Led Zeppelin


Interviews

Jimmy Page Promo Interview

12/99

Chemistry of Zep:

"I think it was that we were really seasoned musicians. We had serious roots that spanned different cultures, obviously the blues. I was seduced by R&R as a teenager and that's what made me want to play. From then I discovered the blues and country blues, folk musicians, then folk with Arabic and on and on. I was gobbling it all up, then it just came up as the music that you heard."

Influence of Blues:

"As far as the blues, it just captured them hearing Chicago blues. When the Stones first started they were doing really good interpretations of Muddy Waters songs and all that Chess catalog. They weren't the only ones of course. Down in the south (London), that's what was going on. Then you had the Beatles in Liverpool with "Please Mr. Postman", and it really wasn't the same deal as what was going on down South, but it got very popular and changed what was going on. It wasn't so much, for me, their music, but the fact that they wrote their own songs and all of a sudden they opened the door for any band that could write songs. I started doing studio work. That's the big change they made on the music scene."

Longevity of Zep:

"The honesty of the music and the delivery and the passion of it. We went in and recorded exactly where we were at that point in time. I think because of the quality of musicianship of the band has given it the longevity. I thought the music would endure, I didn't think I would.. I always thought I'd be dead by 30 then dead by 40 and on and on. Now I'm 55 so I didn't even die at 50."

"I always believed in the music we did and that's why it was uncompromising. The first album then the second album had Whole Lotta Love. When the record company heard the third album they said 'where's the WLL?' And of course there wasn't one. There wasn't a Stairway to Heaven on the fifth because we went in and recorded exactly where we were at that time."

Critics:

"I don't think the critics could understand what we were doing. It's a good example to go back to the WLL syndrome. The second album was recorded on the road, we started before we came to the (US) touring. We did some cuts here at Atlantic (Bring it on Home). It had all the energy of being on the road, that urgency. We'd been touring for two years solid. Once you see the door open, you kick it open and go right in. We took full advantage of touring to get our name and mission across. We had a break after that period and Robert and I went away and were in a cottage with no electricity. We had battery recorders and were writing in a more mellow way so when the third album came out as mellow music, they couldn't understand what it was all about. So, you see it was a product of where we were at that point in time. And so I guess reviewers put on an album once and unless they caught something they could relate to from a previous album... of course they couldn't understand it - you just got successively worse reviews as the albums went on because they went totally over people's heads. It seems funny now that Stairway had a one-line review in one I remember. It got to be amusing after a while because they just couldn't understand what we were doing, which is always good isn't it."

Zep Heavy Metal?

"It's the whole light and shade of the band. When you say "heavy metal" it the intensity of the riffs, really. There's some majestic music like Kashmir - some music that can really caress, like Ten Years Gone."

Playing with Puff Daddy:

"It was a really good thing to do that Puff Daddy thing and gave me such a focus. We were touring at the time (with Page/Plant) and it was a really good thing to do and he was great to work with as well."

Is this Early Days/Latter Days a Greatest Hits Compilation?

"In a way, yes. There was the original vinyl, then it was remastered into CD - we put out a four-CD box set. That's so long, years ago. It just seemed to be good timing to put out what is almost like a greatest hits. But to put out a greatest hits on one CD was totally impossible, I just couldn't do it. The best compromise was to put out two CDs - Early Days - which is what it is - and Latter Days. It chronological; the first goes up to the fourth album. The second one will come out in early 2000 and will have the rest of the albums. I didn't pick them out of a hat... (laughs). I thought it was a fair summing up of those albums."

Communication Breakdown Video on Early Days CD (from Sweden TV '69):

"Communication is us actually miming to it (from Sweden TV). Everything around from that time is live, like in Denmark or somewhere (referring to the Danish TV performance). It looks like they're stoned but they're not they're absolutely flabbergasted by what's going on because they've never seen anything like it. So this one is a time that we lip-synched it, so we're having a whale of a time and being silly and having a lot of fun. It's in context to put it on here because it's lip-synched, so it's a little bonus."

Recording 1st album:

"I think it comes out to 36 hours - I know that because I had to pay the bills. It wasn't like we went into there for 36 hours non-stop, but we paid for 36 hours of studio time. We had a chance to air the songs onstage in a small tour of Scandinavia. It gave us a change to know the number before going in the studio. JPJ and I were veterans in the studio so we had all the discipline. John Bonham and Robert had been in the studio before for a couple of things. It wasn't like anyone was going in there for the first time. Everyone got swept away by the energy of it."

Bands today take so long to record:

"It baffles me a bit because the album Presence was done in three weeks - fully recorded and mixed. In Through the Out Door was done in three weeks, so I can't see why people have to take so long to do an album. Presence is quite a technical album. I don't know why people take two years to do an album. I wouldn't have the patience for it - I'd get fed up. That's why you hear about people doing an album and taking two years to record it - and it's stale."

Page on John Bonham:

"Almost the moment he died, they put him in Playboy as one of the greatest drummers, which he was - there's no doubt about it. There's never been anybody since. He's one of the greatest drummers that ever lived. You only have to hear a live performance to see the way he could approach things and his imagination was far beyond any other drummer that I've ever played with."

