Though the argument over who is the greatest rock guitarist of all time will probably rage on forever, one name that seems to appear on everyone’s list is that of Jimmy Page, the heavy-metal guitarist who most prominently wielded his chain-saw-like guitar for the legendary British rock group Led Zeppelin, a band that dominated the rock world with an imperial arrogance throughout the 1970s. Coming of age along with an impressive generation of British musicians, among them such other legendary guitarists as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, Page was able to take advantage of both a recurrence of interest in traditional American blues and a period of quantum breakthroughs in music technology to forge a distinctive guitar style. The resulting sound blossomed to full flower in the Led Zeppelin years, when Page realized his dream of creating a music that held a balanced combination of bluesy emotional content and modern, earth-shattering rock and roll power. “The rock guitarists of his generation are probably the greatest in rock history,” said Atlantic Records chairman Ahmet Ertegun in People. “But Jimmy Page is the least conventional, the most personal. He developed a magical, distinctive style.”
A self-described “introspective loner” as a child, Page, who was born January 9, 1944, grew up the son of a corporate personnel officer in the town of Surrey, outside London. As a young art student, Page, like nearly all of England, had become swept away with the rock and roll craze that reached Europe in the form of Elvis Presley in the 1950s. Deciding to take up guitar, Page started out in a band called Neil Christian and the Crusaders, where he learned to imitate such star guitarists of the day as Scotty Moore, James Burton, and Hank B. Marvin. But due to physical problems involving a glandular disorder that induced travel sickness, Page was unable to perform live, so he began to make his mark in London as a guitarist in recording sessions, some that were credited to him and some that were not, for various groups. Much controversy has swirled around Page’s work during this period, such as the claim by some that Page contributed greatly to such hits by the Kinks as “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” Nevertheless, it is certain that during this time Page performed on recordings by such a diverse array of artists as the Rolling Stones, the Who, Joe Cocker, Donovan, Petula Clark, and Tom Jones.
But the session work began to drag on Page, particularly the work on easy-listening and Top 40 records that reined in his budding talent (though the control Page learned in these years would later add significantly to his trademark style). One of the path-burning groups in London in the mid-1960s was the Yardbirds, and when Eric Clapton, another up-and-coming guitarist with whom Page had played and recorded, left the group,
For the Record…
Full name, Jimmy Page; born January 9, 1944, in Middlesex, England; son of a corporate personnel officer.
Rock guitarist, began playing in first band, Neil Christian and the Crusaders, early 1960s; unable to perform live due to illness, he began to work as a session musician for various groups recording in London; joined rock group The Yardbirds, 1966-68; formed own band The New Yardbirds (later to become Led Zeppelin), 1968; first tour of America with Led Zeppelin, 1969; started own recording label with Led Zeppelin, Swan Song Records, 1975; appeared in Led Zeppelin concert film The Song Remains the Same, 1976; Led Zeppelin breaks up, 1980, following death of drummer John Bonham; appears occasionally on solo records or collaborations with, most notably, Robert Plant and rock group the Firm; composer of soundtrack for film Deathwish II; appeared at A.R.M.S. and Live. Aid benefit concerts.
Addresses: c/o Phil Carson, Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019.
his vacated position was offered to Page, who turned it down because of concerns over his illness and then because he was earning a good living in session work. The position was filled by Jeff Beck. But when Yardbirds’ bassist Paul Samwell-Smith left the group a year later, Page again was offered a spot in the band and this time he accepted, starting out initially on bass and then moving to guitar to form a twin-lead. This Beck-Page guitar duo not only recharged the group at the time, but has piqued the imaginations of rock lovers since as a dream pairing.
The situation was short-lived, however. Beck left the group a short time later, leaving Page as the sole lead guitarist until the Yardbirds folded for good in 1968. Firmly established in the business as a solid name with a formidable reputation, Page then set about forming his own group, which he initially intended to call the New Yardbirds. Page knew bassist John Paul Jones from session work, and a friend recommended vocalist Robert Plant, who, in turn, recommended the drummer John Bonham. After a brief Scandinavian tour to fulfill previous Yardbirds obligations, and after deciding, with manager Peter Grant’s help, to rename the group Led Zeppelin, the foursome went into the studio. The group grooved so instantly that, two weeks later, after just thirty hours of recording time, they had completed their first album, which featured such rock classics as “Dazed and Confused” and “Communication Break-down.” After negotiating a worldwide contract with Atlantic Records, Page and Grant, deciding that their “heavy-metal” sound would do best in America, took the group on its first tour of the U.S. in 1969.
