A June 1969 Guitar Player article on Jimmy Page, not long after Led Zeppelin came on the scene…
From the time Jimmy Page launched Led Zeppelin, it did what most groups dream of doing: it floated right to the top, first in England and now in the U.S. We caught Jimmy Page at the high temple of rock, the Fillmore in San Francisco, where he was making one of his first U.S. appearances. Although the Led Zeppelin had only been together two months, they were jamming as if they had been doing it for years.
Jimmy, who plays lead guitar for Led Zeppelin, worked two years with the much-lauded Yardbirds. At that time he became good friends with another Yardbirds veteran, Eric Clapton. “Eric and I did a lot of stuff at my house,” he recalls. “We used to just get the tape recorder working and start playing. A lot of the tapes we did together came out in the media. However, at the time I was recording with Eric, he was under contract and so his company took possession of the recordings. It’s interesting to see the progress Eric has made since then.”
Jimmy started on the guitar about eight years ago: “I have always wanted to be an electric guitarist. I even started a paper route to get my first instrument because I didn’t have any money. Well, I got one, and then I just started exchanging and getting better ones. I think the second one I had was a Fender Stratocaster, and that was the first good guitar I ever had. Then I got a Gretsch, and then a Les Paul with three pickups. The reason I don’t use the Les Paul now is because I didn’t feel that particular model was good for blues. It’s called the ‘Fretless Wonder’ and the frets are filed real fine, but it just doesn’t happen for the blues.”
Jimmy says the best match he’s found has been a Gibson guitar through a Marshall amp: “You get a Marshall with a Gibson and it’s fantastic, a perfect match. I’m using Ernie Ball super slinky strings, although I usually sort of swap around gauges. You know, they have these custom-gauge things, and I usually have it a bit heavier around the third and sometimes a bit lighter. It depends on what sort of mood I’m in.”
Once in a while when jamming, Jimmy will sit down behind a steel guitar. “We wanted to use a steel guitar in Led Zeppelin,” he explains. “I have used one for about a month. It’s frustrating to play it though. You hear those country guys, and they can play it so damn well. It’s such a complicated instrument for someone who doesn’t have that sort of line to begin with, and it’s a struggle for me to play. We used it on our album a couple of times, but nothing really complicated. When I play, I try to do a bit of everything. I don’t know if that’s good. I guess it can be annoying.” One of Jimmy’s most dynamic sounds occurs when he draws a violin bow across the strings.
“Led Zeppelin’s music never duplicates itself,” he insists. “We might use the same pattern, but it’s always changing. By now a tune may be entirely different from when we first started. The only thing which will remain the same is the first couple of verses. Although we’ve got cues when we cut in, the idea is to get as much spontaneity as possible. But to get yourself out of trouble, you’ve got certain keys you can use to come in. Otherwise it can be chaotic. Usually we just start the song off and then go in different tangents, change it four or five times, and then come back to the original song.”
Jimmy wouldn’t call what they do during rehearsal a practice. “We jam,” he says. “Once we’ve got a number, everything is happy, but getting there is another thing. That is why it is so easy using an old blues number. You know it, and then you go on from there. I think most groups must have the same trouble.
“How original our work is depends upon how you want to classify it. You might say it’s 80% original if you want to exclude the words. In fact, it would be 90% original, because our numbers would be ten or fifteen minutes whereas the original number would only be three minutes long. So basically we are making it up all the time.”
Jimmy is establishing himself as one of the top rock guitarists. How high he goes is only limited by his creativity and ability to expand his technique.