* This interview was originally published on October 12, 2012, prior to the release of Led Zeppelin’s Celebration Day.
Five years after their legendary reunion gig at London’s O2 arena, the biggest band on planet rock finally revealed what has been under wraps ever since: a double album/DVD with 16 songs and over two hours of Led Zep´s very best, performed at a one off event that attracted more than 20 million fans from around the world.
Celebration Day may in fact be Led Zeppelin’s swan song, but Jimmy Page says he’s just getting warmed up. Promotional appearances, interviews, and premiere screenings of the film will keep him busy globe-trotting through the fall of 2012 – a triumphant year thus far, capped by Led Zeppelin’s receipt of the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in December.
He also talks excitedly and at some length here about his current and future projects on tap for 2013 and beyond.
Page is rather legendary for being guarded — even hostile at times — with interviewers. But as this lengthy and candid chat proves, once you get him talking about the things he’s passionate about, Page is surprisingly forthcoming and detailed in his replies. (It also helps to ask halfway intelligent questions.)
The Q&A format works best with Page: not just to ensure the accuracy of his statements, but more importantly, to eschew assigning a journalist’s own perspective on what he may or may not have actually meant.
This is therefore a raw, unedited transcript of the interview — interruptions, distractions from phone calls and hotel fire alarms, all included.
How does it feel watching the O2 show five years after it has been taped? Were you as good as you thought you´d be – or even better?
Uhm… well, I knew we’d performed a pretty incredible concert. We’d worked towards that. That was what we had in our sights – to actually go out there and knock everybody’s socks off.
You were well prepared for it, weren’t you?
Well, well, we had, we’d had a period of rehearsing, which maybe it spanned six weeks. But it wasn’t every week, it wasn’t every week. There was maybe three days here, couple of days over there, then maybe for days. Because the thing was…
(Page looks startled as the hotel’s fire alarm starts shrieking loudly)
Just ignore that. They said it was going to happen at 11:45am this morning – for one minute only. Obviously they haven’t told you though…
No, no, that’s pretty unbelievable, isn’t it? (chuckles) So it was over a period of time that we rehearsed. ´Cause I personally – when it was said we were doing the O2 – I said: “We’ve got to rehearse for this properly.” Because we had in the past there was Live Aid – no rehearsal really. With the drummer – hardly anything. The drummer that we were using on that.
Ah, yes. Phil Collins. I remember a 2007 interview for Yahoo! News in which you characterized it as…shambolic, was it?
Well, there were two drummers, actually, which makes it even more confusing. We came together and rehearsed with a drummer we’d never met before and then we were joined by Phil Collins, who we’d never played with before, on this great Live Aid stage. I mean, we went there with the spirit of it, but actually it was pretty shambolic.
When I covered the Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary Concert in 1988, there was such incredible anticipation inside Madison Square Garden all that day. The concert had gone on for 13 hours; one legendary musical artist after another, and yet it was obvious that the majority of ticketholders were there to see Led Zeppelin reunite. Then I had the unenviable task of interviewing these fans after the show and they were just brutal, you know, saying things like, “that was horrible!” and asking “what the hell happened to Led Zeppelin?”
Well yeah, we all know the Atlantic 40th wasn’t what it could have been. And so, it was imperative that if we were going to go out there we were going to go out there and show people why we were so revered if you like. And there was such a respect and such a reputation for Led Zeppelin. There was no two ways round it. Sure, within the first of the rehearsals that we did, maybe we did three or four days, we were really already good. But: We needed to be extra special. And for a two hour twenty minute set, whatever it is, we wanted to be able to take on all the numbers and still have a sort of new character to them – without losing what really made them tick in the first place. So, when I knew we’d done a good concert, I knew it was really special.
Why was the 2007 reunion more special to you than say, the ones in 1985 and `88? Were you just more satisfied with the fact that it was better-rehearsed, or what?
It was really special for a number of reasons: Part of it, we put a lot of work into it. But also the fact that we were playing with John Bonham’s son, Jason… Jason, from my point of view, Jason had the hardest job on that stage. He was going to have the hardest job that night. And for that two hours and twenty minutes I wanted to know it myself that he felt 100 percent confident as he was going through these rehearsals with that one date in mind.
