Interview: Jimmy Page

Guitarist Jimmy Page tells Classic Rock about the previously unreleased tracks included with these reissues, and the one that got away – his lost demo of The Rain Song. He reflects upon how the music industry has changed since Zeppelin’s heyday in the 70s. And he tells us how proud he is that Whole Lotta Love was recently voted number one in the BBC’s poll of the 100 Greatest Guitar Riffs.

Led Zeppelin IV is the band’s most famous album and biggest seller. Because of this, do you think that Houses Of The Holy, the follow-up, is underrated?

They’re both superb albums. But I still meet people who say that Houses Of The Holy is their favourite album. And then I meet others who say that the third album (Led Zeppelin III) is their favourite. It depends almost where you access Led Zeppelin and at what point – what album it is. At the time when the albums were originally released, the buying public at that time, it was very personal to them. They would really get into everything.

For fans, the real value of these new reissues is in the ‘companion discs’ of previously unreleased material – including, with Led Zeppelin IV, a mix of Stairway To Heaven from Sunset Sound studios in LA.

With the companion discs, there’s more of a communication between the music and the listener, I think. You’ve got the archetype versions that were released in the first place. That was the way I wanted to present them at the time. But the mix of Stairway does sound different. That’s the whole point.

Has any of this kind of material been lost over the years?

Yes. I had a home demo of The Rain Song (from Houses Of The Holy), but unfortunately the tapes have been lost. Which is a real bastard.

**Was this a fully formed version of the song? **

Yes. I literally had the full piece from beginning to end. I had the Mellotron idea and everything on it. But the version of The Rain Song on the new companion disc is a really cool one. It’s got less piano on it, so you get more of the guitar textures. I really liked the version that we did on (1976 live album) The Song Remains The Same. I thought we were working it really well. These songs, you see, they’re recorded and they come out on an album, and then they were included in the live set, and they would start to mutate. That was what was so good about it. So the live version on The Song Remains The Same is quite different to how it is on the studio version.

**Does that explain why Led Zeppelin was a one-band bootleg industry? **

At one point I think it was (laughs). But that’s the thing with doing concerts differently every night, you see.

You also had at least four songs from the fourth album in the live set months before the album was released.

We toured the UK and Europe and America, playing all this stuff before the album was out. Now, bands can’t do that. You’ve just given them half the album, basically, in the set – way up front, in advance. But for us, it was really great, because people would get a chance to really hear how we were changing and developing. Hearing it in advance of albums – cool!

As the producer of the Zeppelin albums, what do you hear in modern rock music? Does it sound over-produced, too clinical?

With Led Zeppelin, at that time, it was real performance on those albums. We made a decision just to be really honest with what we were doing. If you did a song it wasn’t made up one word at a time and all pieced together with ProTools. And you know, that’s another way of doing things. I’m not saying that that is necessarily wrong at all, because I really like what they do with modern mixing. But for Led Zeppelin, we recorded performances, in a compact and concise way, where you heard about other bands that just went on and on and on, doing the same song all through the night and starting up the next day…

In which time…

We could have had half a side of an album done (laughs). No, but you know what I’m getting at. It’s like if you’re doing a painting. At what point is the painting finished? It’s the same with music. You have to know when to say, ‘that’s it.’

It was a little different when Zeppelin played live, though. You’d do three hours before you’d say, ‘that’s it’…

Well, the most difficult thing was actually when the new albums came out, when we were putting the new material in, and as time went by – second album, third album, then the fourth and fifth albums – the hard thing was taking numbers out. There was a lot to remember when you were going on, if you were doing a three-hour set.

_Jimmy Page in London, April 1973: two weeks after the release of Houses Of The Holy. _

You’ve talked about playing live again in 2015. Presumably, at the age of 70, you might not fancy doing three hours a night, for months on end?

I don’t know whether I could, but I wouldn’t want to commit to it. If I was out touring, I would want to keep building slowly. I wouldn’t do a six-month tour of five nights a week. That wouldn’t necessarily be my cup of tea at the moment.

And when you do get back to performing live, you’ll surely have to play Whole Lotta Love, now that’s been voted the greatest guitar riff of all time?

You’ll have to wait and see (laughs). But really, it’s a thrill to have that kind of recognition. I noticed they were discussing it on the BBC News and they were going to have a recount. They were saying, ‘What do you think, everybody?’ And I thought, oh, here we go… it’ll be something else at the top. But it is a great riff – there’s no doubt about that. It’s a serious riff. So thank you very much. I didn’t expect it. There are so many other goodies out there. But I was really pleased. The voting public, they considered it to be number one. That’s really terrific.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”