Submitted by HeadDino on Wed, 05/28/2008 - 22:19
Famous / Infamous for
Famous For: Being the mastermind and guitarist in the definitive and most successful heavy guitar band in history: Led Zeppelin. His 1958 sunburst Les Paul, and the Gibson Doubleneck. His violin bow, Echoplex, and theramin adventures. Creating the prototypical guitar hero image that a zillion thin, pasty, white kids latched onto: Long hair, Les Paul slung impossibly low. The dragon suit — quite possibly the coolest stage outfit ever worn.
Infamous For: Stories of Zeppelin's on-tour debauchery have attained mythical proportions. Amidst the drunken Bonzo stories of trashed hotels and mudshark hijinks, on one tour, Jimmy apparently kept a 14 year-old girl locked in his hotel room — for much of the tour — as his personal plaything. It's been said he toured with a whip locker among his personal luggage. He was into the occult enough that he bought and lived in Aleister Crowley's mansion. Following Bonzo's death and Zep's demise, Jimmy's substance abuse and addictions became crippling. Horrendous gigs with the Firm where he sounded out-of-tune and played terribly. Always thin even in good health, Jimmy became a walking candy apple in the mid 80s. His puffy, bloated head perched atop a stick-like body. His complexion was gray, and he always seemed to be sweating way too much. He looked unhealthier than Keith Richard — and that's saying a lot. Fortunately, he seems to have kicked his addictions and is in relatively good health these days.
Obvious: Scotty Moore, James Burton, Cliff Gallup, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elmore James, B.B. King, blues music, Eastern music, Indian music, Celtic music, country music.
Not-so-obvious: You can make the case that Page and Beck influenced each other in some ways, but Jimmy Page (too) is one of the true original pioneers of heavy guitar; and probably the biggest influence — be it consciously or subconsciously — on anyone who's picked up a guitar to play hard rock or metal after him.
Songwriting and arrangement: Pure genius-level. Jimmy's flat-out on another planet from everyone else. If you don't believe me, just tune your guitar to D-G-C-G-C-D, find some TAB, and learn The Rain Song. As a player, it should be a real eye-opener into Page's genius. Note the brilliance and yet elegant simplicity of how it's constructed, and then name another player who would have come up with anything like it? Listen also to the arrangements of the other "Zepics" too: Stairway to Heaven, In the Light, Ten Years Gone, The Song Remains the Same, Achilles Last Stand, and Kashmir.
Then there's the classic riff songs: the punkish energy of Communication Breakdown. The pure balls of Black Dog, and the Wanton Song. The swagger of For your Life and Custard Pie. The huge When the Levee Breaks, the steamroller of Four Sticks and Trampled Underfoot. And behind it all was that undeniable groove. Bonzo laying back in the groove, and and Pagey playing off of it.
Vision/Innovation: Jimmy was a young, but very seasoned session man prior to joining Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds and eventually replacing him. In the last stages of the Yardbirds, when Jimmy became the band's creative force, he began to explore the ideas that would become Led Zeppelin. The all-star recording session that produced Beck's Bolero and featured Beck, Page, future Zep bassist John Paul Jones, and Who drummer Keith Moon, further crystallized things for Jimmy. He knew pretty much what he wanted: the power and heaviness and amped-up blues of Cream, combined with the lighter aspects of folk rock. Plus the ability to experiment and indulge his interest in Eastern, Indian, and Celtic music. Page wanted: light and shade, heavy and light — like a Led Zeppelin.
He enlisted Jones, an enormously talented session man and song arranger on bass and keys. Then with incredible luck, he got more than he could have hoped for when he found a very green pair of twenty year-old unknowns named Plant and Bonham. The rest, as they say, is history. Each of Zeppelin's four members became the prototype and template for all hard rock and metal musicians that would follow. But it was Page's vision that let them become so — especially in the beginning. Jimmy was already a known commodity and experienced professional. It's hard to imagine how Plant and Bonham would have developed without Page's vision guiding them. Plant and Bonham's raw talent was always there, but it was Page who molded that clay into the magnificent, swaggering, cock-rock monster that became Led Zeppelin.
