John Wheatcroft takes us back to swinging late-60s and examines the playing of the legendary Jimmy Page in early Led Zeppelin.
Where would the world of rock be without the mighty Jimmy Page? Along with a bunch of his mates knocking about London in the mid to late 60s with names like Beck, Hendrix and Clapton, Jimmy’s playing changed the face of rock guitar. Never mind his songwriting and production skills - even the way he holds the instrument has gone on to influence guitarists from generation to generation. Due to a recent bout of activity re-mastering chunks of his musical legacy, this influence shows no sign of diminishing.
This month’s article looks at Jimmy’s playing from a time when what was to be The New Yardbirds took a turn in an altogether heavier direction, to become the might Led Zeppelin who, arguably after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones held title of Most Important Band In The World.
The band’s history is well documented, forming in London in 1968 with Jimmy bringing together the talents of studio musician John Paul Jones with the inimitable vocalist Robert Plant and powerhouse drummer John Bonham. The band quickly signed to Atlantic and world stardom was bestowed upon them. Fascinating though this is, what we’re really interested in here is Jimmy’s guitar style, and quite a style it is. Jimmy’s soloing style is the perfect amalgamation of the grit from blues combined with the snarl of rock’n’roll. Add a little nifty jazz, à la Les Paul, don’t forget to add some Celtic folk and finally a pinch of modal Indian melodicism, and what we end up with is one of the most recognisable styles in modern guitar history.
Jimmy’s playing is far from being one-dimensional and purely lead orientated. Arguably, it’s his prowess as a rhythm guitarist, orchestrator and composer that set him apart from his peers, likely a result of the years he spent as a studio guitarist, playing involved and often highly complex arrangements. Page is a veritable riff machine, always serving the music and unafraid to play whatever the song requires, often simple and equally often highly intricate, but always selecting just the right part, or combination of parts, to set the music off perfectly. It’s the combination of extremes that makes Jimmy’s playing so intriguing in my opinion; the considered and balanced nature of his rhythm playing, against the wild and often reckless abandon of his soloing, mistakes and all, but always an exhilarating ride for the listener.
I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing. They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it. Jimmy Page
There is a complete solo study for you this month, based around two choruses of a rocky 12-bar in E. In tried and trusted blues and classic rock style, much of the vocabulary is derived from the Minor Pentatonic, its associated Blues scale and peppered with a strategic smattering of chord tones. For all its melodic simplicity, the skill lies in delivering the notes with the same sense of energy, excitement, commitment and intent. Just watch any video of Page in action and you’ll witness just how much he puts into it, with every solo becoming a true performance, putting his heart and soul into every run, lick or note. Go on, unleash your inner rock God and turn your amp up just a bit too loud and give this solo a go. Your neighbours might not be too keen, but you’ll certainly have a whole lotta fun and learn some great new licks and ideas in the process.
Jimmy Page, here playing his painted ‘Zeppelin 1’ Tele