Over the hills and far away (the Led Zeppelin side) | home
Jimmy Page (the guitarist)
Born: January 9th, 1944 in Heston, Middlesex U.K.
Born James Patrick Page on January 9th, 1944, at Heston, Middlesex. The only son of an industrial personnel officer and a doctor's secretary.
After living for some time on an uncle's farm in Northamtonshire, the family moved to Miles Road in Epsom, Surrey, when Jimmy was about eight. At school he sang in the choir, became school hurdles champion and was a keen artist. But when his parents gave him a Spanish guitar in 1957, that became his overriding passion.
Apart from a few basic lessons with a teacher in nearby Kingston-on-Thames, he was self-taught. He recalls having his guitar confiscated on numerous occasions when he took it to school to practise between, and even during, classes.
He didn't really turn on to rock'n'roll, however, till he heard "Baby, Let's Play House" from the album "A Date With Elvis", which came out around mid 1959.
Shortly after that he left school and having tried unsuccessfully to get a job as a laboratory assistant, accepted an invitation to join Neil Christian and The Crusaders, who had spotted him playing in a local dance hall.
These gentlemen were anticipating the British Blues Boom by several years, playing Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley numbers and other stuff picked up from imported records. The great music-loving public weren't quite ready for it, but among other musicians the 15-year-old Jimmy Page soon began to build a considerable reputation.
Jeff Beck remembers: "Page was raving with this big Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar, and it looked huge on him because he was such a shrimp. He was even smaller than he is now. So all you saw was this huge guitar being wielded around by a man who was as thin as a pipe cleaner. But I must say I was most impressed by his ability. He used to play fiery sort of fast stuff. The trouble was that noone was listening to it."
Another problem was that the endless routine of bashing round the country in a van took its toll on Page's health. A bout of glandular fever was the final straw and his two-year stint with the group came to an end.
At this point he went back to his other great love, painting, attending art college for 18 months between 1961 and early 1963. Music was never ignored, though. Jam sessions at the Page household with various friends, including Jeff Beck, were commonplace. And as R&B fever took a grip on the London music scene, he became a frequent visitor to clubs like Richmond's Crawdaddy, the Eel Pie Island in Twickenham, and the Marquee. At the latter he became involved with Cyril Davies' Rhythm & Blues All Stars, one of several groups of the era that were great breeding grounds for future stars. Long John Baldry and Nicky Hopkins were just two of the musicians that went on to greater things after working with Davies.
Page played with them only occasionly, but that was enough to get him noticed by producer Mike Leander, who invited him to play on a recording session in late 1962.
The outcome of the session was "Diamonds" by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. It took them to No. 1, and launched our young hero on a new career. The only session guitarist of note at the time was Big Jim Sullivan, and the arrival of a new talent was welcomed like rain in the desert.
Pausing only to take a crash course in reading and writing music, Jimmy promptly became a super-sessioner, playing on literally hundreds of recordings during the next three and a half years.
These varied from rock and pop groups, to big bands like the Burt Bacharach and Johnny Dankworth, to sessions for jingles and soundtracks. And, not surprisingly, they also varied from the epic to the totally naff. The former included The Who, The Kinks and Them. The latter are too numerous to mention.
In between all this he found time to do a spot of songwriting with Jackie de Shannon, to form his own publishing company, and to record his own single for Fontana in 1965. This was a little thing called "She Just Satisfies", backed by "Keep Moving". Page played all the instruments on it, apart from the drums. He even sang. In retrospect he probably wishes he hadn't bothered.
Also during 1965 came an invitation to be A&R man for ex-Stones manager Andrew Oldham's new label, Immediate. Part of this job was to be producing a special British blues series, and that included Eric Clapton, who had become a close friend.
The tracks Page recorded with Clapton - "Telephone Blues", "I'm Your Witch Doctor", "Sittin' On Top Of The World" and "Double Crossin' Time" - have cropped up in various places since, and are pretty good.
But, unfortunately, some other tracks recorded informally at the Page home were also put out on an Immediate anthology, despite opposition from Jimmy, and the ensuing confusion and dispute put and end to the friendship.
By 1966, Jimmy had just about had enough of the session routine. Opportunities to do something interesting in that field were getting increasingly rare, and when his mates The Yardbirds needed helping out, when their bass player left in the summer of that year, he was perfectly willing to step in.
The Yardbirds had been a prominent part of the British R&B scene ever since their formation in late 1963. They had taken over the The Rolling Stones residency at the Crawdaddy in Richmond when The Stones moved on to greater things, and their versions of American R&B classics, featuring Eric "Slowhand" Clapton, earned them a fanatical following in and around London.
Before long, however, they moved on to more commercial pastures, drawing on material from publisher's songwriter Graham Gouldman, who would later make his name with 10cc. Clapton resigned in protest at this, and in February 1965 Jimmy Page, who had been friendly with the group for some time, was offered the guitarist's job.