And as you know, I had an accident on the way through. I don’t know whether you know about that, do you? I broke my finger in three places. And we had to postpone. We didn´t want to cancel. So, even a broken finger wasn’t going to get in the way of this. (chuckles)
The concert was originally scheduled for November 26, 2007, wasn’t it? And you had to push it back about two weeks to let your finger heal. I can’t even imagine how you played with a broken finger after only a couple of weeks. That must’ve been a challenge.
Oh yeah. Well I’d broken my finger in three places! So, looking at it back there was still those moments: “Oh gosh”, but nobody’s going to notice. I’d notice, but… you know, so all those guitarists out there: It can be done. If Django Reinhardt… You know, I was thinking: If Django Reinhardt could do it, you know, cause he had only like two fingers, didn’t he? And a thumb basically. Mind you his right hand was exceptional. I didn’t have a right hand like that. But, you know, it was just, it was I guess the fact that music’s in my DNA helped, too. (chuckles)
But you didn’t have a theatrical or commercial release in mind at that time, did you? Of that material?
Well, it was a concert, it was a Led Zeppelin concert for me. It was an opportunity for us all to play together. And play well and stand up and be counted. And that was the opportunity to be able to do that. It wasn’t: “Let’s go and, let’s go and make a DVD.” It wasn’t that. You can tell that by the way that we’re approaching it. It wasn’t that. But: Even if it was just going to be a home movie for the people involved, it was necessary to record it. Because it was going to be mixed up on the screen, you know. But when I saw what was the original mix of the images for the back screen, and the sound of the night: yeah, it was pretty exciting, pretty exciting. But I think we’ve topped that.
Was it such a bulk of work that it took that long to finish? I mean, you basically worked on it for a year and a half or something?
Well, it was a long time that we didn’t sort of even… no, no we didn’t, we didn’t just…no. It was ages before we even got round to having a look at it.
And the big screen? Did you try to top Elton John’s Las Vegas thing? Like putting up the biggest screen in rock history?
Was it, was it? I know it had… maybe that size was a first, I don’t know. I think they call it a Stealth Screen. But it was important for something the size of the O2 to have back screen projection. In fact though, we were the first band to have back screen projection over here, in England. The very first band in 1975 when we played Earls Court. We had back screen projection for that so people at a distance could see what was going on. So ah… yeah, okay, so if we had the largest one, that’s really good. (laughs)
There was a lot of laughter and smiles during the show. Is that an indication that you felt comfy after a while? And when did that kick in? When did you know you were onto something good?
Well, we put a lot of work into it. And there were those sort of smiles during the rehearsals as well. You know, when things would work, there was a connection. There was a serious connection going on on the stage. And that’s reflected. That’s all very honest all of that, all of that emotion or whatever or jubilation. All celebration. But it’s very honest. And I think because it’s honest, people will connect a lot more with it. Cause, you know, it’s more the heart and the passion and the soul than somebody who is just going there to go through the numbers, and yes, we are making a DVD and it’ll be out next week. No, it wasn’t like that.
It does come across like something very passionate.
Yeah, yeah. One of the things that you may not know is that the… talking about that rehearsal period, and final rehearsals were done at Shepperton. And we had a production rehearsal, it was the final rehearsal. In fact, it’s the only one where we sort of went through the whole of the set – with Robert. And that rehearsal is actually going to come out in one of the packages, you know, the DVD and the rehearsal. There’s an ordinary edition of it without the rehearsal. But then there is a rehearsal, which…it’s rather interesting. Because the numbers are done in the attitude, the approach to the them is different under circumstances of that, than to the O2. And what I can say to that offsetting one thing to the other, is that every rehearsal was different in its way. And that was always the Zeppelin ethic. That even if we were doing concerts back to back, they’d always be different.
Uhm… apart of this is, you know, on the BBC Sessions that we did, there were I think it was three versions of “Communication Breakdown”. And they’ve all got a different approach to them. That’s what I mean. That sort of ethic that we had, still needed to be applicable in the current day of five years ago, whatever it is, four or five years ago. And that’s it. And that’s what we wanted to achieve so that we will be able to mutate numbers if we wanted to.
