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bbc sessions jimmy page interview part 1


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'airwaves to heaven' an article and interview with jimmy page, written by brad tolinski, originally appeared in guitar world magazine january 1998. i apologize for the lack of capital letters. those who have read my posts know that i type this way. i write plays (among other things) and forgoing capitals makes it easier typing when you have tons of tabs, characters, and stage directions. it is not an affectation and is impossible to change now. i hope it doesn't bother you. otherwise, nothing has been changed or deleted.

here is the link to guitar world:


gw: when you dusted off the bbc sessions, what did you find most suprising about them?

jp: i've heard the sessions several times throughout the years, so they weren't completely fresh to my ears.but what i find the most exciting about them is comparing the different versions of the same songs. it's interesting to hearhow a song like "communication breakdown" which appears three times, evolved from performance to performance. it's like looking at a diary.

the bbc sessions show in graphic detail just how organic the group was. led zeppelin was a band that would change things around substantially each time it was played. the two performances of "you shook me" are particularly good examples of what i'm talking about. the version that opens up the album is not shabby by any standards, but it doesn't compare to the second version, which was recorded only a few months later. the interplay between me and robert had grown in leaps and bounds-he's laying right on top of the guitar. that kind of thing was a subtle indication of how the band was really beginning to jell. we were becoming tighter and tighter, to the point of telepathy.

i mean, compare our sessions to, say, the bbc recordings of the beatles. i bet you a cent to a dollar, if they have two or three versions of 'love me do' or whatever, they'll all be identical. that's the difference between us and our contemporaries: led zeppelin was really moving the music all the time.

gw: you mentioned that you had to edit some of the performances. give us an example of the type of work you had to do.

jp: i didn't have to do much. the biggest problem was editing down the 96 minute paris theater performance to the length of one cd, which is 80 minutes. most of the editing was done on one song in particular-the 'whole lotta love' medley, which originally ran over 20 minutes. it included the band playing bits of 'let that boy boogie woogie,' 'fixin' to die,' 'that's alright mama,' and 'mess o blues,' all of which were left in; and 'honey bee,' 'the lemon song,' and 'for what it's worth,' which were edited out.

it was actually amazing the kind of editing we were able to do with the pro tools software-i was able to move things around quite a bit on the medley without disturbing the groove. for example, half of one of my solos is edited into the second half of another solo-and you'd never know! it's the kind of thing i just love doing. i really enjoy being given a problem that looks insurmountable, and finding a creative solution.

gw: are there any obvious gaffs that you left in?

jp: there's a moment in the second version of 'you shook me' that's funny and intense. the guitar comes in really loud, and you can tell that the engineer was caught by suprise because he panics and whacks the fader down. we left it in because it's a very real moment. so, just in case anybody thinks it's my fault, don't blame me, i wasn't the engineer! (laughs)

but it is important to understand that, at the time, that kind of mistake wasn't a big deal. we never dreamed that there would be these things called cd's or that people would still be interested in any of these sessions. it was purely for broadcast and perhaps a repeat.

gw: i noticed that some of the tracks have simple overdubs-maybe an added rhythm guitar behind your solos, or an extra harmony on one of the versions of 'communication breakdown'. were these things you insisted on, or were they common practice?

jp: i think at the time the bbc just wanted the best show possible. they realized that bands were often trying to recreate something that they had created on an 8-track recording, so doing an overdub here or there was fair game. at least one overdub anyway, which is all we ever did.

gw: what kind of shape were the original bbc tapes in?

jp: that's a story in itself. when we first started entertaining the idea of releasing the sessions, we asked the bbc to send over copies of what they had. they sent jon astley (note from beatbo: who fans already know that jon astley is pete townshend's brother in law and a long time fixture around the who), who assisted me in the remastering process, a dat copy of the recording. because they didn't send us the original quater inch masters, we assumed they must have transferred everything over to digital, and wiped the original tape. the plan was we were going to remaster and edit from the dat.