Performing Live in Zep:

"The funniest thing is I listen on some of those bootleg albums, and I remember on two tours I wasn't playing with one finger at all because I'd done damage to it. One time I'd ripped it on a fence or something, another time I got it crushed. So when I hear a wrong note, I think wait a minute... But, I wouldn't have the nerve to do it now."

"Everybody else had a support band. As we went on it was difficult, just like what we were talking about with the running order (of Early Days). It was so difficult to take numbers out when we had a new album, so we just kept adding new material. The set got longer and longer and longer to the point where we we doing three hour sets."

Role as producer in Zep:

"You try to have a democratic thing, but I think it's an accepted thing that Jimmy was a producer then. For instance, the the BBC Sessions I did all the editing, so it goes without saying."

Would you ever remix Zep catalog?

"Across the albums I'd hear something and say - that's too loud, or not loud enough. But people get immersed in them and they hear them as they are and they don't need to be messed with. I'll give you a strange example of this: when I was learning from the records as a kid, like on Ricky Nelson numbers - you'd hear half the solo then they'd apply the echo. I'd listen back to them and they weren't nearly as pronounced as I thought they were and it came as a shock. That's how much I'd gotten into the records. Even though it was only a mono record, it opened up and was massive - I could hear every little nuance. I think people who are really into Zeppelin records feel the same way and it's not a good thing to do."

Recording When the Levee Breaks

"The curious thing about Levee, I had the riff and sequence of it and that's about all. Robert had a guide vocal to it. We tried it in two studios and it didn't sound good. If a number didn't work, we'd just move on and try the song the next day. We were working in Headley Grange with a mobile truck. Bonzo had one drum kit in the room we were recording, and a second kit - I think a new drum kit - was set up. He started playing there and I went "hold it!" because there was this massive sound. I said let's mike up the kit and let's start and we started with When the Levee Breaks, as far as I remember. Around this big massive drum sound, the whole thing just settled into what it was, then of course all the overdubs came on, backwards echo and all this sort of stuff."

Did You Write Material before going in the Studio?

"I always felt if we were going in to do an album, there should already be a lot of structure already made up so we could get on with that and see what else happened. I always had a lot of material - it speaks for itself for the first album, but all the way through. I thought it was also important to see what would happen organically as well. For instance, on Rock and Roll... Is that on there? (asks interviewer)... good, it should be (laughs), we were recording something else - I can't remember what it was at the time and John Bonham just started playing the opening bars of Keep A Knockin', by Little Richard - the drum intro. I heard that and just started playing what you know as the riff of Rock and Roll. We got through the first twelve bars and said "let's stop and listen to this". The other song just got totally forgotten about & we did Rock and Rock, all in a matter of minutes."

Possibility of releasing live Zep material?

"Well, we've got live material from 1970 going right through to Knebworth, which was the last concert in England. The 1970 show is the Albert Hall so we're doing the first album stuff and some of the second album. That's pretty good and we've got live tapes to go with those as well. It's the sort of project that would be interesting to do. There's always been talk of doing something at one point. I thought it would be a good idea to put out a live chronological deal, something like this (Early Days) but in line with the footage. But at another point in time it'll be "let's just do the Albert Hall" and that would be good. It's a really good concert, before some of the songs got too long."

Playing with the Black Crowes:

"It was proposed that there was going to be a concert in London at a place called the Cafe du Paris to raise money for these projects and safehouses in Brazil, for the street children (June '99). I'd been involved with the charity, but I didn't have a band. I played there the year before, with Robert for another charity so I couldn't ask them to do it again. Also, they wanted to get other bands. There was a suggestion, I think it was Ross Halfin who said it would be great if you did that with the Crowes - The Crowes! That would be absolutely fantastic. I contacted them because it was the same time they were doing Wembley and they said they'd love to do it."

"Because they said they'd do it, we now had 'Jimmy Page with the Black Crowes' instead of Jimmy Page with nobody, other bands came onboard - Stereophonics, Roger Taylor from Queen. Steve and Joe from Aerosmith came down and we did some numbers. It was a really good. I did Dazed & Confused as an instrumental. It was such a fun evening. It was really as a result of them coming onboard that this whole charity thing managed to manifest. So, an idea was then proposed to me: We've got the Roseland Ballroom and Greek Theatre, would you like to do something with the Crowes? So I jumped at it. We had a big party ever since. I'm really gonna miss it when we stop. They're such lovely guys and so committed to rock and good music. Plus, they can really play Zeppelin, which isn't easy to play."

 

What is and what should never be

When Led Zeppelin made its first trip to the BBC Studios in London during March of 1969, it was a young band with one album done, a second on the way and a buzz based on guitarist Jimmy Page's (pictured) tenure with the Yardbirds and bassist John Paul Jones' lengthy session credits.

The group's sound was primal and raw and not completely formed. It's first selections were sledgehammer cover versions of the blues great Willie Dixon's "You Shook Me" and "I Can't Quite You Baby."

But even the casual ear could pick up a special, distinctive chemistry that was bubbling under the standard 12-bar changes.

