Jimmy Page Talks Yardbirds, Zeppelin, and His Life in Pictures

March 17, 2015

If you’ve never been in the same room with Jimmy Page, there’s not much that can prepare you for it. He’s got the calm, cool, powerful gravitas that very few people—let alone musicians—possess. And Page brought that cool to the Ace Theater in Los Angeles last year, where he was to be interviewed by Chris Cornell about his new book: Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page [Genesis Publications], a massive tome of photos that span his entire life. The event was attended by more than a few rock stars, each of whom instantly turned into just another fan when Page entered the building. No one competes with this guy. Jimmy Page doesn’t compete. Jimmy Page just is.

Cornell looks on as Page spins another captivating yarn.
Cornell proved to be a great interviewer, able to set aside his obvious adoration of Page and Led Zeppelin to choose interesting photos and ask insightful questions. Page spoke honestly and eloquently about things that are normal and commonplace for him and positively mind-blowing for the rest of us. Along the way he provided an incredible view of a magical world. Not the castles-and-fairies world of so many Zeppelin tunes, but a world where a guy could base a career on his love of a dozen different styles of music. A world in which a guitarist could go from a successful band to no band at all to the biggest band on the planet in 12 damn months. One where a band was a band, and if you didn’t have one of the original members, you didn’t have any of them. A seemingly impossible world where guitar riffs could endure for decades and changes lives, and yet you have so many great ones that you’re not afraid to cram ten of them into the same song. That’s where Jimmy Page lives, and he was kind enough to invite us there, for two hours in LA, or for a lifetime if you look at this book and spin his records.

This is what they talked about that night in Los Angeles. Questions have been edited and elucidated for clarity (you can’t see what we were seeing) and answers have been edited for flow, but this is their discussion. Jimmy Page on Jimmy Page.

What gave you the idea to make a book of your life in pictures?

Top: Carter-Lewis & The Southerners, with a young Jimmy Page (third from left). Bottom: Mickey Finn & The Bluemen with Page (back row, far right).
There have been biographies or autobiographies by my fellow contemporaries, other musicians or actors or whatever. I’d always have a look at the pictures first, to see what pictures they’d selected to illustrate their work. I had a number of photographs in my own archive and my family archive that covered a lot of the early period, the pre-Beatles period. I figured it would be really cool to do something where it started off when I was 12 or 13 and went to when I’m 70, all in pictures. So that’s what I did.

The caption to the first photo in the book [of Page as a choirboy] says it was taken by the choirmaster, Mr. Coffin. I thought it was an amazing start to the book. You don’t know where this kid’s going to go when you look at this picture. Had you picked up the guitar yet?

Yeah I had. I had put a few chords together. This was taken by the choirmaster and he was also the organist. It was given to my parents at the time because obviously I’m pretty young here. To clear the photograph, we contacted Mr. Coffin’s son in law. He said that Mr. Coffin had told him, “Oh yes, I remember young Jimmy coming to choir practice early and bringing his guitar to try and tune it to the organ.” So where there was a will, there was a way.

Here’s an early band shot.

This is about 1959 or 1960. I got head hunted out where I lived, which was a place called Epson, to play in this group in London. The music that we were doing—which is pretty much what everyone was doing at that time, because this was a few years before the Beatles break in on the scene—was rock and roll and covers of American bands. There were Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran numbers. The name of the band is Red-E-Lewis and the Redcaps, and we were doing music by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps. That’s my first electric guitar.

What kind of guitar is that?

It’s called a Grazioso Futurama. I think it’s made in Czechoslovakia. One of the interesting things about this guitar is you can see pictures of George Harrison playing the same guitar. He was up in the north and we’re down in the south here.

I don’t know what the session was, but this is you with Brian Jones from the Rolling Stones. You appear to have a bow and you’re just kind of in conversation.

The photograph was taken by Ian Stewart, and Ian Stewart was with the Rolling Stones. It was much later that he played with Led Zeppelin on “Boogie with Stu.” This is a time when I’m doing sessions and studio work. Brian Jones was going to make a soundtrack to a film that Anita Pallenberg was in called A Degree of Murder. Brian requested me to go in and play any ideas. What he really wanted was to get anything that was experimental, and I’d been working with the bow. This is before the Yardbirds, but there it is—I’m playing the bow. It was just a real thrill to work with Brian Jones because I thought he was such a creative musician. When he said, “Can you help me out,” I was sure I would. Jeff [Beck] gave me that guitar.

