This interview with Jimmy Page was conducted some three months before the release of “Physical Graffiti”, a double album that went to No. 1 on the charts in the UK, USA and Canada. Led Zeppelin didn`t release any studio albums in 1974, so this release was heavily anticipated by their extremely large fan-base all over the world. And they were not disappointed – the famous song “Kashmir” was by itself worth the money anyone paid for this album.
The Graffiti of the Physical…
…and the Exploration of the Metaphysical.
A candid interview with Led Zep.
Words: Nick Kent Pics: Pennie Smith
The barley has been harvested. The heifers too have been put out to pasture, the Scalectrix sets have been pieced together and stored away for the time being…
Led Zeppelin are once again fully operative, girding their collective loins for another gargantuan American tour and celebrating a reunion after what has indisputably been their longest period of musical inactivity with a amiably sturdy set of rehearsals which started last week.
The rehearsals themselves will carry them pretty much up to the beginning of January when the group fly to Europe to showcase the new act to Dutch and Belgian audiences before letting themselves be swept away once again in a magic flurry of the Jet Lag-intended brand of “Road Fever” (the formal Zeppelin term) that constitutes the American Tour.
November 26 – a Tuesday as it happens – marked the formal return to arms, so to speak, down at Liveware, a converted theatre in an anonymous hinterland of equally anonymous Ealing. The band arrived at approximately 3.0 p.m., re-acquainted themselves with a cut-down P.A. system and in a subsequent seven-hour period commenced manfully sifting through a hefty volume of songs marked off as the new material to appear on the next Swansong Atlantic release – the first of the New Year. This is to be a double Zeppelin set titled (for no apparent reason except that it sounds good and does tie in with the consequent sleeve design – “a mechanical construction” also described by Jimmy Page with characteristic sly grin as a “peeping tom`s delight”), “Physical Graffiti”.
By 6.0 p.m. one number, “Tramped Underfoot” has been both mustered and mastered to be followed by a sprightly reacquaintance with “In My Time Of Dying”, the old gospel traditional Bob Dylan performed with such youthful fervour on his very first album.
Only this time Messrs Page and Plant have turned the harrowing old chestnut into an even more invigorating workout for electric bottle-neck, banshee vocalese and sudden dapper swerves in the 12-bar framework courtesy of a single off-the wall chord occasionally tossed into the affair like a musical handgrenade – or a sudden Bonham thrash that sets the hairs on the back of the neck a-quivering.
This after all is Led Zeppelin, the true Princes of the Heavy Metal Zone, back after what appears to have been an extrasomnabulant sojourn; while it seems the likes of such callow pretenders as Queen, teethed on self-same power chords and pulp athletics, have been edging in on the action with such success that it must have put the wind up their spiritual forefathers.
Still, the spirit is strong enough on this first rehearsal to motivate the band into a spontaneous version of “When The Levee Breaks”, the track that blitzed off the fourth album and a number the band have never actually performed outside a studio. Until now that is. Jimmy Page is thinking very seriously of renovating it for the new tour as, after all, with its bottleneck mainvein it fits like a dove-tail joint directly against the grain of “Dying”.
Subsequent valiant stabs are made at two more new numbers – “Sick Again”, which even in its skeletal form shows distinct signs of bristling out as a Zep masterwork, while there is always “Custard Pies”, a prime Zep knock-about which displays a conscious bent towards Page`s Eel Pie Island beginning.
Finally, at 9.0 p.m., regular as clockwork, Robert dusts out his best Presley grunt and the band obligingly fall into place for “Don`t Be Cruel” encoring with “Hound Dog”. Plant, right in the spirit by this time, is pushing for a third time around – “You daw-w-n`t- / ahk…uh cray-zz-uh-music. You don`t…uh…”
“Persistent isn`t he,” mutters Bonham, now more than ever resembling an amiable barrel draped in a donkey-jacket, who`s not having any of it.
So Plant makes do behind the drum-kit, banging out rimshots and the cow-bell introduction to “Honky Tonk Women”, moving his arms like a man throwing darts in a pub.
John Paul Jones counters by doing his party-piece Ramsey Lewis impersonation, ear-to-ear grin like one of those mechanical puppet organists you pay 5p to see perform sea-side medleys via a slot-machine in a sea-front amusement arcade.