Plus, you´ve got this huge stage, yet the band stays in close proximity to one another and uses very little of the actual space. Is that going back to the jamming thing – to playing eye to eye in a tiny little room?
Yes, cause, cause we need that connection. We got to listen to each other and hear. Because it may change, you know. I might change it round and I want everyone to follow on, you know. So, that’s how that was done, you know. You needed enough rehearsal time to be confident to be able to do that without anyone going: “What’s he, what’s he doing” or whatever. Or: “What’s John Paul Jones doing there?” As opposed to: “Well, I know what this is and I’m moving with it and weaving with it.” That’s it. And that’s what Zeppelin was about in all those years ago. And that’s what we wanted to work towards, so everyone was confident with playing within the unit, to be able to do that.
What do you think if you see other bands out there, where the singer is over there and the guitar player is over there, a football field away?
Well, when they’re doing that in like sort of a stadium and stuff? Well, I mean it’s, you know, they do that. But we were, you know, we were a musical group. It was about music. It wasn’t, you know, when I had long hair I could have shook it all I wanted. Nobody’s going to see it when they’re listening to an album, are they? (laughs) So, no, no it was more about making music, and pioneering new things within it, too. Within the frame that music as it was at that time.
Also the DVD could work like a workshop for musicians, couldn’t it? Simply because the camera is capturing everything you guys are playing…I mean, for the first time, we get some actual close-up shots of you working the theramin and seeing how that’s done.
Well, yeah, personally I’d have more…
Is this meant to be musician friendly so to speak?
Well, personally I would have had even more of that close up if you like. Whether it’s John Paul Jones or Jason or myself. Because I think people are interested to know how the music is done, you know, as opposed to just hearing it. I think it’s important to ah… Well, I’ve always felt that. Certainly of the people that I’ve like from the past, my heroes if you like. I’d want to see what they were doing. I wouldn’t want the camera just to be off somewhere else when they’re doing something that’s really important. Because I wondered: “How did he do that?” you know what I mean? So, yeah, I suppose it´d apply the same ethic.
And you´re showing people that it’s not rocket science: It´s a Gibson, an Orange Amp and not too many effects, is it?
Well, it’s a bit of everything, isn’t it? I’m sort of playing around the effects. Certainly by the time it gets to “Whole Lotta Love”, and then it’s got the full works going with… Cause you’re probably doing this for a guitar magazine aren’t you, yeah? Well, there’s the guitar that changes chords by a press of a button.
That switch on the body?
Yeah, yeah. And… it had become quite an interesting sort of combination to use that with the Echoplex. And so you’ve got the Echoplex, you’ve got these sort of chords cascading around and coming back and around. The guitar has got a transperformance. Or at least the… it’s actually in a Gibson, but the whole mechanism of it was ah… it was originally called transperformance. And it’s so reliable, that guitar. I’d use that going way, way back – from the time with Coverdale/Page. I was using it when I did that. And from that point on was I always used it.
That was a custom thing, just built for you at the time?
What happened was: I heard about this guitar that tuned itself. And I thought: “Oh yeah”. I’d also heard about a bow that was like a magic bow. I saw a video of this guy doing it and I think: “He’s just messing around, he’s just sort of playing the bow and pretending it was nothing.” So when somebody said: “There was a guitar that tunes itself” – at the point of time that this was – I didn’t really pay too much attention to it until I eventually got a VHS, arrived when I was on tour. And I think it might have been in… yes, it was. It was when I was on my solo tour in 1988. Which also had Jason on drums, as you recall, which was great. But I put it on, and this guy says: “Well, this is how Jimmy Page plays uhm…” No, he plays “Rain Song” – not in a tuning. And I thought: “I never actually tried to play in the standard tuning.” And I thought: “Well, it’s really complicated isn’t it?” (laughs) And then he said: “This is how Jimmy Page plays it.” And he presses a button and the whole guitar weaves into this chord. And he starts playing and I went: “Where’s that box, where is his number?” And I was on the phone to this fellow in minutes, almost in the middle of the night. And I said: “We’ve got to get together and…”, yeah so. I’ve enjoyed that guitar. There’s that – Chaney it’s called – and I got the Whammy pedal taking it the pitch variation. And, you know, I’m having a bit of fun there. (chuckles)
And the bow? What’s the idea behind that?