How did you make the leap from this earlier picture of you being in a band to you being a guy standing in a room with Brian Jones?

Page waxes rhapsodic about the final days of the Yardbirds.
Well, I was in the band called Neil Christian & the Crusaders. Isn’t that an interesting name? We were sort of doing the Chess catalog about a year before anybody else was. I got a bit despondent in everything. I had been touring and living in a van and that sort of stuff in England. I was in art college, but I didn’t give up music. I played music all the time. I went to the Marquee club in London. The Marquee used to be on Oxford Street. It was a jazz club, a big sort of ballroom place, and they started to have every Thursday night what they called R&B or blues. There was a guy called Cyril Davies who used to play there and Alexis Korner. They were the mainstays there. The Yardbirds played there. When Eric was in the band, they did an album there, called Five Live Yardbirds. But I was in the [Cyril Davies] Interval band while still doing art college. I got head hunted out of that situation and I got asked to play on records.

This next shot is pretty amazing. Two of the world’s greatest guitar players ever, you and Jeff Beck, just kind of sitting there hanging out. This is an early Yardbirds experience for you.

Five Live Yardbirds—Chris Dreja, Jim McCarty, and Keith Relf (back row, L-R), and two guitarists named Page (seated) and Beck.
That photograph was taken by Linda McCartney. There’s Jeff and myself tuning up the guitars. I joined the Yardbirds because I was doing studio work for two and a half, maybe three years, and I was getting really fed up with it because I was having to read far too much music and some of the stuff was really boring. And not only that, but all my friends like Jeff were going out there and having a great time. I thought, it’s time to get out of the session business. The way that it happened, I was with Jeff at a Yardbirds concert in a big sort of tent at Oxford University. Keith Relf got rather drunk and sort of fell into the drum kit. I thought it was brilliant. I’m watching this from the back and there are all these university students in their evening dress, and there’s Keith Relf, being an absolute wonderful punk. Fantastic. Anyway, the problem with it was that the bass player didn’t think this was much fun, and he left the band that night. They had the Marquee Club to play. I said, “I’ll come in on bass,” because Jeff had often said, “It would be really good if you could come and join the band.” I said, “Well, I can’t. There are five live Yardbirds and one more is six.” So then this guy decides to leave the band and I had played a little bit of bass before but nothing like he played because this guy, Paul Samwell-Smith, was phenomenal. So anyway, I played the bass at this gig at the Marquee, but the idea was to start playing guitar and I did. I played bass and then some guitar as well. No more reading music. That was all over.

We’re all very thankful for that. There’s a Yardbirds poster in the book with just you. So somehow you became the Yardbirds for a brief period.

What’s so interesting is this is at the point when Jeff has sort of left the band. There’s a producer that’s looking after us in England called Mickie Most, and he’s producing Jeff Beck in his solo capacity and he’s producing the Yardbirds with just the four of us. Both of these entities are managed by Peter Grant, which is quite interesting. So anyhow, this poster is for a gig at the Grande Ballroom. This is part of the whole underground circuit that the Yard-birds were doing. We were doing the Fillmore, Winterland, Grande Ballroom, etc. And then there was the advent of what was called underground radio, which in fact was stereo radio—not playing singles. They were only playing things that were longer than two and a half minutes. That’s how I got the whole idea of what could be done. This is what I rather hoped would eventually come to be with the Yardbirds, but it’s actually where the work was done, if you like, that develops into Led Zeppelin.

When you talk about sort of shifting into a more experimental way to make records, to write songs, to play guitar, were there guys that you looked to? Were there influences?

An early Zeppelin shot: “I’ve got the Les Paul there, “ says Page, “so this is probably late 1969.”
In the Yardbirds, I was really trying to push ideas—not pushing ideas onto the Yardbirds, because they were really happy to be doing it. For example, on one of the songs that we had, which is called “Glimpses,” I had tapes playing in the background, sound effects of the Staten Island ferry coming in and locomotives going and the bow—really experimental stuff. So when other people were doing what they were doing, I was really trying to push the envelope.

Imagine a period of music where the whole point was to expand and experiment and do things that hadn’t been done before. That’s amazing.

