Interview: Jimmy Page on His Session Years and Led Zeppelin's First Days | Bacon's Archive

Jimmy Page (1967). Photo by: Bob King / Redferns. Getty Images.

Editor's note: This post is part of a series of unpublished interviews from the personal research archive of noted guitar writer Tony Bacon.

Previous installments have featured artists like Robert Plant, Jeff Beck, Tom Petty, and Chet Atkins, as well as interviews with guitar industry veterans like Gibson's Ted McCarty, Fender's Don Randall, and pedalboard godfather Pete Cornish.

Explore all of Bacon's Archives here.

I interviewed Jimmy Page in 2014 to mark the publication of Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page, a less expensive version of the Genesis limited-edition book published four years earlier. The book covers his entire career, but when we met at a secret location in London, it seemed a good opportunity to use the book's pictures as triggers to chat about Jimmy's early musical life, ranging from the first bands at school, through his session work and The Yardbirds, and on to the early months of Led Zeppelin.

Let's start, Jimmy, with this photo of you, the teenaged schoolboy, in front of someone's fireplace with your Futurama [p.13].

A similar '60s Futurama Resonet Grazioso. Photo by George's.

Isn't that great? See, that's the first electric guitar I get. The one before it, the Hofner, my dad buys that, but after that, he [laughs]—I don't know, maybe he was psychic and he knew what was coming, because there's a whole procession of guitars that come into my life over the next few years. But that's the first one, the Grazioso. It looked and felt like an electric guitar, even though it wasn't a Fender.

[The Czech-made Resonet Grazioso was brought into Britain in the late '50s by Selmer, who sold it as the Futurama—even though most examples still had a "Resonet" badge on the pickguard and some, like Jimmy's, had "Grazioso" on the headstock.]

It was the closest available thing to a Strat, at the time.

Yeah, it was made in Czechoslovakia, I believe. The interesting thing is, here I am in these photos with a group of sort of pals. This is up on Epsom Downs, the house up on Epsom Downs, and I lived down in the town of Epsom. At this point, there's other people playing—but this isn't a skiffle group, this is playing rock. This is rock.

This is a proper band, you mean?

Well yeah, this is doing the sort of Buddy Holly, and "Mean Woman Blues," and Carl Perkins stuff.

That's a good place to start.

What, Carl Perkins? Yeah, well, I just threw that in to sound fashionable [laughs]. It's absolutely true. I remember hearing somebody who was a sort of record collector said, "You've got to hear this Carl Perkins stuff, it's terrific guitar playing—a stylist."

What year would that photo have been?

1958, '59—I'd hazard that's 1959. So I'm either 14 or 15.

Where did you get that guitar, the Futurama?

I got that in Bell's [music store] in Surbiton [south-west London, about six miles north of Epsom]. Bell's was where the other guitar came from, too, the Hofner. Accordions and things, they sold. They didn't have things like Gibsons and Fenders. Who did in those days? They might have had the occasional—what's that Swedish guitar with the sparkle on it?

Hagstrom?

Hagstrom, they might have had Hagstroms.

Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps - "Baby Blue" from Hot Rod Gang

I can imagine when you got the Futurama, you were thinking: "But I want an American guitar."

Oh, this is a result of seeing and drooling over Gene Vincent & His Blue Caps, by the time they're doing [the 1958 movie] Hot Rod Gang and they've got all those Fenders, and it was oh—my—god. I've seen [Shadows guitarist] Bruce Welch talk about when he saw the Fender with Buddy Holly on The "Chirping" Crickets album, and he describes it exactly the same way as I felt it, too. Which is: "That thing looks like it's from outer space! What is it!" Then—so you find out, Buddy Holly's got this.

Then you see them with Gene, that they've been sort of sprayed in I guess they're like almost hot rod colors, at the time, and they're all matching. It just looked so damn sexy! The guitar was sexy to begin with, the Fenders absolutely were, just beautiful designs, sculptural design. Then when you saw a whole nest of them, with the bass and the guitars and Gene Vincent standing there—well [sighs].

