For the release of a stunning new book, ‘Anthology,’ the guitarist and producer goes deep on several Zep classics, the excellence of John Bonham , and why he’s fascinated with hip-…
The very first time I met Jeff, I said, “What’s your version of[Little Walter’s] ‘My Babe’?” to see how he played it. And I said, “Yeah, well, I’ve been doing it like this.” He just had an instant rapport with me. He had a homemade guitar at the time, and I’m sure he’d be very proud to say that. We were just two kids. We’d heard rock & roll. We’d heard these guitarists, and there was no turning back. Even at that age, in our teens, that’s it. We’re committed.
As each release came, with the Gene Vincent stuff, it was really challenging to even attempt to play it. But once you had a solid-body guitar, as opposed to a cello body, it became more doable. Nevertheless, you were fueled to do the best you could, and it’s quite right. I mean, one of the records that stopped you in your tracks was [1956’s]
Johnny Burnette and the Rock n’ Roll Trio.The musical glue of that record is just absolutely phenomenal, and the guitar playing was so abstract to anything else that I’d ever heard.It’s interesting that you guys were listening to the depth of sound and breaking out who did what. Did that inform how you produced records later?
You could hear the ambiance of the room, and go, “Oh, that’s so and so.” On Little Richard, you could hear what was done or how you thought it was done. When I became a studio musician, then I really had a chance to do a self-imposed apprenticeship, because I could learn how things were done in recording. I could see how producers went about it. I could see how the musical arrangers went about it. That was fine for me, because they’d say, “Make up your own path.” Brilliant. I don’t mind that. And then, when I got a rapport with the engineers, then I could say, “I’ve got [a record] I’d like you to hear. How do you think it’s done? I’ve got my idea about how it’s done.” It was all a learning curve. I knew how to make the whole thing work economically for everybody, because I had this discipline.
Did paying attention to the ambiance of the room on the records you listened to inspire what you did with producing John Bonham’s drums?Well, it’s harder to do with drums. I played with the best drummers in the world of studio musicians. They had the cream of the crop. I got to see how they would put these really good drummers, who had really wonderful acoustic sounds to their drums, into these isolated booths. So now you couldn’t see them apart from through plexiglass. You couldn’t hear them because they were trying to mute down all the instruments. And you’d hear the playback, and the drummer would look so disappointed because he was playing his heart out, but the drums sounded just like anything in a packing case. All of these harmonics in the drums were being sucked into all the muting, the sound baffles, and things. So it was losing the whole thing of an acoustic instrument.
I learned that really quickly. And when I heard John Bonham, I knew instinctively what to do. It was to mic him from above, so you could get all these harmonics coming off of his drums, because he knew how to tune his drums. Actually, his drums were tuned to the keys of our tracks. But that’s how it was to have distance, making depth with the microphones.
You can really hear the effect of the room on his drums on a song like “When the Levee Breaks.”When we were recording at Headley [Grange, a stone house where Led Zeppelin cut their fourth album], we started off recording in the living room there, and then a second drum kit appears. We don’t see it, but it’s been set up in the great hall there. And when John Bonham starts playing it, the reverberation in this hallway, which is where the stairway goes up, like three floors, and it’s a wooden staircase, tiled floor, the reflective surfaces are magnificent. So the whole kit is literally sort of singing in this huge void. I heard the drums there and I knew exactly what we should do. We did “When the Levee Breaks,” which was something that we’d done in the studio called “If It Keeps on Raining,” and it doesn’t sound anything like that. But I just knew, and I could hear in my head what we were going to do there, what the drum sounds were with this reverberation in there. And then I did the overdubs, that were done immediately.
Once we did the run-through of the bass, guide voice, and the guitar, I went straight about putting on the backwards guitar on it. I went straight about getting Robert Plant to do the harmonica parts, because I wanted to do a backwards harmonica part with like a straightforward echo. But I knew what it was straight away, and everything was done so quickly. So I just sort of instinctively knew it from hearing the drums being set up and John just practicing on the drums.
It’s definitely evocative.Yeah. I could hear it. I could visualize what it was. It’s not like that all the time, or else I really would be in a different league, but it is what it is.If I’m playing guitar, which is what I’ve been doing in the lockdown, I play things which I know that I know. And then before I know where I am, I’m improvising. And then before too much time the improvising has turned into something else, which is something I haven’t played before. In other words, I’ve written something new. So it’s all part of being an unschooled musician, having learnt yourself. And I suppose you pick up these sort of habits, some good, some bad. You have your own way of going about it, whereas another musician, who’s schooled, he’d probably say play scales all day long.
