Birthday greetings today go out to Jimmy Page, one of the most successful musical artists of all time, whose work in Led Zeppelin etched his status as one of the great guitar players, songwriters, and producers of the modern age of rock and roll.
With Led Zeppelin as his crowning achievement, Page’s fretwork and versatile, speedy, soulful, intense work on his instrument pretty much put the band (along with the perfect chemistry of Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, and John “Bonzo” Bonham in musical tow) at the top of the heap. The band, although heavily wearing its blues influences on its sleeves, still managed to create a sound that was all their own and tallied a success rate that was on par with bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, even outselling both and smashing attendance records set by those two bands prior, and created a body of work that is almost flawless in its approach, execution, arrangement, and attack.
While stories run legion and rampant about all the bloated excess during the band’s tenure in the musical world whilst existing, stories which range from groupies and shark heads to Page’s penchant for all things black magic, it still all takes a large backseat to what remains when stripped at the core, which is some good, electrified Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters/John Lee Hooker-style tunes, with arrangements that are at once complex and blended with basic rock and roll semantics. The image and urban legends surrounding Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have almost taken on their own identity, the day-to-day lifestyle for some is as important and acts as a measuring stick to what made the band tick. In the end, however, as a title track from their 1973 release and name of their 1976 live album/concert film proclaims, The Song Remains the Same. And it is in the beauty and royal magisterial result of what is heard between those grooves, what was laid down for musical posterity in the studio, that makes Led Zeppelin and the work of Jimmy Page, the true force to be reckoned with, their charter and musically driven manifesto of the influential and powerful.
Page pretty much crafted everything Led Zeppelin did in the studio, he had a perfect ear and a good sense of hunch, and for the most part, his guitar arrow hit the target again and again. Defiled by critics during the heyday, ignored for the most part, the fans relished each release by the band, and although live performances would sometimes suffer from the lifestyles that they chose or maybe it could be argued that it chose them, there are still many recorded and filmed performances which showcase the band at its dazzling peaks (witness for example, Royal Albert Hall 1970 – released on the Led Zeppelin DVD set; Los Angeles 1972 – released in audio form as the live set How The West Was Won, and The Paris Theater in London 1971 on The BBC Sessions); Earls Court 1975 and Knebworth 1980 – clips and highlights from both shows also on the Led Zeppelin DVD set).
Page not only played with extreme taste considering the genre he was in, but also with an awe-inspiring and formidable swiftness, though it it wasn’t of the Eddie Van Halen speed king variety. Page was jack-be-nimble, jack-be-quick with his Les Paul, make no mistake, but it always seemed that there was extra care to play emotionally and ardently expressive first; ultimately soulful. He approached his instrument the way John Coltrane played his saxophone, or Thelonious Monk approached the ivories; the way Frank Sinatra belted a hot tune or the way Jimi Hendrix played his guitar, and thus like those other artists, Jimmy Page also became quickly revered as one of the greats too, in an innovative class all by himself. There’s no question there have been other guitarists who have possibly exceeded him, succeeded him, outweighed him, and outdid him, but yet, if you have to put into account and consideration who meant more to his lineup and his craft, who anchored their band to levels scaled and attained by pure emotion, hunger, pride, and musical grit, then Jimmy Page remains one of the best, most efficacious, potent, and respected men of his personal artistry and ingenuity.
While Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980 due to the death of John Bonham, Page has been involved in numerous projects, held reunions with surviving members, the high watermark being a much loved, critically acclaimed and ultimately surprising triumph with a performance with Zep in 2007 at London’s O2 arena and which was released in theaters briefly as Celebration Day late last year, the mythology of the original Led Zeppelin still remains A number one in terms of what made Jimmy Page a legendary figure in music. There’s no denying what the man is, was, and in a way still can be. Zeppelin rumors of reuniting and touring have reached the point of ad nauseum, but no one ever tires of hearing the same old Zep songs and albums again and again and again. Recently, Page and his fellow surviving bandmates were one of the 2012 recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. At the award ceremony, the now white-haired Page could be seen up in the balcony enjoying Ann & Nancy Wilson of Heart’s tribute to Led Zeppelin, a rousing rendition of “Stairway To Heaven,” the band’s most popular and enduring tune, one which has been numerously voted “Best Song of All Time.”
Like The Beatles, the work of Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page have that fresh quality to it, whether it’s listened to now, then, years ago, or decades, or centuries from now. That kind of quality doesn’t come around too often, but when it does, the musical world is all the more better for it. Let’s hear it, and crank it as loud as one can take it, for the master administrator of the guitar and all it can do, all it can inspire and all it can conquer. For Jimmy Page, it seems that that’s the only blueprint to create the framework, to create the landscape, to create the mountain, to create the peaks.