And within two years, the group was wending its way through the shifting dynamics of its opus, "Stairway to Heaven", as well as intricate acoustic pieces such as "Going to California" and "That's the Way."

This rapid growth is traced on "BBC Sessions", a new release of frequently bootlegged material from the Led Zep archives and a more complete chronicle of the legendary quartet's performance prowess than the soundtrack album from the 1976 film "The Song Remains the Same."

"That is a natural process, obviously, of just playing a lot together; you get closer and closer, you get to anticipate each other's moves," says Jones, explaining that while he and guitarist Jimmy Page were seasoned professionals when the group performed, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham -- whose death in 1980 led to the band's dissolution -- didn't have much big-time experience.

"I think what you're hearing is the maturation of the other two more than us," he says.

Jones acknowledges that performing on BBC programs such as "Top Gear," "Chris Grant's Tasty Pop Sundae," "One Night Stand" and "In Concert" were major gigs for rock bands.

The Beatles, Rolling Stones and other groups made several significant appearances on the BBC, often as a way of getting around the national network's sticky "needle time" rules, which permitted disc jockeys only so much time each day to play records -- thereby limiting exposure for rock
bands.

But in Led Zeppelin's case, the BBC dates also provided the group with an opportunity to give the listening audience a taste of how its songs evolved after they were recorded.

"We were allowed to expand and play five-, six-, seven-minute songs," says Jones, 51, who was born John Baldwin and became a professional musician at age 16. "The albums were always the starting point of the music, and then we'd take it out and expand it on the road.

"And then we'd come straight off the road and into those studios. So the fire in the playing was particularly noticeable, and the cockiness was there."

The BBC outings also allowed the band to play some of its blues and rocks favorites by other artists. The Beatles' "Live at the BBC" album was filled with covers, and besides the Dixon cuts, "BBC Sessions" finds Zep working its way through Eddie Cochran's "Something Else" and Sleepy John Estes' "The Girl I Love."

Jones says these were songs done mostly "for fun," but that in the early days of the band they also served a more pragmatic purpose.

"We started putting them in in the early days, when the act wasn't that long," he remembers. "It all kind of started in Boston, I think, at the Tea Party, when we had a very short act, and we played for an awfully long time. Anybody that knew more than four bars of anything would start it, and we
would all just join in.

"But it was fun, mainly. You're not trying to be like, 'Hey, this is a new angle' or a different interpretation.' We weren't that pretentious."

Jones says the idea for "BBC Sessions" was hatched during the meetings he, Page and Plant regularly have to sort through Led Zeppelin business.

The musicians culled the song list from four broadcasts during 1969 and 1971, deciding to duplicate some songs -- such as "Dazed and Confused" and the Dixon tunes -- to further illustrate the group's musical development.

The 1971 "In Concert" broadcast from London's Paris Theatre was particularly noteworthy, since it features a preview of "Stairway to Heaven" and other songs from Zep's then-forthcoming fourth album. But Jones says he remembers nothing particularly momentous about that performance.

"It was recognized as a good song and a good track, but it didn't go down half as well as the stuff the audience knew," he says. "That's the way of live shows, anyway."

The release of "BBC Sessions" raises the question of whether more concert material from the Zep archives is on the horizon. Page and "BBC Sessions" engineer Jon Astley have both alluded to other available recordings, but Jones says there are no firm plans for additional releases.

"These live tapes pop up rather than come from a great big store we're going to release bit by bit," says Jones, who's planning a solo album for 1998 while Page and Plant are working on another album together.

"You come across this stuff. This one kind of appeared while we were doing other Zeppelin business."

Jones adds that he meets "too often" with Page and Plant on residual Zep business matters. His relationship with the two has been strained since the singer and guitarist reunited in 1994 without inviting Jones or telling him about it. Feelings soured further when they named their album "No Quarter," after one of Jones' Zep compositions.

"I felt, not stupid, but ... why? Why doesn't somebody just say something. Just say, 'We don't want you,' or whatever," he says. "I really don't mind. It just seems so spineless to sort of crawl away."

Jones got even at Zep's 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when he thanked his former bandmates for "remembering my (phone) number." The zinger remains a highlight of Hall of Fame lore, and Jones remembers Neil Young, who jammed with Zep that night, poking Page and Plant in the ribs and admonishing them, "don't you forget his phone number ever again."

However, Jones acknowledges, the episode has put a chill in their relationship.

"I find it hard to talk about, and they certainly don't want to talk about it," says the married father of three grown daughters. "I know Page certainly looks at me a bit funny sometimes. I think Robert's in another world; I don't know what he thinks anymore. And we were close. It seems just odd."

Page and Plant each declined to respond to Jones' comments. That said, there's still a chance that the three might reunite for Atlantic Records' 50th anniversary bash last year, as they did for the company's 40th anniversary celebration. But Jones makes no promises.

"I don't know; it'll be funny doing anything with them again," he says. "I kind of hope I don't have to. I don't know what more I can tell you about that. I would rather not, to be honest."

(Gary Graff is a US journalist who covers the music scene from Detroit. He also is the supervising editor of the award-winning MusicHound album guide series. He has been published in a broad range of papers and magazines. This interview first appeared on Reuters).



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