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NEWS FLASHBACK: Toronto Sun Mar 17, 2002

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"Now and Zep" Life After Zeppelin

By JOHN KRYK // Toronto Sun

March 17th 2002

Consider the most successful recording acts in music

history: The Beatles, Garth Brooks, Led Zeppelin,

Elvis Presley, Elton John and Barbra Streisand.

Now think what would happen to any of them -- save

the dearly departed -- on a midday stroll down any

main street in North America.

They'd be mobbed, all of them. With one exception --

John Paul Jones.

John Paul who? Exactly.

He was the bassist, keyboardist and occasional

songwriter for Led Zeppelin, the music act that has

sold more records in America than everybody but the

Mop-Tops. Yet today, two days before the official

release of his second solo CD,

"Jonesy" remains one of rock music's least

recognizable, most under-appreciated talents.

Now 56, Jones today not only can walk the streets of

the world with little fear of being recognized, he

says that has always been the case.

"Pretty much, yes," the soft-spoken Jones told The

Sun in a wide-ranging interview last December, a few

hours before he and his two backing musicians opened

for King Crimson at Massey Hall on a whirlwind North

American tour.

For the benefit of those who have never listened to

FM radio, Led Zeppelin was the British band that

popularized hard rock from 1968 to '80 and recorded

the genre's pre-eminent masterpiece (Stairway To

Heaven). They rarely granted interviews, were reviled

by the British press, and never performed on North

American TV -- all of which did nothing to stop them

from shattering both album-sales records and

concert-attendance marks throughout the 1970s.

In the process, Led Zeppelin took musical creativity,

stage confidence and, it must be said, arrogance to

new levels. "It's not only that we think we're the

best group in the world," singer Robert Plant said in

1974, "it's just that in our minds we're so much

better than whoever is No. 2."

Of Zeppelin's four members -- the others were Plant,

guitarist Jimmy Page and the late John Bonham on drums

- -- none revelled in starving the media monster more

than the ultra-private Jones.

With his mixture of impeccable manners and "upstairs"

English accent -- always spoken with back teeth

clenched -- Jones sounds like the last man you'd ever

expect to find in a hard-rock band, especially one

that partied as hearty as any did in the decadent

'70s. Everything about his demeanour would lead you to

believe he's an aristocrat who spends his afternoons

sipping tea out in the Cotswolds, with pinky pointing

skyward -- especially now with his short haircut.

If shunning the spotlight was Jones' mission in life

beyond music, well, mission accomplished. The lone

price tag?


"He's the kind of person who never would go around

blowing his own horn, so people don't really know how

much of an impact he made in Led Zeppelin," says Ann

Wilson, who along with sister Nancy fronted Heart, a

band that, like so many others during and since the

'70s, rode to success along the trail that Zeppelin


"I mean, that's why they hired him, because he was a

brilliant musician. He kept them anchored to the

earth. Without him in the band, I shudder to think

what Led Zeppelin would have been."

Jones' second solo CD, The Thunderthief, finally hits

store shelves on Tuesday after months of delays. Even

more than on his first solo effort (1999's Zooma),

Jones shatters the misconception in the general public

that Led Zeppelin's remarkable sound is owed entirely

to Page's classic heavy-metal riffs and searing leads,

to Plant's high-pitched vocal attacks, and to Bonham's

thunder-thudding percussion.

In Zeppelin, it was Jones who co-wrote the music to

Stairway with Page and who both composed and played

the brilliant four-part woodwind intro. It was Jones

who devised the string and mellotron sections on

Kashmir, he who broadened the band's sound by adding

everything from mandolin to organ to synthesizers, he

who wrote one of heavy metal's greatest riffs (Black

Dog), and he who laid down some of the best, most

melodic bass lines in rock music.

