One of my very first guitar heroes is Jimmy Page, before I discovered the Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, and Black Sabbath. Led Zeppelin was his idea, his vision. He wrote a lot of the music, and produced all the records. Not only did he play great songs but he also looked the part of a guitar player - the long hair, the dragon-decorated stage clothes, the Les Paul slung low down by his knees. How could he play a guitar like that? It matters not because I like the sounds he got from his Les Paul. Zeppelin's music exerted a significant influence. Their music made Ritchie Blackmore want to play riff based rock in Deep Purple. Why do I like Jimmy Page?
Light & Shade - The first time I ever heard of this in a musical context was about Jimmy Page. When asked to define "light & shade," JP said this - "Dynamics...whisper to thunder, sounds that invite you in and intoxicate." Some guitarists have it. Most of them don't. . Jimmy Page has it. Tony Iommi has it. David Gilmour has it. Alex Lifeson has it. For many guitarists who play hard rock or heavy metal, it's mostly all thunder and no whisper. Those who don't have it - think Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Kirk Hammett. Neil Young, as much as I like the guy, has the thunder and the whisper, but in his music it's either all thunder or all whisper.
The "CIA Connection." CIA = Celtic, Indian, Arabic. JP's interest in Celtic-based folk music manifests itself on Led Zeppelin III. His desire to play Indian- and Arab-flavored music began when he was still in the Yardbirds. His affinity for the blues is scattered all over his catalog. In order to play the sounds he was hearing in his head, the standard EADGBE tuning would not suffice. JP utilized several different tunings to make the songs work:
Gallow's Pole - Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb
Friends/Bron-Yr-Aur - CGCGCE
Bron Yr Aur Stomp - CFCFAF
That's the Way - DGDGBD
Hats Off to (Roy) Harper - CGCEGC
Poor Tom - CGCGCE
Kashmir/Black Mountain Side/White Summer - DADGAD
The Rain Song - DGCGCD
Going To California - DADGBD [double drop-D]
In My Time of Dying - EAEAC#E
Dancing Days - DBGDGE
When the Levee Breaks - F Bb Eb G# C F
He’s “sloppy.” Critics have complained that Jimmy Page’s playing is “sloppy.” My thought is this – “So? What is your point?” There are two players whom I like that are very precise at what they do – David Gilmour and Ritchie Blackmore. But for the most part, precise players, the likes of Yngve Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai, they bore the hell out of me. Give me “sloppy” players like Jimmy Page anytime.
Brad Tolinski recently published a compilation of of interviews he did with Jimmy Page and other people about his music. In this book is a list of "Jimmy Page's Top 10 Guitar Moments." I have my list as well, but I didn't restrict it to just ten great moments. That kind of thing is very subjective, so instead of a "best of," I listed "favorites."
Heartbreaker [Led Zeppelin II] – This song kicked off Side 2, and was about as heavy as Zeppelin got. The guitar and bass are both playing the riff, which accounts for the heaviness of the song. Some of Page’s best soloing can be found here.
Immigrant Song [Led Zeppelin III] - Like Heartbreaker, John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page play the Immigrant Song riff in unison. For me the hook is the power chord at the end of the riff. It just sounds very cool.
Stairway to Heaven [Untitled] – This one is painfully obvious. Several different guitars are layered here. There’s the famous acoustic intro, and then JP introduces the Fender electric twelve-string at 2:15. From that point until 5:36 [your stairway lies on the whispering wind…], you hear the acoustic in the left stereo channel and the electric twelve-string in the right channel. Then you hear the electric twelve-string in both channels, until what is probably JP’s best solo ever starts at 5:56. JP played the solo on his "dragon" Fender Telecaster. What you hear after the solo was played on JP's Number 1 1959 Les Paul.
No Quarter [Houses of the Holy] – This song is John Paul Jones’ showcase, but I’ve always liked JP’s guitar parts. One gets to hear more of JP on the version from The Song Remains the Same soundtrack.
How Many More Times [Led Zeppelin] – Dazed and Confused got all the attention for the violin bow, but it’s here too, and this one is a better song. JP gives the wah-wah pedal a fairly heavy workout. There’s a “Bolero” section [3:11 – 3:35] like “Beck’s Bolero.” Right after the Bolero section starts the violin bow stuff [3:39 – 5:30].
Black Dog [Untitled] – This was John Paul Jones’ riff, but JP’s guitar is snarling. I don’t know how many rhythm tracks he recorded, but there are a lot of them. It is a massive sound. The ending solo sounds likes it’s being played through a Leslie speaker.
Since I’ve Been Loving You [Led Zeppelin III] – This is probably Led Zeppelin's best blues. Apparently JP's solo was improvised and recorded in one take.
Baby, I’m Gonna Leave You [Led Zeppelin] – Here is proof that a song need not be electric in order to be considered “heavy.”
The whole second side of Led Zeppelin III, and one that got away - Despite Gallow's Pole being an acoustic song (complete with JP playing the banjo), it rocks pretty hard. As hard as Heartbreaker was on the second album, Tangerine and That's the Way are delicate. As a bonus, you can hear JP playing the pedal steel guitar for coloring. The "one that got away" was Hey Hey, What Can I Do. It fits right at home with the rest of Led Zeppelin III. Friends is on side one, kind of lost among the electric songs. I like it very much, most especially when he re-did it with the Egyptian musicians on No Quarter: Unledded.