What was the first American guitar you got your hands on?

I did actually get a Strat along the way. Then it was sort of some time after that. But guitars in those days, they weren't all user-friendly, you know? Just because it was a Strat, didn't mean to say it was like a Strat we know.

That was the first American guitar you played?

Probably, yeah. Then it goes from that to the Chet Atkins, one of those orange Gretsches, and then it goes pretty much from there through to the Les Paul Custom. But in [the 2008 electric guitar documentary] It Might Get Loud that was nothing to do with me whatsoever where they've got "Jimmy Page's first electric guitar" and they show a picture of a Strat. I don't know whose Strat it is. The reality of it is that the Grazioso was my first electric guitar, and what I was going to say, before we started getting off the point, was that here I am with these guys, but up in Liverpool—this was across the country—but up in Liverpool, there's pictures of George Harrison playing one. So, that was as good as you were going to get round that point of time.

That Futurama must have been hard work.

That was hard work, yeah. In fact, it had a tremolo arm on it, and I've got recordings of me playing on this thing. You'd think this [points to the vibrato arm] would break, actually.

And it did you proud, didn't it? Because there are pictures of you [p.17] playing the Futurama on stage at the time with Neil Christian & The Crusaders, supporting Cliff Richard, about, what do you think, 1960?

Yes, and the interesting thing on that picture is that the body language of that is exactly the same as something from 1977 in the white poppy suit, pictured later in the book. This guy [points to a picture, on the same page, of Crusaders drummer Jimmy Evans], he was a superb drummer. He was a drum major in the army, and he had a load of swing, he loved all the big bands. Look at the size of that bass drum! So I got used to big bass drums before hearing John Bonham—someone else who had an amazing swing to his playing.

You're moving towards the Les Paul Custom, so let's look at another amazing picture [p.20] of you with the Custom and some Fender and Selmer amps. I know the Custom was yours, but how about the amps?

The cover of Page's session work compilation Hip Young Guitar Slinger.

No, none of it was mine. Only the Les Paul Custom. I was a session man at the time, wearing Carnaby Street clothes from the first shop called John Stephen [laughs]. Carnaby Street then wasn't what it later became. It started with a shop called John Stephen. Anyway, I went in the [Selmer] shop, and they asked me to do a photograph, with all the amps, obviously, that they were promoting. I guess at that point I must have had enough of a reputation for them to want to take a picture of me with their amps. Even though I was just a studio musician. I'm just wondering whether I'm at art college at that point. I don't think so, I think I'm definitely a fully-fledged studio musician. But I was doing both, you know?

From what I know about it, Selmer was almost like a social centre as well as a music shop.

Well, I did meet—not at this point, he wasn't working there at this time—but later on I was to go in there and meet John McLaughlin, who was working in there. He came down from [Doncaster], and he was living in London. He was sort of introducing himself on to the jazz scene and welcomed with open arms, as you can imagine. He was instinctively the best, I could tell. I didn't listen to a lot of jazz—or it was selective, what I listened to—but I could tell from what I knew that he was easily the best that I was gonna hear [laughs] or witness in front of me. He was the best one I was going to see, that's for sure. He was working there, really, to practice all week, because the only day that was busy was Saturday. That's what he said. Fantastic! This bloke knows what he's doing and he knows where he's going.

And he's got a shop full of Gibsons to choose from, as well.

Well yeah, he's got all these guitars to try and play all day long.

A 1959 Les Paul Custom. Photo by Wildwood Guitars.

Tell me about getting your Les Paul Custom.

Well, you know there was Selmer's and then there was one down the road called something else—what was that? I bought it in there when it was called something else, I remember going in and there was a sort of cash desk, and the guys behind it, and right up on the wall—I said oh my god, let me try that. What it was doing in there and why—but it was there. It was just oh, this is just—I fell in love with the bloody thing.

The two Davis brothers, they ran the Selmer shop and the Lew Davis shop, not far from each other on Charing Cross Road [in central London].

