If it hadn’t been for a low-key auction of rock memorabilia, the world might never have heard about the hook-up that never was. In 2016, former Red Hot Chili Peppers road manager Louie Mathieu was sifting his jumble for saleable items when he came across an old letter. Written in a chaotic, childlike hand, it could easily have been mistaken for a stray fan-club missive. Yet a closer inspection revealed a heartfelt message – believed to date back to 2004 – from Chilis guitarist John Frusciante to Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
Frusciante’s admiration for Page’s guitar work had loomed over his entire musical life. As a teenager, he’d studied every last Zeppelin lick (he has cited their second record, II, as his favourite album). In his late 20s, as a recovering heroin addict returning to the Chilis lineup for 1999’s Californication, Frusciante had relearnt the instrument by challenging himself to play along with I Can’t Quit You Baby from Zeppelin’s posthumous Coda album. “I thought if I could do that,” he told Total Guitar, “then I was going to be good enough to go into the studio.”
Presenting Page with the Maestro gong at a magazine awards ceremony in 2004, Frusciante introduced the veteran as “the first person who made me want to play”. It seems the admiration was mutual, up to a point. That same year, Page attended a Chili Peppers show and met the younger guitarist backstage. Yet Frusciante couldn’t quite voice what was really on his mind: asking Page to guest on a song from the upcoming record by prog-rockers and close friends The Mars Volta
Days later, Frusciante fed the aforementioned letter into a fax machine (the original was kept by Mathieu, who wrote in his authentication note that “JF was little attached to material things”). The guitarist opened with pleasantries: “Thank you so much for coming to our show. It meant so much to all of us to have you there. There was something I needed to ask you but didn’t want to put you on the spot. I figure I’ll ask you in this letter and that way you are free to just not respond if you so choose, with no offense taken.”
Then Frusciante made his pitch: “My best friend Omar [Rodríguez-López] is the guitarist/leader of The Mars Volta. They are my favorite band in the world. Their music comes from punk, salsa, progressive rock and Led Zeppelin, and their singer Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] is an extraordinary singer. They are making a new record right now and it would be Omar’s dream to have you, Omar and myself simultaneously soloing on one song. Omar and I have done a lot of simultaneous soloing with great results, and it would mean the world to us if you joined us.”
Finally came logistics: “We could do this by sending you a CD to play to and you could record yourself on a computer, then send the file back to us in LA. If you are interested let us know since they are towards the end of the record (but not in a rush).”
The timing of Frusciante’s letter was promising. In the early post-millennium, Page was between projects (having recently completed work on Zeppelin’s triple live album How The West Was Won) and theoretically available to play. In another auspicious omen, he was supposedly a fan of The Mars Volta, with Bixler-Zavalais telling Alarm in 2008 that Page had at some point praised his band: “He said, ‘It’s a wonderful sound, I can’t put my finger on it’”
The timeline for all this suggests that the Mars Volta song in question was L'Via L'Viaquez, which appeared on their second album, 2004’s Frances The Mute. In the end, however,it was Frusciante and Rodriguez-Lopez alone who played the guitars. As for Page, it’s not clear if he considered – or even saw – the invitation.
At least Frusciante could take consolation that he wasn’t the last to be ghosted by Page. Speaking to Metal Hammer in 2022, Ozzy Osbourne revealed he’d also faced radio silence when corralling guests for his album Patient Number 9. “I never heard from him. Maybe he’d lost his phone or something…”