Jump to content

Roger the Engineer (Sound recording review)


Recommended Posts

Roger the Engineer

Guitar Player Magazine Feb 1998

Author(s):James Rotondi

The A&E cable network touts its documentary series "Biography" with the line "The people you thought you knew." Add Jimmy Page to the list of candidates. Enough preconceptions, bad raps, and spurious accusations have swirled around Page over the last 30 years to fill the National Enquirer, Blues Revue, and an entire season of The X-Files.

Standing in the way of an objective appraisal of Page's gifts is the endless media mockery of "Stairway to Heaven," allegations of teen sex liaisons, cribbed Willie Dixon songs, alleged drug addiction, his connection to famed occultist Aleister Crowley, and his supposedly "sloppy"--to quote Ed Van Halen, among others--live playing. Like Dylan, who's been in the public eye long enough to amass a Mayflower van full of cultural baggage, Page can't get a fair trial. We think we know too much about him, but like Will Rogers, Stephen Hawking or Jimi Hendrix, he's too complex--and too important--to let the jury out just yet.

Besides, there's new evidence to consider. Featuring unreleased or formerly bootlegged live recordings of Zeppelin during their fresh '69 to '71 period, the two-CD Atlantic set BBC Sessions demolishes the conception of Zeppelin as a sloppy live band, a view largely derived from the shabby excesses of the film The Song Remains the Same. Page sloppy? Not in '71, when his dead-on rhythm chops, percussive lead breaks, and staccato blues attack--in a league with Luther Allison and Buddy Guy--came wrapped in dynamic phrasing and a beady distinctive tone that suggested Hubert Sumlin through a Marshall.

Listen to him milk every bend on "Since I've Been Loving You," playing with high drama, deep sentiment, defiance, and incredible attention to timbre and detail, with a supple band that arcs and troughs with every bleat and fretboard wink, all the way down to the trailing trill at the songs close. Forget how the violin bow routine in "Dazed and Confused" looks listen to how it sounds, a cross between Dracula rising from the crypt and Sonic Youth microtonally dismantling a Jazzmaster. For pee-your-pants excitement, few things beat the feisty young John Bonham tearing through "The Immigrant Song" under Page's snarling F#.

An even earlier Page appears on The Yardbirds' Roger the Engineer and BBC Sessions, U.K. albums' finally getting their stateside debut on Warner Archives. Jeff Beck's development is fascinating to track through the albums' chronological sequence, and so is Page's. The blotter-rock of Roger's "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" features Page and John Paul Jones sparring over a stinging minor-key spy riff, while "Psycho Daisies" boasts Page's motoric punk baseline. Sessions features six backs from the Yardbirds' Page-assisted last incarnation, including "Think About It," a pre-Zep gem that foreshadows "Heartbreaker" with its meaty, A-string power riff and triplet lead moves. A short interview with Page before the wahwab workout of "My Baby" reveals a mellow, almost girlish voice, and a calm, self-effacing modesty.

But it's Page's epic, ponderous sensibilities that producers Jaz Coleman and Youth tap on kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin [Point Music/Polygram]. Scored for the London Philharmonic Orchestra with help from a passel of Arabic classical musicians, Celtic players, and ambient-wash interludes, Kashmir tips the balance of mystical odes like "The Battle of Evermore" and "Stairway to Heaven" toward the pretension they've always been accused of. It's not that Coleman isn't sensitive to Page's understanding of fantasy literature or Orientalism, but rather that the booming hall sounds spawn a stridency that threatens to overwhelm the original intimacy of the pieces. More successful is the playfulness of "When the Levee Breaks," the Handel-like levity of "All My Love," and the urgent, Copland-esque recasting of "Friends."

What makes Page so seminal--perhaps modem rock's most influential musician and producer--was that his vision, talent, and imagination were so overarching, his intellectual net so widely cast. His virtuosity took place not only on the fretboard and in the studio, but m his curiosity and cultural literacy, all manifested and melded in the music. And yes, he rocked. "He could passionately discuss, quote, and articulate the philosophy of Nietzsche," says Coleman in his liner notes, "and yet, paradoxically always bid one a kindly farewell with the expression 'God bless.'" And you thought you knew Jimmy....

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Strange that they would focus on Roger The Engineer...

Yes, the headline kind of drew me in 'cause I thought it would be about the Yardbirds album, but then it veered off in another direction. Wonderfully written piece though, very good. I love that X-Files line.

Strange that the writer mentions the song "Think About It" but doesn't remark that the solo on it foreshadows Jimmy's epic "Dazed & Confused" solo.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Create New...