Lew Davis. You've got it, that's it. You've hit the nail on the head. Mind you, you're a lexicon of guitars. But you're spot on, that's what it was. But at the time it was affiliated somehow.

Ben Davis ran the Selmer store, and his brother, Lew, ran the Lew Davis store. I think they kind of wheeled guitars from shop to shop as necessary.

OK, Lew. I see. Well that's exactly what happened: they probably had too many Gibsons to put on show at the time and they sent one down there.

I spoke to Albert Lee and he told me he got a Les Paul Custom in Selmer and a Supro amp, and that you knew each other at the time.

He got it in Selmer? I didn't know he had a Supro amp. I knew he played through a Supro amp, but I thought that was at Regent Sound [studio], because they had a little—a smaller amp than what I used on the first album, it was a little titchy one.

You can see Page's Les Paul Custom at this 1970 Led Zeppelin concert, shortly before the guitar was stolen.

Albert told me his Supro had a 15-inch speaker.

Well that's bigger, then, if that's what he had. Bigger than what mine was. Anyway, I'm sure the one that was at Regent Sound was smaller. I never played my [Les Paul Custom] through a Supro amp, but I did with the Telecaster.

Why did you want the Les Paul? Seems like a stupid question now—why wouldn't you want a Les Paul? But at the time, there weren't many of them around, were there?

No, there weren't many around. Well, it was just such a gorgeous looking thing. It just sounded so wonderful. The middle setting, which wasn't what you'd expect it to be, which was those two [points to bridge and neck pickup], but it was a really spiky sound that was really superb. So eventually, I customized it. This is the one that got stolen that we're looking at, and I customized it with some switches so you could get into any combination—and it gets stolen. [The Custom went missing at an airport in 1970, and Jimmy eventually got it back in 2016.]

So later I have one made up. Gibson volunteered, they say what sort of guitar, I say I know exactly what guitar we're gonna make. We're gonna do this so you can get the pickup combinations. So that came out as a special [the 2008 Gibson Les Paul Jimmy Page Custom], and I played it at the O2 [Led Zeppelin reunion, December 2007], it sounded bloody marvelous. Everyone was saying like that guitar sounded the best of anything that night.

How did you get into sessions back in the '60s? It must have seemed like a closed world to people outside.

First session, Glyn Johns put me in the Jet Harris & Tony Meehan thing, "Diamonds" [recorded late 1962]. But I was really young then, and it was way before that. I got into sessions, certain things were asked of me, but I was at art college. I'd come out of the music thing, touring with groups and all of that, and I was just enjoying playing the guitar, playing the harmonica, and listening to more and more of the Chess catalogue.

That's what I was doing. I was at art college and I was playing in the interval band in the Marquee, when the Marquee was in Oxford Street, when the Marquee was pretty interesting. Because it was really really big, and it got smaller and smaller as it went on [laughs]. It's funny, the Marquee: the name really gets bigger and bigger, and more and more audiences, but the venue gets smaller and smaller [laughs]. When I was there it was really huge, the R&B night, whatever it was, and I was playing in the interval band with a fella called Andy Wren. He played with Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages, he sang and he played piano, and I was playing the guitar, and we had, I guess, bass and drums. Don't remember who they were now. But that was the interval band.

The interval was when everyone went to the pub, wasn't it? Because the Marquee club wasn't licensed [to sell alcohol].

Yeah, I suppose most people did. But not everybody, because there was somebody who asked me to come and play on their record, or on a record. "Do you want to play on a record?" I said yeah, absolutely! So I went along there and I took my DeArmond pedal and all the rest of it.

Do you remember what the record was?

Well, it's as good as saying something like Carter-Lewis & The Southerners, something like that. That's what I thought it was, it might have been something else. But the fact is that I started doing sessions for artists with Southern Music, when it was in Denmark Street, and—I'm still at art college—and I'm doing stuff with David Bowie early on, I'm doing various sessions for Shel Talmy. I was doing more and more stuff while I'm still at art college.