The rigours of the day now make him resemble a third-year law student holding down a holiday job sorting the Christmas mail.
Only Plant and Page appear to preserve that necessary look of pop-star…”ambiance”, the former unchanged down to the last wisp of the luxurious lion`s mane of blond hair, while the latter`s guitar hero veneer is omnipresent as ever.
Page, in fact, always tends to look quite diminutive in size whenever he moves onstage – much smaller in fact than he really is, though this must have something to do with Plant`s stockier “boyo” physique paralleling his own; and then there`s always the low-slung Gibson guitar, hung almost as low as Steve Marriot`s knee-length drapery back in the Small Faces days.
Yes, so anyway there we all were in this Ealing rehearsal studio, like, and well, mind you, it has been quite a time since the name “Zeppelin” has resounded imperiously throughout the Media.
The occasional interview, that reception at the Chislehurst Caves, but otherwise it`s been pretty much relegated to the backwaters of Rolling Stone “Random Notes” and the tattle columns of those other…uh, music periodicals. And even then it`s been pretty much lean pickings.
Of course there`s always the odd morsel or so like those two that appeared recently.
I mean, Jimmy, did you see that one about Keith Richard located out in Switzerland adding organ and backing vocals to the track “Scarlet” that you, Ric Grech and Keith himself recorded down at Island`s Basing Street studios a couple of months ago, and which was supposed to be the B-side to a cut-down “Ain`t Too Proud to Beg” and here Keith was muttering something about it being donated to “a Jimmy Page album.”
“Oh dear (laughs). I think that must have been Keith putting someone on actually. I`ve certainly no plans whatsoever to record a solo album or anything like that.”
Page and Richard are old acquaintances from way back, by the way, starting when Page was brought in to help out on the first Rolling Stones album. And while we`re back in the past for a moment, there`s this piece in the current Rolling Stone that has John Entwhistle beefing about how the name “Led Zeppelin” was his invention and how he even designed the prototype for your first album cover.
“Well, I don`t know about that at all…Um-m, to start with the thing about the cover is completely wrong. We did that quite separately. The other – well, Keith Moon gave us the name. We`ve always credited him for that.
“I mean, originally there was going to be a band formed from the session for `Beck`s Bolero` – Jeff, myself, Nicky Hopkins, Aynsley Dunbar and…yes, John Paul Jones was in by that time. Maybe John Entwhistle did think of the name and told it to Keith Moon in which case I suppose he might have cause to be a bit angry. The rest of that – I don`t know about.” Page`s native paranoia at critical harassment seeps through the tone of this voice, as the legendary Zep/Rolling Stone feud, and his words momentarily take on a kind of bruised quality. This after all, has been something of an Achilles` Heel for Zeppelin and particularly Page – more probably so than ever because here they are about to release an album, a double set at that, laden with the fruits of two previous years`-worth of labour, even if the album itself took some six weeks to record. And Page himself more omnipresent than ever.
From the daring double 12-string over-dubs that graced “The Song Remains The Same” it`s come to no less than six guitars – “five in harmonies” – intertwining themselves for “Ten Years Gone”, not to mention “In The Light”, Page`s self -proclaimed piece de resistance of the album. And all for the first month of 1975.
“1974”, in Page`s own self-effacingly jocular terms “didn`t really happen, did it?”
A grin and then serious: “1975 will be better.”
From the look of things, Zeppelin are certainly committed to endowing the on-coming year with their own particular zeal. I mean, isn`t there this film of the band on tour in the States nearing the final editing stages? The oft-touted Led Zeppelin movie forever being greeted with the archetypal knowing grin when its existence is broached to one of the band or their entourage, followed by a few visibly mysterious verbal ruminations.
Stuff about “weird fantasy scenes” and such-like. Jimmy Page is more specific. Well not that specific…well, you tell them, Jimmy!
“Well to start with, the film is nearing completion, though we don`t have a title or distributor yet. I`ve yet to mix the sound-track and the final editing hasn`t been completed. I mean, but now it`s starting to get there. We`ve finally got a distinct framework.”
Direction of the movie has been handled by two different factions – the first Joe Massow whose most notable previous achievement appears to be “Wonderwall” and, more recently, Peter Clifton, who was responsible for the Jimi Hendrix “Live At Olympia” film.