Oh, unfortunately the bow was not as successful as it should have been that night (at the 02), and I’ll tell you why. Because whoever was doing the monitors thought: “Oh he’ll want to hear himself.” And they whacked up the monitors so I was getting a lot of feedback. I was fighting it. A second gig would have sorted this out. But we only had one shot, so it is what it is. But the bow, actually I used the bow with The Yardbirds. And I heard some of The Yardbirds stuff quite recently. And it wasn’t too bad what I was doing. I was really trying to, I was really trying to make music with it on… I think it’s quite successful on the… well, it’s in “Dazed And Confused” and “Song Remains The Same”. I mean, there’s some really interesting playing going on. Which isn’t just sort of making a noise. I mean, it’s really sort of quite, dare we say, orchestral. It’s definitely avant-garde, yeah. But I wouldn’t say that it came off at its best in this new film. But that’s it. You win some, you lose some. But it’s okay. It sort of works, but it wasn’t on that really high intensity rate that it has been maybe in the past. But it still works, still illustrates the point.
It doesn´t come across like that though – like there was something wrong or there were any mistakes involved…
Well, it’s not a mistake, it’s just that it was a battle with with the monitors feeding back into the guitar. And nobody seemed to understand that I wanted it turned down when I was looking. So, anyway. There we go.
After that gig and considering the enormous demand with 20 million people seeking tickets, you could have easily said: We’re going to do more shows or even a proper tour.
Was it Robert not wanting to be involved, or why did that not come about?
All I can say is… I mean you have to be really brutally honest about it, that at this point of time – four years ago – we would have been rehearsing for the O2. Which will come in December – December it will be five years, it’ll be five years. And so, from a concert like that you would have thought that there might have been some sort of whisper or hint about another gig over here or over there. For maybe very, very good reasons, you know, charitable cause or whatever it is. Well, there wasn’t. So, I mean that’s it. I mean, that’s all I can tell you. So if there’s a five year span I wouldn’t expect that there would be anymore concerts really.
Which is sad in a way…
Well, it is what it is, isn’t it? So under those circumstances, I could tell after three years, when it was getting in, 3 ½ years, we got to pay some attention, I’ve got to look at it and forget and just go in, in an objective way and just ah… forget about broken fingers and all the rest of it. And think, you know, going in with a really positive attitude of knowing that we did a really great show. And that Jason had played marvelously. His father would have been so proud of him. And that was the way to go in and look at the O2.
But weren´t there plans to form another band with a different singer and to go on tour as well?
No. You see, what we did – doing all of the rehearsals – was not to play any new stuff. Not to get sidetracked. But we felt that all, certainly Jason, myself and John Paul Jones – cause Robert had his Alison Krauss project to, to quickly promote or manifest – it seemed the right thing to do, to go in and start playing new material and see how we were getting on. But I thought that really we should play on our strengths here. Which was the music. And we should start working on quite a lot of music. Which we had, you know, a few things together. But there were a lot of movements to bring in singers and do this that and the other, and that would have changed the character too early from what we could and were doing, do you know what I mean? All of the sudden we shift around and… but there was a lot of… I won’t say pressure, but a lot of hinting about this singer and that singer. And it was for me, it was more a question of: “Let’s see what we can really do.” And I don´t think we really got a chance to do that.
So, it would have been too early at that point?
To do what? Bring in a singer on it? No, I think we needed the material; we needed to work on the material first, and all the various sort of textures and moods that we could do. So, no that wasn’t to be either.
See everybody thought you would go on a Led Zeppelin reunion tour replacing Robert with another singer. That is obviously a misunderstanding then?
Well, look: If we’d have eventually settled on a singer, I don’t think that would have been a good idea to have done that prematurely. Of course, we would have played Led Zeppelin material. But I don’t know, it’s all hypothetical. But, you know, you want to be playing some really, really, really good new material to knock people’s socks off.
Is that ever going to happen?