Then the holidays come, and I'm just getting more and more and more, and I'm enjoying it, because I'm going in there and people are saying: "Play what you want." I could do the chord charts literally from Play In A Day [teaching book] by Bert Weedon, it's exactly the same, that's what you get presented with. They probably still do, to a degree. You'd know where to stop, you know where there's a triplet—basically it was the chords, that's it, and you know how to do that thanks to Bert Weedon. I could do it. I wasn't silly, I wasn't stupid, I knew what to do.

Because I'd played so many different styles of guitar—I had a Harmony acoustic as well. So I'd played acoustic, I'd played fingerstyle, and I'd played blues, and I knew how to play rock, and I knew where the roots of these things came from. But when I got into sessions, they said we need somebody who can improvise.

It was a bit like Bix Beiderbecke. He was brought in on sessions, he couldn't read music, they'd just get him to play solos, that same sort of thing. He could read the chord charts, so we'll feed him the chord charts and let him just play what he wants. So for a good period of time, that's exactly how it was. I learnt to read music. I learnt to be able to ask a lot of questions, to the engineers. Certain things that I'd heard, I'd play things to people, say what's that? How's that done? This sort of stuff.

Hear a young Page's fiery lead work on The First Gear's "Leave My Kitten Alone."

That's a great way to learn.

It was. A total apprenticeship, and I learnt to read music, because I didn't read music to begin with. I was so accepted, behind that closed door. When it came to the process of reading music, they came along, gave me a piece of music, and it had dots on it. Just a little bit. And I thought oh-oh. Obviously this means either we're going to kick you out, or you better bloody well learn to read music a bit sharpish, because we've got things which are more demanding of you.

I was playing sessions, and you didn't know who you were going in with. You'd just be booked at the studios for a certain time. I'd be playing on film scores, on television adverts, on folk sessions, I'd be playing middle-of-the-road music, playing with groups, I'd be playing with singers that were from groups where they'd substituted group members with session musicians. I'd have people coming in from France, from America, right across the board, all kinds.

And now I've got the hint: You better learn to read music. So I sort of did, I got to read music. In the early days there were some sympathetic arrangers who would actually give you your part first, so you'd have a chance. But I've got to tell you, reading the sort of fluent notes, that was sort of all right, but when it was chords written, it was: "Oh my god, why don't they just write down the names?" That was testing. And, you know, it got to the point where I was so accepted, and doing so much work across the board, plus I was producing, plus I was doing sort of arranging.

I guess you played your Les Paul Custom, and that Harmony acoustic you mention. Anything else?

I'd introduced the fuzz box, the overdrive pedal, into the whole musical equation. It hadn't existed before then—Roger Mayer doing that, going into the studio. I made sure Jeff got the next one. But everyone in the studio: "But it's punk! He's come in here, he's five years younger than anybody else, everyone's accepting him, now he's coming in with a box of tricks which is going to make us redundant!" Jim Sullivan says, "Oh, can you get me one those?" [Laughs.]

The good thing about the fuzz box, and the good thing for Roger Mayer, was the fact that everybody wanted one. He was so established with all of this. And when Hendrix came over, [Mayer] just went up to him and said well, you heard Jeff, this is how it's done. I was in the studio, and I'm experimenting with the bow, I'm not doing anything on pop records with it.

Here are some interesting pictures [pointing to p.26–28] of a Brian Jones session.

Aren't they wonderful? Stu took those, Ian Stewart. I'm doing all of this, all my friends are off having a great time, and I'm faced with fucking muzak. And it's like OK, this is it, this is the moment, it's time to go. Everyone's been really kind, and you think, "Thanks so much, but I really want to be on my way." I just had so much that I wanted to do.

I remember getting an amplifier, changing from a Burns amplifier I had for the studio work to a Fender Twin. Everyone was so used to hearing the guitar going through the Burns, they all panicked when they saw the Fender. "He's changed his sound!" It sounded fucking great, it sounded marvelous, because—the Burns was a crappy amp. This guitar through that, you know, on the settings, it was just massive. It was just too much for them to bear, and I had to go back and get the Burns.

