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Zepplineage: the roots of Jimmy Page


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Zepplineage: the roots of Jimmy Page. (rock guitar technique).

Author(s):Jesse Gress.

Source:Guitar Player (August 1993)

The opening anecdote in Cameron Crowe's liner notes to Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same soundtrack recalls one of the band's legendary post-concert getaways. Once on board their touring plane, the stage-weary band collapsed around a video of Little Richard belting out "Tutti Frutti" in the 1957 film The Girl Can't Help It. Perhaps reminiscing how he modeled the opening riff of "Black Dog" after Richard's "Keep A Knockin'," Jimmy Page raised a toast: "No escaping our roots." [paragraph] Page has bequeathed countless riffs and melodic ideas to subsequent generations of rock guitarists. But unlike the numerous players who have tried to replicate Page's sound, Jimmy never settled for merely copying his predecessors. His genius was to channel his influences into a distinctive and influential voice. [paragraph] Let's explore some of the ingredients of Led Zeppelin's sonic stew. In our July '77 issue, Page told interviewer Steve Rosen that hearing Elvis Presley's "Baby, Let's Play House" made him want to play guitar. The '55 side features Scotty Moore playing a sparkly, alternating-bass rockabilly rhythm (Ex. 1), and Page breaks into a similar figure about nine minutes into the live version of "Whole Lotta Love" from The Song Remains The Same.

In concert, Zeppelin often used "Whole Lotta Love" and "Communication Breakdown" as frameworks for extended jams that would feature oldies like "That's Alright Mama," "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care," "Long Tall Sally," and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On." You can hear the influence of rockabilly guitar greats James Burton, Cliff Gallup, and Johnny Meeks in rockabilly-flavored Zep tunes like "Candy Store Rock" and "Ozone Baby."

A Les Paul disciple since his early teens, Jimmy was drawn as much to Les' actual playing as to his multi-tracking techniques. "Fantastic!" he raved to Guitar Player about Les Paul's "It's Been A Long, Long, Time," a mid-'40s tune recorded with Bing Crosby. "It's everything in one go, and it's just one guitar!" Les' style at the time embraced just about every technique then known to guitardom, including vibrato, hammer-ons, pull-offs, even feedback. His version of "Lady Be Good" (recorded with pianist Art Tatum and available on Tatum's Piano Mastery) features some wicked trills and pull-offs (Ex. 2). Listen to Page's "Heartbreaker" solo and the break 47 seconds into "Moby Dick" (both from Led Zeppelin II) and dig the conceptual similarities.

The blues played perhaps the largest role in shaping Jimmy's style, even in his pre-Zeppelin days. The Yardbirds' Little Games, an important transitional album, not only made several nods to blues greats, but also contained nuggets that would soon be polished into sections of Led Zeppelin songs. Compare the solo on "Think About It" with the one on Zep's "Dazed And Confused." "Smile On Me" not only recalls Otis Rush's "All Your Love," but Page actually paraphrases Eric Clapton's break from the Bluesbreakers' version. "Drinking Muddy Water" is an all-out tribute to both Muddy Waters' "Rollin' and Tumblin', Part 1" (Ex. 3) and Howlin' Wolf's "Down In The Bottom."

Muddy sidemen like Luther Tucker, Pat Hare, Jimmy Rogers, and Buddy Guy all had their impact on Page. Muddy's version of Willie Dixon's "You Need Love" was definitely the model for the melody and lyrics to "Whole Lotta Love." And even though Earl Hooker played slide on "You Shook Me," Page's intro to the tune on Led Zeppelin seems to owe more to Muddy's intros to "The Things That I Used To Do" and "My Home Is In The Delta," which have been anthologized on Chess' Muddy Waters box set.

Just as the Rolling Stones saw themselves as children of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, Led Zeppelin considered themselves sons of Howlin' Wolf. Robert Plant would string together titles of Dixon/Wolf tunes in his vocal improvisations ("Shake for me, I wanna be your back door man..."), while Page tweaked "Killing Floor" into "The Lemon Song." Piece together the tune's full 12-bar progression by playing Ex. 4a followed by Ex. 4b. (The pickup to Ex. 4b replaces the last beat on the repeat of 4a.) Return to the I chord by playing Ex. 4a without the repeat, and then replace the last beat with the pickup into Ex. 4c. Transposing the bass line to E and playing under a high-E pedal yields the signature riff of "The Lemon Song."