"John Paul is the unsung hero of that band," Wilson

says. "But, you know, everyone always says, 'Jimmy and

Robert, Jimmy and Robert, Jimmy and Robert.' That's

because they're the two most out-front guys who have

always lived the big rock 'n' roll lifestyle in that


The new CD should steal back some long-overdue

thunder for Jones. The musical styles Jones explores

(everything from hard rock to classical piano, Celtic,

bluegrass, punk and folk) are reminiscent of the

diverse styles embraced by Led Zeppelin on their eight

studio albums. What's more, the main riffs on both the

title track and on Hoediddle are as Zeppelin-like

(that is, as catchy and hard-charging) as any written

since the Zeppelin landed. The album also is a

showcase for Jones' instrumental genius, for he plays

19 instruments -- from variously strung basses,

guitars and mandolins, to keyboards, autoharp, ukulele

and Japanese koto.

Ah yes, instruments. Are there any he hasn't learned

to play?

"Oh, hundreds. Bass, for a start," he says laughing,

shortly after giving The Sun a demonstration of

blistering electric slide work on a custom-built,

collapsible, eight-string lap-steel guitar. "My

ambitions for instruments are endless, and they'll

never be realized. You know, I'd like to play all of


"I started off playing piano, then I heard the organ

and said, 'Oh, that's nice.' And then the harpsichord

and, 'Oooh, that's nice too.' And then bass, I like

bass. And then I picked up a bit of guitar. I like

picking up instruments, and I'll just get enough out

of each instrument for the purposes in mind."

Born John Baldwin in Sidcup, England, on Jan. 3,

1946, he was classically trained and mentored by his

professional-musician father. By age 14 he was

organist and choirmaster in his father's dance band,

and two years later turned professional himself. He

spent the early '60s in various touring bands.

"In the early days I played in traditional bands, in

jazz bands. I've played Lithuanian music, polkas ...

I've played for weddings, bar mitzvahs, belly dancers,

strippers -- you name it. I know it's called paying

your dues, but it's basically a great learning curve

on all styles, and they all relate."

Already tired of the road by age 18, Jones got his

break in 1964. He became musical director of side

projects for Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog

Oldham. From there, over the next four years, Jones

became one of the most sought-after session musicians

and arrangers in England.

He worked with everybody from the Rolling Stones

(arranging the strings on She's A Rainbow), to Lulu

(arranging To Sir With Love), to Donovan (arranging

Mellow Yellow), to Jeff Beck (Hi-Ho Silver Lining and

Beck's Bolero), to Tom Jones (Delilah), to Herman's

Hermits (There's A Kind Of Hush), to Pearl Bailey, to

Etta James, to Cat Stevens, to Burt Bacharach.

Jones played on, or arranged, literally hundreds of

recordings through 1968. There was no fooling around

at those sessions. "You sit down, they put the music

in front of you, they pretty much count you in for a

run-through and then they go for a take, and that's

it," he says.

"One of the reasons I got a lot of work in the '60s

was because I was just one generation younger than

most session musicians. Anybody that wanted a

Motown-sounding record really needed a James

Jamerson-sounding (bass) part, otherwise your record

simply wouldn't even come close. And so I could

improvise in that style, and in the style of Duck Dunn

as well, who was at Stax. So for any time that they

needed a Stax or Motown cover, they would have to call


It's no wonder that when a former session guitarist

named Jimmy Page went about forming the "New"

Yardbirds (after everybody else but Page had quit that

legendary British band), the first thing he did was

call up Jones, whom he knew well from session work.

Page then found Plant and his drummer buddy John

Bonham, and the New Yardbirds were born in autumn

1968. They soon changed their name to Led Zeppelin.

The next 12 years were a blur:

26 tours, nine albums, worldwide fame, unequalled

successes and, ultimately, tragedy. "Bonzo" Bonham

died on Sept. 25, 1980, at Page's mansion in England,

after a night of binge drinking following rehearsals

for a fall tour of America. Bonham choked to death on

his own vomit. The surviving members soon agreed there

was no way they could continue as a band without


Asked how much he misses the other half of rock's

greatest rhythm section, Jones pauses, then grows

quieter than usual.

"We did some great stuff together, which is always

there. So if I miss him I can put it on ... If I hear

something like Over The Hills And Far Away -- the

rhythm section on that is exceptional. There are a lot

of very, very tight, exciting moments. And I can

remember in detail how we arrived there, and the

feeling I had, we had, for what we were doing. So he's

never really left, in that respect.