As to the actual form of the film, well, most of the live footage comes from the Madison Square Gardens concerts of `73 and, yes, there are “fantasy sequences” concerning which Page is very cagey about letting anything slip.
“I mean, it would give the whole thing away, wouldn`t it. Like, I went to see `The Exorcist` and the audience was laughing at it because they knew what to expect, whereas if they`d been separated and placed in a room where an unknown film called `The Exorcist` was being screened, the last thing they`d have been doing would be laughing.
“It`s just…well for a start, the fantasy scenes do relate to individual numbers the band play. Like Robert`s bit comes in `Song Remains The Same` and `Rain Song`, Bonzo`s is in his drum solo `Moby Dick,` John`s is `No Quarter` and mine comes in `Dazed And Confused`. Mine`s a bit weird, actually…well so is everyone`s, really. They just happened that way.
Might there be a touch of the `Kenneth Angers` about your bit, then, Mr. Page? Certain oblique references to Aleister Crowley and the like making themselves manifest?
“Oh no (pause). I know what you mean of course, but…”
And the backstage footage? Might we expect candid Zeppelin equivalents to the supposed high-jinx omnipresent throughout Robert Frank`s “Cocksucker Blues”, the…um…vivid account of the Stones` `72 tour?
“Not really. I mean there are a few things…uh…like some chicks offering to give a policeman a…uh `seeing-to`”.
And so the richly-endorsed Zeppelin `road fever` legend-weaving stays firmly anonymous, even in the face of such occurrences as…well there`s that song that Frank Zappa wrote called “Mudshack” about that group who eh…and there was everyone thinking it was the Vanilla Fudge and it turned out to be…say no more.
And even since then, events even more incongruously shaped have occured, centring inevitably around Page himself. For example, 16 magazine, America`s equivalent to the likes of Popswop only-more-legendary have printed, in a style so garish only a magazine coming from L.A. could be responsible, a list of “Who the stars do-it-with” and…uh, “How they do it.”
Page, to say the least, appears to possess a particularly interesting case-history to wit – “Girls, he`s into anything and everything. Those who`ve tried say it`s an experience they`ll never forget.”
I see. Uh well, Mr. Page…
The subject to say the least is not welcomed.
“It`s something you can`t really dwell on because people think if you`re doing it, then the rest of the band are into it too and that would cause all kinds of trouble. No it`s…well all I can say is that it comes down to the term `road fever`.
“I mean I personally can`t play a gig in some godforsaken part of America to god-knows-how-many people and then return to a box. It`s just a total change of life-style, that`s all one can say really.”
But still, without dwelling perhaps on specifics, surely Page had some thoughts on the whole groupie syndrome, with particular reference, say to L.A.?
“I just view it all with amusement. Like the whole Rodney`s scene thing, which is just ridiculous. I mean, you walk in and the next thing you know there are cameras everywhere and you`re ducking under the bar to get away. I mean, Roy Harper has this photograph of me on the point of sticking a pork-pie in a girl`s face.
“Actually the last time I was in L.A., there was this incredible groupie feud which was getting down to razor-blade sandwiches. The competition thing out there is incredible and you`ve got to keep out of the middle of it or else, y`know it…it gets to you too. There`s a new song we`ve done for the album…called `Sick Again`. That about sums it up.
“But then again referring back to the road fever thing, and I mean, at the moment I`ve got to start building up my stamina because everytime I`ve toured the States I`ve returned a physical…and mental wreck. I mean, after the last tour they tried to get me put in a mental hospital. It was going to be either that or a monastery! Ultimately I just went to sleep for a month” (Laughs).
“Sleep” – plenty of it – appears to be the basic Page stamina tonic. That and food.
“This time I`m definitely going to take a `juicer` along with me. I mean, I used to be a vegetarian and that was like committing suicide in America. The last time I ended up just eating hamburgers and at the end I was just a complete mess. This time though – precautions are going to be taken.”
To change the subject then, Aleister Crowley. The great Page obsession or so we`ve been led to believe.
