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Jimmy Page on Band Chemistry, Future Plans and "Stairway to Heaven"
 March 28, 2016  | by Gary Graff

web_april2016_cover_JimmyPage.jpg

No discussion about the greatest guitar players in rock —or popular music, for that matter—history ever takes place without Jimmy Page’s name at or near the top of the list. If the British native had just been the founder and guiding force behind Led Zeppelin, his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame credentials would have been stamped in indelible ink; but, as we all know, there’s so much more than that.

The onetime choir boy (really) from Surrey played his first professional gig with a skiffle band on a BBC stage show at the age of 13 and made his name as a session prodigy, primarily for producer Shel Talmy, playing sessions for The Who, The Kinks, Marianne Faithful, The Rolling Stones, Them and many others before joining The Yardbirds (on bass) in 1966, later switching to guitar after Jeff Beck left the band. Post-Zeppelin Page scored films, formed The Firm with Paul Rodgers and another band with David Coverdale and returned to sessions for The Stones, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, ex-Zep mate Robert Plant and others.

The past couple of years have seen him immersed in reviewing his life, both through the large-format “photographic memoir” JIMMY PAGE and via a deluxe Led Zeppelin reissue campaign that outfitted each of the band’s albums with a wealth of unreleased bonus tracks. On the other side of all this, however, is the future; Page has plans to record and tour, keeping details somewhat close to the vest but assuring us that at the age of 72 he still has plenty of power, mystery and hammer of the gods to offer.

Music Connection: Your book opens with a photo of you as a choir boy—a surprising image for those who know you from the mayhem of Zep and other rock adventures. What’s up with that?
Jimmy Page: I know in America there’s people who say that music started in the church. I guess, on a group level, even if it was only singing in choir, that was true for me, but I was playing guitar at the time. I thought it was amusing to put that [photo] in. It’s my start in music, you know? It’s like the earliest image and I thought, “Yeah, that’s got to go in....”

MC: So with the Zeppelin reissues and the book, has it felt like having your life flash before your eyes during the past couple of years?
Page: Well, it’s sort of multi-tasking, isn’t it? (laughs) In a way it is, isn’t it? Certainly with the book, it starts off there when I was about 12 or 13, but it goes through to, like 70, so you definitely see your life sort of flashing by and you see the decades flashing by. But it’s alright. You see yourself growing up, really.

MC: So what was in that young Jimmy Page’s mind back then, when you were just starting out?
Page: Y’know, I see these early photographs of The Beatles and George Harrison has got his first guitar, which was my first electric guitar. He’s up north and I’m down in the south, so there must’ve been a few of them around, but not too many. And there I am probably doing what they were doing up there, which is try to emulate the music I heard coming from America in some shape or form and thinking I was Cliff Gallup or some of the early ones in rock & roll, or rockabilly if you like, in the modes of what (Elvis) Presley was doing and inspiring so many people. Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, all of them. And then accessing the blues and wanting just as much to be B.B. King as much as James Burton. It was the growth of this voracious appetite I had for all things six strings, really. I can see how it manifests across the board.

MC: That’s an experience you almost can’t have anymore, with so much information saturation and not quite as much musical invention.
Page: What’s interesting about my musical history is I was there in the early days when rock & roll hit England and people were seduced by it and intoxicated by it, and then they took that music off the airwaves. But it was too late; everyone was captivated by it. I saw that changing style and what was going on in London, outside of London in the south, what was going on before The Beatles explosion and all that. I mean, I was THERE, you know? I know exactly how things came to be, about how the blues injection came on board with us, with that blues movement from Chicago, all of it. I call that really fascinating—and we haven’t even started. We’re just talking about something that’s pre-Beatles, do you know what I mean?

MC: What was the process of exploring all of those styles to coming up with your own?
Page: Because I had such eclectic tastes as a teenager, I was listening to classical music, I was listening to Indian music and African music as much as country blues. And I played a bit of (harmonica) as well; who didn’t want to sound like Little Walter, eh? All of these styles I was taking on board, so when I became a studio musician and started doing studio dates, I had quite extensive roots. My playing wasn’t just in one area; it was across the board. So it put me in good stead for being accepted into what was a very closed shop. I was seven years younger than anybody else who was playing there at the time, and I was accepted in—welcomed in, really. So that was really cool.