"Bonzo and I were always listening to rhythm and

blues records -- big James Brown fans. Like a lot of

drummers, funny enough, he always knew the lyrics to

things ... Bonzo would sit there playing and singing

Chi-Lites songs or Smokey Robinson."

After Bonham's death, Jones disappeared from the

public eye. "I needed a rest," he says.

When the three survivors reunited for the LiveAid

concert in 1985, ABC's cameras never once trained

themselves on Jones. It was all Page and Plant -- oh,

and lots of shots of fill-in drummer Phil Collins,

whom Page has lambasted ever since for ruining their

songs that night.

From 1981 to '94, Jones went back to doing what he

did in his pre-Zeppelin days, quietly arranging and

producing for other artists -- this time, sparingly.

Amazingly, the phone did not ring from other bands

looking for a brilliant bassist or keyboards player.

The "unapproachable" mystique surrounding Zeppelin

probably was to blame. "People used to say to me,

'Well, after Zeppelin, you were just turning down

offers from other bands for you to join them, right?'

Well, no. Not one -- because nobody would ask you."

"That's absurd," Wilson says. "We considered

ourselves so lucky when he agreed to work with us,

because he had just finished working with Diamanda

Galas, the Butthole Surfers and these different kind

of projects that he was doing."

The project to which Wilson refers is Heart's CD The

Road Home, a live recording at a Seattle club that

Jones agreed to produce and play on. It was during

rehearsals at that club in August 1994 that Jones

learned through the media that Page and Plant were

reuniting for an MTV Unplugged special and for a

future album and tour, mainly to play Zeppelin songs

in new arrangements.

"They didn't even call him to tell him," Wilson says.

"One night he kind of opened up, you know, in his way,

which is very polite. Never finger-pointing. But he

did allow as to how it was a hurtful deal that they

didn't even call. Those guys probably all their whole

career had everyone in the world say to them, 'Oh, you

two are the band.'And I know that, because that's

what's always happened to Nancy and I in Heart.

There's always some voice going, 'Oh, it's just you

two. Never mind the rest of the band.' "

Both Page and Plant declined to be interviewed for

this story.

Jones came to a personal crossroads that same year,

after hitting the road for the first time since 1980

with Galas on her world tour: "I decided, 'I've been

on everybody else's records. I've played everything,

I've produced everything. I've arranged for them. And,

you know, now's the time I'm gonna spend on my own

stuff for a while.' "

Once again, Jones was changing cycles. "My career has

been cyclic. That's good. It keeps you awake, ya know.

By the time it gets -- not boring -- but more on

automatic, then that's the time to break away and take

a few chances."

Jones released the first solo album of his career,

the vocal-less but critically hailed Zooma, in

September 1999. He backed it with a tour in winter

2000 that concluded in Toronto. He then immediately

went to work on The Thunderthief. On this new CD,

Jones sings lead (on four songs) for the first time in

his career.

Jones plans to tour North America in late spring or

early summer, once again with backup musicians Terl

Bryant (on drums) and Nick Beggs (on Chapman stick).

While many of Jones' contemporaries have long since

seen their creative wells run dry, he himself isn't

having that problem. His playing is better than ever.

Hence, he doesn't like the stereotype of the

over-the-hill rock 'n' roller.

"It's a shame, really. For a rock 'n' roll musician,

you're considered to be at your peak when you're 20

and then it's downhill from there. For every other

musician, it's entirely the reverse: You're a student

when you're 20, and by the time you get to 40 or 50,

you refine your art."

The father of three grown children has relocated from

his longtime home of Devon in the English countryside

back to London -- back to where, some day, he just

might get recognized on the street. Should he ever

attain universal popularity again, he could resort to

a sure-fire plan that worked in the '70s.

"Well, I'd always look different on every (Zeppelin)

tour. I'd have a beard, or a moustache, or short hair,

or long hair.

"It helped. I remember coming out of the premiere for

(Zeppelin's 1976 concert movie) The Song Remains The

Same. At the end of it, I came out of the wrong door

at the cinema, and there's suddenly just this crowd of

Zeppelin fans coming toward me. And I could see some

recognition in the first guy's eyes. So I pointed and

said, 'They went that way.' Everybody said, 'Oh,

thanks, man!' And took off. I went, 'Whew! Faked them

out again.'

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