Production: Page not only knew how to create the band he wanted, he knew how to capture its power on tape. He was a brilliant innovator in the studio. Particularly in the the areas of production, ambient micing and just making everything sound bigger in general. Before Led Zeppelin I, when you heard drums on an album, they typically sounded like cardboard boxes. Jimmy got the drums out of the dead sounding studio booths and put them in the hallway, or in a tiled bathroom — anywhere where they sounded good. Then he miced them with several room mikes to get the ambience. He always preached: distance makes depth — get a good sounding room and capture the sound of it. Zeppelin I was the first album where the drums sounded like real drums. Listen to the difference in the drum sound and production on early Sabbath and Purple albums vs. Zeppelin. And because Jimmy's drummer was John Bonham, Zeppelin's drums sounded like cannons! Check out the drum sound on When the Levee Breaks, Four Sticks, Moby Dick/Bonzo's Montreux, or In My Time of Dying. And now, 25 years on, producers still try to get drums to sounds like this.
Page used his ambient micing technique on guitar too and was a master at laying multiple guitar parts to create what he called a "guitar army." Further, songs like What Is and What Should Never Be, and particularly Whole Lotta Love are rock landmarks of interesting mix and panning techniques. We hear these things pretty commonly now, but they sure weren't common back in 1970. Jimmy basically invented the effect of backwards echo — as early as the Yardbirds. He played with phasing — putting things in and out of phase. Putting a Phase shifter on the drums (Kashmir). He put guitar through a leslie speaker on the solos of Good Times Bad Times and Wanton Song. Page wasn't afraid to try things, and much of what he tried became common studio practice.
Acoustic work: Jimmy's acoustic work is terrific and comes in many different flavors. There are so many great examples: the second half of Zep III is a great place to start. Often there's some mandolin present, sometimes banjo. Then there's Zep classics like Going to California, and Hey Hey What Can I Do. Live, Zeppelin used to play about an hour acoustic set sandwiched between their two hour "rock" set. Those where the days! These days, Jimmy's a cleaner acoustic picker than an electric lead player. Good evidence of this can be seen in the Page-Plant video No Quarter. A lot of Jimmy's acoustic songs such as Friends, Bron-Y-Aur, Gallows Pole, Black Mountain Side/White Summer are in non-standard tunings Page either invented, or at least popularized in rock.
Great guitar solos: You bet! Sloppy or not, Jimmy's played some of the tastiest, ballsy, and famous guitar solos ever recorded. There are the classics like Whole Lotta Love, Rock and Roll, and Stairway to Heaven, but there's plenty of other great ones too. The solo in Achilles Last Stand is brilliant. The solo in Since I've been Loving You, is one of the most emotional rock blues solos ever recorded. The ripping freestyle break in Heartbreaker is a landmark guitar hero moment — clams and all (and the solo after that break is even better). How about the understated moody attitude of What is and What Should never Be and Tangerine. The quick, but effective solo in Celebration Day. The balls and attitude of Dazed and Confused.
Rock Blues: There's always a kick-ass rock blues song or two on Page's albums, and it's often where he plays some of his most emotive, and most raucous lead work. There are the basic I-IV-V progressions like You Shook Me, I Can't Quit You Baby, and Prison Blues. But what I love most is when Page breaks out of simple blues forms. Rock N Roll and Heartbreaker are blues progressions, but they're more rock than blues. Tea For One is a Dinosaur-heavy sixteen bar blues. Coverdale Page's Don't Leave Me This Way breaks out of the I-IV-V completely, as does Page's best blues song of all, Since I've been Loving You.
Versatility and diversity: Zeppelin spawned a million heavy bands, and what most of them never had was the multi-facetted diversity that Page brought to the table. Sure, Jimmy was a heavy riff master of the same magnitude as Iommi and Blackmore, but there was so much more to Jimmy too. Jimmy played acoustic, twelve string, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel. Jimmy also cuts a wider stylistic swath than just about any other player. You get blues rock, metal, folk rock, country, the Eastern and Indian flavors, hints of R&B, delta blues, reggae, and rockablilly. He's scored a few movie soundtracks including Deathwish II and Lucifer Rising. Talk about alchemy!
