Today In Rock: Jimmy Page is Born

Monday, January 9: 3 p.m.
Posted by Rock Hall

On January 9, 1944, Jimmy Page was born in England. A talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer, Page is best known for his incomparable guitar virtuosity, and is one of the most influential guitarists of all time. He has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: in 1992 as a member of the Yardbirds and in 1995 as a founding member of Led Zeppelin.

Page picked up his first guitar at a young age, seeking to emulate rockabilly guitarists of the Fifties, such as Scotty Moore and James Burton. His appreciation and tastes quickly expanded to include folk, blues and skiffle, and he would play in a band that favored the latter. 

By the Sixties, Page was an in-demand session musician, playing on songs for Donovan ("Hurdy Gurdy Man"), Them ("Gloria") and the Who ("I Can't Explain"), among others. Page joined the Yardbirds in the mid Sixties, for a period sharing the stage with friend and fellow guitarist Jeff Beck, who had replaced Eric Clapton on lead guitar. "You'd listen to Jeff along the way, and you'd go - wow, he's getting really, really good," said Page during Jeff Beck's 2009 Hall of Fame induction. "And you'd hear him a few years later, and he'd just keep getting better and better and better. He leaves us mere mortals, believe me, just wondering and having so much respect for him." Page would ultimately take over Beck's role of lead guitarist in the Yardbirds, appearing on the group's last hit, "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago," which reached Number 30 in 1966. Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty and singer and harmonica player Keith Relf left the band in 1968, and Page set about assembling the New Yardbirds – the band that would evolve into Led Zeppelin. (Photo by Dina Regine)

Page recruited bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones, singer Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham to form Led Zeppelin. The band combined the visceral power and intensity of hard rock with the finesse and delicacy of British folk music, redefining rock in the Seventies and for all time. Then and now, Led Zeppelin looms larger than life on the rock landscape as a band for the ages with an almost mystical power to evoke primal passions. The combination of Jimmy Page’s powerful, layered guitar work, Robert Plant’s keening, upper-timbre vocals, John Paul Jones’ melodic bass playing and keyboard work, and John Bonham’s thunderous drumming made for a band whose alchemy proved enchanting and irresistible. “The motto of the group is definitely, ‘Ever onward,’” Page said in 1977, perfectly summing up Led Zeppelin’s forward-thinking philosophy. "They mixed Celtic riffs with the blues, and spiced it up with Indian and Arabic modes," said Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry during Led Zeppelin's 1995 Hall of Fame induction. "It was pure chemistry: kind of like Howlin' Wolf meets the Loch Ness Monster."

Zeppelin's self-titled first album found Page elongating blues forms with extended, captivating solos and psychedelic effects, most notably on the agonized “Dazed and Confused,” and launching pithy hard-rock rave-ups like “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown.” Led Zeppelin II tightened and modernized the band's blues-rock approach on such tracks as “Whole Lotta Love,” “Heartbreaker” and “Ramble On,” all of which firmly established Page as a riff master. Led Zeppelin III took a more acoustic, folk-oriented approach on such numbers as Lead Belly’s “Gallows Pole” and their own “Tangerine,” countered with the pummeling guitar attack of “Immigrant Song” and lengthy electric blues on “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” 

"I learned a lot from Jimmy Page," said Perry. "The best lesson was don't be afraid to play any instrument, stringed or otherwise. [Page] played slide guitar, electric, acoustic, 12-string, bass, mandolin, sitar and dulcimer; he invented strange tunings - whatever it took to create the mood."

Zeppelin's untitled fourth album appeared in 1971, and remains an enduring rock milestone and their defining work. It featured the hard rock number "Black Dog" and the eight-minute epic "Stairway to Heaven," where Page's soloing featured prominently. Houses of the Holy, Led Zeppelin’s fifth album, was another larger-than-life offering, from its startling artwork to the adventuresome music within. Even more taut, dynamic and groove-oriented, it included such Zeppelin staples as “Dancing Days,” “The Song Remains the Same” and “D’yer Mak’er.” Zeppelin followed with Physical Graffiti, a double-album assertion of group strength that included “Trampled Underfoot,” “Sick Again,” “Ten Years Gone” and the lengthy, Eastern-flavored “Kashmir.” Led Zeppelin’s sold-out concert tours became rituals of high-energy rock and roll theater. 

"In 1969, I saw Led Zeppelin perform at the Boston Tea Party," recalled Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler. "They ran out of songs after they played their whole first album, so they had to do a bunch of Elvis tunes, because we wouldn't let them get offstage. I just sat cross-legged in the back of the room while they played the middle section of 'Dazed and Confused,' and it was so fucking heavy that it made me cry. Another time I cried over Led Zeppelin was an hour later, when Jimmy Page emerged from the dressing room with a beautiful girl on his arm. I would have been very impressed, except it was the girl I had been living with up until that moment... But Jimmy was such a motherfucker onstage, I couldn't hold it against him."

Since Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 following the death of Bonham, Page has been part of numerous projects, including band the Firm with Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers, an MTV Unplugged session with Plant dubbed "Unledded" in 1994 and a series of public performances, including a 2007 charity concert that brought together the surviving members of Led Zeppelin and Bonham's son, Jason Bonham, on drums.

In the clip below from the 1995 Inductions, Neil Young joins Led Zeppelin on "When The Levee Breaks."



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