The Myth and Mystique of Jimmy Page
by Daniel Brooks
Rock history is full of guitar heroes who have each forged their own musical palette, expanded the vocabulary of rock guitar, and created a body of work worthy of their own legend and their multitudes of inspired fans. But few guitarists have achieved anything even close to the level of importance, versatility and influence of Jimmy Page. With the Yardbirds, Led Zeppelin and impressive string of collaborations and solo projects, Page has masterfully expressed a musical intelligence across an impressively broad spectrum of genres. Hard rock, idyllic English folk, Psychedelia, electric blues, country, Eastern-influenced “World” music, or any number of previously unimagined and therefore undefinable forms, all created with an inexplicable and powerful mystique that has continued to thrive after thousands of repeated listenings.
Jimmy Page playing Madison Square Garden, Image Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/divadivadina/465006376/" target="_blank">Dina Regine
Born on January 9, 1944 in Heston, England, Jimmy Page picked up the guitar at the age of 13 after hearing a recording of Elvis Presley’s “Baby Let’s Play House.” Like many young English musicians of the times, Page played skiffle, a form of early 20th century American music with elements of Jazz, Blues and Folk that was undergoing a popular revival in the 1950s. A lesson or two and a lot of enthusiastic practice made him ready to join the Crusaders by the time he was 15. For the next two years, Page toured England and recorded with the Crusaders until he became ill with glandular fever and had to quit. For a brief period, he put all thought of a musical career aside to pursue art studies at Sutton Art College in Surrey.
In the early 1960s, young British musicians discovered and embraced the Blues with the same overwhelming enthusiasm previously given to skiffle. Drawn by the lure of the British Blues Explosion, the young art student Jimmy Page made frequent appearances at The Marquee Club in London to play with Cyril Davies, Alexis Corner and his friends Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. Upon the strength of his performances, Page was invited to lend his talents as a session guitarist for the Columbia Graphophone Company and was soon offered a regular studio gig by Mike Leander of Decca Records. Page became one of the most in-demand guitarists in London over the next few years and would appear on the early records by the Who, The Kinks, Donovan, and the Rolling Stones, among others.
In 1964, Page was approached by the Yardbirds. Musical conflicts with Eric Clapton’s purist approach to the blues led the Yardbirds to seek a replacement guitarist. Page’s loyalty to Clapton and his successful studio career led him to decline the offer. When Clapton quit the band a few months later, Page recommended his friend Jeff Beck, who, of course accepted.
At Beck’s 1966 session for “Beck’s Bolero” featuring Keith Moon, John Entwistle, John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins, Page voiced the idea of forming a supergroup out of the session’s lineup. When Entwistle said the project would go over like a lead balloon, Keith Moon suggested Jimmy Page call it Lead Zeppelin. A few weeks later Page was backstage at a Yardbirds concert in Oxford when bassist Paul Samwell-Smith announced he was quitting the band.
By this time Page was playing as many as three sessions per day, six days a week, on increasingly unfulfilling productions. He was tired of session work and wanted to return to playing in a band. His offer to take Samwell-Smith’s place as the band’s bassist was quickly accepted. As soon as Chris Dreja had practiced enough to switch to bass, Page switched to second guitarist along with Jeff Beck and almost as quickly became the sole guitarist when Beck was fired from the band in October 1966. By July 1968, however, the fuzz-soaked psychedelia came to an end when Singer Keith Relf and Drummer Jim McCarty left the Yardbirds to form Renaissance, leaving Page and Dreja with a non-existent band and a string of unfulfilled tour dates.
Page approached singer Terry Reid about forming a new lineup. Reid declined but suggested he check out a young midlands singer with the Band of Joy named Robert Plant whose range and passion he found most impressive. Plant in turn recommended his drummer John Bonham. When Chris Dreja left the project to pursue photography, John Paul Jones contacted Page and became the fourth member. As all four musicians would later say, their first rehearsal was “magic.” They knew instantly that The New Yardbirds would be something fantastic. “We found out in the first hour and a half that we had our own identity,” said Plant. By the end of their tour Page remembered his conversation with Keith Moon and suggested they change their name. Their Manager Peter Grant suggested they change the spelling to Led Zeppelin so that no one would mispronounce the name. The rest is history.
The http://proguitarshop.com/catalinbread-rah.html" target="_blank">Catalinbread RAH was designed to recreate the sound of Page’s Hiwatt Amplifiers
Led Zeppelin recorded their first album in 30 hours. Robert Plant’s visceral vocal delivery and lyrical sense, John Bonham’s drums somehow both articulate and massively powerful, and the extensive experience of session veterans John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page melded together to create a debut that was the first of seven or eight classic albums (depending on how you count them), and made them legends almost immediately. It may be argued that Led Zeppelin were as big an influence on rock music in the 1970s as the Beatles had been in the 1960s. Songs like “Dazed and Confused,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker,” “The Immigrant Song,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “No Quarter,” “Kashmir,” “Achilles Last Stand” and dozens of others have inspired millions of would-be musicians to pick up a guitar or a drum kit or a microphone and explore their own creativity.
Of course, Jimmy Page’s extraordinary work as a guitarist was a vital factor in the magic of Led Zeppelin’s extraordinary music. Let’s take a moment to look at the gear with which he captured that signature sound. On their first album, and much of their first tour, Page relied almost exclusively on the 1959 Fender Telecaster given to him by Jeff Beck during their days together in the Yardbirds. As was often the case in those psychedelic days, Page repainted it with a red, gold and green dragon motif. A few years later, he would use the “Dragon” Tele for the solo on “Stairway to Heaven.” By the second album, he had found his 1958 Les Paul Standard (Number 1) that he would use onstage and to record the majority of his electric guitar parts. He has since collected hundreds of guitars, most notably the 1959 Les Paul Standard (“Number Two”), the Gibson EDS-1275 Doubleneck used live for such songs as “The Song Remains the Same,” “The Rain Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” His black and white Danelectro 3021, tuned to DADGAD, was a concert stand by for songs like “White Summer/Black Mountain Side,” “Kashmir” and “In My Time of Dying.”
As the success of Led Zeppelin allowed for upgrades in his equipment, Page’s Supro Amps were soon replaced by 100 watt HiWatt amps modified for higher gain. Catalinbread has recreated the sound of this extraordinary amp with their RAH (Royal Albert Hall) overdrive pedal. Eventually, Page went to the amps that would become his on-stage workhorses, a series of Marshall SLP-1959 100 watt amps modified with KT-88 power tubes to get 200 watts of sound. In the studio, he often relied on a Vox AC-30, a Fender Dual Showman, a Fender Vibro-king and an Orange Amp.
As for effects, the old Roger Mayer Fuzzbox and the Sola Sound Tonebender were early favorites that gave way to the MXR Blue Box. A Maestro Echoplex added all of the considerable space and presence that only an old tape delay can. By the time they had recorded “No Quarter,” Page was using a modified Cry Baby Wah, and of course his MXR Phase 90 gave an inimitable voice to “The Rover.” Most of Page’s gear is still available; the classics tend to continue after all. But if you want to sound like Jimmy Page, do yourself a favor and take the time to learn the musical genius behind the songs.