On the subject of John Bonham, are you able to explain for someone who’s not a drummer why he was so important and so irreplaceable?Well, the first track of the first album is “Good Times, Bad Times,” and that’s no accident. The reason why it’s on there is because it’s actually quite a short piece of music, but it sums up so much in so many ideas, all in one go. It’s just an explosion that hits you. But one of the key factors of it, apart from the riff, is the actual drumming, because what he does on the drums during that track just changes people’s attitude to drums overnight. That’s all there is to it.
One of the other things that he could do was a roll on the bass drum with one foot and one pedal. It wasn’t two bass drums; it was one foot. You might hear people say, “Oh, I can do that.” But the thing is, you see how long they can do it for, and they’ll soon pack up. They might do it just for a little bit, but he could do it for ages. His technique was just out of this world, but he had the imagination to go with it as well.
So, yes, John Bonham could get a lot of volume out of his drums, not by forehand smashes, but just because he knew how to tune the drums in such a way that they would project. He would have a natural balance to everything he was playing. And then he’d give a bass-drum accent that you’d feel it go into your stomach. His technique was just amazing. He was such fun to play with. But the other thing was that he loved Led Zeppelin. He really loved the band, and he used to play the music at home. So we had a lot of fun, and a lot of fun improvising onstage.
I’ve read that after you didIn Through the Out Door, you and Bonham wanted to make a heavier Led Zeppelin album. What was your vision for that?Well, yeah, we were already doing stuff in 1980. We did a tour of Europe. I think the way to put it is like this:
Presencewas a guitar album. After that record, John Paul Jones had acquired a “Dream Machine,” a Yamaha [synthesizer]. Stevie Wonder also had one. So it had given him a lot of inspiration. He suddenly actually wrote whole numbers, which he hadn’t done before, and I thought the way to go with this is to feature John Paul Jones on the keyboard. He’d written some stuff with Robert. I thought, “Well, that’s great.” Obviously, at that time, I thought I knew how this album [
In Through the Out Door]is shaping up, but the next album is going to be a departure from the keyboard album.After the sessions forIn Through the Out Door, John Bonham and I were discussing how we wanted to do a sort of more riff-based entity, and harder and trickier. And then, of course, I know what sort of drums he liked to play. He liked to play, like, really hard; he liked to play stuff that people heard it, they’d go, “Wow, what’s that?” I like to do that as well with the guitar parts. We had a bit of an idea of what we might do, but basically, it was not going to be a keyboard album. There would be keyboards on it maybe, but it was going to go more into another vein. It would be different to anything that had been there before. We didn’t get a chance to do that, obviously, because we lost John.
What is it that has attracted you to writing heavy music?Do you mean the sort of intensity of it or the passion of it?Yeah.I guess a lot of that comes from all the music that has been quite pivotal in one way or the other to me hearing it, or accessing something at some point of time and it making a difference, and the way that it affected me when I heard it. So then when you get the full scale of that with something like classical music, or when you’ve got so many layers and textures of it, or you’ve got something like, let’s see, Muddy Waters and “Long Distance Call,” and you’ve got Muddy Waters playing slide, and let’s say Dick Crawford on bass, and you’ve got Little Walter on electric harmonica coming through an amplifier, and you hear this spine-chilling music, all of that has an effect.
The guitars of “Stairway to Heaven.”© Jimmy Page Archive 2019There’s a photo in the book of all the guitars that you used on “Stairway to Heaven.” Did you go into that thinking, “I’m going to write this piece that uses all these different instruments”?
Yeah, insomuch as I wrote it on the Harmony [acoustic] guitar, and I worked out how the thing was going to run for the parts that were going to be the vocal. And then I had the bit which I called “the fanfare,” which is where the 12 strings really sing out before it goes into the solo. And I had all the chords for the solo, and the solo chords were going to be the end section.
I had all of that on the acoustics, and I ran through it with the rest of the band, and then we went to record it. Just as soon as we had the whole run of the track, then I started laying on the 12-string. So I think I put the Vox 12-string on it first, and I wanted to use one 12-string on the left and one on the right, so there would be just a slight sound difference between the Vox 12-string, and the Fender 12-string. Of course, they all come together for what I call the fanfare before the guitar solo.
And then there is a solo that’s put on it, and basically that is the whole of the run for the thing. It’s mainly the acoustic, and the two 12-strings are driving it all the way through, and then there’s the solo.How did you figure out what to do with it live?