I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I know that I certainly want to be… Well, let’s put it this way: This time last year I intended to be actually playing by now, in a live outfit. And out there playing concerts. (chuckles) So, that will have to be postponed now into sort of next year, tail end of next year. But I definitely want to be doing that.
With Roger Daltrey for a singer?
No, no, not Roger. Why, why, is that one of the rumors?
Roger said he would love to do something with you.
Well, we had discussed it. But for the Teenager Cancer Trust, yeah. Yeah, and I said: “You know, I’d love to do that with you, Roger”, but certainly at the time I was saying that I thought I was already going to be out there playing, you know what I mean? But although everything I’d been doing is something that’s musical, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s playing the guitar, do you see what I mean? Like, you can imagine with all of this, this relative to the O2, and there’s some other things that are going on. Like the sort of re-mastering of the catalog and this sort of stuff. It’s all stuff that is highly musical, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you could sit there and play the guitar at the same time. So I’m going to be working with musicians I sincerely hope by… well, into next year. And then hopefully surface by the end of that year.
In a new band outfit or with various guest musicians?
We’ll see what it is, we’ll see what it is.
So in a way Led Zeppelin still occupies most of your time these days?
Yeah, oh absolutely. Absolutely it just does, yeah.
Thirty two years later – who would have thought?
Yeah, really, really. But providing the things that you’re involved with – on the Led Zeppelin front – are really honorable things. And they’re things you, I, — can be proud of — everyone in the band can be proud of. And things that the fans are really looking forward to hearing, then it’s worth doing, isn’t it? And it’s essential really.
You´ve been selected for the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors in Washington later this year.
Yes, we have.
Together with Dustin Hoffman and Buddy Guy…
Oh, is Buddy Guy going to be there, too?
That’s why I thought: Are you going to jam on the occasion?
Well, they said there’s no playing. That we didn’t have to play. It doesn’t mean to say that, I don’t know… I mean, they said it’s not a playing event. So I don’t know. Buddy Guy’s absolutely marvelous, isn’t he? I saw the ah… I haven’t seen him before, but just recently I was in a club where they were playing The Rolling Stones where he comes on and starts playing. And he’s just magnificent, he always was though. He’s just such a powerful presence. Yeah. I think I just give him my guitar and let him get on with it! (laughing)
How does it feel that Led Zeppelin is still that popular after all those years – maybe even more so than in the 70’s and 80’s? Is that what you’ve always struggled for as a musician – to be recognized or even honored for your work?
Well, when the first album was done, it was definitely one hope. I’m sure everyone else in the band felt the same way – that they wanted other musicians to come up and say: “Hey, that’s a really good album you’ve got, and that’s a really good band.” But the fact is: the chemistry of Led Zeppelin is that you’ve got four – I´m going to say Robert here, I’m going to count him as a musician – four incredible musicians, individually. But the thing was that they could play as a band. And that was the difference between us and all of the others. It might be a superstar this or superstar that – we were all on top of our game. And that element of us playing together was just something else. So, I think that is one of the things that, you know, if you want to play guitar, if you want to play bass or harmony, or whatever you want to do, there’s a wonderful textbook there of Led Zeppelin.
I mean, you were all well trained session musicians, you knew what you were doing at that time, weren´t you?
I wasn’t so much a trained musician. I sort of learned as I went along.
But you were experience or weathered?
Uhm… disciplined! You had to be really good. Yeah, cause if you started messing up you wouldn’t come back. They wouldn’t invite you back. So, yeah, I managed to go through that running the gauntlet, if you like, of sessions. It was like an apprenticeship for me doing that. I learned a lot.
The opening sequence of “Celebration Day” is you arriving in Atlanta on a private jet, a police escort and two limousines in tow, and 76.000 people setting a new ticket record. How did it feel to make that transition from session musicians to rock stars? How did you handle that?
