Personalities | Jimmy Page | Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin | Guitar Heroes
The last of the triumvirate of guitar legends who played with The Yardbirds, Jimmy Page became an icon of rock guitarists in the 1970s with Led Zeppelin. Elements of his playing style have been copied to the point of cliché in the years since Led Zeppelin dominated the rock world, but as the originator, Page developed the heavy-metal blueprint for all the guitarists who followed.
Jimmy Page was born in 1944 and grew up in Epsom, south of London. According to Page, his first electric guitar was a second-hand 1959 Futurama Grazioso, though the Gibson Les Paul was to be the guitar with which he became associated throughout his career. After leaving school at 16, he briefly played with Neil Christian & the Crusaders before becoming an in-demand session musician.
Between 1962 and 1968, Page played on hundreds of recording sessions for a variety of bands, including The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, Donovan, Them, Cliff Richard and Burt Bacharach. He was often hired as an insurance policy in case the band’s guitarist couldn’t cut it in the studio. He played on Jet Harris & Tony Meeham’s ‘Diamonds’, a No. 1 in 1962, and Joe Cocker’s ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’, a No. 1 in 1968.
The joy of sessions was already fading by 1966 when Page joined The Yardbirds, for whom Jeff Beck was lead guitarist. A short but exciting experiment with Beck and Page as twin lead guitarists ended when Beck abruptly left the band. Page soon found himself carrying an increasingly disillusioned band, and after the commercial failure of Little Games (1967), he started planning a new band, encouraged by Yardbirds’ road manager Peter Grant.
Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham came together as The Yardbirds were disintegrating in 1968, and recorded Led Zeppelin I (1969) before manager Peter Grant secured a record contract with Atlantic. The album’s raw sound and Page’s dynamic range, along with innovative techniques like playing his guitar with a violin bow, made a resounding impact. Led Zeppelin I spent 18 months in the charts in the US and UK.
Led Zeppelin II (1969) maintained the same high energy level and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, propelled by Page’s signature riff on ‘Whole Lotta Love’. With more time to prepare Led Zeppelin III (1970), the band broadened their scope, adding more folk-influenced acoustic songs and putting more emphasis on the arrangements. This approach paid off spectacularly on Led Zeppelin IV (1971), which featured the bombastic ‘Black Dog’ and ‘Rock And Roll’, the more restrained ‘Misty Mountain Hop’ and ‘Going To California’, and the monumental ‘Stairway To Heaven’, which drew on elements of both. The band’s refusal to release singles or appear on TV did not prevent ‘Stairway To Heaven’ from becoming the most-played album track on radio.
Through the mid-1970s Led Zeppelin swept all before them with Houses Of The Holy (1973),...
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