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bbc sessions jimmy page interview PART 2

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well, lovely droogies, here is your second helping of 'airwaves to heaven' an article and interview with jimmy page, written by brad tolinski, which originally appeared in guitar world magazine january 1998. not a word has been omitted.

the names have remained the same to incriminate the guilty. so it shall be written. so it shall be done. here is the link to the first part of the interview, in case you've missed it: http://forums.ledzeppelin.com//index.php?showtopic=6790


oh, yeah here is guitar world's link. great magazine!http://www.guitarworld.com/

gw: speaking of 'travelling riverside blues' one of the more striking differences between the two bbc sessions is that by 1971, you had pretty much stopped covering traditional blues songs.

jp: well, we started writing our own blues songs, didn't we? after the first album, i was really conscious of the fact that we had to start carving our own identity. i felt a particular pressure to make my unique personal contribution.

in the early days, i was quite happy to borrow from otis rush for 'i can't quit you'. it was a pleasure. but after awhile i started realizing that that wasn't what i should be doing. i felt i had to develop my own thing and almost stop listening to anybody. and i think i succeeded.

'whole lotta love' is a good example. we got into some trouble because people felt we had lifted it from willie dixon, but if you took the lyric out and listened to the track instrumentally, it is clearly something new and different-a completely original piece of music.

another good example is 'nobody's fault but mine' from presence. robert came in one day and suggested we cover it, but the arrangement i came up with has nothing to do with the original. robert may have wanted to go for the original blues lyrics, but everything else was a totally different kettle of fish. actually, i only recently discovered that 'the girl i love' had something to do with sleepy john estes! (laughs)

gw: do you think these radio shows helped break the band in the uk? It has often been noted that success came much more slowly in England than in the states.

Jp: that’s a myth. It’s just not true. When we first started playing in England, it might have been a little difficult in the beginning because the first album wasn’t released yet, and the people hadn’t heard the band. And that’s hard-it’s hard to start out that way, even if you’re really, really good and knocking people dead in their tracks. But I had a big reputation from the yardbirds, and people were really keen to see what I was doing. And as soon as they saw us, the word of mouth started spreading, and we became popular pretty quickly. If you gauged popularity by concerts, the attendance was equal on both sides of the ocean.

By the time we got to the states, people were already familiar with the record, and that made it easier. It also didn’t hurt that American fm radio was supportive. But in both countries, led zeppelin was a massive word of mouth thing, really. It was just a general ambience that crept in everywhere. (laughs)

Gw: you spent a lot of time in america in the early days. Did you find that at all intimidating, given how comparatively small the uk is?

Jp: to tell you the truth, I had a bigger following in the states. The yardbirds were very popular there. But above and beyond that, I could see the potential there. The audiences were much more aware of what was happening musically, and the u.s. was so massive, that there were naturally more places to play and more opportunities for the band on every level.

Gw: I would imagine that touring in the late sixties was primitive compared to how it’s done these days.

Jp: people ask me whether it was difficult back then, but it never really seemed hard because that’s what we were used to. There were no tour buses back then-you just hired cars and flew commercial airlines. That’s how it was, and that’s what we were used to.

Gw: led zeppelin was one of the first bands to break away from the more casual hippie look of the sixties, and adopt a more glamorous personae. Did playing bigger venues and arenas demand a more stylized presentation?

Jp: I considered myself quite the dandy in those days, so what I wore onstage was simply an extension of what I was wearing offstage. It wasn’t anything like, “oh, we’re playing an arena so we must go out and buy ourselves nice suits.”

Gw: before you joined led zeppelin you were the lead guitarist in the yardbirds, and before that you were one of england’s leading session guitarists. What impact did those experiences have on your work with zeppelin?

Jp: they were very valuable. I learned and incredible amount of discipline. When I was initially brought in to play sessions, I was just a rock musician who couldn’t even really read music, but because I was one of the only guitarists on the scene, they started giving me all kinds of work. Eventually, I learned to read charts and started playing on things you would never expect, like film scores and jingles. I even played some jazz, which was never my forte. But having to vamp behind people like tubby hayes, who was a big jazz saxophonist in England, or play on several of burt bacharach’s pop sessions gave me fantastic vision and insight into chords.

Being a session player, however, wasn’t really me-it wasn’t rock and roll. Eventually, it became very confining, and I was looking to get out. In 1966, I got this offer to join the yardbirds. Jeff beck and I were friends, and he always wanted me to be part of the group. We talked about it and thought we could do some interesting things with two guitars. After I joined, I retired from session work overnight.

Once I got on guitar with jeff, I started really expressing myself. Then, after jeff left, I stayed with the band and just kept stretching and stretching. The yardbirds had several songs that called for lengthy improvisations, like ‘I’m a man’ and ‘smokestack lightning’ and I took full advantage of them to develop a bunch of new ideas.

After the yardbirds fell apart and it came time to create zeppelin, I had all those ideas as a textbook to work from. And as it was stuff I developed on my own while I was in the band, it was fair game for me to use.

So both things-the studio work and the experience with the yardbirds-were really important. They both set the scene for zeppelin. The studio gave me the discipline and an incredible working knowledge of many kinds of music, and the yardbirds gave me time to develop my ideas.

