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Strengths of Jimmy Page
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Thumbs up Strengths of Jimmy Page - 01-07-2013, 12:17 AM

Being the mastermind and guitarist in the definitive and most successful heavy guitar band in history: Led Zeppelin. His 1958 sunburst Les Paul, and the Gibson Doubleneck. His violin bow, Echoplex, and theramin adventures. Creating the prototypical guitar hero image that a zillion thin, pasty, white kids latched onto: Long hair, Les Paul slung impossibly low. The dragon suit — quite possibly the coolest stage outfit ever worn.
Songwriting and arrangement: Pure genius-level. Jimmy's flat-out on another planet from everyone else. If you don't believe me, just tune your guitar to D-G-C-G-C-D, find some TAB, and learn The Rain Song. As a player, it should be a real eye-opener into Page's genius. Note the brilliance and yet elegant simplicity of how it's constructed, and then name another player who would have come up with anything like it? Listen also to the arrangements of the other "Zepics" too: Stairway to Heaven, In the Light, Ten Years Gone, The Song Remains the Same, Achilles Last Stand, and Kashmir.
Then there's the classic riff songs: the punkish energy of Communication Breakdown. The pure balls of Black Dog, and the Wanton Song. The swagger of For your Life and Custard Pie. The huge When the Levee Breaks, the steamroller of Four Sticks and Trampled Underfoot. And behind it all was that undeniable groove. Bonzo laying back in the groove, and and Pagey playing off of it.
Vision/Innovation: Jimmy was a young, but very seasoned session man prior to joining Jeff Beck in the Yardbirds and eventually replacing him. In the last stages of the Yardbirds, when Jimmy became the band's creative force, he began to explore the ideas that would become Led Zeppelin. The all-star recording session that produced Beck's Bolero and featured Beck, Page, future Zep bassist John Paul Jones, and Who drummer Keith Moon, further crystallized things for Jimmy. He knew pretty much what he wanted: the power and heaviness and amped-up blues of Cream, combined with the lighter aspects of folk rock. Plus the ability to experiment and indulge his interest in Eastern, Indian, and Celtic music. Page wanted: light and shade, heavy and light — like a Led Zeppelin.
He enlisted Jones, an enormously talented session man and song arranger on bass and keys. Then with incredible luck, he got more than he could have hoped for when he found a very green pair of twenty year-old unknowns named Plant and Bonham. The rest, as they say, is history. Each of Zeppelin's four members became the prototype and template for all hard rock and metal musicians that would follow. But it was Page's vision that let them become so — especially in the beginning. Jimmy was already a known commodity and experienced professional. It's hard to imagine how Plant and Bonham would have developed without Page's vision guiding them. Plant and Bonham's raw talent was always there, but it was Page who molded that clay into the magnificent, swaggering, cock-rock monster that became Led Zeppelin.
Production: Page not only knew how to create the band he wanted, he knew how to capture its power on tape. He was a brilliant innovator in the studio. Particularly in the the areas of production, ambient micing and just making everything sound bigger in general. Before Led Zeppelin I, when you heard drums on an album, they typically sounded like cardboard boxes. Jimmy got the drums out of the dead sounding studio booths and put them in the hallway, or in a tiled bathroom — anywhere where they sounded good. Then he miced them with several room mikes to get the ambience. He always preached: distance makes depth — get a good sounding room and capture the sound of it. Zeppelin I was the first album where the drums sounded like real drums. Listen to the difference in the drum sound and production on early Sabbath and Purple albums vs. Zeppelin. And because Jimmy's drummer was John Bonham, Zeppelin's drums sounded like cannons! Check out the drum sound on When the Levee Breaks, Four Sticks, Moby Dick/Bonzo's Montreux, or In My Time of Dying. And now, 25 years on, producers still try to get drums to sounds like this.
Page used his ambient micing technique on guitar too and was a master at laying multiple guitar parts to create what he called a "guitar army." Further, songs like What Is and What Should Never Be, and particularly Whole Lotta Love are rock landmarks of interesting mix and panning techniques. We hear these things pretty commonly now, but they sure weren't common back in 1970. Jimmy basically invented the effect of backwards echo — as early as the Yardbirds. He played with phasing — putting things in and out of phase. Putting a Phase shifter on the drums (Kashmir). He put guitar through a leslie speaker on the solos of Good Times Bad Times and Wanton Song. Page wasn't afraid to try things, and much of what he tried became common studio practice.