I suppose it's difficult to remember sessions you played, because you were just, as you say, booked into this studio at this time. It could be anyone.

It's difficult, yeah, but I'll tell you what I do know. On BBC2 [television] at the moment, there's like a weather advert, this song fraction that they've got. I think it's by The Fenmen, they're singing like, "I've got everything you need, babe," and then suddenly this solo goes on at the end [sings]. And I went: "Hey, that's me!" I'd completely forgotten about that, but I knew the minute I heard that guitar who it was. And all those Petula Clark things, I was on all of those, "Downtown," all the big hits, "Don't Sleep In The Subway." So every now and again, they come around.

The Fenmen w/ Jimmy Page - "I've Got Everything You Need Babe"

I think you were using your Danelectro Standard at this time, too, weren't you?

I introduced the Danelectro into the world of sessions, yes.

OK, let's move on to The Yardbirds and the Telecaster.

Do you know what's really interesting? There's all these pictures in the book of me in the studio doing sessions with various people, and yet when it comes to Led Zeppelin, the only time that we're in the studio being photographed is across the second album. Isn't that interesting? So pro rata, there's more of me at those studio sessions, which you wouldn't think there'd be anything. I just find it ironic. But it was interesting, sieving for gold.

You'd have thought there must be plenty of pictures of Zeppelin in the studio.

Well, I knew there wasn't. I just wanted to make sure that everything there was, was in there.

So, Jimmy, the Telecaster. Presumably when you joined The Yardbirds, Beck had got his Les Paul Burst. I think Jeff told me that he loaned you, or gave you, the Telecaster.

I hope he gave it to me. No, he gave it to me! He came round one day in a brand new Stingray.

As you do.

Yeah, and he was a member of The Yardbirds. I volunteered him in there, for The Yardbirds, and he came round and gave me that guitar. And that's the guitar that eventually—you see it in the book. I think well, it's the Yardbirds guitar, but I want to make it my own guitar, and that's when I paint it. [I show Jimmy p.68, a color shot of him with the painted Tele in a Paris TV studio in 1968.] Yeah, but there's one [photo] where you really get to see it. The whole thing goes to black-and-white apart from the guitar, so the focal point is the guitar [p.98 and 99].

That's the only area as far as painting and the boy went to art college. That's the only thing that illustrates it, the fact that he painted his guitar. Well, it wasn't a wasted opportunity, then, was it? [Laughs.] There's like an analogy to those people in the '80s that came through in all those bands and said we've all been on the dole, we've been practicing on the dole. That's what that is. That manifests itself there.

In that brief period you were in The Yardbirds with Jeff, what was your musical relationship like? Did you have a musical dialogue with him?

It was really good, great, yeah. I knew Jeff—I don't know how old he says we were when we met, I think he reduces the years to almost 11. His memory's bloody good, I'll tell you that much. You know that by his guitar playing: he's got a photographic memory, hasn't he. I met Jeff when we both had homemade guitars, that's when I meet Jeff. So we go back that far, and we're all seeing who's got the closest version of "My Babe" by James Burton [playing with Ricky Nelson]. What's your version of this, and what's your version of that? Just two kids really enthusiastic and passionate about music and guitar playing. So we went that far back.

Did that mean it came pretty easily in The Yardbirds, working out what you were going to do together?

Er, Jeff had said it would be great if we both played in the band together. That was what he said, and I said I didn't really think it was going to be possible, because there was this union, five Yardbirds, five live Yardbirds. Didn't seem that was going to be six, to have even more guitars. Because you had Chris on rhythm guitar.

I know you started on bass.

Yes, because Paul Samwell-Smith left the band and they had dates to do. I said to Jeff, "Well listen, I'll come in on bass and then maybe we'll see. I'll play bass to get over these dates." I'll tell you what, that was a hard gig, going into the Marquee. Doesn't matter if I'd done sessions or whatever, I'm playing bass and trying to fill Paul Samwell-Smith's shoes. You talk about something that was tough—that was tough.