MC: What was the impact of those hired-gun days?
Page: All of my roots, if you like, that didn’t change, but the days of being a studio musician were like an apprenticeship. I went in there not reading music; I could read chord charts. I came out of there reading music fluently, and I came out of there knowing things about recording techniques, which I thought I didn’t know beforehand but I wanted to know about it. That’s how it was; it was sort of like a growing picture, really.
MC: There’s been so much written about you and Zeppelin over the years. Did you think a photographic memoir would tell a different kind of story, “a picture’s worth a thousand words” kind of thing?
Page: I just thought it was much easier to be able to do something like that because I had photographs in my own archive, like the early ones that are in there. And then I had photographs of my own from Bron-Yr-Aur cottage. And it’s all from my own perspective. I thought I’d rather do this than someone else, really, ’cause I wanted to fill in the gaps and I thought it was probably easier dealing with photographers than writing an autobiography. I just thought, “I’d rather spend my time on this one,” and that’s what I’ve done. Now that we’ve got the illustrated book, maybe in the future a written book will follow. (laughs)

MC: Were the book and the reissues done concurrently, and did they impact on each other?
Page: It’s interesting you should say that, ’cause what happened first off was there was the book, and because the book gives the group itineraries of the various groups I’d been in, like The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, The Firm with Paul Rodgers and this and that and the other, I had decided to do the website—“On this date so many years ago” or whenever I did this and I did that. So the book led to the website with something different on the page each day. And then I was archiving my own music and it got to the point I went through The Yardbirds stuff. And once I’d done that it got to the Led Zeppelin and I just wanted to be able to find a vehicle where these alternate mixes and versions could be given the proper profile as more information to accompany the original studio albums. And if you’re gonna do something like that you want to do it properly, right? Why do a job if you’re only gonna do half a job. I don’t do things by halves.

MC: A seminal moment of your career, it seems, was when Jeff Beck left The Yardbirds and you became lead guitarist. What’s your perspective on that development?
Page: That’s true. We came over (to America) when there were just four of us, when Jeff wasn’t in the band anymore and the whole of the guitar mantle was on my shoulders. I was really experimenting and trying this idea, that idea. We were playing all the underground circuits over here, all those venues, those magical names that we all know, like The Grande Ballroom, The Fillmore, Winterland, all those places. I saw or witnessed the rise of underground radio on FM that was playing longer tracks than the AM singles market, and I knew that I wanted to make an album that would be suited to underground radio like that.

MC: Which became Little Games.
Page: That’s right. There was a producer involved, but I was really into sort of the production of things as well and I knew what I wanted to do, so I was gonna be producer and do something that would showcase all of the musicians, not just myself. Although the first album would be a guitar tour de force, and I was doing acoustic guitars as much as electric at the time, it wasn’t going to be at the expense of anybody else, and that’s exactly how that first album was put together. Because we weren’t locked into a singles market we could keep developing and expanding what we had, the sort of combined talents of the band. And with the writing that went into it and the performances, it was going to just change pretty much everything, from recording techniques to how songs were constructed and how riffs were done.

"The days of being a studio musician were like an apprenticeship. I came out of there reading music fluently,
and I came out of there knowing things about recording techniques."

MC: Take us back to that first time Led Zeppelin played together—actually as The New Yardbirds, of course. Did you know what you had immediately?
Page: As soon as we finished, we knew we had something. It was so very exciting. Everyone wanted to get on with it, just get into the playing and see what we could come up with. That’s the most rewarding aspect of things from my end of it; I played in what I believe was the best band that was ever going—the best rock & roll band, for sure. At the end of the day, the music holds up and stands the test of time. It’s very warming to think that it touches people the way it still does.

MC: What was the key to that success?
Page: Mmmm...You try not to think about it too much, really. For starters, it was four fantastic musicians, and you can find four great musicians in bands, but it doesn’t always gel the way it did with us. It was that sort of chemistry that comes together once in a blue moon.

MC: You’ve curated quite a few Led Zeppelin archival projects over the years. What’s the emotion like to listen to your life flashing before your ears?
Page: It’s quite a joyous experience. I’m able to hear it all in a different context. It became very apparent to me what a wonderful textbook it had been for bands. And, secondly, it really brought home all the areas we had touched upon as far as styles.

MC: The latest Led Zeppelin reissues are filled with so many extras and bonus tracks. What was the experience like of diving into that sort of minutiae?
Page: Well, all of it was really good to review. It took hundreds of hours of listening. As a safety measure I wasn’t going to do all this work and the project and find the other two guys weren’t behind it, so what I did was put together the Led Zeppelin III companion disc with all the various materials that are on that, all the different mixes and different versions, and also Presence, which I knew would be totally fresh to their ears. I played it to them individually and they were just knocked out with what was being done and they said, “Yeah, go ahead,” and I did go ahead and listened to hundreds of hours of tape. It’s a lot of interesting things for people to hear.