Gw: what was the original concept for zeppelin?

Jp: ultimately, I wanted zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock, and acoustic music topped with heavy choruses-a combination that had never been done before. Lot’s of light and shade.

Gw: right from the beginning you were able to translate the extreme dynamism of led zeppelin’s live act into a dynamic studio recording. What was your secret?

Jp: that is interesting, isn’t it? One usually thinks of a dynamic album being translated into a dynamic live performance, but in the early days, it was the other way around for us.

I think part of the key was ambient miking. I remember playing on some rock sessions, and you’d find that the drummer would be put into this little box-like area with a low ceiling, where he would thrash away. And nothing would be coming out of the drums. It would sound like he was hitting packing boxes because all the ambience and all the tuning was lost. I knew straight away the the drums should be miked like a proper acoustic instrument in a good acoustic environment.

When I started producing the first zeppelin album, I knew the drums had to sound good because they were going to be the backbone of the band. So I worked hard on microphone placement. But then again, you see, when you have someone who is as powerful as john Bonham going for you, the battle is all but sold!

Gw: so they way to capture a dynamic performance is, essentially, to capture the natural sound of the instruments.

Jp: sure. You shouldn’t really have to use eq in the studio if all the instruments sound good. It should all be done with microphones and microphone placement.

Gw: I was looking at some old photos of the band recently, and I noticed you had an assortment of fairly bizarre amplifiers and guitars in’69. what wer you using before you switched to the marshall super lead/les paul combination that most people associate with you?

Jp: it was basically whatever we could afford at the time. I really didn’t make any money when I was with the yardbirds, so I was pretty broke in the beginning. I actually had to finance the first led zeppelin album with money I had saved as a session musician. What I had as equipment was very minimal. I had my telecaster that jeff beck gave me, a harmony acoustic, a bunch of rickenbacker transonic cabinets left over from the yardbirds, and a hodgepodge of amps-vox and hi-watts, mostly.

I also had a black les paul custom with a tremolo arm that was stolen during the first 18 months of zeppelin. It was lifted at the airport. We were on our way to Canada, and, somewhere, there was a flight change and it disappeared. It never arrived at the other end. Aal I used for pedals was an echoplex, a tonebender distortion and a wah-wah.

Gw: what were you playing on the ’69 sessions?

Jp: the telecaster. I’m not really sure about the amp.

Gw: that tele sported quite a spectacular psychedelic paint job.

Jp: I painted it myself. Everyone painted their guitars back then.

Gw: what happened to it?

Jp: I still have it, but it’s a tragic story. I went on tour with the ’59 les paul that I bought from joe walsh, and when I got back, a friend of mine had kindly painted over my paint job. He said, ‘I’ve got a present for you.” He thought he had done me a real favor. As you can guess, I was real happy about that. His paint job totally screwed up the sound and the wiring, so only the neck pick-up worked. I salvaged the neck and put it on my brown tele string bender that I used in the firm. As for the body…it will never be seen again! (laughs)

Gw: did you switch to the les paul because you felt at some level the tele wasn’t cutting it?

Jp: no. if you listen to the first album, the tele is going all that with the pedals I mentioned. It was certainly doing the job.

Gw: so why did you leave it behind?

Jp: when joe walsh was trying to sell me his les paul, I said “I’m quite happy with my telecaster.” But as soon as I played it, I fell in love. Not that the tele isn’t user friendly, but the les paul was so gorgeous and easy to play. It just seemed a good touring guitar.

Gw: I wa struck by how clean your sound is on the bbc sessions. What is your philosophy regarding volume?

Jp: the answer is, I turn up pretty high, but I vary my pick attack-I don’t play hard all the ime. I find that approach helps me get more tonal and dynamic variation, especially when I’m playing close to the neck. Then you have the power if you really want to hit it hard. If you go hard all the time, you just won’t get the difference in tone.

Gw: how did the four members of zeppelin interact on a personal level? Was everything as smooth internally as it appeared to be?

Jp: I think the atmosphere in led zeppelin was always an encouraging one. We all wanted the music to get better. And part of the reason things ran smoothly was I had the last decision on everything. I was the producer, so there weren’t going to be any fights.

The atmosphere was always very professional. I was meticulous with my studio notes, and everybody knew they would get proper credit, so everything was fine.

Another key: we all lived in different parts of the country, so when we came off the road we really didn’t see each other. I think that helped. We really only socialized when we were on the road. We all really came to value our family lives, especially after being on the road so much, which is how it should be. It helped create the balance in our lives. Our families helped keep us sane.


Comment from beatbo: it is really quite remarkable how little revisionism jimmy page has managed to keep from creeping into the zeppelin legacy. After decades, many rock stars have isolated perspectives as to how they performed or created their best work. Despite the remarkable amount of achievement and the personal load carried by page, especially in the first years of zeppelin, page keeps it simple and historically accurate.

edit to add: i tried to get the software to capitalize everything for you guys, but (as usual) i managed to screw it up. looking into hiring a dictation secretary for future postings.

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