the interesting thing was, when i asked the bbc to send over the copies, i specifically requested a cassette tape, which i thought would be duped from the dat. however, when we sat down to start remastering and jon played me the digital tape i thought, 'my god, this sounds terrible. my mind might be playing tricks, but i think my cassette actually sounds better than the dat copy.'

so i pulled out my cassette and, sure enough, my tape sounded much better. i then concluded that the cassette must have been duped from a different source-perhaps the original quarter inch tape. so, following my hunch, we actually found the master tapes in their vaults. it took some searching, but it was worth the effort.

gw: i was under the impression that the bbc regularly wiped their tapes. (note from beatbo: oh, yeah! the beatles had released 'bbc sessions' 4 years before!)

jp: i was under the same impression. (beatbo: nevermind....) actually, i'm somewhat amazed our sessions weren't erased ages ago. you'd imagine they wouldn't have taken rock music so seriously.

gw: it's no secret that the led zeppelin bbc sessions are among the most bootlegged performances in rock history. they're kind of a hard rock version of bob dylan's 'basement tapes'. to put it another way: if you're a serious zeppelin fan, you've either heard or own some version of them. what's your view of bootlegging?

(beatbo: OHMIGOD! ducks under computer desk)

jp: it depends. if it's someone with a microphone at a gig, that's one thing. they paid for a ticket, so it's fair game. but things that are stolen out of the studio-works in progress, rehearsal tapes and things like that-are quite another. i'm totally against that. it's theft. it's like someone stealing a personal journal and printing it.

regarding the bbc sessions, it doesn't bother me if they've been bootlegged extensively because, whatever version people own, it won't be from the original source like our version. secondly, not everybody out there buys bootlegs, and the sort of fans that buys bootlegs will want this one for the packaging-and to see how i've edited the performances. i really can't lose. there's no way i'll lose! (laughs)

(note from beatbo: bbc sessions is wrapped in some of the least attractive packaging in zeppelin history. discuss.)

gw: the idea of bands regularly performing live on the radio is such a foriegn concept in americ. could you give us some background as to the situation with british radio in the sixties?

jp: actually, there was a tradition of live radio in america that extended well into the fifties, because i know that elvis presley used to play on local radio stations. but it probably died out in the u.s. as it got easier for smaller stations to just spin records.

but in england, live radio never died. the bbc, which controlled everything, continued to produce live dramas, quiz shows, discussion programs, classical music broadcasts and so on. and as rock started becoming part of the culture, it just became part of bbc's mix.

gw: in keeping with bbc practice, your early sessions were very short. what were the circumstances that led up to your hour-long performance at the playhouse theater in 1969 and the 90 minute show at the paris cinema in 1971?

jp: when we first started participating in the sessions, we were only given enough time to play two or three songs. we started complaing-as did many other groups-that we couldn't represent the band properly within those time restraints. i guess they finally took us seriously, because they allowed us to pilot an 'in concert' show that would allow us to play a complete hour-long set.

our pilot was so successful that it soon became standard format. that was kind of an important first, and, i guess, shows the clout we had in those days.

gw: you seemed to have played 'communication breakdown' in the majority of your bbc shows. any particular reason?

jp: i think we felt at the time that 'communication breakdown' and 'dazed and confused' in particular were most representative of what the band was all about.

gw: legend has it that the arrangement to three songs featured on the bbc sessions-'the girl i love' by sleepy john estes, 'travelling riverside blues' by robert johnson, and 'something else' by eddie cochran-were made up on the spot. considering how important your radio appearances were, it was pretty ballsy to improvise in such a manner.

jp: yeah, it was. fortunately, with a band like led zeppelin, it was no problem to do something like that. everybody was so on top of it and alive-individually and collectively. i'd say, 'i've got a riff', i'd show it to everybody. we'd bang through once, robert would sing something over it, and then we'd record. it was that simple.

so, readers, here ends part 1. my wrist is killing me. i will post the second part as soon as i am able, if you are interested. i did not omit one word from the above.

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