Jimmy Page and the Black Crowes Interview
It's not hard to imagine the Black Crowes fantasizing about touring with their longtime idol Jimmy Page. As frontman Chris Robinson points out, There's always a little bit of Led Zeppelin somewhere in our records. That, of course, is an understatement. Rich Robinson's guitar playing has always been flavored with Zeppelin-style licks and string bends, and Chris' soaring vocals arent far from the mold cut by Zep belter, Robert Plant. Yet, it was Page, who, on a whim, invited the Crowes to accompany him at a charity show in London last July.
The gig was a tremendous success, and, since the former Led Zeppelin guitarist's sometimes partner Robert Plant was off on one of his periodic hiatuses, Page was itching to work. So, he accepted the Crowes ensuing invitation to play a handful of shows -- six, to be exact -- last fall in the U.S. The concerts went down a storm, with the Crowes proving themselves a fine fold for Page's guitar dynamics, allowing him to re-create a series of Led Zep classics in a more complete manner than they've ever been presented.
The experience has been preserved on Live at the Greek, an Internet-only album recorded during the troupe's stop in Los Angeles. The two-disc set features the Zep selections from the concerts along with a selection of blues covers -- but none of the Crowes' songs due to contractual restrictions with their former label. With more dates expected to be announced for this year, and the titillating possibility of a joint recording project, it's not surprising to find that there's a whole lotta love between Page and his new cohorts.
Guitar.com: Jimmy, the last we saw of you, you seemed happily ensconced with Robert Plant. What happened?
Jimmy Page: Well, we finished our last date together well over a year ago, and I spent most of my time trying to propose scenarios whereby we could do this, we could do that. And Robert didn't want to do anything, and kept postponing this and postponing that and canceling this and canceling that. In the end, I just lost patience. I can't keep trying to motivate somebody if they just definitely don't seem to want to know. At the moment, there aren't any plans to do anything with Robert.
Guitar.com: What's his problem?
Page: Ah, I wouldn't get into that one. I haven't got a clue. To be honest with you, I really don't know. The one thing I felt was after having played the two sets of tours, with the Unledded and also the Walking into Clarksdale, two radically different approaches, I felt that we had one good album at least left inside us, and we should have done that. When you've got the tour of the year, when you've got a Grammy for Most High, the single from Walking Into Clarksdale, you should go Right, now's the time to really do a super album, at least. But if somebody doesn't want to get themselves together with you or whatever, you just go Well, that's it.
Guitar.com: What was it like for you to hook up with the Black Crowes, whose working method and style was already fully formed?
Page: One of the things that was really amazing was it had been proposed that we do Ten Years Gone. It was great because we'd played Ten Years Gone with Led Zeppelin on stage, and of course there was one guitar trying to do its best to sort of fill in for a whole guitar army that was on the record. With the Crowes, all of a sudden I was in the middle of this whole ambient thing that was going on; all this music was living. It was a fantastic experience, and what it went to show was that these guys had really committed themselves to really learning these numbers and understanding all the subtleties of them.
Guitar.com: Did the Crowes feel a lot of pressure, particularly as guitarists, in playing with Jimmy?
Rich Robinson: Y'know, I didn't really think about it like that. I mean, I'm humble, sort of, in the face of Jimmy and his work and all the amazing things he's done. But I'm also proud and confident in what we do. And I knew deep down that of any band, we're really one of the only ones that could've pulled this off well. And when we started playing the stuff ourselves, learning the songs, it just became more apparent. So I thought we were pretty confident.
Guitar.com: How were the songs selected and the parts arranged?
Rich Robinson: What happened was Jimmy and Chris and I picked out a bunch of songs we thought would be cool to play. [Jimmy] also wanted to do what we felt comfortable with and then pick some of our songs and blues songs. Once we picked the songs, [guitarist] Audley [Freed] and I started, with [bassist] Sven [Pippien] and [drummer] Steve [Gorman] to learn some of the parts. Audley really picked apart everything; he learned all four or five parts to some of the layered guitars, in Ten Years Gone and Nobody's Fault But Mine. I picked out some parts, too. So when we got together, we left a lot of it open for when Jimmy came in. We were like, Hey, we don't know what parts you want to play. These are the things we can do, or we can back you up here. We learned as much as we could before Jimmy came, and when he did, we really solidified it.
Guitar.com: What did the Crowes bring to the songs that made these performances unique?
Page: They had all the subtleties of the Led Zeppelin thing, but they also brought the Black Crowes to the party. You can tell by Chris' vocal approach to everything that it's the Crowes and Chris Robinson. It really worked so well; you can tell by listening to it. It's unmistakable that it's them, which is really great.
Rich Robinson: I played some of it in open G, which I know it wasn't on the records, because that's what I'm comfortable with. So I adapted it to that. No matter what I play or anyone plays, they're always going to interpret it slightly differently. There's no way I could ever play anything exactly like Jimmy, and vice versa, because of our approaches or how we hold the strings.
Guitar.com: Jimmy, compare Chris and Robert Plant.
Page: Actually, after the Greek Theater, somebody came up to me and said, Hey, Chris did a really good job doing Robert. And I was furious, absolutely furious, because Chris was Chris, and he sang as Chris. He sang the melodies to the songs, which obviously one would do. But as Robert improvised his way at the time, outside the melodies, so did Chris. He's a singer, and the band is a band that's used to improvising. His whole vocal style is round that just as much as my guitar playing is. I try to change the solos every night, and he changes his vocals every night, as he has done throughout his musical career. And he just applied himself to singing these songs, but his way. I think that shows.
Chris Robinson: I learned something from Jimmy -- that I improvise vocally a lot more than Robert does and stuff like that. It's different cause they're not my lyrics; that kind of puts a weird thing on it. Even though I'm a different singer, I wanted to make sure I stayed true to the songs. You don't want to mess with those songs; everyone knows every little inflection in those songs -- and those were the things I really love, too, all of us. So I wanted to stick to the melody, which was a little weird, but I just kind of went for it.
Guitar.com: Will you be working together in the future? Another tour? An album?
Chris Robinson: There's actually a lot of things being discussed as far as getting to make some more music this year. We're still talking about it.
Page: There's discussions. There's many things that have been hinted at. We need the chance to sit down and have a good conversation about it. Let's put it this way; I'd really enjoy doing something more. It's all a question of what music -- Are we going to write music from scratch? Am I gonna hear stuff they've already got? There's so many different options. When the time comes, we'll let everybody know what we're doing.