Led Zeppelin soon took America by storm. By May of 1969, Led Zeppelin was a Top Ten album, and the group’s intense, three-hour concerts were fast becoming the hottest talk on the music scene. In the next two years, the band recorded two more albums (Led Zeppelin II and Led Zeppelin III) and followed each with another American tour. By this time the group had become almost as famous for its road-life carousing as for their music. Everywhere they went, Led Zeppelin were besieged by throngs of girls that they were all too happy to oblige, and the bouts of drinking and violent hotel room smashing, particularly by Bonham, have become legend. Once Bonham was said to have taken exception to a pool table in his suite and smashed the entire thing to pieces.
But throughout the entire joyride Page and Plant were particularly prolific musically. The 1972 release Led Zeppelin IV contained such songs as “The Battle of Evermore,” “Black Dog,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” and the band’s trademark work “Stairway to Heaven,” all of which became fixtures on FM album-rock stations for more than a decade. By the mid-1970s Led Zeppelin had become the largest-drawing touring band in the world, amassing huge gate draws at stadiums around the world. They had an enormous entourage and flew to each city in their own private jet. In 1975 they released their first LP on their own record label, Swan Song Records, and 1976 saw the release of their follow-up album soundtrack to their concert film The Song Remains the Same. By the late 1970s Led Zeppelin had become a bit outdated musically, and the symbolic end to the band came with the death of Bonham, who died drowning in his own vomit at Page’s home outside London in 1980.
While Plant and Jones moved on to other projects, Page was so distraught over Bonham’s death that he could not pick up his guitar for nearly a year. “I couldn’t even look at it because it was part and parcel of the band,” Page told People. “I had made such a major statement being in a group like Zeppelin. It’s the best of my playing, and one could never eclipse that.” Indeed, one could say that Led Zeppelin dominated the music of the 1970s the way the Beatles dominated the ’60s, and entire books have been written about the group, most notably Stephen Davis’s Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga, which traces the group’s swift ascension to superstardom along with its notable Bacchanalian excesses.
But life had to go on for Page, and in the 1980s he slowly began putting his career back on the right track. Picking his spots carefully, Page in the 1980s appeared on a wide variety of projects, including two LPs by former Zeppelin mate Plant, a touring group he helped form called The Firm, the A.R.M.S. tour to fight multiple sclerosis, and Live Aid. “Page’s future projects, given his consummate skills onstage and in the studio, might take him anywhere,” writes Rich Kienzle in his book Great Guitarists. “So far, he has created some out-standing, much imitated music. He has managed to create guitar music of high artistic value that works on a commercial level as well—no small achievement. Jimmy Page’s musical spark and durability will create much of interest, though he could easily rest on his Yardbirds/Zeppelin laurels forever. We have not heard the last from him.”
With Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin, Atlantic, 1969.
Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic, 1969.
Led Zeppelin III, Atlantic, 1970.
Led Zeppelin IV, Atlantic 1972.
Houses of the Holy, Atlantic, 1973.
Physical Graffiti, Swan Song, 1975.
Presence, Swan Song, 1976.
The Song Remains the Same, Swan Song, 1976.
In Through the Out Door, Swan Song, 1979.
Coda, Swan Song, 1982.
With Albert Lee and John Paul Jones
No Introduction Necessary, Thunderbolt, 1984.
Don’t Send Me No Flowers, Marmalade, 1969.
Sonny Boy Williamson, Springboard, 1975.
Jam Session, Charly, 1975.
Outrider, Geffen, 1988.
Creem, October 1988.
Newsweek, June 20, 1977.
People, April 8, 1985.
Rolling Stone, January 31, 1985; July 4, 1985; July 14, 1988; December 15, 1988.