Attitude and emotion: Jimmy's playing, and in fact, everything about Zeppelin was drenched in sex and going straight for the crotch. For Jimmy's part, his electric guitar parts — and his stage demeanor — were filled with a swaggering confidence and bravado. Live, he'd take off on a half hour odyssey in the middle of Dazed and Confused, just jam away. Didn't matter if he was sloppy. Jimmy's balls were gigantic. But as stated before, there was plenty of breathtaking subtlety too. Page's leads were always very tasty, melodic and emotional.
Mystique and influence: You had to live through at least some of the Zeppelin years to fully appreciate the Page mystique. I hear young players rag on him for what he is today, and that may be fair because he's certainly a far cry from what he once was. But these folks are missing the point because they never experienced Page in the context of his time.
In the 70s, Jimmy had an absolutely magical aura about him. If you were young, impressionable, and not yet a player, Jimmy was totally larger than life. You gotta remember, in a time before synthesizers were creating a zillion weird sounds, you could go to a Zeppelin concert or to see The Song Remains the Same, and see Jimmy Page coax sounds out of a guitar that you had never heard anywhere before. We didn't know what an Echoplex was — much less a theramin! All we knew was that Jimmy Page, decked out in that black dragon suit with the stars and planets on the legs (shown above) was like Merlin the Magician to us youngsters. He wielded his violin bow like a magic wand. Before everyone had VCRs, we went to midnight showings of The Song Remains the Same (I once went for five consecutive nights) just to catch a glimpse of Jimmy Page weaving a magic spell with his guitar.
Hendrix was gone and Clapton had gone soft. So as a player, compared to what else was available to us in the 70s — the Stones, the Who, Free, Bad Company, Humble Pie, Aerosmith — and all that horrid, faceless, early 70s American rock — Jimmy comparatively burned on fretboard! We didn't know he was a sloppy player because we weren't players ourselves back then. We knew Blackmore and Iommi were special too, because they were accessible, but they didn't have the same mystical aura that Pagey had. And the cleaner lead players like Beck, Schenker, Uli Roth, Alex Lifeson, and Gary Moore were really cult figures back then, and only guitar players knew about them.
So to a lot of us, Jimmy Page was THE guitar god. It wasn't just that his guitar style influenced our guitar style (though it did, later). More than that, he influenced our lives. Legions of us picked up a guitar for the first time because of Jimmy Page and that guitar hero image he created — because what he was doing just looked so damned cool! We grew our hair long because of Jimmy Page. We wanted Les Pauls because of Jimmy Page, and when we got them, we wore them too low because of Jimmy Page.
Chops: You'll hear guitarists tell you all the time: Jimmy Page is a sloppy player. And he is. This is no news to Jimmy, by the way. He admits it freely. He was never one to worry much about leaving mistakes in either. But I'm gonna let all you players in on a little secret: The legions of Zep fans, and the rest of the non-guitar playing world doesn't give a fat rat's ass! There's so much more to Page than his chops, that if you dismiss him because he's sloppy, you're a fool. There's a zillion guys out there who can shred Page under the table who never recorded anything worth hearing once, much less forever.
I'll also say this: Jimmy was always a cleaner player once Zep was out on tour playing nightly than he was when he cut the solo on a an album. Don't forget, when you hear a Page guitar solo on a Zeppelin album, it's the best of the three he just played on the spur of the moment. Heartbreaker is a great example of a solo that Page played sloppy on the album, and much cleaner and faster live — after he had time to really learn/practice it.
And mentioned before, Jimmy's chops were WAY above average compared to the vast majority of other players of the Zeppelin era. So I contend, Jimmy's chops or perceived lack thereof are certainly not an issue in the Zeppelin material. However, Jimmy is clearly not the player he was in his prime.
