Jimmy Page at 13

Aha! Now we know why no one has developed a cancer cure! It’s because young James Page took that skiffle thing a little too seriously.

Yep — it’s Jimmy Page at 13 in 1957. (He turned 70 this week.) Imagine how different the world would be had he followed his stated goal of becoming a cancer researcher. We’d probably have eliminated cancer 30 years ago, but our music would be a lot crappier.

As much as I love Pagey’s playing, I’ve long felt his greatest influence was as a producer. He defined what rock sounds like, largely via his unprecedented innovations in exploiting and manipulating reverberant spaces. Zep sounds like modern rock. Nothing before does.

BBC assclown: "What are you going to do when you leave school? Take up skiffle?"

Condescending BBC presenter: “What are you going to do when you leave school? Take up skiffle?”

Many years ago I was kicking that notion around with my friend Andrew Goodwin, the brilliant British media studies scholar. He expanded our ramblings into a journal paper, and gave me an entirely undeserved co-author credit. To this day, it’s my only academic publication. Andrew went on to create a Led Zeppelin course at the University of San Francisco. He was working on a Zep book when he died in a freak apartment fire a few month ago. I assume he was aware of this clip, though I’m not certain. He definitely would have loved it! I miss him.

What’s your favorite Pagey moment? I think mine is from one of those leaked studio outtakes, an excerpt from “Heartbreaker.” You hear the amp close-miked and claustrophobic-sounding. Then you hear it miked from a distance, spooky and reverberant. Then you hear both sounds together. Voilà — modern rock guitar.

My fave Pagey solo is — hehe — “Sympathy for the Devil.” Yeah — I still think he played that one.

Earlier this year I got to do a couple of shows with Marianne Faithfull, who prompted the song in the first place when she gave Mick a copy of Bulgalkov’s brilliant novel The Master and Margarita. We were talking about the song, so I figured it was my moment to finally solve the mystery.

“So who played the solo?” I asked.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “I just knew you were going to ask me something idiotic like that.”

28 comments to Jimmy Page at 13

  • Colm

    Can Andrew’s paper be found somewhere online?

  • joe

    I don’t think so. But his book Dancing in the Distraction Factory is available from Amazon, as is On Record, the anthology he edited with Simon Frith, another brilliant British media scholar (and brother of guitarist Fred).

  • thomas4th

    Kashmir will always be my favorite Page moment (although his guitar isn’t particularly prominent, but that points more to your emphasis on Page as producer). It’s an adventure in a song – one of those moments where Led Zeppelin elevate themselves beyond just another blues-rock band. It’s probably also responsible for my fascination with spacious chords, polymeter patterns, and slow phasers. 🙂

  • Oinkus

    Always thought the 14 or 15 plus guitar parts in different tunings on The Rain Song were amazing.One of those songs that everyone learned to play way back when , at least in my group of friends.

  • el reclusa

    Not only is this my favorite Jimmy Page stories of all time, it’s one of my favorite ME stories of all time.

    Waaaaay back in 1998, I was 21 and had been living here in Kansas City for a year or so. I had happily found a really great- if not particularly lucrative- job, working in a vintage and used store. We had four basic sections to the store: vintage and used Hi-Fi, vintage and used guitars, repair of almost anything related, and a small studio. The owner- to this day one of my best friends, a brilliant FOH guy, and one of my few mentors- lived in a house next door to the four-front, ancient strip mall we were located in.

    One particularly cold, grey, generally crappy day, the owner decided since it was likely to be slow, he was going to stay home. Since he was next door, if I really needed anything, he’s only 30 seconds away. This wasn’t a rarity in those days- I could handle the place by myself, and having lots of FOH gigs, Buzzz (the owner) would sometimes relax and regroup next door after a string of gigs, when the store was slow.