Roy Harper told me less than a couple of months ago that Jimmy was currently writing a book on Crowley which is in fact, untrue though Page is about to open a book-store dealing solely in books on the Occult called “The Equinox” and situated in Kensington`s Holland Street. Page again seems somewhat reluctant to talk about his studies of Crowley at any length. “It`s simply that….I don`t want to do a huge job on Crowley or anything – that doesn`t interest me in the least. I mean if people are into reading Crowley, then they will and it`ll have nothing to do with me. It`s just….well for me, it goes without saying that Crowley was grossly misunderstood.
“I began being interested in him in school after having read this ridiculous book called `The Beast` where the author hadn`t the faintest idea of what Crowley was all about and was totally condesanding (condescending? – Blog Editor) so I took it from there. But I mean, how can anyone call Crowley the world`s most evil man – and that even carried over to the thirties when Hitler was about?
“For a start, he was the only Edwardian to really embrace…not even the New Age so much as simply the 20th Century. Who else would state anything as revolutionary as something like his theory that there would eventually be an equality of the sexes, which is where we`re at right now. It`s like…there`s this incredible body of literature – I mean don`t even bother with the sex thing because that`s all such a bore anyway – and it`s like… there`s a diamond there to be found at the end and it involves a life`s study.”
Page however has made a sizeable inroad into Crowley`s work through even to the notorious forbidden books he`s studied. Not to mention the famous Loch Ness mansion that he bought some time ago.
“All I can say about that place is that there`s this incredible sense of peace and…energy moreover. It`s amazingly stimulating staying up there.”
And the case-history.
“Oh Christ don`t mention that. I mean, post-Crowley…don`t even bother with that…its history is literally littered with suicides and bankruptcies. It`s a whole local thing there. Old wive`s tales abound.”
Any acquaintances of your experienced anything perhaps unforseen?
“One couple flipped out up there (pause). It depends what you bring to the place – expectation-wise.”
The obvious connection from Crawley is to Kenneth Anger, right? Anger, the famous devotee of Crowley`s, the film director of such classic starts as “Invocation of My Demon Brother”, which Page claims extended from its 10-minute length “to seem like a lifetime” when he saw it, “Fireworks” and “Scorpio Rising.”
And now there is “Lucifer Rising”, lasting 93 minutes constantly dogged by such unforseeable circumstances as film mysteriously vanishing (or being stolen). “Lucifer Rising”, which Jimmy Page has done the sound-track for.
“I`ve always got on very well with Anger. He`s a good friend, really. He`s never been as awe-inspiring and unapproachable to me as some would probably tell you. It`s just…one day he asked me to toss some ideas around for a sound-track and I went away feeling something but never being able to really express it, until one day when it all sort of poured out and I got down immediately to recording it. Actually I saw him recently and he was playing my soundtrack against some of the rushes and it came together really nicely.”
Still it`s an even more intriguing series of connections we`re getting here. Kenneth Anger, one-time cohort of Bobby Beausaliel, who reputedly knew one Charles Manson, who again may just have known the guy in L.A. who set out to kill Page when he was passing through with the band over two years ago.
Almost scarey, that.
“I don`t want to think about that at all. I just don`t want to get into that. It`s…people thought there might have been some connection but…there`s a lunatic fringe whether they`re Christian or Satanists or whatever. It`s too risky because they are out there. It`s not a Kharmic backlash or anything like that. Definitely not. There have been lots of little magic happenings but nothing that has really perturbed me.
“But that awareness – obviously you get these magic flashbacks everywhere. On stage, in America – everywhere. What you put out you get back again all the time. The band is a good example of that simply because there`s an amazing chemistry at work there,
if only astrologically.
“Astrologically it`s very powerful indeed. Robert the perfect front man, Leo…Jagger`s a Leo, John Paul Jones and I are uh…stoic Leos (laughs), Bonzo the Gemini. It`s when you`re pushing each other to the limits that the strength of the chemistry comes out and makes itself manifest in this binding of consciousness.”
He`s right y`know. 1974 didn`t really happen, did it? 1975 will be better.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper and you are free to use it as you like. If you use it on your own webpages – please credit me or put up a link to my blog.
This number of New Musical Express also contains articles/interviews with these people: The People of Pan, The Pretty Things, Wings, Bruce Johnston, Elton John, Bad Company, Robert Fripp, Chaka Khan, David Essex, Brian Eno, Noah Howard, Mott The Hoople.
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