Coinciding with the death of Zeppelin and Jimmy's downward spiral into substance abuse, his lead chops really deteriorated. He was positively painful to listen to in the mid 80s with the Firm. He couldn't even seem to play in tune. Live Aid, the Atlantic Records gig, showed a Page struggling through Zeppelin classics like a guy who'd only been playing guitar a year. For those of us who had idolized the man, it was awful to see what he'd become. By 1988, however, Jimmy seemed to pull out of his slide. By the time of his Outrider album and tour — both terrific — Jimmy had cleaned up his act and a lot of the old magic (never present in The Firm) was back. 1993's Coverdale Page, and Jimmy's subsequent reunion with Robert Plant proved that Jimmy can still get it done. But I won't B.S. you. These days, as a lead player, Jimmy's chops are about 30% of what they were at their peak (between Led Zeppelin IV and Presence).
Consistency: Not really a big issue with Zeppelin. Jimmy's consistency started to go south around the time of the drug abuse — In Through the Out Door, which, though a good album, was not up to the standard of the albums that preceded it. But when John Bonham died on Jimmy's couch after 40 shots of vodka, Jimmy life changed forever. He stopped playing, became a recluse, and slipped further into abyss. The Firm was largely considered a debacle by most Page fans, though I personally rate the later efforts, Outrider and Coverdale Page very highly. People called Coverdale Page a Zep rip-off, but to me it was just Jimmy making the kind of music Jimmy makes. Those two albums prove to me that post-Zeppelin Jimmy can still come up with brilliant riffs and songs in the studio. The Page-Plant reunion that produced No Quarter — new takes on old material — was both interesting and welcome. Unfortunately, their follow-up attempt to create new music — Walking in to Clarksdale was god-awful.
Nostalgia: These days, Jimmy only seems interested in playing his old songs. Since Plant doesn't seem too interested in playing them anymore, Jimmy hooked with the Black Crows to have an outlet to play them again. A live album was recorded, but who cares? Who needs to hear that when you have the originals? Frankly, I'd much rather see him work with Coverdale again on something new. Worse, the ultimate indignity was having to endure Pee Dribble shout the wrong words over Kashmir. Way to go Jimmy.
Jimmy used a black Les Paul Custom (eventually stolen) in his session days. In the Yardbirds, it was a Telecaster and AC-30s. And despite the Les Paul-like sound, the whole first Zeppelin album was recorded with a Telecaster and a little Supro amp (the same rig used later on the Stairway to Heaven solo). By the second album Jimmy was on to the sunburst Les Paul and early 100 watt Marshalls with EL-34s, and that was the basic gear for the Zeppelin period, though there was often an Orange Overdrive in the back line with the Marshalls. He used four to six straight cabs: two stacked, the rest on the floor. Though he didn't use it on the recordings, Jimmy used the Gibson Doubleneck live to play Stairway to Heaven, The Song Remains the Same and The Rain Song. He made the Danelectro 59 famous, and used it on Kashmir and White Summer. Telecasters remain present — it was his main axe with the Firm. He has a Parsons-White B-string bender installed in his brown Tele and on one Les Paul. On rare occasions, Jimmy has used a Strat — mostly in the studio. He was experimenting with a Paul Reed Smith around the time of Outrider. But for all intents and purposes, Jimmy was and still is a Les Paul player.
His amp tone is the classic Marshall plexi tone. Bright, lots of bite, and very little gain or distortion. In fact, despite the Les Paul, Jimmy's live tone is usually quite thin. Sometimes the Orange amp gave him a bit more beef. However, in the studio, Jimmy usually layed a lot of guitar tracks so his recorded sound was not thin.
Jimmy was an early adopter of many effects. Live, it was fuzz in the Yardbirds, lots of wah and phase shifter in Zeppelin. His legendary violin bow solos put the Echoplex and theramin on the map. In the studio, he pioneered many more effects previously mentioned.
Jimmy learned to play by listening to his influences. He and Jeff Beck would get together and pull Scotty Moore, James Burton and Cliff Gallup licks off of early rock records. And like Jeff Beck, Page had all those old rockablilly licks down. Just check out the jam in the middle of any live version of Whole Lotta Love including the one in The Song Remains the Same. When Jimmy became a studio session man, he had to learn to read music, but he claims it was just enough to get by.