MC: Back in the day, of course, you would record music and put out an album. Now there are so many options—almost limitless. Do you enjoy having these avenues to re-tell and even expand the story?
Page: Sure, yeah. I’ve always paid attention to high resolution downloads and all the digital ways of accessing the music, and the vinyl and how we can put out the best vinyl now that people have ever heard. To be able to present all this extra information, it’s a useful thing to do because it gives the fans, those who actually listen to it rather than just hear it, you’re giving more information so it’s more fascinating to the whole picture.

MC: What type of things did you learn from going through all that material?
Page: Let’s put it this way; it was a real thrill to have the mixes, ’cause the mixes are from the time, you see. It’s not, “Let’s get the multi-tracks up and make something that sounds like it’s from today.” No, because those records were so good in the first place and they’ve got such a strong character to them, the mixes that were done at the time have got a power to them because of that, and an honesty. With Led Zeppelin, it’s all performance. It’s not put together the way things are done today, digitally. In this world of analog recording you had to really deliver a performance, whether it was the guitarist or the singer or whoever it was, or collectively. When the red light went on, you just had to perform.

MC: And, from the control booth, capture the attitude and spirit of that performance.
Page: Well, yes. It’s a bit of shaping, and that’s the thing about being a producer, I guess.
MC: We all love “Stairway To Heaven,” of course. Talk about the shaping and construction of that song, please.
Page: We were all out at Headly Grange at the time, living in the same house, and eating, sleeping and making the music and recording it—there might even be some eating in the music, too. We had this sort of work ethic where we were all together, and the possibilities were limitless, really.

 the idea was to have a song which would actually change as we went through it, layers would unfold with the instruments as they were coming in and the drums would be coming in later as the song progressed and there’d be this movement to the guitar solo that took you through and the momentum would unfold as the pace accelerated.

I knew something like that wasn’t necessarily the done thing in popular music. It was done in classical music but it was tricky with sort of rehearsing it and routining it until Robert had gotten the lyrics, and then it came together, really.

The performances of it were more complete once it had the lyrics there, but it gave us the opportunity to really build something and shape it to perfection.

MC: Is this everything? Have you tapped out the Zep archives?

Page: Well, I’ve been archiving material from when I was at home doing multi-track recording when I was a kid, living at my parents’ house, before I was a studio musician. So I’ve got stuff that goes right across really. None of it’s any good, of course. Maybe some of the songs that I wrote were okay, but the lyrics weren’t so cool. (laughs)

MC: There’s kind of a dichotomy between what the fans want, which is everything, and what you feel comfortable putting out, isn’t there?
Page: Yeah. You want them to hear the best, and that’s what it is. There’s no other discussion on that, really.

MC: Would you like to give a similar reissue treatment to The Firm albums you did with Paul Rodgers?
Page: Possibly, yeah. Certainly with The Yardbirds, but possibly for The Firm. But, you know, it’s quite a time-consuming process, and I’m ready to get on to something new and now, if you will.

MC: Such as?
Page: I want to be putting together something whereby I will be going out and playing live. That’s an important thing. I’ve got new material, too. I’ve certainly got a past, and I would be able to play with just that material, too. So that’s something I want to do, really.

MC: Tell us about your new material.
Page: I can’t tell you much. (laughs) One of the things that’s awful is when you tell people you’re gonna do this, that and the other is they’ve already worked out in their minds what exactly you’re going to do and then people present you with this whole package of, “Oh, are you working with this thing? Are you doing this? Are you doing that?” Let’s just say that I know what I’m going to do, without a shadow of a doubt. I’m going to be playing guitar—that’s absolutely, definitely.

MC: Has working on the archival material informed the new music in any way?
Page: I’ve had new music together for quite awhile; I just haven’t committed it to any sort of recordings because I didn’t want to date it. But I’ll date it and I’ll put a brand on it at the time that I do it. Then I’ll make a point of playing that live, and that’s about as far as the story goes on that.

MC: Is it worth even asking how many guitars you own?
Page: Well, I don’t know, really. I should know, but I can’t because I’ve got a lot of various instruments, a lot of string instruments that go from sitar to five-string banjos to mandolins to acoustic guitars, tabla drums blah de blah de blah. There’s about 120, 130 instruments, I think. That’s a lot, isn’t it? But I can tell you one thing; I haven’t got ’em all in my bedroom at once. Please do understand that.

 

http://www.musicconnection.com/jimmy-page-on-band-chemistry-future-plans-and-stairway-to-heaven/?platform=hootsuite

 

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