Many Wolf songs are based on just one chord; compare Zep's "How Many More Times" with Wolf's "How Many More Years," "Moaning For My Baby," and "You Gonna Wreck My Life" (available on Chess' Howlin' Wolf box set). Zeppelin's "The Rover" recalls Waters and Wolf, while "Bring It On Home" pays homage to Sonny Boy Williamson.

The playing of B.B., Albert, and Freddie King also echoes through Page's solos. Jimmy paraphrases B.B.'s fluid, swinging style for a few choruses of an uptempo shuffle beginning at 10:32 of the aforementioned "Whole Lotta Love" jam (Ex.5a and 5b). Albert's hard-edged intensity haunts the breakdown sections of both of Zeppelin's takes on Otis Rush's rendition of Willie Dixon's "I Can't Quit You Baby" (2:48 on the Led Zeppelin version; 2:59 on the Coda take). Note the whole-step, index-finger bend in Ex.6--remember, southpaw Albert used a flipped-over right-hand guitar and pulled the high E down towards the floor. Page also quotes Freddie King's famous "Hideaway" break (Ex.7) 9:35 into the live "Whole Lotta Love" jam.

For their version of "I Can't Quit You Baby," Zeppelin emulates the Otis Rush Blues Band's 1966 Vanguard version on Chicago/The Blues/Today, which contains the turnaround licks absent from the original '50s Cobra release. Jimmy paraphrased many of the fills between vocals (Ex.8a) and played the beginning of Otis' solo note-for-note (Ex.8b). Rush's heavy attack and crammed phrasing undoubtedly made a big impression on Page.

Jimmy's Delta-blues influences crop up on Zep's version of Robert Johnson's "Traveling Riverside Blues" (Ex. 9a). Ex. 9b mixes the spooky folk stylings of sometime Page collaborator Roy Harper with the sound of the swamps. Page's unique mutations of the Delta style include "Friends," "Hats Off To Roy Harper," "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" and "Black Country Woman," while supercharged Deltaisms abound in Zep's performances of "Celebration Day," Memphis Minnie's "When The Levee Breaks," Blind Willie Johnson's "Nobody's Fault But Mine," and the intro to "In My Time Of Dying."

A uniquely British folk guitar style didn't really exist until after WWII. Having no indigenous guitar tradition to draw from, players like Davey Graham and Bert Jansch perfected and popularized a distinctive "folk/baroque" acoustic style. (As Page told Guitar Player, "Jansch was, without any doubt, the one who crystallized so many things.") Using Jansch's preferred D, A, D, G, A, D tuning, Jimmy distilled Bert's version of "Black Water Side" (excerpted in examples 10a through Ex. 10e) into showcases like the Yardbirds' "White Summer" and Zep's "Black Mountain Side." (Listen to Shanachie's The Best Of Bert Jansch to hear how the guitarist freely combines such themes.) Page's other folk influences include Joni Mitchell (Zep covered "Woodstock" live), Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and the Byrds.

Led Zeppelin were closet funkateers. Page's James Brown/Jimmy Nolen roots emerged in the "Whole Lotta Love" jams as scratchy, syncopated dominant chords sliding in and out of the tonic by half-steps (Ex. 11a). The band would race through the verse, chorus, and solo section of "Communication Breakdown" to burst into a funky, half-time sixteenth-note vamp (Ex. 11b) that would often last longer than the song itself! Other Zep funk-inspired outings include "The Crunge," "Royal Orleans," "Houses Of The Holy," and even "The Immigrant Song."

We barely have room to mention Page's country and jazz influences. Chuck Berry-style lap and pedal steel and Jimmy's sly B-bender licks are prominent in "Your Time Is Gonna Come," "Tangerine," "Down By The Seaside," and "Hot Dog." And consider how many guitarists probably learned their first 13th chord from "What Is And What Should Never Be" or "The Rain Song" rather than a Kenny Burrell or Wes Montgomery record.

From the Yardbirds to today, the common thread among the many facets of Jimmy Page--composer, producer, player, and sonic visionary--is not a thread at all, but a steel string.

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