Jimmy Page Interview - Fill 'Em Full of Led
After playing a bunch of shows with Jimmy Page, the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson is happy to report that the former Led Zeppelin axe wizard is everything you'd expect him to be. "Tasteful, dynamic, talented...all that," Robinson says. "He's one of the guys, y'know? In some ways, he's THE guy. It's amazing to play with him."
Page's story is much more than Led Zeppelin, of course; before the group formed, he was already a seasoned vet with a stint in the Yardbirds and session credits that included the Who, the Kinks and Herman's Hermits. But during Led Zeppelin's 12-year rein, he pioneered new vistas on his instrument and helped create sonic templates that have become rock 'n' roll standards. He's even had an effect on the hip-hop crowd, Sean "Puffy" Combs' appropriation of the "Kashmir" riff for "Come With Me" from the Godzilla film soundtrack.
Actually, there have been loads of post-Zep projects -- the Death Wish II soundtrack, the Firm, the misbegotten Coverdale Page, and the more fruitful mid-`90s reunion with Zep frontman Robert Plant. His new association with the Black Crowes may bear more fruit, too, but for most of us, the name Jimmy Page conjures up all things Zep, be it the power crunch of "Whole Lotta Love" or the majestic ring of "Stairway to Heaven."
Guitar.com: You are certainly aware of how you're regarded as a player. What's your perspective on the adulation?
Jimmy Page: I know there's a hell of a reputation that I've got (laughs). I knew it was good music, even when we were doing it. It's almost like a textbook with all these new bands trying to re-create it -- all the time, really. It's fantastic to have created that legacy, so obviously I'm very proud of it.
Guitar.com: Has it ever been a burden or an obstacle?
Page: Not really...but, yes, maybe sometimes. I know when I was getting ready for my album (1988's Outrider) I had to gear up for it. I never had a burning desire for a solo career, and I knew how everyone would be looking at it and what they might be expecting. It took awhile to do that.
Guitar.com: What do you remember about the first time Led Zeppelin played together?
Page: It was a rehearsal, audition kind of thing in London. We played "Train Kept A-Rollin'," because this was supposed to be the New Yardbirds, right? As soon as we finished, we knew we had something. It was so very exciting; everyone wanted to get on with it, just get into the playing and see what we could come out with.
Guitar.com: With this much hindsight, you certainly have to be happy with the results.
Page: That's the most rewarding aspect of things from my end of it. I played in what I believe was the best band that was ever going -- the best rock 'n' roll band, for sure. At the end of the day, the music holds up and stands the test of time. It's very warming to think that it touches people the way it still does.
Guitar.com: Have the assorted retrospective projects of the past decade -- the boxed set, the smaller collections, the BBC collections -- given you any kind of new perspective on what Led Zep accomplished?
Page: It was quite a joyous experience. I was able to hear all of it in a different context. It became very apparent to me what a wonderful textbook it had been for bands. And, secondly, it really brought home all the [stylistic] areas that we had touched upon.
Guitar.com: Can you dissect the Led Zeppelin sound?
Page: You try not to think about it too much, really. For starters, it was four fantastic musicians. And you can find four great musicians in bands, but it doesn't always gel the way it did with us. It was sort of a chemistry that comes together once in a blue moon.
Guitar.com: It's been a point of honor that after Zep drummer John Bonham died, the group immediately disbanded and has never really reunited, except for some one-off performances. The same can't be said of other groups that have lost founding members. Was there any thought of continuing on at the time?
Page: No. After the loss of John, I couldn't even bear to touch the guitar. It simply reminded me of John, a friend who wasn't there anymore. I just went through a period where I couldn't work with it anymore, I couldn't hardly play at all. Anyone would understand.
Guitar.com: Your first project after that was a film soundtrack, for Death Wish II. That seems like it was a good re-entry, without the pressure of a "proper" rock album.
Page: It was absolutely the perfect thing to do. I had to come up with the mechanics of doing a film score; it's 45 minutes of music, but the longest piece is just two minutes and 20 seconds. I had to work out a way of doing all that. It was perfect for the discipline; I needed something like that.
Guitar.com: And then you did the A.R.M.S. benefit tour for Ronnie Lane, which put you back on stage.
Page: It came at just the right time, too. A whole part of my life was missing, which was playing live in front of people. It helped to just have a vehicle for playing as opposed to just getting up and jamming at the end of someone's set because I was spotted in the crowd. And working with someone like Ronnie Lane, who had such an inflicting disease, it gave me a kick up the ass, mentally. You can't feel sorry for yourself in that situation. It got me to kind of get myself up by the scruff of the neck and say, "Come on, let's do it."
Guitar.com: It must have also helped to be surrounded by a support group of old friends like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood, as well as Paul Rodgers, who you wound up putting together The Firm with you after the tour.
Page: That's right. It was just a matter of finding a way of coming back, finding good quality people. I really had to work hard at it for a year or so there. It's taken a long time, but everything's been a good springboard.
Guitar.com: When you did The Firm, was it tough to be in another band after Zeppelin?
Page: It was a bit intimidating at first, especially coming back onstage. I hadn't done anything onstage for about three years at that point. I still wasn't really sure about getting back into all that until we started doing dates. But it was really refreshing. It gave me a lot of confidence.
Guitar.com: You spoke earlier of how hard it was to do a bona fide solo album in light of your reputation and other people's expectations. What did you want to accomplish with Outrider?
Page: I decided to touch back to my roots rather than trying to pioneer something new at this time. I think that's the first step to a strong solo career. I said, "I'm going to be as reckless as possible and do what I believe in -- make up spontaneous music on the spot." We used to work like that in (Led Zeppelin), to be honest.
Guitar.com: Getting back together with Robert during 1994 was a tricky proposition. Did you approach it gingerly?
Page: We discussed a lot of areas of how we could get things together, and we both agreed on the fact that we would have to do something that was within a new light. Maybe, if we were to do the old numbers, then it would be possible to set the same picture but within a completely different frame...I think that "Black Dog" was one of those numbers from way back in the past that didn't give us the immediate sort of stimulus to re-work them as things like "Friends" certainly did.
Guitar.com: Since the group split up, Robert has seemed to relish getting as far away Led Zeppelin as he possibly can. How do you feel about that?
Page: When we did the Atlantic anniversary thing (1988), the difference between the sound check, which was fantastic, and the show was Robert said he wasn't going to sing "Stairway to Heaven." It was a matter of hours before we wanted to do it. We said, "Robert, we've got to do it." To be honest, that's not the spirit of Zeppelin to me, somebody who's messing around when we've got to get there and play. I didn't play well; it shook me up too much, all these undercurrents and silly pettiness. The final thing Robert said to me was, "I'm never going to sing 'Stairway' again." I thought, "Well, good luck to you, mate."
Guitar.com: What are your own creative ambitions these days?
Page: I just really want to be playing music...in totally different situations, unusual situations from what you'd expect me to be playing in. I can't tell you what they'll be yet. Just different areas.