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JP Interview April 21, 1985 (long)


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Chicago Tribune - April 21, 1985

Author: Lynn Van Matre, Pop music critic.

At 41, Jimmy Page has spent nearly half of his life in the spotlight --first as a member of influential `60s blues-rock band the Yardbirds, later as one-quarter of the legendary `70s supergroup Led Zeppelin, where his innovative instrumental technique established him as one of the premier guitar heroes of that decade. His rock credentials, in short, are the sort that might be expected to afford him a certain amount of musical self-confidence. But when Page and former Bad Company lead vocalist Paul Rodgers first teamed up in a new band called the Firm, confidence took a back seat to another emotion: fear. What if, right in the middle of a Firm song, a restless crowd started calling out for ``Stairway to Heaven`` or another Led Zep classic? Or Bad Company`s ``Can`t Get Enough``?

``To be perfectly truthful, I was terrified of that aspect of the whole thing,`` says Page, who appears with the Firm Wednesday at the Rosemont Horizon. ``Both Paul and I had been in pretty big bands, and we both were one- quarter of those bands. Those are very strong identities, something that you can`t change. But you don`t want to go out on tour and do things that put you in a nostalgia bracket.

``Sure, we`re bound to be in a certain section of the nostalgia bracket, because of what we`ve done in the past. But you don`t want to play on that and say this is all that I`m good for. For us, the only way to counteract that whole problem of numbers from the past was not to rehearse them at all.``

As it turned out, shouts for ``Stairway to Heaven`` haven`t proved to be among the Firm`s problems. Material from the band`s self-titled debut album (currently in the Top 20), Rodgers` solo efforts and instrumentals from the Page-scored film, ``Death Wish II,`` fill up the two hours the band spends on stage. But one show early on in the tour had to be moved to a smaller venue when ticket sales proved sluggish, and the reviews haven`t always been raves --which may be why the normally polite Page showed the tiniest bit of testiness when this interviewer, possibly exhibiting more honesty than sense, noted that she might have to cover Julian Lennon at the Auditorium Theater Wednesday instead of heading out to Rosemont to see the Firm.

``The thing is, Julian Lennon will be back,`` says Page. You mean that you won`t be? ``I didn`t say that. But he`s younger than I

am, isn`t he?`` Is the Firm a one-shot deal? ``All I said to you is that you should come and see us, to actually hear what it is that I`m trying to do at this point in time.``

Page has let his playing speak for him throughout most of his career. His interviews have been infrequent, and while unfailingly civil--he generously agreed to speak with The Tribune as scheduled despite a bout with laryngitis --he comes across as intelligent but wary. An innocent question about his growing-up days in England, for instance, elicits the reply, ``Oh, come on, this isn`t the National Enquirer, is it?``

Actually, much of Page`s past, at least his days with Led Zeppelin, arguably qualifies as topflight tabloid fodder. In addition to the usual rumors of overindulgence in the garden variety fast-lane fripperies--groupies, drugs and alcohol, which eventually did in Zeppelin drummer John Bonham in 1980--the supergroup was widely rumored to be involved in black magic, with Page, who purchased well-known Satanist Aleister Crowley`s home in 1970, as the guiding force.

``I don`t know what you`re talking about,`` says Page in reference to the persistent witchcraft rumor (frequently reported as fact). ``Come on, you work for the press. Surely you don`t believe what you read in it, do you? I`ve never been a black magician in my life. It`s a shame that people print that. They don`t know me, and they expose themselves as being absolute idiots. I find it amusing.``

Page is equally adamant about the falsity of another widespread rumor that surfaced after Bonham`s death, namely, that Zeppelin was planning to re- form, perhaps as XYZ. ``What really happened was after we lost John we had a meeting and categorically decided--no if`s, but`s, maybe`s--that we could not possibly carry on Led Zeppelin without him,`` says Page, who describes himself as ``absolutely destroyed`` by Bonham`s death. ``It would have been an insult to have had another drummer onstage.

``Even if we had had three drummers onstage it still wouldn`t have been right. It would have been an insult to what he had put into the band and to him personally. All the rumors you heard about drummers coming in to replace John Bonham were never put around by us. They were started by the business people. It didn`t do any good, though.``

Instead, while Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant plunged into a solo project, Page did little until the ``Death Wish II`` offer came along.

``The director asked if I would like to do it,`` he says. ``I had never thought that the opportunity (to do film scores) would come my way. But it was the most perfect thing that could have happened, because at that point I needed the discipline of something like that. I`d like to do another film score sometime, but not for a couple of years.``

Page`s involvement with Rodgers, with whom he previously had only a ``nodding acquaintance,`` grew out of the Ronnie Lane Action Research into Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) benefit concerts in 1983. ``I had gotten together with him briefly prior to the ARMS tour,`` says Page. ``Some of our friends had suggested that we get together, and I called him up once out of the blue. At the time, I was just sitting around, really. Well, I was working in the studio, but as far as playing with another musician went, I wasn`t doing anything.

``Anyway, we got one song together, `Bird on the Wing.` Then, a few months later, the ARMS tour came up, and I really wanted to be part of it. Paul sang on the tour, and we got along pretty well. It was like, well, it would be nice if we could get some vehicle together to go out and play. Then we started talking about how if a compatible rhythm section could be found, and if the music was right, (putting together a group) could be a viable situation. It was sort of step by step.``

By the summer of 1984, Page and Rodgers had found the rhythm section in the persons of drummer Chris Slade and bassist/keyboardist Tony Franklin and christened their new group the Firm. While the name has corporate connotations in the U.S., it`s actually British slang for a group of friends. ``It`s a very East End of London sort of expression,`` says Page. ``When

the boys go out together for a drink and leave the wife or whatever behind, it`s not unknown to call that group `the firm` or `the old firm.` It`s unfortunate that the term has a business connotation in the U.S.; it wasn`t meant that way at all.``

One of the best things about the Firm, according to Page, is ``the musical mutual respect`` among band members.

``Obviously, this is a different band from Led Zeppelin,`` he says. ``I knew Robert (Plant) for many years and we got to know each other very well. This time, it`s four different sets of personalities getting to know each other. But there`s a mutual respect, and I can quite honestly say that each show has been better than the last. You don`t get that unless everybody is

giving everything that they`ve got. It was always that way with Zeppelin, too. But it`s quite satisfying to see it happening with this band.``

``Obviously, this is a different band from Led Zeppelin.``

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Chicago Tribune - April 21, 1985

Author: Lynn Van Matre, Pop music critic.

Thanks, Cat! I've been looking for this article for many years. Rick Kogan gave their

Chicago concert a favorable review in the April 26th 1985 Chicago Tribune:

"Rock's New Firm Really Take Care of Business".

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