long time for this album mainly because when we originally went in to record it, John Paul Jones wasn't well and we had to cancel the time . . . everything got messed up. It took three months to sort the situation out.

How does it feel to be your own record company executives?

PAGE: I guess we are our own executives now, aren't we? Listen, give us time with Swan Song. You'll be surprised. We've got some good things lined up. I think the Pretty Things LP is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. We're executives and all that crap, but I'll tell you one thing the label was never right from the top Led Zeppelin records. It's designed to bring in other groups and promote acts that have had raw deals in the past. It's a vehicle for them and not for us to just make a few extra pennies over the top. That's the cynical way of looking at a record company. People have been asking me whether I'll be doing any producing for the label. I don't know. I'm just too involved with Zeppelin. I was offered a chance, a long-standing one too-to produce Freddie King. Which I'd love to do. But I need time to work on it.

Do you feel that the music business is sagging in any way?

PAGE: People always say that amidst their search for The Next Big Thing. The only real woomph was when the Stones and Beatles came over. But it's always said, "The business is dying!" I don't think so. There's too many good musicians around for the music business to be sagging. There's so many different styles and facets of the 360-degree music sphere to listen to. From tribal to classical music, it's all there. If the bottom was to sag out of that, for God's sake, help us all. If there was never another record made, I think there's enough music recorded and in the vaults everywhere for me to be happy forever. Then again, I can listen to all different sorts of music. I don't really care about The Next Big Thing. It's interesting when something new comes along, a band of dwarfs playing electronic harps or something, but I'm not searching. Look at Bad Company and the Average White Band. Those guys have all been around in one form or another for a very long time. How many of the new ones coming through have really got a lot of substance? In Britain, I'm afraid there's not much at all. We've got to deal with Suzi Quatro and Mud. It's absurd. Top Ten shouldn't be crap, but it is.

How difficult was the first Led Zeppelin album to put together?

PAGE: It came together really quick. It was cut very shortly after the band was formed. Our only rehearsal was a two-week tour of Scandinavia that we did as the New Yardbirds. For material, we obviously went right down to our blues roots. I still had plenty of Yardbirds riffs left over. By the time Jeff [Beck] did go, it was up to me to come up with a lot of new stuff. It was this thing where Clapton set a heavy precedent in the Yardbirds which Beck had to follow and then it was even harder for me, in away, because the second lead guitarist had suddenly become the first. And I was under pressure to come up with my own riffs. On the first LP I was still heavily influenced by the earlier days. I think it tells a bit, too. The album was made in three weeks. It was obvious that somebody had to take the lead, otherwise we'd have all sat around jamming for six months. But after that, on the second LP, you can really hear the group identity coming together.

PLANT: That first album was the first time that headphones meant anything to me. What I heard coming back to me over the cans while I was singing was better than the finest chick in all the land. It had so much weight, so much power, it was, devastating. I had a long ways to go with my voice then, but at the same time the enthusiasm and spark of working with Jimmy's guitar shows through quite well. It was all very raunchy then. Everything was fitting together into a tradernark for us. We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most, and what we knew got more people back to the hotel after the gig. We made no money on the first tour. Nothing at all. Jimmy put in every penny that he'd gotten from the Yardbirds and that wasn't much. Until Peter Grant took them over, they didn't make the money they should have made. So we made the album and took off on a tour with a road crew of one.

Jimmy, you once told me that you thought life was a gamble. What did you mean?

PAGE: So many people are frightened to take a chance in life and there's so many chances you have to take. You can't just find yourself doing something and not happy doing it. If you're working at the factory and you're cursing every day that you get up, at all costs get out of it. You'll just make yourself ill. That's why I say I'm very fortunate because I love what I'm doing. Seeing people's faces, really getting off on them, makes me incredibly happy. Genuinely.

What gambles have you taken?

PAGE: I'll give you a gamble. I was in a band, I won't give the name because it's not worth knowing about, but it was the sort of band where we were travelling around all the time in a bus. I did that for two years after I left school, to the point where I was starting to get really good bread. But I was getting ill. So I went back to art college. And that was a total change in direction. That's why I say it's possible to do. As dedicated as I was to playing the guitar, I knew doing it that way was doing me in forever. Every two months I had glandular fever. So for the next 18 months I was living on ten dollars a week and getting my strength up. But I was still playing.

PLANT: Let me tell you a little story behind the song '"Ten Years Gone" on our new album. I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, "Right. It's me or your fans." Not that I had fans, but I said, "I can't stop, I've got to keep going." She's quite content these days, I imagine. She's got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sportscar. We wouldn't have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn't relate to me. I'd be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I'm afraid. Anyway, there's a gamble for you.