Obviously, “Stairway” has got to be done live, because it’s quite an epic, and we haven’t done anything like that, and nor has anybody else done anything quite like that. So I thought, “How’s the way that I’m going to approach it? Six-string acoustic, 12-string? I know, I’ll get a double-neck for a 12-string and 6-string.” And I got onto Gibson, and they sent over the double-neck, which I’ve still got that, and I still play that one.
So, in actual fact, the song dictated the guitar. I couldn’t have done it on anything else. Now you see a double-neck and you think, “Oh, it’s Jimmy Page. I know. Or is it someone else?” But it probably is Jimmy Page if it’s a red one.The Zoso sigil from the fourth album is all throughout the book in so many different ways. What does it mean to you now?
Basically, how I arrived at it is when we did the fourth album … Sorry, you’reRolling Stone,but we’d had so much bad press from people who couldn’t understand the fact that you’d doLed Zeppelin II,following it withLed Zeppelin III,which is an album with lots of acoustic guitars. Well, actually acoustic guitars were on the first album, second album, and the third albums, but they couldn’t understand that a band wanted to be so radical, to change what they were doing. Not only that, but to be onstage and then improvise like the way that we did. They couldn’t get their heads around it, nor did they want to. So by the time the fourth album came around, we wanted to put it out with no information on it whatsoever, because people was saying we were this, we were that, we were a hype, it was a con. Well, yeah, OK. Let’s see any other hype or con come out with music of this sort of caliber. Well, they can’t.
Let’s see how they wrestle with “Black Dog,” “Levee Breaks,” “Battle of Evermore,” and “Stairway to Heaven,” to name but a few. And we’ll put no information on the album whatsoever. And it’ll just go out. There’ll be no information. But then there was an idea of how craftsman of days gone by had their own stamp, sort of like a trademark, but a pictorial stamp, so you’d know it was that person. So it went from that idea of one sort of sigil, one idea, to the best idea, which was that everybody came up with their own sigil or their own symbol. So everybody did.
So I accessed my symbol or my sigil, and that is what it is. And [the record label] put it first. Then people thought, “Oh, actually, the album’s called whatever that symbol might interpret if you were to use it phonetically.” So that wasn’t the intention, but it doesn’t matter if it did, and it doesn’t matter if it didn’t. What it means to me now is that that I made a good choice [in selecting it]. It’s sort of instantly recognizable, and it’s lasted a long while,
or whenever it was originally around, to 1971 and beyond. [Pauses] I hope that answer is as evasive as you hoped it would be.Page’s “dragon suit,” seen here in an ‘Anthology’ spread.© Jimmy Page Archive 2019Yes, it was. There are some great photos of your outfits in the book. I’m looking at the dragon suit, and I’m impressed by how it’s in such pristine condition.
Well, what is extraordinary about that is that I lent that suit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and I got it back and I was shocked. It looked as though it was just manufactured. There was no marks on it where the [guitar] strap had been on the shoulder. And I thought this really is a magical garment. I mean, it really is. The poppy suit is a little more beaten up than that, but it’s in extraordinary condition.
After Led Zeppelin, you recorded with some members of Yes for a group dubbed XYZ, as in Ex-Yes and Zep. Since those XYZ recordings have never come out, how did those sound?If you know the precision of Yes, you know how technically brilliant they were. And so I was in there with Chris Squire, the extraordinary bass player, and Alan White, the drummer, and they had suggested that we go it together. Why not do that? It was the first thing that I did after we’d lost John Bonham, and I thought, “Well, if there’s ever anything like trying to jump in the deep end, this is it.” Because these guys are so good. And I mean, I’d heard the guitar playing Steve Howe would do and I thought, “Well, let’s see how it works.”
So, I went in there, and we did some of the songs that they’d already worked on, and then I came up with my guitar parts for these things, and that was really interesting. And Chris was singing on them. I thought, “I’ve really had to concentrate,” because it’s things in different time signatures. I mean it was a serious workout. But it was
great.It was brilliant. And then I said, “I’ve got one,” and I played them what actually becomes “Fortune Hunter” with the Firm.And then I saw that actually they had trouble. I thought, “Oh, I see. OK. Well, they’ve really worked on what they’ve got here, which is probably all they do [with] all the Yes stuff. But it’s not just improvising.”