Listen, when I first went to America with Yardbirds they were still screaming in those days of the Beatles. And we played in a ice rink. This was when Beck was still in the band, and I think I still may have been on bass. Because I did bass and then I’d swap over to guitar. So we’d had twin guitars and Chris Dreja would play the bass. But it was on an ice rink. And I remember they mobbed the stage. And we had to run away. And of course, there was only this little bit of carpet to take you from the dressing room area. And slipping over and having your clothes ripped off. That’s the sort of mania thing that I can remember, having been through all of that as well. And yeah, so I remember those days as much as anything else. And I was playing in stadiums as a support band with others, with The Yardbirds as well. So I sort of knew about stadiums and I sort of, you know, I definitely paid my dues if you like along the way. So, I had a really good idea about Led Zeppelin. And at the time FM radio as opposed to the singles AM stations and all of that, ´cause they were playing whole sides of albums in those days. Which was really quite refreshing.
That would be impossible today.
Well, of course it would, yeah, yeah.
What does Jimmy Page listen to these days, what is he into?
(a cell phone rings)
That was a really interesting intervention by the phone. I’m still listening to music right across the board. It’s not any one thing. And I’m really pleased about that. I want to go on about a sort of an eclectic taste, but I always have… yeah, back to being a teenager even. I was always listening to all different styles of music. Even though I loved rockabilly and I loved jazz. But I also liked classical guitar, and not that I could play it. (chuckles) But I loved to listen to it. And orchestration, you know, and sort of ethnic music from various continents. Even then when I was a teenager and a session musician, I was really into all of that. And I haven’t changed, I haven’t changed. I can still be really excited by hearing some fierce rockabilly or some really authentic blues, you know. But I can still just as easily be seduced by classical music as well – whatever. So, that’s how it goes. And that won’t change, because that hasn’t changed over all these years.
Is that why you´ve played with so many different people over the years? Because you always have an open ear for new bands?
Yeah, I’ve been really lucky that I played with some magnificent singers as well, you know, in bands. And that’s been wonderful. You know, Paul Rogers – absolute superb, and he´s absolutely marvelous still. I don’t know whether you’ve heard him recently. But he’s marvelous. And to even record with Puff Daddy that was quite something else. Because I was actually going to America and I was getting asked to do autographs by black people who were coming up. And I thought: “Wow, this is, this is change. That’s really cool.” (laughs)
May I ask you how big your guitar collection is by now?
There should be a museum of stuff by now?
I’ve got a sizable collection of guitars. And if I said: “It was a hundred”, it sounds like far too many, doesn’t it? But let´s say I’ve got instruments, including bass, mandolin, banjos, a Japan banjo. Which is a sort of, it’s an instrument I found in India, which has got like typewriter keys on it. (chuckles) And it’s a really wacky thing. Yeah, anyway all various little instruments that I’ll have a, you know, I’ll have a crack on.
While your signature guitars, the Gibsons, have always been very limited editions – like 25 here, 35 there. Why is that? Are they meant to be collectibles?
Well, you know, but I wasn’t… maybe I wasn’t the first one to be involved in the signature guitars from Gibson. But I knew that the quality, cause there was one that came out in the 90s, where the quality wasn’t that good. And when I was approached to do another, one I said: “Well, the quality would have to be absolutely phenomenal”, you know. And I’ve got to say that if there was an addition of whatever, I’d say 35, they’d maybe bring over 37. And out of those there might be one, one would be awful. Maybe they put that one in just to see whether I’d notice. And another one might just have a little imperfection over here. But all the rest of them were really consistent. So, the quality was there. And ah… well, they guaranteed that it would be. And they’d certainly did deliver the quality, so.
Mind you: They just got sued for using illegal woods…
Have they? Yeah, I think I may have heard something about that. See, that’s the problem with guitars, you know: Those woods that were used back in the 1890’s (chuckles) are the woods that work. They worked for a purpose, Brazilian Rosewood and all of this. It’s what it is, isn’t it?
And 50 years later they sound even better?
Well yeah, yeah.
In what way has your playing changed over the years? Can you see a development – especially after Led Zeppelin?
Yes. Well, yes it has. Certainly at the O2 with a broken finger I noticed there was a difference. (laughs) And on the rehearsal, it’s broke a bit. So I did notice, I did notice there was a difference. But yes, I think there’s definitely a different insight into the playing. And there’s a maturity without losing the edge and the passion for it. So, you know, where there’s a solo like uhm… something from say the first album, from “Communication Breakdown”. It comes in as really, you know, it’s really roaring and there’s an aggressiveness to it. I can still play like that. And as long as I’ve still got that and as long as I can still make up music and conjure up music out of nowhere, then I’m really thankful, you know, for the gift that I’ve been given.