    The only hitch with being by myself was this: if I needed to relieve myself, I had to put a “back in five” note on the front door, lock it, and take the cordless phone with me into the loo. This particular day was booooooooring. No customers for hours, maybe a couple of phone calls, but mostly I just sat around rereading the Tube Amp Book by Aspen Pittman, since nothing needed attention in the shop- everything was clean, in tune, yada yada.

    Sometime in the middle of the day, nature called. And- naturally- the phone rang while I was in the john. A very English-sounding chap was on the other end asking for directions to the store. I didn’t think much of it.

    About an hour later, our dear friend Bob (may he rest in peace), a regular who would hang out and sometimes bring by snippets from his insane vintage mic collection to check out, stopped by on his way home from errands. We sat and talked for a while. A few minutes later, a cab pulls up in front of the store. A middle-aged man in dress slacks and a Starter jacket gets out, alongside a slightly younger but really big guy. The cab stays put as they make their way in.

    The big guy is quiet the whole time they are in the store- about 45 minutes, maybe an hour. The middle-aged man, however, is jovial and talkative, checking stuff out like a kid in a candy store. I realize in about a second and a half, it’s the English guy from the phone earlier. Cool.

    After about twenty minutes of chatting with the fellow, we’re standing face-to-face, talking about an amp. At that moment, it clicks. HOLY SHIT, it’s JIMMY PAGE!

    Page and Plant were in town touring ‘Walking Into Clarksdale’, playing at Kemper Arena that night. At that impressionable point in my life, when I thought “Jimmy Page”, I thought “Dragon pants”, not sweet old man. I kinda, for about half a second, freaked. It must have shown on my face, because I could tell the moment that he realized that I realized who he was, and for another half second it was kind of awkward…I mean, it’s JIMMY EFFIN’ PAGE in our little store! Somehow, I managed to keep my composure, and made a conscious decision NOT to ask a bajillion questions, fawn, or treat Pagey any differently than I had when he walked in the door. I think he must have also read that, because after that weird half-second, he gave me a sly half-smile, and we went right on talking about the Silvertone 1484 he was eyeing.

    He hung out for about another half-hour, chatting, talking about old gear, considering a VPI turntable we had, talking mics with Bob. He was incredibly gracious, very polite, and generally a lot of fun to hang out with. I never once mentioned Led Zeppelin, or even acknowledged that he has anything more than another cool customer in our store. I tried to call Buzzz a couple of times during Pagey’s visit, while he was talking to Bob, but he never answered.

    After mulling it over for a while, Page decides against the Twin Twelve: “I want it, but I have a warehouse with about ten of these already in it!” (We should all have such problems!). He thanks me, complimenting our cozy little shop as he and British Hulk (who I assume was a bodyguard, or at least an imposing roadie) take their leave, get back in the cab and split. A couple of quiet minutes pass, and I blurt out to Bob “THAT WAS JIMMY FUCKING PAGE, WASN’T IT?!?”. Bob, in his typically dulcet, voiceover tones, says “Y’know Jay, I believe it was.” We grabs a copy of the Pitch, our local alt newsweekly, off the rack by the door, opens it up, and finds a blurb about the Page/Plant show that night with a picture. Yep. That was Jimmy Page. In my shop.

    A couple of hours later, Buzzz finally ambles over in his sweats and asks what was up, he saw I called a couple of times, but was napping. “Oh not much, y’know…somebody had a question about a repair. AND YOU JUST MISSED JIMMY PAGE!” If Bob hadn’t been there, he probably wouldn’t have believed me. We’d just started selling the reissue Danelectros- I jumped on that when they were announced, and we were one of the first dealers. Buzzz got a little pissed that I didn’t get Pagey to sign one. Meh. I decided to be cool and not get all fanboy on him, and I think he appreciated it. A little while later, Buzzz gets a call from the guys at the Grand Emporium, then a pretty hep Blues club, where Buzzz ran sound often. Pagey and Brit Hulk had stopped by there and mentioned that they’d come from our place, and apparently spoke highly of us.