Stereo Review, July 1988.
Kienzle, Rich, Great Guitarists: The Most Influential Players in Blues,
Country Music, Jazz and Rock, Facts on File, 1985.
Born: James Patrick Page; Heston, Middlesex, England, 9 January 1944
Best-selling album since 1990: No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded (1994)
One of the most illustrious guitar players in all of rock music, Jimmy Page became famous when the band that he created, Led Zeppelin, went on to become the consummate hard rock group of the 1970s. Before their breakup in 1980, Page's leadership, remarkable guitar skills, and imaginative song writing enabled Led Zeppelin to sell more than 100 million records. The respect he receives because of his association with Led Zeppelin has afforded Page leeway in exploring various musical dalliances through the years, although none of them has taken firm root.
The Led Zeppelin Years
Page received a Spanish guitar when he was thirteen, became inspired by rock icon Elvis Presley, and by the time he turned fifteen had already gained a reputation around London as a talented guitarist. He was asked to join a touring rock group, Neil Christian & the Crusaders; however, the travel began making him ill so he left after two years and decided to study painting at an art college. Soon after, inspired by London's burgeoning 1960s blues/rock scene, Page dropped out of art school. He learned to read music and became a notable studio musician who was comfortable playing pop, jazz, country, rockabilly, and especially the blues. Some of the artists whose records he played on included the Rolling Stones, the Who, Tom Jones, Donovan, and the Kinks.
In 1966 the Yardbirds, who had already replaced guitarist Eric Clapton with Jeff Beck, asked Page to join, and he accepted the offer. The Yardbirds were just beginning to tap into the potential of having both Beck and Page when Beck quit. Page took over the guitar duties, but the Yardbirds broke up in 1968 with concert obligations unfulfilled. Page quickly comprised a band called the New Yard-birds that included bassist John Paul Jones, drummer John Bonham, and an unheard-of singer named Robert Plant, and finished the concert tour. Afterward, they renamed the group Led Zeppelin. The name derives from a nasty remark by drummer Keith Moon of the British band, the Who, wherein he said that the band "would sink like a lead balloon." Led Zeppelin proceeded to record nine monumentally successful albums.
Originally a strictly blues-influenced band, Led Zeppelin added a heavy, louder style known later as hard rock or heavy metal. Other bands used their blueprint to create various brands of heavy metal rock, but no one found as much variety in the genre as Led Zeppelin. Page experimented with different guitar tunings and added elements of jazz in addition to ethnic folk sounds such as Indian, Arabic, and Celtic. Some of their hits included "Stairway to Heaven," "Over the Hills and Far Away," and "Whole Lotta Love." In 2000 the cable music channel VH1 compiled a list of the 100 Greatest Hard Rock Artists and Led Zeppelin was named number one. They also earned a rowdy reputation, and eventually drugs and other excesses took their toll. Page became hooked on heroin in the band's last ragged years and in 1980 Bonham died of alcoholism. Led Zeppelin disbanded two months later. Despondent, Page quit playing guitar for more than a year.
Guest Guitar God
Page emerged in 1982 to compose the soundtrack to the movie Death Wish II. He was also a guest at various concerts and fundraisers, sharing the stage a few times with Britain's two other guitar legends, Clapton and Beck. In a 1985 concert for the human rights cause, Live Aid, the three remaining Led Zeppelin members thrilled the music world by reuniting briefly, with pop superstar Phil Collins on drums, at a stadium performance in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1984 Page formed the Firm with singer Paul Rodgers of the group Bad Company. The Firm released two moderately strong selling albums before disbanding in 1986. Further fueling hopes of a Led Zeppelin reunion, Page performed with Plant, Jones, and John Bonham's son, Jason, on drums at New York's Madison Square Garden in 1988 to celebrate Atlantic Records' twenty-fifth anniversary. Page also appeared on Plant's solo album, Now & Zen (1988), and Plant returned the favor by singing "The Only One" on Page's first solo effort, Outrider (1988).