But the idea was that Chris would take over the bass and Jeff and I would play guitars together. So we did stuff where I did a bit of bowing, doing stuff like "Over Under Sideways Down" in harmony guitars. It was just fun. It was really good and promising. And, yeah, there wasn't anything like that, not what we were doing, or not what we were planning. There wasn't anything like it, the idea of it.

Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck with The Yardbirds, 1967, with Beck's temperament played up.

It didn't last all that long, though, because Jeff leaves, and you're the guitar player.

I don't think—that was other reasons that Jeff left. It wasn't because I was in the band. There was other reasons entirely.

I know there was a period when he would just go off.

Yeah, there was things where he would just go off. But then I had no choice, I had to take over on guitar if he walked off. What else are you going to do? Walk off with him? Because he didn't know why he's walked off [laughs]. It was usually because the amplifiers were playing up, or something. All in all, knowing Jeff's sort of technique and his precision, I can understand it, but at the time it was, Oh my god, he's being really temperamental here. But he was in the whole world of what he was trying to do, and shaping his sound. I understood, but it wasn't necessarily for everybody to understand his temperament.

You took over as the main guitar player.

Yeah, so I've got to play the stuff that's been done before. But I'm really keen to move it into other areas and put my own stamp on it, very much in the same way that Jeff—maybe not as well as Jeff did it [laughs]—but following different footsteps. Put your own identity into it, your own trademark in it. And, of course, there's not very much that exists [recorded] from that, because we were caught up in this thing where Mickie Most is producing Jeff, Jeff's solo career, and he's producing The Yardbirds, and we're having to do singles, and now it's like trying to mix oil and water. It just isn't happening. We're doing all these horrible things. And I've got a feeling that that is really what sets into The Yardbirds: "Well, we've just sort of had enough." They've had all these guitar changes. I know Keith loved the original line-up with Eric, because that's how it started, live at the Marquee, it was all a magical period for him.

That's understandable.

Absolutely, you understand that. But the substantial work that was done by Jeff, all the way through, there's a proper recording history of it, and the stuff that I did sort of collides with singles that have to be done, and trying to put the stuff that you're really doing on the B-sides. So "Think About It," and "Puzzles," and the bow, it's all coming in, it's in there by default. And stuff on the Little Games album, some stuff that isn't so bad. You have no idea how quickly that was recorded. Right, red light's on, take—next! Mickie Most didn't like albums, he only liked singles.

That's why I knew, when it came to the time of Led Zeppelin, that's how I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Exactly how I was going to go about it, exactly what material. The stage was already set, the scene was set, because I'd played all those underground clubs with The Yardbirds—there was the elements of it in there. There was an audience for it, if I got a good band together. And I didn't just get a good band, I had a phenomenon together. It was really exciting! Imagine. But the hard thing about it is, when people talk about Zeppelin as musicians, everyone dreams of being in a band like that. So there you go.

The Yardbirds - "Think About It"

You talked about when you became the sole guitarist in The Yardbirds, making your own sound, doing your own thing, developing your own ideas. Were you conscious, looking back on it now, that it was the start of the Zeppelin sound, or your sound?

No, I didn't think I'm doing this because I want to do a new group. I really wanted The Yardbirds to continue, because I really believed in the—we'd done some recording in the studio, we'd also done a live thing, none of it actually was supposed to come out, I don't know what sort of leaked out on bootleg. But I was really keen, I had sort of an idea, I had material to be done—that's all there is to it. They wanted to try something else—they didn't want to be The Yardbirds any more—so that's it. I know what I'm doing—I've had this period now coming out of the studio, really studio-disciplined—I know how to do things and I know how to approach the next stage, certainly in my life, and how it relates to America.

Continuing the guitar history, Jimmy, you take the Telecaster with you into Zeppelin, and that lasts certainly for the first-album period, before you get the Les Paul Burst.