It gets to a point, and this is the incredible synchronicity, that the Yardbirds were playing in LA and they actually say, “We don’t want to continue anymore.” I think Keith Relf, the singer, was the one with the most disillusion. I could say the reasons why I think it was. First of all, they had three guitarists. They’d really broken through with Eric with all the excitement, and then he’d gone. And then there was Jeff. And then Paul Samwell-Smith, the bass player and the producer of the band, had gone, and now I was in. And then Jeff had gone and it was just too much change. Not only that, we were tied to this contract doing singles, which just broke the spirit of the album. So I had to form a band because I had ideas that I really wanted to do.

You touched on the idea that there was something besides hit radio. The Yardbirds, and all of music, especially British music at the time, was chart-driven and hit-driven. Right at this time when finally there’s a format to do something that isn’t hit-driven, you seemed to kind of walk right into it. Me as a fan, I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know you were actually doing something that would allow someone like me to have a career years later doing what I want, and not have to write hit-driven rock and roll music.

Actually, I’ll tell you what the Yardbirds said. They said they wanted to do something like the Turtles. That’s what they wanted to do and actually I didn’t want to do anything like the Turtles. I knew at that time there was a big focus on the guitar and I wanted to make it a tour de force for the guitar. So for my playing, it was going to be everything from acoustic through electric. I throw everything in on it to get all these guitar textures. It goes from really rude bottleneck to very sensitive acoustic. There’s pedal-steel on it. It was going to be a guitar tour de force, but not at the expense of the other members. This was the key to it. Everyone needed to be really, really heard. The combination of this works really great. In Led Zeppelin, the quality of musicianship that was there was unbelievable. When we had rehearsal time, which wasn’t that much, everything was done with ruthless efficiency and drive. Everyone just started playing in the stratosphere, me included, because I never played guitar like I did on our first album. John Bonham played drums like he’d always imagined because he’s got this great vehicle to play in. He was unbelievable as a drummer. I saw him play and I felt his drums. I felt his drumming. And John Paul Jones had done remarkable session work. He’s got quite a C.V. but he never played like he had on this. We just went on to this next level of playing, and the synchronicity was superb. And you can hear everybody, which was the whole idea of the production of the album: that you could hear everything that was going on.

You told me before that the most important thing was, here were four guys who were all incredible musicians, all essentially being let off the chain for the first time at the same time on the first Led Zeppelin record.

Yeah. That’s it. The whole blend of it is just fantastic. It’s musical equals just taking off.

It’s also something that happens fast. The way that you talk about it, it’s like one day you’re in the Yardbirds and thinking about doing your own band and thinking about doing your own thing. Then you see a guy who’s a drummer and he’s awesome. You see a singer and he’s great. And then it’s Led Zeppelin. It didn’t take a couple of years and long relationships. You knew somehow that these were the right guys.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s like fate intervened in a way—it must be that. It just came together so fast. And the ascent was so incredibly fast because I told you, the Yardbirds decided to dissolve and that was in July of 1968. By the end of December 1968 I’d rehearsed the band in my house and routined what was going to be the album and the tour. We’d gone to Scandinavia and done a handful of dates and were really juiced up. Then we go in to record in September-October, and then we’re over here supporting Vanilla Fudge by the end of the year. It was so fast—I can’t impress upon you enough. At the end of July, the Yardbirds are still finishing off doing last dates. And then there’s this point that I don’t have any band at all. And then we’re recording and by the end of that year the first Led Zeppelin album was due to come out.

I’m reminded me of what experimental rock music was happening then, especially from England. I think in 1967 Are You Experienced came out, Piper at the Gates of Dawn came out, and Sgt. Pepper’s came out. You recorded the first Zeppelin album one year after that, which is leaps forward. Those three albums that I just mentioned were considered very experimental for their time and kind of game changing. But 12 months or even less after that, you make this first Led Zeppelin album, which to me is one of the biggest leaps in rock that I can think of. Did you feel like fans were immediately getting it or did it take a second?

No, it was really so fast. Right at the beginning of 1969, we go to San Francisco, on the third of January and we do a few dates there supporting other bands. The power of what Led Zeppelin was doing—as opposed to everyone sort of jamming along without any sort of apparent aim—it was a locomotive hitting Winterland and the Fillmore like you wouldn’t believe. The whole sort of story of Led Zeppelin starts at that point in San Francisco, and word travels right across the states. And these aren’t the days of the Internet, so it’s just this sort of brush fire that happened. Within just a couple of months it was moving across the States, and more and more people were coming to hear us, because now they’ve heard the album and they’re hearing all this buzz about Led Zeppelin and they’re all saying, “Let’s see them.” When they’d go and see it, they believed it.

