Page is one of the most famous rock musicians ever, both for his enduring music and his still-shadowy private predilections. He was the founder and producer of Led Zeppelin; the main of collaborative composer of almost all the quartet’s songs; the man who selected the other three players for membership; the final authority on Zeppelin’s official recorded output, tour schedules, and set lists; a guitar hero; a star concert attraction (considering he took no lead vocals and rarely spoke to the attendees); the curator of the band’s post-breakup archives; and the key figure in Zeppelin’s occult legendry. His skills on electric and acoustic guitar led many other professional and amateur plays to emulate (or further) his techniques, and his ingenuity and improvisations in the studio are some of the most crucial developments in the science of recorded pop music. Photographs of Page as the long-haired, open-shirted instrumentalist with his Les Paul slung to his thighs; as the backstage emperor guzzling Jack Daniel’s whiskey; as the spotlit soloist triumphantly hoisting his double-neck; or as the black-, white-, or SS-uniformed rock ’n’ roller taking adulatory center stage are some of the most iconic visions in popular culture. To sum up the artistic and intellectual ideal of “rock star,” it would be hard to find a better illustration than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.
It is ironic, then, that Page was perhaps the least proficient musician of the group and the remaining member with the least adventurous track record after 1980. Though obviously a talented guitarist and a dynamic live performer, his actual playing from cut to cut and from concert to concert was erratic; though he instigated many of Led Zeppelin’s most indelible songs, they were immeasurably improved by the others, in some examples far beyond Page’s initial ideas. For a shrewd and sensitive industry professional, he, too, like the naïve Brum John Bonham, suffered badly from overindulgence in drugs and alcohol through the Zeppelin years, and the group’s final records and shows reflect the depths of his personal decline. His offstage pursuits of esoteric religions and sexual kinks, though verified well enough, have been repeated and exaggerated to the point where they have taken on a mystique disproportionate to Page’s substantive involvement with either. Strip away the fable and urban legend, and Jimmy Page emerges as a good but seldom brilliant artist smart and lucky enough to have placed himself in the middle of phenomena that have added to his renown more by passive association than deliberative action.
As an electric guitarist, Page had a knack for creating memorable sounds that was superior to his actual agility at playing, and many of his signature riffs – “Communication Breakdown,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Immigrant Song,” “The Ocean,” “The Wanton Song,” “In the Evening” – are marked more by their infectious hooks than by any fingerboard complexity (beginning players can get the hang of them with little difficulty). He was in fact a more advanced acoustic player, inventing a range of unusual tunings and demonstrating some quite delicate finger-style work on “Black Mountain Side,” “Bron-y-Aur Stomp,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “The Rain Song,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” and “Bron-yr-Aur.” This diversity of ability, moving from idiosyncratic acoustic strumming on “Black Mountain Side” to solid electric boogie on “Communication Breakdown,” or from distorted guitar on “Rock and Roll” to pretty mandolin on “The Battle of Evermore,” helped Page sound more accomplished than he would have had he confined himself to any single genre – the songs and the styles change before his shortcomings become apparent. More than anything, Page’s strength was in isolating and perfecting (abetted by Jones and Bonham) the progressions or rhythmic figures he hit upon by chance, with his training as a session player instilling in him the ear and control required to go over tryout performances and shape them into something more striking or monolithic. Contemporaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck; later hard rock heroes including Deep Purple’s Ritchie Blackmore, Black Sabbath’s Tonny Iommi, and AC/DC’s Angus Young; and virtuosi such as Eddie Van Halen, Al Di Meola, and Leo Kottke were better than Page at executing their own parts than he was at his, but Page was the master at recognizing effective notes when he heard them and then maximizing their impact.
In this exhaustive and insightful reference text, rock writer and cultural critic George Case details the key names, dates, figures, and features of one of the biggest and most mythologized rock-and-roll groups of all time: Led Zeppelin. Here, finally, are the answers to the puzzles that have haunted fans for over four decades – puzzles such as the meaning of Led Zep’s enigmatic album covers; the truth about leader Jimmy Page’s involvement with the occult; a breakdown of the sometimes murky roots of their greatest songs; firm data on their musical instruments, live performances, and studio productions; and sordid specifics of the band’s infamously debauched private lives.
But here, too, is a deeply reflective analysis of why Led Zeppelin’s music has endured as long as it has, and of how Led Zeppelin’s mystique has only grown in the years since their official disbanding. Placing the group in the context of their time and place, Case scrupulously compares and contrasts their achievements with those of their influences, rivals, and followers.Led Zeppelin FAQ is not only an indispensable listener’s companion to a classic rock act, but a considered history of rock and roll as a business, an art form, and a worldwide social phenomenon.