    That’s the story of the time I talked to Jimmy Page while I was sitting on the toilet, and then met him an hour later. Definitely one of the more absurd days of my young adulthood.

    • joe

      Best. Story. Ever. Thank you SOOO much.

      I’ve never met Page or Plant, though everyone I know who has says they’re super cool. I did interview JPJ, and he is most definitely super cool.

      When I was around Bowie and Keith, they both had bodyguards as well.

      The second best thing about your story is the fact that Buzzz spells his name with three z’s.

      • Oinkus

        Chef I worked for met him in New Orleans after a show by running into the bar as they closed the door and locked the public out.( he was huge and never moved faster then 2 steps and a pause) Bought him a gin and tonic and sat around with him for a few hours. Best day of his life as far as I ever knew.

  • el reclusa

    Oh yes…spell it with two Zeds and get corrected! I really miss that shop, not just as a job, but as a place. Many of my long term friendships locally started there.

    Funny thing is, I was able to keep my cool, even as a young pup, around Jimmy EFFING Page, but a few years later, I was dumbstruck nervous being in the same room as John Parish, Howe Gelb, Adrian Utley and Jeremy Hogg. Like, tripping over my own tongue nervous. I’ve had some interaction with Parish since- I interviewed him via email once, and prior to that he was kind enough to send me some Automatic Dlamini vinyl impossible to find Stateside. Maybe it’s an age/generational thing, but I felt WAY more intimidated in person then- and all of those fellas were very nice- than with Pagey.

  • el reclusa

    Now that I think about it, here’s the thing: I met Page, but not immediately following a gig. The Gelb/Parish thing was right after seeing Howe before the How Animals Move big band (with Hogg and Utley guitaring, along with JP and sometimes Ben Shillabeer). That show still stands as probably the most beautiful performance I’ve ever seen in person. I’ve seen some great shows, but that one…jaheezius. THAT was beautiful. No wonder I was kinda “duuuuh” after! John was super nice, and was subsequently when I’ve had contact with him. I was just literally kinda speechless after the show. Sue Garner played too. Top to bottom, just amazing.

  • el reclusa

    John is a gentleman AND a scholar, to be sure. Jeremy Hogg is my favorite living slide guitarist by a mile. I really wish I’d had more nerve to chat with him. Adrian seemed nice, too, but yeah- I was totally just dumbstruck at the time. 🙂 The other thing that threw me off was all those dudes seemed larger-than-life to me before I met them…in the same room, I felt freakishly tall though. 🙂

  • Jimmy to Me brought "real songwritting" to the instrument. I'll agree with Joe on his many salient points. I never really thought page was technically great as a soloist. But,I think his many riffs and licks are staple and memorable. None the less..a huge influence on Me in My younger years..suspended chords would never be the same without him.

  • NicPic

    Jimmy to Me brought “real songwritting” to the instrument. I’ll agree with Joe on his many salient points. I never really thought page was technically great as a soloist. But,I think his many riffs and licks are staple and memorable. None the less..a huge influence on Me in My younger years..suspended chords would never be the same without him.

    • joe

      I used to underestimate the technical quality of Pagey’s playing. I never saw Zep live, and I knew his live playing mainly from Song Remains the Same, which has a lot of butter-fingered noodling. Must have been the wear and tear inflicted by drugs, booze, fame, or Satanism, because when they released all the live footage on How the West Was One, I was floored by how razor-sharp his playing had been just a few years earlier. And of course, he would have had to have been incredibly proficient to have played those hundreds of pre-Zep sessions. It took me a long time to realize how technically capable he was.

  • NotSoFast

    Jeff must really have been hitting the amp hard to hear the whack so clearly over the band…

  • Peter

    Favorite recorded moments? Probably bits from LZ outtakes, demos & rehearsals (though I don’t think I’ve heard the Heartbreaker version that Joe referenced). Things like this demo for 10 Years Gone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUB0fmg_KoE or for Rain Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWoNWELFqNk
    And though I might be almost as sick of Stairway as Robert Plant is, hearing proto versions with JP & JPJ working out their parts is fascinating.