Absolutely, the first album is done on the Telecaster, because it is a transition from The Yardbirds to Led Zeppelin. It's exactly the same guitar. It's not until 1969 that I get the Les Paul. I've already got the Custom. But Joe Walsh insists on sending me this guitar. And it actually looks as though it's been refinished, looked like it. He bloody insisted, he said, "You've got to buy this guitar!" I said I don't necessarily need it. "No, you've got to have it, just try it, you'll want it," and all that. I said I've already got the Custom. "No, no, you've got to try it!"

Did you know at the time about the differences between the Custom and the Burst?

I knew it was a good guitar. I knew there wouldn't be the feedback, the squealing you got from the Telecaster, which every night there was a whole episode of controlling that, you know what I mean? Everybody had that if they started turning up a Telecaster loud, you know? So Joe insisted that I bought it, and I did buy it, and I kicked off the second album with it.

Learn to Play: Riffs in the Key of Jimmy Page Lesson on Guitar

He came to a gig with it, didn't he?

Yeah, it was at the Fillmore or Winterland, one or the other, in San Francisco. [Most likely a Fillmore West date in late April 1969.] "You've got to buy this guitar!" He kept insisting. I said ah, no, no, no, I can't afford it. You know how it is. This wasn't like dealing with Selmer's here. He was really sporting—he's still sporting about it now. Because everyone goes oh, you sold him a Les Paul for whatever it was, hundreds of dollars. Oh, it was a pro rata price, he wasn't stealing me up and he wasn't giving it to me as a present.

You got a wonderful guitar, though, didn't you?

You see, it's the intervention, again, of the guitar. You know what I'm talking about: the intervention of the guitar. Joe Walsh insists that I buy this guitar. There's no guarantee that I would have played the—I don't know, it's hypothetical, but I may not have come up with the riff of "Whole Lotta Love" on the Telecaster. That fat sound you're working with, you are inspired. Well, I am, and I know other people are, by instruments, the sound of the instruments—and then they're playing something they haven't played before. And it's really user-friendly, and suddenly they've got some sort of riff, which is peculiar to that moment. I'm not saying that's the first thing I played on it, but it was to come.

Certain guitars do suggest certain things.

Yeah, but I always knew the Les Paul was a really user-friendly guitar over, say, a Strat or something like that. It's really sympatico, sympathique.

So when you moved from the Tele to the Les Paul—

Yeah, so many things start singing, you know? Really singing.

And that Burst—your Number 1—saw you right through, pretty much, didn't it?

Yeah, to the O2. See, that's unusual. Most people have got other guitars that they'll play, but no matter what, it's the same double-neck that you see appear in 1971, and it's the same Les Paul. It's a roadie's nightmare.

Why did you get the Gibson double-neck?

To fit in with "Stairway To Heaven," because there were so many guitar parts. There's the solo, there's acoustic, and 12-string, and the solo—and I thought I can't do this on only one of those guitars. But I'd seen a guitar, I'd seen the double-neck before, I'd seen them in country music, and I'd seen it in Family. You remember Family?

Yes, Charlie Whitney.

Yeah, that guy had a double-neck. So anyway, I asked to get one from Gibson, because I knew it was the only way, I knew I couldn't do "Stairway," but it was essential to do it. So it became iconic with the whole thing, didn't it.

It looked great, really. Probably a bit much on the shoulder.

Yeah, I've got heavier guitars. But nevertheless pretty weighty.

One more story and we're done. You mention "Stairway," and I've read you pulled out the Telecaster again to play the solo.

The solo, yeah, it was. And people say, "Why did you do that?" I don't know. There was no particular reason, other than that's what I did. It's funny, isn't it?


About the author: Tony Bacon writes about musical instruments, musicians, and music. He is a co-founder of Backbeat UK and Jawbone Press. His books include Sunburst, London Live, and Fuzz & Feedback. Tony lives in Bristol, England. More info at tonybacon.co.uk.

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