Chordally, you'll get standard rock fare, plus a bit more. Jimmy tends to use the root 1 rather than the root 6 chord form. And in standard tuning, you'll also get some interesting chord voicings — sometimes with an atypical note in the bass or with open strings ringing. Also common are ideas that sound more complex than they are to play. If you spend any time copping Page's guitar parts, figuring out what he's doing can initially stump you. But then when you finally get it, it's like: well, duh! My advice: try the simplest things first. That's usually what's Jimmy's done.
But the other side of that coin is that many of Page's songs — particularly the acoustic ones — use non-standard tunings that Jimmy either invented himself or is responsible for bringing to rock. They are rarely open chord tunings. Jimmy Page was also one of the first players to popularize the dropped D tuning.
Some of the most characteristic Page trademarks involve Jimmy's very unique sense of rhythm. He is very synced-up to, and plays off what the drummer does. Indeed, it's clear that he's often guiding his drummers on what to play. Quite characteristic are start-stop rhythms; listen to things like Black Dog, Hots On For Nowhere, and Out on the Tiles. Staccato accent "hits" synced with the snare drum, for example, the machine gun-like duh-duh duh-duh, duh-duh duh-duh hits on Achilles Last Stand. There are similar accents synced with descending chromatic riffs on The Wanton Song and Custard Pie. These devices have become hard rock staples, but they came form Page and are still very characteristic of Page. Indeed, it's hard to use them with being accused of being a Zeppelin rip-off. And there's the very characteristic Pagey trademark of turning the beat around — where it sounds as if the whole song stutters briefly. You can hear it on things like Royal Orleans, and Pride and Joy.
Most of these Jimmy Page trademarks are so associated with Zeppelin, so familiar, and in some cases so clichéd, that it's easy to just gloss over them while listening to Zeppelin for enjoyment. So it's important to note that while I'm citing examples from the Led Zeppelin catalog, these trademarks appear in Page's post Zeppelin work too. In fact, it's sometimes easier to pick out the rhythmic Pageisms outside of the Zeppelin context. Both Outrider and Coverdale Page contain a veritable glossary of Jimmy Page rhythmic trademarks. Listen to Outrider's Wasting my Time or Coverdale Page's Pride and Joy. Both contain just about every rhythmic Pageism there is — all in the space of a single song.
You'll always get some slide guitar from Jimmy. Sometimes as an effect, as in Whole Lotta Love. Sometimes to play the lead part as in What is and What Should Never Be, or as a larger part of the composition, as in the slide tour-de-force In My Time of Dying.
Scale wise, Jimmy is almost exclusively a Minor and Major Pentatonic player, sometimes Jimmy throws in chromatics like the flatted 5th and 9th. Jimmy's a sloppy picker by modern standards. He doesn't purely alternate pick, but uses more of a blues style. You'll hear plenty of flash hammer-ons and pull-offs, and repeating patterns. What's interesting though, is that many "stock hard rock licks" are in fact Jimmy Page licks — much the same way that many early rock and roll licks are Chuck Berry licks. Listen to the Zep I and II and you'll hear a lot of licks that are part of just about every hard rock guitarists arsenal. These licks — the way they are played now — came from Jimmy — whether you copped them from Jimmy himself, or from Michael Schenker, or Slash, or Zakk Wylde, or someone else who was copping Jimmy.
Jimmy didn't usually compose his solos, though he admits to working out a phrase or two. His approach was to wing it. Usually he'd just limber up, record three solos and pick the best one. Pretty amazing, when you think about it. In the live setting, Jimmy would expand on the ideas he recorded on the albums. Check out The Song Remains the Same, and you see that the songs, in fact, rarely remained the same. Numbers like Dazed and Confused, No Quarter, and Whole Lotta Love became 20-30 minute jamfests.
Vibrato: With Jimmy, you get some wide bends, but the vibrato itself is pretty narrow, quick, and thin. You don't get much bar at all, because he's rarely on a guitar equipped with one. But you do get the unique sound of the Parsons B bender on occasion.
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