"If I hadn't known Eric, or hadn't liked him, I might have joined. As it was, I didn't want any part of it. I liked Eric quite a bit and I didn't want him to think I'd done something behind his back," said Page, explaining his rejection of the offer.
Instead, he recommended Jeff Beck and for the next year The Yardbirds enjoyed a string of hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Then, in the summer of 1966, the group had reason to call on the guitarist's services once again.
"They were playing in front of all these penguin-suited undergraduates and I think Samwell-Smith (The Yardbirds bass guitarist), whose family were a bit well-to-do, was embarrassed by the band's behaviour. Apparently Keith Relf had gotten really drunk and was falling into the drum kit, making farting noises into the mike - being generally anarchistic. I thought he'd done really well, actually, and the band played really well that night. When he came offstage, though, Paul Samwell-Smith said "I'm leaving the band". Things used to be so final then.
Jeff had brought me to the gig in his car and on the way back I told him I'd sit in until they got things sorted out... It was decided we'd definitely have a go at it. I'd take on the bass though I'd never played it before, but only until Dreja (the rhythm guitarist) could learn it - he'd never played it before either. We figured it would be easier for me to pick up quickly, then switch over to a dual guitar thing when Chris (Dreja) had had time to become sufficiently familiar with the bass."
Page played his first date with The Yardbirds at the Marquee, after only about two hours rehearsal, and what had begun as a short-term helping hand for some friends ended up as a two year stint until the group's final demise.
In many ways, Page had joined at a bad time. The Yardbirds were having management problems, having lost their original guiding light, Giorgio Gomelsky, and were going through a few internal ructions, caused mainly by the erratic behaviour of Jeff Beck.
Nevertheless, although their days of big hit singles were over, they were still a strong live attraction, especially in the States, where they were regular visitors. Page's first major tour with them was a package tour of the UK with The Rolling Stones, Ike & Tina Turner and Peter Jay & The Jay Walkers, which opened at the Albert Hall on September 23rd, 1966. From there they went to the States, and Page found himself thrust unexpectedly into the limelight.
"The switch (from bass to lead) was necessitated earlier than planned. We were playing a gig at the Carousel Club in San Francisco, and because Jeff couldn't make it I took over lead that night and Chris Dreja played bass. It was really nerve-wracking, because this was at the height of The Yardbirds' concert reputation and I wasn't exactly ready to roar off on lead guitar. But it went all right and after that we stayed that way. When Jeff recovered it was two lead guitars from then on."
This potentially dynamic combination was unfortunately short-lived, and left only the "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago"/"Psycho Daisies" single as a hint of how amazing it could have been. By the end of 1966, the rest of the group had decided they couldn't work with Beck any more, and he was elbowed.
At about the same time, The Yardbirds also parted company with manager Simon Napier-Bell. Despite having toured almost constantly for several months, appearing in Antonioni's film "Blow Up", and doing various jingles for TV commercials, the individual members of the group had ended up with almost nothing to show for it. The man brought in to sort things out was Peter Grant.
"Peter was working for Mickie Most and was offered the management when Most was offered the recording, of which the first session on our behalf was "Little Games" and the first on Beck's behalf was "Love Is Blue". I'd known Peter from way back in the days of Immediate, because our offices were next door to Mickie Most's, and Peter was working for him. The first thing we did with him was a tour of Australia and we found that suddenly there was some money being made after all."
The new management situation seemed to work out well, but the recording arrangement with Mickie Most certainly did not. None of the singles made with him were successful, commercially or artistically, and the one album they managed to assemble, "Little Games", was little short of a mess.
"It was just so bloody rushed", Page recalls. "Everything was done in one take because Mickie Most was basically interested in singles and didn't believe it was worth the time to do the tracks right on the album."
In fact, "Little Games" was released only in America, where The Yardbirds were now spending more and more of their time. They also toured Australia and the Far East in early 1967, and Japan shortly before the group finally called it a day after a gig at Luton Technical College in July 1968.
"Over the months before the split, Relf and McCarty (Keith Relf, the singer, and Jim McCarty, the drummer) had been talking about starting up a new scene. To counteract the sort of stuff I was listening to, they were into very light things like Simon & Garfunkel, The Turtles and people like that, and they wrote some songs in that vein, which they wanted to go off and record.
I was in favour of us keeping the group together and tried to pursuade them to stay and record their songs as The Yardbirds, because I knew we had the potential to pull it off - but they just wouldn't have any of it."
Relf and McCarty formed Renaissance and Chris Dreja, who originally intended staying with Jimmy Page to form a New Yardbirds, decided instead to try a new career in photography. One of his first commissions would be the sleeve shots for the first Led Zeppelin album.