Kashmir, In My Time of Dying, Sick Again, The Wanton Song, Bron Yr Aur, Ten Years Gone, Custard Pie, The Rover [Physical Graffiti] - Rather than repeat myself, see my comments on these songs from my blog on the Physical Graffiti album here: http://tonysmusicroom.blogspot.com/2012/07/led-zeppelin-physical-graffiti.html?m=0
Achilles Last Stand [Presence] – This one from Presence has got to be Jimmy Page’s guitar tour de force. Layers upon layers of guitar overdubs were recorded for Achilles. I have no idea how he could play the song live, but somehow he managed.
Tea For One [Presence] - This is a slow blues that is like Since I've Been Loving You. The solos reflect the isolation and desolation in Robert Plant's lyrics.
In the Evening [In Through the Out Door] - Many folks have slammed In Through the Out Door as being too much of a keyboard-driven album, especially since it came after a guitar heavy album [Presence]. But there are some magical guitar moments here if you want to look for them. In the Evening is mostly John Paul Jones' song, but [and there's always a "but"...], JP throws his own spin on things to great effect. The very beginning sounds like JP using his violin bow on his guitar to produce some eerie, trippy effect, but I understand he used something called a Gizmotron to make the effect instead. JP plays along with JPJ's synth riff, but 3:42 kicks the door down with a manic, tremendous solo. At 4:25 he slows things way down and heads in a bluesy direction, all the while playing a slow arppegio thing underneath until the main riff kicks in again at 4:56.
Hot Dog [In through the out Door] - JP plays rockabilly! Enough said...
I'm Gonna Crawl [In Through the Out Door] - Zeppelin takes one more stab at the blues, and they get it right. This is no doubt one of the most emotional songs they ever did, and JP plays a fantastic solo [2:41 - 3:50] to match Robert Plant's turmoil.
Wearing and Tearing [Coda] – This is the very last song on the posthumous release Coda. Apparently there were plans to put out an EP with three songs recorded during the In Through the Out Door sessions. Wearing and Tearing was one of those three songs, but the EP never came out. JP’s most savage riffing is here. I think he wanted to prove something to the punks in the UK.
The elephant in the room whenever one talks about Led Zeppelin’s music is plagiarism. JP once told an interviewer that the reason they got sued by old blues guys was because Robert Plant pinched the lyrics. He said the music was totally original. Rather than give a laundry list of all the blues songs that had the music totally revamped but kept the words from the originals, here are some examples where the music was “appropiated.” A guy posted a bunch of clips under the name Clashboy1977. The man definitely did his homework, and I thank him for it wherever he is.
People’s Exhibit One: The Lemon Song [Led Zeppelin II]. JP breaks out Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor riff at 1:28, and once again at 5:37. Howlin' Wolf now gets credit along with the band.
People’s Exhibit Two: Dazed and Confused [Led Zeppelin] sounds too much like Jake Holmes’ Dazed and Confused. Jake Holmes played on the same bill with the Yardbirds in a 1967 show in New York where JP heard the song. The lyrics are different, but the riff from the Zeppelin song is the same as that in Holmes’ song. Holmes finally sued JP in 2010 – they settled out of court in 2012.
People’s Exhibit Three: Black Mountain Side [Led Zeppelin] sounds like it was pinched from Bert Jansch’s Blackwaterside that was recorded in 1965.
People’s Exhibit Four: Bobby Walker’s Watch Your Step provides the riff for Moby Dick.
People’s Exhibit Five: Sonny Boy Williamson’s Bring It On Home sounds almost exactly like Led Zeppelin’s song of the same name. Willie Dixon took them to court and won.
"The good artists borrow, the great artists steal." This quote has been attributed to both Pablo Picasso and T.S. Eliot. I've heard other guitarists and a few songwriters [ahem...Bob Dylan, John Lennon] "take liberties" with other peoples' work, but Jimmy Page got caught. This baffles me because for the most part he's very original and inventive guitarist and composer. This doesn't negate his abilities as a guitarist -he executed the guitar parts extremely well - they just weren't his as he claimed them to be. Most of the songs of which Led Zeppelin were accused of stealing, such as In My Time of Dying and Nobody’s Fault But Mine, were cases where the lyrics were pinched, sometimes word for word, from the original source.
Ever since John Bonham died and Led Zeppelin disbanded, Jimmy Page's musical output has slowed quite a bit. He put out eight studio albums in twelve years with Led Zeppelin. In the thirty-one years since Led Zeppelin's demise, there has been a movie soundtrack [Death Wish II], two albums with Paul Rodgers [The Firm, Mean Business], one album with David Coverdale [Coverdale/Page], two with Robert Plant [No Quarter: Unledded, Walking Into Clarksdale], and a live album with the Black Crowes. All of these works have their moments, but not like what he produced with Led Zeppelin. Perhaps as he approaches 70, there's nothing left for Jimmy Page to do except to keep alive the flame of Led Zeppelin. That's still a pretty big legacy, one that I will continue to enjoy.