In 1990 the news that Page was planning a full-scale project with Plant buoyed hopes that Led Zeppelin was reforming. However, the project fell through so Page joined with singer David Coverdale, formerly of Deep Purple, to release Coverdale/Page (1993). The album, which sounds similar to Led Zeppelin's early work, clearly displays Page's trademark strength of creating funky rock riffs and winding guitar solos. The album sold moderately well but a large-scale promotional tour was cancelled and the two never recorded another album.
The next year, Page and Plant finally came together, without bassist Jones, to release an acoustic collection of songs, No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded (1994), which MTV brought into their popular rock acoustic venue, Unplugged. The album contains three new releases and several Led Zeppelin songs, although it bypasses many of their most popular releases. No Quarter combines their rock/blues influence with a Middle Eastern flavor to create what was described as a "world" music sound. Backing Page instrumentally is a Moroccan/Egyptian ensemble and, on a few songs, the London Symphony Orchestra. While it was not the kind of reunion that Led Zeppelin fans had wished for, the album sold over 1 million copies and spawned a sold-out world tour. One of the album's highlights is a new version of the majestic "Kashmir." In 1998 Page reworked the song yet again in collaboration with rap artist Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, successfully combining rap and rock music into the movie soundtrack hit "Come with Me" from the film Godzilla (1998).
In 1995 Led Zeppelin was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neil Young and Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith joined Page and Plant on stage for a raucous jam at the induction festivities. This was the second induction for Page, as the Yardbirds were honored in 1992.
Page combined with Plant again on a much-hyped collection of new songs, Walking into Clarksdale (1998). Unfortunately, the album neither grabbed new listeners' attention nor inspired Led Zeppelin fans, who had all but given up on a true reunion of the legendary band. Walking into Clarksdale sold poorly and Page went off to guest with the hard rock group the Black Crowes. These young rockers seemed to bring out the best in Page. He played ferocious guitar on their songs as the Black Crowes roared back with renderings of Led Zeppelin material. A live album, Live at the Greek (2000), resulted. Page continued to tour with the Black Crowes in 2001, but a back injury forced him to bow out midway through. Page owns his own recording studio and continues to record and tour. Due to his ample body of work as a studio musician, numerous compilation albums featuring his playing keep cropping up. In addition, he is an active fundraiser for the organization Task Brasil.
Spot Light: Task Brasil
While on tour in Brazil promoting the album No Quarter (1994), Page witnessed a small civil war taking place within view of his hotel room window. He was awestruck by the suffering, particularly that of the street children. In an effort to help, he donated over 130,000 pounds to Task Brasil, a U.S. nonprofit organization designed to provide unfortunate Brazilian children, often homeless, with the attention and love that they need. Task Brasil used the donation to build a house affectionately called "Casa Jimmy," in which children could live in a safe environment. Page continues to work with Task Brasil, organizing fundraising activities such as auctions of rock memorabilia and performing concerts on behalf of the organization.
With a sleepy, self-satisfied expression, confidently grooving on the music's beat, his guitar slung low below the hip, few performers look more comfortable on a rock stage than Jimmy Page. His agile guitar skills have long been the benchmark for what being a rock guitarist entails. The scant efforts spent by Page toward a pure solo career in favor of collaborating probably echo back to his early musical roots as a noteworthy studio musician.
Outrider (Geffen, 1988); Before the Balloon Went Up (Dressed to Kill, 1998); Rock and Roll Highway (Thunderbolt, 2000); Bury the Axe (Dressed to Kill, 2002). With the Black Crowes: Live at the Greek (TVT, 2000). With David Coverdale: Coverdale/Page (A&M, 1993). With the Firm: The Firm (Atlantic, 1985); Mean Business (Atlantic, 1986). With Robert Plant: No Quarter: Jimmy Page and Robert Plant Unledded (Atlantic, 1994); Walking into Clarksdale (Atlantic, 1998). Soundtracks: Death Wish I (1974); Death Wish II (Swan Song, 1982); Death Wish III (1985); Godzilla (Sony, 1998).
T. Horkins, Led Zeppelin (New York, 1998); S. Davis, Hammer of the Gods (New York, 2001); R. Cole with R. Trubo, Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored (New York, 2002).