There are certain members of rock royalty whose prospects for an autobiography seem a little optimistic. That Keith Richards managed to recollect anything for his book, Life, was nothing short of a miracle, however it’s likely that we’ll be waiting forever to read his more reticent counterpart Mick Jagger’s journals. And so it was with Led Zeppelin, who have always closely guarded their own backstage secrets despite – or, perhaps, because of – mounting speculation and improbable myths that surround their legacy. Until now, that is.
An intensely private person, it’s taken over four decades for guitarist Jimmy Page to enlighten his fans with an insight into the inner sanctum of his colourful past. A new book, simply titled Jimmy Page, attempts to lift the lid on the memories from throughout his career, but in a unique and authoritative manner that’s fitting of the musician’s exacting standards. The book’s narrative is told by a succession of photographs, painstakingly researched and collected over two years by Page, which definitively charts his progress, his rise to fame, and his stature now as a living legend.
“I like to pit my wits against something that is pretty epic,” he tells Clash. “I’ve done that all the way through, I realise, in my life, now. To have something that nobody else has done.”
The first ever authorised Led Zep publication assembles 500 pages of stunning imagery from the likes of Linda McCartney, Gered Mankowitz, Pennie Smith, Jim Marshall and more, alongside unseen photographs from Page’s own archives, rare Led Zep memorabilia, tour dates, passport scans and accompanying captions. It begins in the late-’50s with Page as a choirboy, before his obsession with the guitar sees him first become an in-demand session player, then a Yardbird, then form his own group, Led Zeppelin, and conquering the world. His post-Zep years are brought right up to date with the band’s 2007 reunion, his work with The Black Crowes, and his appearance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Originally designed as a 2,500-copy limited edition collectible, this new and expanded affordable version is an essential and illuminating document for any Led Zep fan.
Clash met Jimmy to talk through a selection of our favourite photos, and discovered the enigmatic icon wasn’t as restrained as we’d been led to believe…
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“This is a picture of my first purchased guitar. My first [actual] guitar was a campfire-type guitar, which curiously enough was left behind at a house that my parents moved into. We moved from Middlesex to Surrey, to Epsom, where this is. There was this guitar there – nobody could play it in the family – and it was all strung up with six strings. You know when you see a guitar that’s been left behind and there’s strings missing? This was just there. Bit by bit, there was like an intervention into my life. I took to it like a duck to water.”
THE SESSION MAN
“When I was at art college, I was playing in the interval band at the Marquee club, which was on Oxford Street at the time; it was just really happening then at that time. I was at art college and I was playing in the interval band and I got headhunted to start doing sessions, and then they just came fast and furious. I had a break after one of the terms and I was doing like three sessions a day, five days a week. I had to go back to art college, and I had to make a serious decision. It was clear that I was a much better guitarist than what I was an artist. In those days, you weren’t just a specialist musician; you were just a guitarist and you were expected to be able to play in all these different genres.
“I played right across the board; from all the really, really good things like the group things, where I was brought in as a hired hand (for the likes of The Who, The Kinks and Them), to the point where I was doing muzak sessions. I worked with Brian Jones from The Rolling Stones for the film A Degree Of Murder. He said, ‘I’m doing a soundtrack for this thing. Have you got any ideas?’ I said, ‘I’ve got something straight away. I’ve got the bow (to play guitar with)!’ And he goes, ‘Oh! Listen to that!’ It was lovely working with a like-minded musician that was into the more avant-garde.”
“The bass player Paul Samwell-Smith left the band. Their guitarist Jeff [Beck] and I were really good friends, had been friends since we were 12 – he thinks maybe even 11 – so I go in playing the bass, and then it gets to the point where there are two lead guitars, and Chris Dreja takes over on the bass. Jeff was really keen to have a dual lead guitar thing… Like, all those old blues records where they’ve got two guitarists going on, like the Howlin’ Wolf stuff and Muddy Waters; you hear some wonderful guitar parts blending. The Stones were doing that, but we wanted to have stuff that was more like a big band, with all the saxes – that sort of aspect, of all the riffs coming right out at you, and playing off each other. I was playing with the bow the minute I go in there, so we had a lot of interesting textures going on.”
“I’d found Robert and routined stuff with him at home to see – because if he wasn’t going to get the ideas of what I had, then I’d have to look for someone else. I knew exactly what I was going to do. But it was like hand-in-glove, the two of us working. John Bonham hadn’t been playing with him for a while, I don’t think, but he said, ‘You’ve got to see John Bonham.’ I’d worked with John Paul Jones on sessions… Everybody just really suddenly took on their own persona, which moulded as the four and bonded. John Bonham had never had the chance to play the drums as John Bonham before Led Zeppelin. He’d just never had the chance to really flex his muscles musically, but that’s the same with all of us; everyone suddenly went into overdrive on this thing. It wasn’t over-playing, it was just playing in such a way with such attitude that it was just undeniable – this is some serious force going on here.”
“It was supply and demand: we couldn’t supply the demand of people who wanted to come and see us, so you just see that these venues get bigger and bigger and bigger. Did I get nervous before big shows? Was it nerves or was it just the excitement and the adrenaline tap going on and champing at the bit like a horse before the shutters go up and it starts racing? It’s a bit like that, I think. Because the other thing about it is, by the time you’re looking at that picture there, we’re doing three-hour sets, and there was always going to be so much music that was going to come out on that night. Because every night was different, so it was quite exciting, you know? You knew what the set was, but the set’s gonna mutate. It was wonderful.”
“I knew how I wanted to look, which was different to other people, and then it got to the point where I could actually afford to buy outfits – because they weren’t going to be cheap. On the dragon suit, it’s really raised up like a kimono, and it’s all gold threads. But I could afford to buy that. I think I had the trousers first (laughs), then I had to pay for the jacket so the jacket and trousers match up. Then I had the poppy suit made as well.”
“I met Andy Warhol in November 1966 when The Yardbirds were in New York. Robert Plant and I met Elvis Presley in 1974 after his show in LA. I sort of got a chance to meet everyone. If I’m really honest, I would have liked to have worked with Bob Dylan. There’s still time, but there’s a whole period when I would really have liked to have worked with him. At the time, he’d had a conversion to Christianity, and everyone thought I was like the Devil incarnate, and maybe he thought it might not be the best [idea]. He might have thought it was like mixing oil and water, but actually in musical terms I would have been really sympathetic to him.”
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Interview: Simon Harper
Photo credits (top to bottom): Hipgnosis; Dennis Coffin x3; Chris Dreja x3; Hipgnosis
Find more information on the book, out now through Genesis Publications, at its official website.
Jimmy appears at a special ‘stamping’ event at Waterstones, Piccadilly (London) on December 2nd. He will hand-stamp copies of Jimmy Page with a location-exclusive ‘Zoso’ emblem. The event begins at 1pm and is strictly on a first come, first served basis with a queue restriction of 250 people. More information.