PAGE: Ill give you another one. I was at art college and started to do sessionwork. Believe me, a lot of guys would consider that to be the apex- studio work. I left that to join the Yardbirds at a third of the bread because I wanted to play again. I didn't feel I was playing enough in the studio. I was doing three studio dates a day and I was becoming one of those sort of people that I hated.

What was the problem with session work?

PAGE: Certain sessions were really a pleasure to do, but the problem was that you never knew what you weregonna do. You might have heard that I played on a Burt Bacharach record. It's true. I never knew what I was doing. You just got booked into a particular studio at the hours of two and five thirty. Sometimes it would be somebody you were happy to see. other times it was, "What am I doing here?". When I started doing sessions, the guitar was in vogue. I was playing solos every day. Then afterwards, when the Stax thing was going on and you got whole brass sections coming in, I ended up hardly playing anything, just a little riff here and there .. . no solos. And I remember one particular occasion when I hadn't played a solo for, quite literally, a couple of months. And I was asked to play a solo on a rock & roll thing. I played it and felt that what I'd done was absolute crap. I was so disgusted with myself that I made my mind up that I had to get out of it. It was messing me right up.

And how do you look back on your days with the Yardbirds?

PAGE: I have really good memories. Apart from one tour that nearly killed us, it was so intense, apart from that it was a great group to play in. I've never regretted anything I've ever done. Any musician would have jumped at the chance to play in that band. It was particularly good when Jeff and I were both doing lead guitar. It really could have been built into something exceptional at that point, but unfortunately there's precious little on wax of that particular point. There's only "Stroll On" from the Blow-Up film-that was quite funny-and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" and "Daisy." We just didn't get into the studio too much at that time. Obviously, there were ups and downs. Everybody wants to know about the feuds and personality conflicts . I don't think that it ever got really evil.. It never got that bad. If it was presented in the right way, maybe a Yardbirds reunion album would be a good thing to do someday. Somehow I can't see Jeff doing it, though. He's a funny bloke.

You live in Aleister Crowley's home. Crowley was a poet and magician at the turn of the century and was notorious for his Black Magic rites

PAGE: Yes, it was owned by Aleister Crowley. But there were two or three owners before Crowley moved into it. It was also a church that was burned to the ground with the congregation in it. And that's the site of the house. Strange: things have happened in that house that had nothing to do with Crowley. The bad vibes were already there. A man was beheaded there and sometimes you can hear his head rolling down. I haven't actually heard it, but a friend of mine, who is extremely straight and doesn't know anything about anything like that at all, heard it. He thought it was the cats bungling about. I wasn't there at the time, but he told the help, "Why don't you let the cats out at night? They make a terrible racket, rolling about in the halls." And they said, 'The cats are locked in a room every night." Then they told him the story of the house. So that sort of thing was there before Crowley got there. Of course, after Crowley there have been suicides, people carted off to mental hospitals...

And you have no contacts with any of the spirits?

PAGE: I didn't say that. I just said I didn't hear the head roll.

What's your attraction to the place?

PAGE: The unknown. I'm attracted by the unknown, but I take precautions. I don't go walking into things blind.

Do you feel safe in the house?

PAGE: Yeah. Well, all my houses are isolated. Many is the time I just stay home alone. I spend a lot of time near water. Crowley's house is in Loch Ness, Scotland. I have another house in Sussex, where I spend most of my time. It's quite near London. It's moated and terraces off into lakes. I mean, I could tell you things, but it might give people ideas. A few things have happened that would freak some people out, but I was surprised actually at how composed I was. I don't really want to go on about my personal beliefs or my involvement in magic. I'm not trying to do a Harrison or a Townshend. I'm not interested in turning anybody on to anybody that I'm turned on to .. . if people want to find things, they find them themselves. I'm a firm believer in that.

What did you think about your portrayal in "Rock Dreams'? As a guitar Mafioso along with Alvin Lee, Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton?

PAGE: There's nothing about Zeppelin in there at all. The artist spends his whole time masturbating over the Stones in that book, doesn't he? The Stones in drag and things like that. When I first saw that book, I thought, aw, this is really great. But when I really started to look at it, there were things that I just didn't like. People can laugh at this, but I didn't like to see a picture of Ray Charles driving around in the car with his arm around a chick. It's tasteless. But the guy's French, so what can we say? Ray Charles is blind. What kind of humor is that? They may be his rock dreams, but they. sure aren't mine. Out of all the guitarists to come out of the Sixties, though Beck. Clapton, Lee, Townshend and I are still having a go. That says something. Beck, Clapton and me were sort of the Richmond/Croydon type clan, and Alvin Lee, I don't know where he came from. Lester or something like that. So he was never in with it a lot. And Townshend, Townshend was from Middlesex and he used to go down to the clubs and watch the other guitarists. I didn't meet him, though, until "I Can't Explain." I was doing the session guitar work on that. I haven't seen Townshend in years. But I suppose we've all kept going and tried to do better and better and better. I heard some stuff from Beck's solo LP recently that was fucking brilliant. Really good. But I don't know, it's all instrumental and it's a guitarist's guitar LP, I think. He's very mellow and Beck at his best can be very tasty.

