When a successful session musician discussed the creation of a new group and was told it might go down like a big lead balloon, he didn’t turn back. He went to form what may be the most successful band of all time. Who was it? Read on.
Cookham, Clewer, Heston and Epsom are classic examples of rural England. Leafy lanes, thatched country pubs and the waters of the Thames, meandering through it’s wide green valley are not somehow the habitat native to a Rock guitar legend, especially one who has lived an admittedly drug filled life, but the sleepy villages of Berkshire in England are home to one James Patrick Page.
Now in his late sixties, Jimmy Page is, according to those that know, one the 100 greatest guitarists of All time. He is also without doubt one of the most influential, perhaps because his path to super-stardom was atypical. Jimmy Page did what others refused to do, he wanted to be a musician, so he got a ‘proper’ job.
For two years immediately after leaving school at 15, Page toured the country with a band called ‘The Crusaders’ but he found that being always on the road played havoc with his health, and after several bouts of glandular fever, he left the band and went to art college. At night he still played guitar, often jamming with Jeff Beck or Eric Clapton, but in 1963 he was offered a job as a session musician by Decca Records and within a short time became known as ‘little Jim’. He worked on recordings for The Who and The Kinks as well as the Rollings Stones and songs like Downtown (a huge hit for Petula Clark) and The Crying game, where he played rhythm guitar while another session musician ‘Big Jim’ Sullivan played the solo.
In 1965 Page moved to Immediate Records where he was able to act as a producer and it was this experience which provided the knowledge to create something really special. Page then left Immediate to join the Yardbirds, initially playing electric bass, and then moved to share the lead with Jeff Beck. Conflicts within the group, together with a lack of commercial success, brought an end to the Yardbirds. A new group emerged, initially called ‘The New Yardbirds’, but later, remembering a joke made originally by Keith Moon, that the group would go down like a ‘lead balloon’ the name became ‘Lead Zeppelin’, later changed to Led Zeppelin to make sure that Led wasn’t pronounced ‘leed’. Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones , and John Bonham then proceeded to make history by inventing heavy metal.
Originally conceived as a way to blend hard rock and acoustic music with the blues, Page had ambitions for Led Zeppelin and it’s unique sound right from the start. According to manager Peter Grant, their first album cost £1,750 to produce. It had grossed over seven million dollars by 1975. Excess and success went hand in hand as the band toured and brought out a second, even more successful album, then they changed direction with the third. Written in a cottage in Wales the third album was heavily acoustic and influenced by Celtic music, surprising many fans, but delighting others as as show of versatility. Led Zeppelin Four, released in 1971, is one of the most successful albums in history and includes the famous ‘Stairway to Heaven’.
They broke records at every turn with 76,000 people attending a Led Zeppelin concert on 30th April 1977, making it the largest audience in history for a show with a single act, but things weren’t going well. The band gained a reputation of excess, there was a lot violence at concerts and in July 1977 their US tour was cut short by the unexpected death of Robert Plant’s son, who was only five.
Another album followed in 1978 and later a short European tour, but Page’s influence is less obvious on this album as according to some he was struggling with heroin addiction. He was also the owner of Boleskine House, which had once been owned by the infamous Aleister Crowley. Fascinated by the occult from an early age, Page often had astrological and alchemical symbols embroidered on his clothes. He also owned an occult publishing house as well as a bookshop, but this was closed as Led Zeppelin became so successful he had no time to spend on it.
In 1980, drummer John Bonham, considered to be one of the best drummers of all time, died while staying at Pages home in Clewer, near Windsor in Berkshire. Bonham had drunk a huge quantity of vodka and died in his sleep having choked on his own vomit. After the death was announced, Led Zeppelin officially disbanded. To date the band have sold over 200 million albums and were voted best of Classic Rock’s 50 best live acts of all time.
Since 1980, Jimmy Page has been involved with a number of solo projects, worked with other artists and occasionally with his other former Zeppelins, most notably Robert Plant. He represented Britain at the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic games. In more recent years Page may be said to have settled down. He has five children and is now a grandfather. He has been awarded the OBE for services to charity, but this is not his legacy. It is the Page of Led Zeppelin that history will remember.