Acoustic work: Jimmy's acoustic work is terrific and comes in many different flavors. There are so many great examples: the second half of Zep III is a great place to start. Often there's some mandolin present, sometimes banjo. Then there's Zep classics like Going to California, and Hey Hey What Can I Do. Live, Zeppelin used to play about an hour acoustic set sandwiched between their two hour "rock" set. Those where the days! These days, Jimmy's a cleaner acoustic picker than an electric lead player. Good evidence of this can be seen in the Page-Plant video No Quarter. A lot of Jimmy's acoustic songs such as Friends, Bron-Y-Aur, Gallows Pole, Black Mountain Side/White Summer are in non-standard tunings Page either invented, or at least popularized in rock.
Great guitar solos: You bet! Sloppy or not, Jimmy's played some of the tastiest, ballsy, and famous guitar solos ever recorded. There are the classics like Whole Lotta Love, Rock and Roll, and Stairway to Heaven, but there's plenty of other great ones too. The solo in Achilles Last Stand is brilliant. The solo in Since I've been Loving You, is one of the most emotional rock blues solos ever recorded. The ripping freestyle break in Heartbreaker is a landmark guitar hero moment — clams and all (and the solo after that break is even better). How about the understated moody attitude of What is and What Should never Be and Tangerine. The quick, but effective solo in Celebration Day. The balls and attitude of Dazed and Confused.
Rock Blues: There's always a kick-ass rock blues song or two on Page's albums, and it's often where he plays some of his most emotive, and most raucous lead work. There are the basic I-IV-V progressions like You Shook Me, I Can't Quit You Baby, and Prison Blues. But what I love most is when Page breaks out of simple blues forms. Rock N Roll and Heartbreaker are blues progressions, but they're more rock than blues. Tea For One is a Dinosaur-heavy sixteen bar blues. Coverdale Page's Don't Leave Me This Way breaks out of the I-IV-V completely, as does Page's best blues song of all, Since I've been Loving You.
Versatility and diversity: Zeppelin spawned a million heavy bands, and what most of them never had was the multi-facetted diversity that Page brought to the table. Sure, Jimmy was a heavy riff master of the same magnitude as Iommi and Blackmore, but there was so much more to Jimmy too. Jimmy played acoustic, twelve string, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel. Jimmy also cuts a wider stylistic swath than just about any other player. You get blues rock, metal, folk rock, country, the Eastern and Indian flavors, hints of R&B, delta blues, reggae, and rockablilly. He's scored a few movie soundtracks including Deathwish II and Lucifer Rising. Talk about alchemy!
Attitude and emotion: Jimmy's playing, and in fact, everything about Zeppelin was drenched in sex and going straight for the crotch. For Jimmy's part, his electric guitar parts — and his stage demeanor — were filled with a swaggering confidence and bravado. Live, he'd take off on a half hour odyssey in the middle of Dazed and Confused, just jam away. Didn't matter if he was sloppy. Jimmy's balls were gigantic. But as stated before, there was plenty of breathtaking subtlety too. Page's leads were always very tasty, melodic and emotional.
Hendrix was gone and Clapton had gone soft. So as a player, compared to what else was available to us in the 70s — the Stones, the Who, Free, Bad Company, Humble Pie, Aerosmith — and all that horrid, faceless, early 70s American rock — Jimmy comparatively burned on fretboard! We didn't know he was a sloppy player because we weren't players ourselves back then. We knew Blackmore and Iommi were special too, because they were accessible, but they didn't have the same mystical aura that Pagey had. And the cleaner lead players like Beck, Schenker, Uli Roth, Alex Lifeson, and Gary Moore were really cult figures back then, and only guitar players knew about them.
So to a lot of us, Jimmy Page was THE guitar god. It wasn't just that his guitar style influenced our guitar style (though it did, later). More than that, he influenced our lives. Legions of us picked up a guitar for the first time because of Jimmy Page and that guitar hero image he created — because what he was doing just looked so damned cool! We grew our hair long because of Jimmy Page. We wanted Les Pauls because of Jimmy Page, and when we got them, we wore them too low because of Jimmy Page.


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