Have you seen Eric Clapton with his new band?

PAGE: Oh. Eric. Fucking hell, Eric. Yes, I saw him with his new band and also at his Rainbow concert. At least at the Rainbow he had some people with some balls with him. He had Townshend and Ronnie Wood and Jimmy Karstein and Jim Capaldi. "Pearly Queen" was incredible.. And I would have thought that after that, he would have said, "Right, I'm gonna get English musicians." Ever since he's been with American musicians, he's laid back further and further. I went over to see him after he'd done his Rainbow concert and it wasn't hard to sense his total disappointment that Derek and the Dominoes were never really accepted. It must have been a big thing for him that they didn't get all the acclaim that the Cream did. But the thing is, when ,a band has a certain chemistry, like the Cream had .. . wow, the chances of recreating that again are how many billion to one. It's very, very difficult. The key to Zeppelin's longevity has been change. We put out our first LP; then a second one that was nothing like the first, then a third LP totally different from them, and on it went. I know why we got a lot of bad press on our albums. People couldn't understand, a lot of reviewers couldn't understand why we put out an LP like Zeppelin ll, then followed it up with lll with "That's the Way" and acoustic numbers like that on it. They just couldn't understand it. The fact was that Robert and I had gone away-to Bron-Y-Aur cottage in Wales and started writing songs. Christ. that was the material we had. so we used it. It was nothing like, "We got to do some heavy rock & roll because that's what our image demands..." Album-wise, it usually takes a year for people to catch up with what we're doing.

Why did you go to Bron-Y-aur cottage for the third album?

PLANT: It was time to step back, take stock and not get lost in it all. Zeppelin was starting to get very big and we wanted the rest of our journey to take a pretty level course. Hence, the trip into the mountains and the beginning of the ethereal Page and Plant. I thought we'd be able to get a little peace and quiet and get your actual Californian, Marin County blues. which we managed to do in Wales rather than San Francisco. It was a great place. "The Golden Breast" is what the name means. The place is in a little valley and the sun always moves across it. There's even a track on the new album, a little acoustic thing, that Jimmy got together up there. It typifies the days when we used to chug around the countryside in jeeps. It was a good idea to go there. We had written quite a bit of the second album on the road. It was a real road album, too. No matter what the critics said, the proof in the pudding was that it got a lot of people off. The reviewer for ROLLING STONE, for instance, just a frustrated musician. Maybe I'm just flying my own little ego ship, but sometimes people resent talent. I don't even remember what the criticism was, but as far as I'm concerned, it was a good, maybe even great, road album.The third album was the album of albums. If anybody had us labeled as a heavy metal group, that destroyed them.

But there were acoustic numbers on the very first album.

PAGE: That's it! There you go. When the third LP came out and got its reviews, Crosby, Stills and Nash had just formed. That LP had just come out and because acoustic guitar had come to the forefront, all of a sudden: LED ZEPPELIN GO ACOUSTIC! I thought, Christ, where are their heads and ears? There were three acoustic songs on the first album and two on the second.

You talk of this "race against time," Jimmy. Where do you think you'll be at 40?

PAGE: I don't know whether I'll reach 40. I don't know whether I'll reach 35. I can't be sure about that. I'm bloody serious. I am very serious I didn't think I'd make 30.

Why not ?

PAGE: I just had this fear. Not fear of dying, but just... wait a minute, let's get this right. I just felt that. .. I wouldn't reach 30. That's all there was to it. It was something in me, something inbred. I'm over 30 now, but I didn't expect to be here. I wasn't having nightmares about it, but . . . I'm not afraid of death. That is the greatest mystery of all. That'll be it, that one. But it's all a race against time. You never know what can happen. Like breaking my finger. I could have broken my whole hand and been out of action for two years.

You've been criticized for writing "dated flower-child gibberish" lyrics...

PLANT: How can anybody be a "dated flower child"? The essence of the whole trip was the desire for peace and tranquillity and an idyllic situation. That's all anybody could ever want so how could it be "dated flowerchild gibberish"? If it is, then I'll just carry on being a dated flower child. I put a lot of work into my lyrics. Not all my stuff is meant to be scrutinized, though. Things like "Black Dog" are blatant let's-do-it-in-the bath- type things, but they make their point just the same. People listen. Otherwise, you might as well sing the menu from the Continental Hyatt House.

How important was "Stairway to Heaven" to you?

