I have read many books on Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin. Jimmy has always been my biggest musical influence (if I had to pick just one), as a guitarist, songwriter, and producer. When I think about what I want to achieve as a musician, Jimmy Page is the first image that comes to my mind. To have artistic vision, write great songs, play them well on my guitar, record them myself, and retain total creative control over every aspect of my art.
That is what Jimmy Page did. That’s what Jimmy Page still does. Whether he’s churning out yet another round of Zep remasters, curating coffee table books of his life, or working with the director on the first authorized Zep documentary (out in 2021), Page always tells you to focus on the music — on the art. Let it stand for itself. It’s easy to see why. Jimmy’s art remains epic and timeless. You cannot take that away from him. And he knows it. If anyone deserves to have a colossal ego about their artistic achievements, it’s Jimmy Page. And he does!
But Page has never wanted anyone looking too closely at his personal life and off-stage behavior during the years when absolute power corrupted Led Zeppelin absolutely. To this day, Jimmy’s ego won’t let him own up to his past behavior. Not in interviews, not in any book, and certainly not in the new Zeppelin documentary. It’s a shame. But being a rock star means never having to grow up.
That’s where this unauthorized book comes in. Jimmy Page: The Definitive Biography pulls no punches. It certainly gives Page every credit for all the positive things he is, and has achieved, but it also shines an equal light on all the negatives Page still won't acknowledge.
Other books on Page and Zeppelin, such as Mick Wall’s excellent, When Giants Walked the Earth don’t shy away from the subjects that have always been taboo to Jimmy Page — particularly his fascination with Alistair Crowley and the debauchery of Led Zeppelin on the road. But Salewicz’s book dives as deep on Crowley, and far deeper on the subject of Page’s womanizing and drug addictions than any of the other books I’ve read on the subject.
In addition to the Crowley stuff, there are anecdotes and testimonials from people who thought Page’s personality and whole vibe were distinctly dark and demonic. Part of this was undoubtedly the mystique Page (and the band) actively cultivated during the Zeppelin days. Unlike the accessible, mild-mannered Jimmy Page of today, Page in the 1970s was certainly a dark, mysterious character to the masses in a pre-internet era. But it’s interesting to hear how palpable this dark vibe was to people who actually knew Page personally at that time. And as Page, Bonham, manager Peter Grant, and road manager Richard Cole got more and more into cocaine and heroin, the vibe surrounding the whole Zeppelin machine became very dark, menacing, and on several occasions, violent. Make no mistake — even if you ignore Bonham's death, drugs destroyed Led Zeppelin.
The women Page was involved with are also documented elsewhere, but for the first time, we have interviews (some culled from other books) from Catherine James, Lori Maddox, Pamela Des Barres, Bebe Buell, all consolidated in one place, painting a not-so-pretty picture of what it was like to be a woman with Jimmy Page at the height of his powers. Like many of his peers, Page is lucky the Me-Too movement has seemingly given 70s rock stars a free pass, and that the women involved were fully consensual — even 14 year-old Lori Maddox. In a chance meeting with Maddox decades later, Page somewhat surprised his former girlfriend when he sighed, ‘Oh, Lori: we were so young then.’ To which she replied, ‘Well, I was!’
Similarly, it’s fairly common knowledge now that in addition to the mountains of coke the band was doing, Page became addicted to heroin around 1973. But for the first time, we hear just how bad Jimmy’s heroin addiction truly was, how long it lasted (well through The Firm), and how badly it dragged down Led Zeppelin on ALL levels. We are also reminded that even after kicking heroin, Page was still getting busted for cocaine possession (twice) as late as in the early 90s.
Salewicz’s book also covers in-depth, the power shift that occurred in the band. Zeppelin started as Jimmy's band. He received the biggest share of the money, and it remained Jimmy's vision driving all band decisions. For years, Plant went along, and later looked the other way as Page's heroin addiction affected the band. But that all changed when Plant's son Karac died, and Page and Jones blew off the funeral. After that, Plant had no fucks left to give. He almost quit, and was forever after willing to walk if he didn’t get his way. So while Page still curates the Zeppelin legacy, to this day, Plant holds the keys to any musical endeavors, and has done, since at least John Bonham's death. Jimmy now waits, forever at the mercy of Robert Plant's whims. They say Karma never forgets an address.
There are many other good books on Jimmy Page and Zeppelin. If you want to focus on just Jimmy’s music and gear — as Jimmy would have you do, you won’t find a better book than Jimmy Page: The Anthology. If you want the sanitized version of his life without all of the unpleasantness Jimmy doesn't want you to see, try Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page. Brad Tolinski’s Light and Shade is an excellent book as well. But if you want the whole, unvarnished story (and far more than just the dirt), compiled from new and prior sources, all consolidated in one place, Chris Salewicz’s book is truly is the Definitive Biography. If you read only one book on Page, I'd say read this one.