Meaning: There is a foundation and you could go left or right, if you wanted to?
Well, sort of, yeah. What do you mean? Playing in other sort of same picture different frame? There’s always that aspect to it, yeah.
Like using folky, bluesy or even Arabic influences?
So the door is wide open?
Well, it is, it is. But it’s quite, you see, I’ve had numbers of ideas of how to sort of have a fusion with this. I’ve never… Things are so complex now – in this day and age, too, because the music isn’t quite what it used to be. It’s quite, you know, whoever you meet has got a manager and an agent and a lawyer and it uhm… Things can be quite complicated, where it sort of restricts the flow if you like. (chuckles)
Does that mean you do miss the old days and ways?
Just bumping into people and saying: “Hi, can we work?”
Well no, because that’s up to me to do that. That’s up to me to do that. And what I do know is that if I do any… if I do another album, then I want it to have as many sort of colors and moods as you would expect from anything that I’ve done in the past. Whether it was The Yardbirds or whether it was Led Zeppelin or whatever. And that’s because, that’s how I do it. It’s sort of a reflection of this mood or that or, you know what I’m saying?
Looking back on Led Zep: Is that band like a monster you’ve created or would you consider it the best thing that could have happened to you?
No, my Led Zeppelin heritage, I’m really proud of it. And I’m sure everybody else is. Because within the framework of that band everybody’s playing came on and on, songwriting, everything about it. It was such a wonderful band to be in, you know. It was a privilege to be in a band like that. But we didn’t waste our time. We really, you know, we really made the most of what we had of that creative flow, the juices that were joined. So yeah, looking at the whole of that work, I can see my guitar playing improving from the first album through to the sort of midpoint to the end. Yes, I can see a whole sort of movement and change in the approaches of this, you know, and the others. So for example, the two numbers that were supposed to be like a tip back to the past: “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “Tea For One”. Which is, it’s all within this timeframe of eleven years or whatever, but “Tea For One” and the whole approach to the way that I was playing the guitar solo on that, is chalk and cheese from the what that I’m trying to play at that time of “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. So there was a change going on even then. And that change has continued on through.
But after the break-up you had to put the guitar aside to get away from it all?
Because it was such an intense eleven years, as you´ve put it?
Well, yes, of course it was. What I did after Led Zeppelin was: I actually played with – I don’t know whether you know this – Alan White and Chris Squire from Yes. And ´cause I had my own studio at that point, and it was suggested to play with them. And I thought: “That’s really going to be testy.” Because Yes’ music is really good, and I know they’re really fine, I love them. So that was the first thing that I actually did after, after we lost John, and that sort of period where I didn’t play for… It doesn’t actually amount to that much time that I wasn’t playing or making music if you like, but I certainly made music then with them, and I really enjoyed that. And then after that I got the chance to do the soundtrack of “Death Wish II”, which was really a challenge. So, I was really challenging myself and just moving on. And with something like “Death Wish II”, I really had to come up with a lot of stuff. It was 45 minutes of music in a 90 minute film, that’s a lot. That’s how it all added up: 45 minutes; it was too much music in it, really. But nevertheless it was very challenging. And I had to make all of that up on the spot. So yeah, I’m good at that though.
Also there’s the release of the Kenneth Anger soundtrack. After how many years?
Well, yeah. I put it out on my website. It’s on vinyl. And ah…
As it should be?
Yeah! Yeah, and it’s the music that I, it’s not the actual mix that I sent to Kenneth Anger. Because I don’t know what happened to that. I’m not sure that it ever got sent back. But I know there’s bootlegs of it out there. But I remixed this, but fortunately I had all the effects, it’s only 8-track-tape. But I employed all the effects at the time. Cause some of them I didn’t want to try and recreate. And they would have been very difficult to recreate. So, it was just sort of putting the levels up and letting it go. So yeah, it did come out. I’m pleased that came out. Cause that’s really flirting with the avant-garde, you know. And it’s the sort of stuff you couldn’t have done that with Led Zeppelin. But I was thinking that way as much as I was thinking Rock´n´Roll.