“Fortune Hunter” was good. I’m not that familiar with Yes music, to know whether some of the things that we played got actually used in the Yes material. Because I can say to you, “Well, yes, there was the one that became ‘Fortune Hunter,’ but it was a totally different sort of onset when it was done with Chris. And it’s more like a guitar instrumental with Chris and I.”
Will those XYZ recordings ever come out?Unfortunately, we’ve lost Chris now. It was something that I always hoped to do, as some sort of project, to get hold of him and Alan. It’s not even worth talking about, because it’s all speculation. I haven’t had a chance to really listen to the stuff and see just exactly what we do have, and what we don’t have. I don’t have any mixdowns of it. If I did, I’m not quite sure where they are now.
In the Eighties, Bonham’s drumming became one of the foundational sounds in hip-hop. You later collaborated withPuff Daddyon a track that used music from “Kashmir.” Why is hip-hop significant to you?You’re a product of your musical environment. I’m someone who learned the acoustic guitar and a few campfire or skiffle songs, and then bit by bit learned how to play the electric guitar and developed my own style. I wanted to investigate, like Sir Richard Burton [the 19-century British explorer], trying to find the source of the Nile. So it’s your environment. Without talking about the samples of our music, you could tell with hip-hop that they were sort of educated in so many areas, the stuff that they listened to, and they knew how to combine it and make it into another art form. Well, that’s great. Because I mean, that’s basically what happens with Led Zeppelin.
Hip-hop fascinated me, the whole culture of what it was and breakdancing and all this whole thing coming from the street. I thought it was great. It was really good and some brave stuff.And I tell you, when Puff Daddy, as he was at the time, got in contact and said that he wanted to do this thing, I thought, “Wow. Yeah, yeah. We’ve been sampled enough. Why not do it for real?” So I thought it was great. And it was an epic thing that he did. He put two orchestras on it, for heaven’s sake [
laughs]. We never had that sort of luxury. And when I didSaturday Night Livewith him, it was phenomenal. He did a couple of run-throughs and then the take, and he was different on each one. He was somebody who was improvising, and I admired his work.Did it make you hear “Kashmir” in a different way?
Well, yeah. The whole riff of “Kashmir” is like a round, and then you’ve got this cascading stuff, like you hear the brass parts on the final record. It’s just like “Whole Lotta Love.” Have you seen any of these mash-ups that’ve been on the internet, with the James Brown one and there’s Black Sabbath, and there’s this and there’s that, Snoop Doggy Dogg. And there’s all these various versions with “Whole Lotta Love” because it’s a great riff.
There’s some super-clever stuff, but what it is for me, it’s like, “Great. If people think that riff is so inspiring that they want to do this with James Brown, for heaven’s sake, thank you very much. Count me in” [laughs]. And I’ve had great fun with seeing all these things, and what it is, is something like “Whole Lotta Love,” people sort of love that riff, and when they play [it], it brings a smile to their face, and that’s great. That’s why I play music. That’s why I want to create music.
Has all of that changed how you view your legacy?I wanted to create music to make something that would change people’s lives and get them happy for some time. That’s what it’s all about. And if you’ve managed to do something where you’ve just learned a couple of chords to start with, and you’ve managed to turn it into your profession, and you’re being so serious about it that you’ve been able to make inroads with it, whether it was as a studio musician or with the Yardbirds or Led Zeppelin, and you’ve managed to make music that’s made a difference to people, being able to pass on the baton to young people of all I learned from James Burton and the Rock and Roll Trio, and Albert King, Freddie King, and B.B. King, and Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson, and this melting pot, that, to me, is the lifetime achievement. You’ve made a difference. So, that’s really cool.Read more: Rolling Stone »
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A genius that made music that's eternal. I will always love Zeppelin! ❤️ There's one very significant guitar missing from the 'Guitars of Stairway' pic. Everyone believes this to be the '59 Tele, but does JimmyPage have another secret? Great work! All those occult rumors I used to hear are apparently true. IDC however because he's the greatest guitarist who ever lived.
Way cool Every artist should aspire to being as proud of their work as Jimmy Page. Led Zep gives me music boners. ÷÷÷÷÷ While the Earth burns we argue about who is wrong, who is right, whose fault and who'll take the blame. 💥$0.99 Sale!💥 Has he talked about his relationship with a 14 year old yet and his plagiarism of multiple tracks?
I mean we know Jimmy wants to do some more Zeppelin, it's Plant who is doesn't. Even though there would be a massive market for Led Zeppelin music. MetalMena x Jesus I hope he hasn’t started a new round of remasters! dangotango123
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