PAGE: To me, I thought "Stairway" crystallized the essence of the band. lt had everything there and showed the band at its best... as a band, as a unit. Not talking about solos or anything, it had everything there. We were careful never to release it as a single. It was a milestone for us. Every musician wants to do something of lasting quality, something which will hold up for a long time and I guess we did it with "Stairway". Townshend probably thought that he got it with Tommy. I don't know whether I have the ability to come up with more. I have to do a lot of hard work before I can get anywhere near those stages of consistent, total brilliance. I don't think there are too many people who are capable of it. Maybe one. Joni Mitchell. That's the music that I play at home all the time, Joni Mitchell. Court and Spark I love because I'd always hoped that she'd work with a band. But the main thing with Joni is that she's able to look at something that's happened to her, draw back and crystallize the whole situation then write about it. She brings tears to my eyes, what more can I say? It's bloody eerie. I can relate so much to what she says. "Now old friends are acting strange/They shake their heads /They say l've changed." I'd like to know how many of her original friends she's got. I'd like to know how many of the original friends any well-known musician has got. You'd be surprised. They think-particularly that thing of change, they all assume that you've changed. For the worse. There are very few people I can call real close friends. They're very. very precious to me.

Now how about you?

PLANT: I live with the people I've always lived with. I'm quite content. It's like the remnants of my old Beatnik days. All my old mates, it lends to a lot of good company. There's no unusual reaction to my trip at all because I've known them so long. Now and again there will be the occasional joke about owing someone two dollars from the days in '63 when I was a broke blues singer with a washboard, but it's good. I'm happy.

Do you have any favorite American guitarists?

PAGE: Well, let's see, we've lost the best guitarist any of us ever had and that was Hendrix. The other guitarist I started to get into died also, Clarence White. He was absolutely brilliant. Gosh. On a totally different style the control, the guy who played on the Maria Muldaur single, "Midnight at the Oasis." Amos Garrett. He's Les Paul oriented and Les Paul is the one, really. We wouldn't be anywhere if he hadn't invented the electric guitar. Another one is Elliot Randall, the guy who guested on the first Steely Dan album. He's great. Bandwise, Little Feat is my favorite American group. The only term I won't accept is "genius." The term "genius" gets used far too loosely in rock & roll. When you hear the melodic structures of what classical musicians put together and you compare it to that of a rock & roll record, there's a hell of a long way rock & roll has to go. There's a certain standard in classical music that allows the application of the term "genius," but you're treading on thin ice if you start applying it to rock & rollers. The way I see it, rock & roll is folk music. Street music. lt isn't taught in school. It has to be picked up. You don't find geniuses in street musicians, but that doesn't mean to say you can't be really good You get as much out of rock and roll artistically as you put into it. There's nobody who can't teach you. You're on your own and that's what I find so fascinating about it.

Last question. What did you think about President Ford's children naming Led Zeppelin as their favorite group on national television?

PLANT: I think it's really a mean deal that we haven't been invited around there for tea. Perhaps Jerry thought we'd wreck the joint. Now if we'd had a publicist three tours back he might be on the road with us now. I was pleased to hear that they like our music around the White House. It's good to know they've got taste.

Final comments?

PAGE: Just say that I'm still searching for an angel with a broken wing. It's not very easy to find them these days. Especially when you're staying at the Plaza Hotel.

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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

July xx, 1969 - The band play many festivals now on their third American tour
July xx, 1970 - Additional recording for Led Zeppelin III at London’s Island Studios
July 16, 1970 - Photographer Chris Welch films Led Zeppelin on his 8mm camera, some clips later used in the Whole Lotta Love promo video
July xx, 1971 - Untitled gets re-mixed in London
July 05, 1971 - A riot erupts mid-concert, forcing Led Zeppelin to stop after about 40 minutes
July xx, 1972 - After repeated bad press, Led Zeppelin hire their first publicity firm
July 20, 1973 - A last minute decision is made to film the remaining part of the tour
July xx, 1973 - Led Zeppelin is filmed over the three nights for their film that will emerge as The Song Remains The Same
July xx, 1974 - After viewing their 1973 filmed performance, it is apparent critical errors were made
July xx, 1974 - Mixing for Physical Graffiti at Olympic Studios
July 05, 1975 - The band meet in Montreux to discuss adding South America and Japan to the end of their North American tour
July xx, 1976 - Bonham and Page fly to Montreux, Switzerland to check out some new sound and drum effects
July 17, 1977 - The last ever performance of Moby Dick played at the Seattle Kingdome
July 24, 1977 - The band plays its last US date at the Oakland Coliseum
July xx, 1978 - Led Zeppelin are invited to perform at Maggie Bell’s Festival Hall show
July xx, 1979 - Led Zeppelin film their rehearsal at Bray Studios
July 04, 1979 - Led Zeppelin confirm a second date at Knebworth in August 1979
July 05, 1980 - Simon Kirke joins in on drums for an encore in Munich
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