That’s only 23 minutes of music though, isn´t it?
Yeah, and some of the stuff on the other side of the vinyl is pretty interesting, too. Yeah, there’s some interesting stuff. It´s sort of like the mad scientist at home in his laboratory. And I had the music, and then, it wasn’t, it wasn’t, I presented that music to Kenneth Anger when he asked me if I… I said: “I’ve got something.” And I´ve just doubled it up in length, and I played it to him. It was just absolutely perfect.
See what he did with it.
He never even used it.
Yeah, yeah. Well, that was his choice. But I do know that I had an approach. Would I like to put, would I like to put the music on the film again? And I think: “Well, no you took it off, you took it off.”
How come you weren’t involved in the London Olympics? I mean you’ve presented the Beijing thing, so I was expecting you to be a part of this ceremony, too…
I wasn’t invited. But then again, nor was Leona, was she? So, but it was terrific to do the Beijing one. Because there was only us to worry about. We didn’t have to worry about other people wanting to have more time to play and cutting down your time and all that sort of stuff. It was great. But I thought the opening ceremony was superb at the London Olympics. It was really something. We were really quite overwhelmed I think as a nation to see just how well that had been done by Mr. Boyle. It was superb, wasn’t it?
Not to forget The Who…
Yeah, yeah. That’s the closing ceremony though. I thought the opening ceremony was good. Yeah, The Who were good on the closing ceremony.
Honestly: Do you ever miss working in a band context? I mean, you had the Firm in between. You worked with the Yes guys, but you never got around to form another band…
No, I didn’t.
Because it would have been impossible in a way?
No, I just… Listen: I did a film track for Michael Winner. OK, so there’s the Anger one as well. But I did one for Michael Winner, the Anger one came first. I had the opportunity to do more soundtracks, but I thought: “I’ve done it”, you know. That’s fair enough. And actually after that then I got together with Paul Rodgers. And we did a couple of albums and quite a bit of touring. Basically yeah, I had a single out in 1965, and then… well, of course there was “Death Wish” came out as an album. And then I had a solo album in 1988. That’s sort of fair enough really. So I guess it’s time to do another solo album. But, you know, it’s ah… it’ll be a good thing to do. Sort of summing up.
Well, you’re under no pressure. You lead a good life, what else can you ask for?
Well, I like to play. I like playing live, I enjoy playing live. And that’s really important part of me. Because I enjoy the challenge of ah… is it the challenge or is it the adventure of having a set and knowing that it can change and mutate and you’re playing? Cause I’d always try and play differently every night no matter what. So that’s always something that’s fun to do. And I enjoy playing live. So, it’s time to do it. But there’s been a lot of Led Zeppelin work to be done. And to have done up to this point, and to be done as well. But after that I should do it… no, this is all studio stuff, nothing to do with any live stuff. So, you know, sort of revisiting the vaults.
So once you´re done with that you´re free, you´re off to the next thing?
Well, I just, yeah there’s a few bits and pieces to come. Uhm… and then, yeah I should be off doing solo projects. And we’ll see what I manage to pull together under those circumstances. But I had some really ambitious ideas. But actually they certainly weren’t cost effective. (laughing) But we’ll see how it all comes out. Then I’ll talk to you again about what those ideas were and how it all actually, how it finalized, the actual thinking process behind things…
Last thing for today, and I know you’re not too keen talking about this, is the heroin use of the late 70’s. I know if you are under constant pressure you seek for tools to be able to focus accordingly. Was that drug something that enabled you to work under those circumstances? And did it influence your playing in any way?
Well, I don’t want to actually pinpoint any one thing. But if you take in to account the album Presence was done in three weeks. And if you take into account that In Through The Outdoor, which is basically the last studio album – even though Coda is like a compilation of bits. But that again was done in three weeks and a bit more than that, bit more. But, you know, four weeks maximum, 3 ½ to four weeks that the element of focus would be pretty substantial I’d say. But: We don’t really want to be in a position of supporting drug use and whatever.
You know, a lot of people died along the way using.
And they still do.