    Favorite live moment? Seeing Led Zeppelin open for Country Joe and The Fish at The Fillmore West January 9th 1969, 45 years ago. The first record hadn’t yet been released and the relatively small room wasn’t too packed out. Got right up front and felt the power and excitement. I was 15 years old. What a night. (And Taj Mahal w/Jesse Ed Davis also played and was great). I left feeling like I had been let in on a secret which would eventually be shared with the world.

  • Matt

    Speaking of producing, wasn’t Pagey also partly responsible for Clapton’s Bluesbreaker sound on the Beano album? I remember hearing that he was in studio for that one. Could be wrong, though.

    Joe, you’re right about how sharp JP was during early Zep and how his playing declined later. One thing about all his great playing, though, is his spot-on phrasing and timing, and uncannily perfect note choice. Super-little things, like hanging off a note for a fraction of a second. I slowed down the outro solo to The Ocean to learn it note-for-note, and it’s incredible how those “little things” make such a huge difference. His phrasing, so unnatural to me, was absolutely perfect.


    The solo break in “Whole Lotta Love”…

    All of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”…

    The solo fills in “Moby Dick”…

    “The Rain Song.” ALL OF IT.

    The whiney pre-chorus electric guitar part in “Ramble On”…

    So much greatness.

  • NotSoFast

    Two favorite Jimmy Page moments that probably have more to do with me than him. The first was walking into my friends house as a kid (without knocking – just opened the front door as usual) and there’s a little portable record playing Black Dog at full tilt. Just floored me. It sounded fantastic – maybe because it was just heavily compressed guitar and bass on that little record player cranked past clipping.

    From wikipedia
    We put my Les Paul through a direct box, and from there into a mic channel. We used the mic amp of the mixing board to get distortion. Then we ran it through two Urei 1176 Universal compressors in series. Then each line was triple-tracked.

    The second moment was watching him smiling in the audience at the Kennedy Center tribute performance by Heart and Jason Bonham. That got to me.

  • NotSoFast

    A friend was drooling over the Neve Lunchbox last week. Reasonably priced compared to a Neve console I suppose but far out of my realm. If you could slap one together with cheap parts… :thumbup:


  • mwseniff

    My buddy’s older brother took us to see Led Zeppelin at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago on Feb, 8, 1969 when I was 15. They were just another cool English band to us back then. I owned the first LP by then having been a Yardbirds fan it was a natural to buy. Led Zeppelin was very loud they sort of overdrove the PA and venue to the point of it being difficult to clearly hear what was going on on most of the songs. They clearly had some chops but the sheer volume made it a difficult show. To be honest it was not really the holy grail of concerts as many might assume. I remember enjoying the old Yardbirds stuff the most.
    I mostly remember Jethro Tull being the opening act and they seemed pretty outrageous at the time. They were much more reasonable volume wise and they sounded better than LZ.I had to search high and low to find their first album which was not released in the US so it was my first “import LP”. I became a big Jethro Tull fan all thanks to LZ.
    For the record I’m not a huge fan of Jimmy Page to this day but John Paul Jones is one of my heroes his work since LZ has been pretty phenomenal IMHO.

    • joe

      Yeah, sometimes those legendary shows weren’t really all that.

      Youngsters occasionally seem impressed that I saw T-Rex when I was 12. I loved Marc Bolan and still do — but the show was just sort of … okay, even to an impressionable kid who knew and loved the songs. Even though Zep was vastly much more important than Tull, it’s easy to imagine how they might have been upstaged on a given night.

      It was like that when I saw the Sugarcubes/Björk at a small club in the late ’80s. They were just fine—but everyone walked out raving about the unknown support band: the Pixies.

      But still — I envy you! 🙂

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