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Jimmy Page, the mild Barbarian
By James Johnson
Jimmy Page`s slightly timid, mild-mannered exterior is of course, deceptive. There`s no need to explain how Led Zeppelin come across on stage, while in between concerts – on the road – they`ve long been renowned for a little loose living, as hotel managers across the world will surely testify.
“Barbarians was how we were once described,” says Page, a slight gleam in his eyes. “I can`t really deny it”.
Those excesses aside. Zeppelin have always been the ultimate in anti-stars, relentlessly avoiding publicity or anything that could divert them from simply laying down their music.
Little has changed, except in a small way with a set of lights and new stage set-up prepared in readiness for their forthcoming American tour.
But even this, as Jimmy Page explains with only mild interest spreading across his almost schoolboyish face, is hardly a revolutionary step.
“It`s nothing phenomenal. It`s just that we`ve never really had any lights before, so we thought it might be fun and add a little extra atmosphere.
“Everybody else has been doing it for years but, before, we`ve always let the music speak for itself.”
It`s also well known that Page`s opinion of rock journalists isn`t too high, which perhaps helps to explain why last week he appeared so cool and reserved, picking his words as carefully as a guitar line.
At present, perhaps he has more reason to be more antagonistic towards the press after recent heavy criticism of Zeppelin`s new album, “Houses Of The Holy”.
But if Page was on the defensive, it didn`t show. Bad reviews don`t worry him.
“I don`t really care. It doesn`t really make any difference. I`m deaf to the album now because we made it such a long time ago, but I know there`s some good stuff there.
“You can`t dismiss something like `No Quarter` or the `Rain Song` out of hand. Maybe you could attack `The Crunge` or `D`yer Maker` for being a bit self-indulgent. But they`re just a giggle. They`re just two send-ups.
“If people can`t even suss that out, on that superficial a level, then obviously you can`t expect them to understand anything else on the album. It beats me, but I really don`t give a damn.
Page feels that Zeppelin`s raunchier hard rock numbers like “Whole Lotta Love”, represent only a small area of what the band have been doing on record.
“There`s been a general maturity that was showing by the third album, which a lot of people haven`t been able to come to terms with. For me, the third album was very, very good and still had more of an attack than anything before.
“But obviously, people have this preconceived notion of what to expect, and when a band is constantly in a state of change – and that doesn`t mean lack of direction but a natural change – then they can`t come to terms with it because each album is different from the last.
“How they should approach our albums is to forget they ever heard of a band called Led Zeppelin, forget about what they expect to hear, and just listen to what`s on that particular record. That`s all we ask, but we don`t get it.”
Even so, it seems that it`s the hard rock side of Led Zeppelin that remains the most popular. Says Page: “The rock and roll is in all four of us, and on stage that`s what comes through.”
Yet somehow it`s not represented much on the new album?
“In fact, we had two tracks – one called `The Rover` and another, unnamed – that we were going to use, both of which were really hard rock.
“We`ll probably use them next time, possibly re-writing one of them, but still keeping the essence.”
Clearly, as always with Led Zeppelin, there was no shortage of material when they came to record “Houses Of The Holy”.
“When we went into the studio, we had no set ideas on how we wanted the album to turn out. We just recorded the ideas we had at that particular time. We just got together and let it come out. There are never ever any shortages or stagnant periods.
“I write a lot at home, and I`m fortunate in having a studio set-up where I can try things out. Lately I`ve been experimenting with chords a lot more, and have tried a few unusual voicings. There are several ways material can come to the band, but it`s always there.”
Surprisingly perhaps being a supremely capable musician in his own right outside the context of Led Zeppelin, Page doesn`t find himself writing anything, maybe for his own satisfaction, that might never be used by the band.
“If I find a number coming that I know wouldn`t be suitable, I scrap it” he says. “I stop working on it from that moment on.”
And apart from the odd session he does “as a favour for friends”, it seems that Page`s energy is totally committed to Led Zeppelin. He can`t see himself ever wanting to play in another band, or in another line-up.
“Nothing else would gell together so nicely,” he states firmly. “I know it would be a mistake to break it up because you see it happening to other bands. They split, and what comes after doesn`t work nearly as well.
“The chemistry isn`t there. And if it`s there in the beginning, then it`s criminal to break it up.”
In many ways, Page has always been a “one band man”. His only other band was the Yardbirds which, in a sense, was the forerunner of Led Zeppelin anyway.
He admits he wouldn`t have missed those days in the Yardbirds, but chooses his words diplomatically when it comes to talking about the troubles the band suffered, especially between personnel.
Of Jeff Beck, with whom he played in the Yardbirds during the band`s last year, he contents himself with the comment: “I used to get on very well with him at the time, and I admire him as a musician.”
He continues: “Basically the Yardbirds are, for me, a mixture of good and bad memories. There were certainly some magic moments and it was a great time to be playing, with new material coming to the public`s ears.
“It was great when we had two lead guitars with Jeff Beck, but there`s little evidence of it left on record. There was `Happenings Ten Years Time` which I feel went over a lot of heads in Britain, although it perpetuated the Yardbirds reputation in America. They were always into the more lyrical side of what we were doing.
“Also there was one horrible live album that was going to be released, which was recorded by a man who spent most of his time recording stuff like Manuel`s Music of the Mountains.
“I remember he put just one microphone over the drums, and that was over the top so there was no bass drum at all, which showed how much he knew about it. Obviously the album had to be stopped.
“It was unfortunate, though, that no live stuff was ever recorded properly.”
Page, of course, has always been best known for his work on electric guitar, which has perhaps overshadowed anything he`s done on acoustic, even though he`s featured acoustic playing on every Zeppelin album.
He says he has to treat the two instruments differently. “Simply because of the mechanics of the guitars. I don`t personally think the finger style works on an electric guitar. You just get overtones and harmonics coming out. It doesn`t sound right at all.
“Then again, an electric guitar can work for you. It can start singing on its own through the electronics, which you can`t engineer on an acoustic guitar. They`re two totally different fields. Personally, I find them both equally as fascinating.
“Probably my greatest influence on acoustic guitar is Bert Jansch, who was a real dream-weaver. He was incredibly original when he first appeared, and I wish now that he`d gone back to things like `Jack Orion` once again. His first album had a great affect on me.
“Undoubtedly, my affection and fascination for the guitar is just as strong as it`s ever been. After all, everyone`s approach to the instrument is so totally different.
“There are so many styles of playing to listen to and to get off on. You can`t help but be totally involved with it. I`m still coming to terms with the instrument even now.”
In 1973 car radios ruled, and radio stations were even more powerful than today.
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: Stackridge, Argent, Traffic, Steeleye Span, Ry Cooder, John Bundrick (Free), Latin music, Keith Emerson, Captain Beefheart, Steve Miller.
This edition is sold!