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Jimmy Page

 

Nearly all fans of 70’s rock music will have memories associated with the famous Led Zeppelin song, “Stairway to Heaven.” It ends up near the top of almost every list of great Rock and Roll guitar solos. Jimmy Page is the guitarist that produced this classic piece on his 1968 Gibson Double Neck Guitar. He used the bottom six-string neck for the acoustic-style finger picking found in the song’s introduction and verses, and the upper twelve-string part to ring out the bridge and concluding chorus. He was and is a creative musician who set many trends in the music industry that are still being emulated by guitar players today.

 

Because of the longevity and widespread appeal of Jimmy’s music, rock fans are interested in knowing more about him as an artist. Where did he come from? Who were his mentors and teachers? What music inspired him? How did he form the band he was famous for leading? The answers to these questions make an engaging tale.

 

Jimmy Page was born in London in 1944 to parents who were decidedly unmusical. His father was a personnel manager at an industrial plant and his mother was a secretary. They did, however, give Jimmy his first guitar when he was a young teenager. He took a few lessons from a local teacher in the town of Kingston, near the family’s home, but he developed most of his skills on his instrument by himself.

 

As a youngster during the 50’s, Page was a fan of Elvis Presley like nearly every other member of his generation. He loved the rockabilly guitar sounds produced by Scotty Moore and James Burton who played on several of Elvis’ albums.  He was impressed by Johnny Day, the guitarist for the Everly Brothers, too. When Jimmy bought one of his first electric guitars, a second-hand 1959 Futurama Grazioso, the Presley song, “Baby Let’s Play House” was his favorite piece to play.

 

He admired musicians from genres other than rock, as well, including blues greats BB King, and Elmore James, and Bert Jansch the folk-acoustic artist. Fans of Jimmy Page will recognize both of those influences in the albums released by Led Zeppelin, and also touches of other styles such as country, and funk.

 

As a school boy, Jimmy  practiced whenever he was not required to do something else. In fact, he would take his guitar to school with him every day, only to have it confiscated by the authorities who would give it back to him when class was over. He appeared on a local British talent show as a 14-year old as part of a trio.

 

He had an affinity for science while in school, and at one time planned to have a career as a lab worker, but his love of music influenced him to give up the idea of higher education and try to find ways to make a living with his guitar instead. The Beat Poet, Royston Ellis, was famous in England at that time as one of the few Brits who was on the same wave-length as the Americans of the Beat Generation. Royston usually performed his poetry readings with jazz musicians playing back-up, and Jimmy Page got one of his first paying gigs from Ellis.

 

Page played with a couple of little-known groups, one called Red E. Lewis and the Red Caps, and another known as Christian and the Crusaders. The latter band gave him his first experience touring and recording. Jimmy became disillusioned by the irregular wages, however, and when he contracted glandular fever, he decided to put his music career aside for a while. After he recovered his health, he began the study of art at a college in Surrey. As a student, he couldn’t resist performing in some local coffee houses and small venues. Those shows soon led to some jam sessions on the stage of the famous Marquee Club in London where Page played along with bands like Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated. It was there he first met some of his peers that were destined to become famous like Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.

 

The contacts he made at the Marquee soon garnered Page some offers of work as a studio musician. In 1963 he was part of the production of a recording of “Diamonds” by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. The record reached the top of the singles chart, and Jimmy began to devote himself to full time studio work. In 1964 he played with well-known groups such as The Who and The Kinks, and soloists like Marianne Faithfull and Brenda Lee.

 

By 1965, Jimmy had moved up the ladder enough to get involved in the production side of some albums. He produced and played on some well-known recordings by the likes of Twice as Much, Chris Farlowe, and Al Stewart. Unfortunately, the passage of time has made it difficult to determine exactly which tracks in those albums featured Jimmy’s guitar talent. Even he does not remember because of the volume of work he was putting out in those days. It is certain that he played guitar on at least five of the tracks of Joe Crocker’s first album, “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Some experts of the time period estimate that Jimmy Page was a part of 60% of all the rock music recorded in England between 1963 and 1966, an incredible statistic.

 

Jimmy joined a blues/rock group known as The Yardbirds in 1966. He began as a bass player, but soon moved up to share the lead roles with Jeff Beck. Because of Page’s influence, they began moving in the direction of a hard rock sound. The group released a single and played some concerts, but was troubled by conflicts between the members and their lack of big record sales.  When Jeff Beck left and they disbanded, Jimmy recruited John Paul Jones to play bass, John Bonham as a drummer, and Robert Plant as vocalist. They called their group The New Yardbirds and they began their career filling out the tour dates already scheduled for the original Yardbird band.

 

When the tour ended and the group returned home, a friend is said to have scoffed at the idea that they could ever become a profitable band saying that they would “sink like a lead zeppelin.”  Jimmy liked the sound of the phrase, but changed the spelling to Led Zeppelin to be sure that it was pronounced correctly.  They made their mark in the relatively new area of hard rock/heavy metal music almost immediately. Their first album, which was released in 1969, marked the beginning of a long string of successes that lasted until 1975.  Their live show was no less popular and became a “must see” event for millions of music fans.

 

Page’s experience as a studio musician had a strong influence on the style adopted by Led Zeppelin. He became the producer and composer for the band as well as the lead guitarist, and led the way in a whole new genre of music. He used a Marshall amp and Gibson Les Paul guitar, and was the creator of some techniques that are still used today. He made a distorted fuzz sound popular on the song “Whole Lotta Love,” and used slide guitar on tunes like “Tangerine,” and “In My Time of Dying.” He was also one of the first to bring the sound of scales from Far Eastern music into rock on pieces such as “Kashmir.” His versatility is demonstrated by the way he used acoustic guitar on some recordings, a pedal steel guitar on others, and played some solos with the use of a violin bow. He experimented with feedback sounds and used a wah-wah pedal, but in a different way from his contemporary, Jimi Hendrix.

 

Page was an innovator in the area of recording, as well and was the first producer known to use two microphones for each instrument, one very close to the source of the sound and the other as much as twenty feet away. He would then record the “balance” between the two mics, thus producing what he called ambient sound. He changed engineers for the recording of each of his first three albums to be sure that everyone knew that the musicians alone were responsible for the Zeppelin sound, and not the technicians. 

 

During the early days of Zeppelin, Page often used a three pickup 1960 Les Paul custom guitar called “Black Beauty.” It had a Bigsby tailpiece and was a favorite of Jimmy’s. It was stolen from an airport in 1970 and has still not been recovered. Page is said to have mourned the loss of the instrument and refers to it as “the one that got away.” The Gibson company has recently manufactured 500 replica Black Beauty guitars as a way to honor the talent of Page and one of his best-loved guitars. The fact that musicians today are still strongly influenced by Led Zeppelin and Page’s sound is evidenced by the speed at which these custom beauties sold out. The list of bands and musicians that have followed Jimmy Page’s lead is too long to list here, but it can safely be said that his styles and techniques legendary in the field of hard rock.

     

Eddie Van Halen
Joe Satriani
Eric Johnson
Steve Vai
Paul Gilbert
Jimmy Page
Randy Rhoads
Kurt Cobain
Kirk Hammett
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Yngwie Malmsteen
Slash
Robert Johnson
Pete Townsend
Jerry Garcia
Bo Diddley
Jeff Beck
Duane Allman
Jimmy Hendrix
BB King
John Frusciante
Joe Perry
George Harrison
Santana
Chuck Berry
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
 
 
 
 
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