It seemed to work out.

Yeah [laughs].

As a kid and a fan, I remember seeing this as a poster and thinking it had a sense of realism and a coolness. Here’s this rock band that we love and this is how they make records. They have their tapes with them and they go record. All the records I made, I’ve never held a tape box. This is a legendary photo. [Shows iconic photo of Led Zeppelin on an airport runway holding tape boxes.]

This really is. It’s a very honest photo. This is around the time we were recording the second album. On the second album we do “Whole Lotta Love” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” and also the third track, which is on the companion disc, which is called “La La.” We do all of that in London at Olympic Studios, the same studio where we recorded the first album. So now we’re coming over here, and I’m really keen to go to various studios that are over here. I would have loved to have gone to Chess and Sun but we went to Mirror Sound, which was where Ritchie Valens had recorded. And that’s where “Moby Dick” is done and “The Lemon Song.” So now we’re in the process of taking the tapes with us as we’re going from location to location. This was in Hawaii, and we go from there to New York and do more recording at various studios there. We’re going around and the tapes are traveling with us.

There was also a rumor or legend that you guys had taken the tapes so that your record company at the time wouldn’t have access to them, because they wanted to do something you didn’t want to do.

No, it wasn’t like that. I’ll explain why that was. It was because the first album was actually made and recorded and then it was taken to the record company. That’s why we were in the position to say no singles, no this, no that. And they went, “Fine,” because they heard this music and they just couldn’t believe it. So all of these records were like independent productions and then fed to the record company, because we didn’t have to do singles, even though they put singles out. But we didn’t have a ball and chain pulling us back as we were doing a new album. It was really good to be able to do what we did well, without having an A&R man telling us what we were doing, because we knew what we were doing.

And you didn’t have a producer.

No, I was producing it.

So as producer, are you using ideas and techniques that you had experimented with while you were a studio musician?

Well, yeah. I had done it for two and a half to three years and I learned so much. It was like an apprenticeship doing that because my love for music was just totally undeniable. I tried to do home recordings when I lived with my folks, but to actually be in the whole beating-heart, propulsive recording industry is something else, and I was just really lucky. Because my taste was so eclectic and went through folk music, fingerstyle acoustic music, country blues, bluesy rock, rock and roll, then Chicago blues music and the bottleneck, and I was also interested in world music—there were all these sort of different styles I had. When I was invited into the session work, they saw this versatility. I had so many points of reference that they were very hungry for me, but I was also really hungry to know how certain techniques were done, like compression and miking and all of that. It was an incredible learning experience, plus I learned discipline in the studio. Time in the studio was money in those days. So you sort of learn to be able to deliver what you have to do, especially if you were asked to make something up on a song. You’d have to do it just like that. It also got to the point where I needed to read music as well. I was very lucky because they’d usually give me my part first. It was a real studio learning, and it certainly helped.

This photo is the Forum here, in Los Angeles I believe. I don’t know how far along this is in terms of Led Zeppelin being able to fill a room that big, but this is an early gig I’m guessing.

It’s early, yes. I’ve got the Les Paul there, and that comes in 1969, so this is probably late 1969. But you can see it’s full.

Yes, you can.

We’re coming through and it’s full and then we’re doing multiple dates at the Forum. And that’s how it was with Led Zeppelin audiences right from the beginning. People just kept coming, even up to the tour we did in 1980, where we were still doing maximum capacities.

In terms of the acoustic side of what you do on Led Zeppelin songs, I always felt that your music creates an environment that’s three-dimensional. For me as a kid, loving music so much, you created this three-dimensional universe that a fan could step into. The acoustic songs spoke to me specifically a lot of the time. This is a photo of the front porch of that universe that you created with acoustic music. [Shows photo of Bron-Yr-Aur.]

You’re right on it with the acoustic sound. But what’s not sort of known is that the first four albums are written on acoustic as much as electric. I’d be writing on acoustic but I’d be thinking electric and I’d be thinking about the different parts. So the first four albums, including “Stairway” and all that, were written on the acoustic. This is in Wales. I think it’s early 1970 that Robert and I went down there. It was a very funky cottage because there was no heating. There was just a fire, which you just get wood from outside for and there were gas lamps. If you were going to cook there was a gas cooker, and that was it. There was no electricity there because they hadn’t run electricity through to this cottage yet. Fortunately, at this point in time, there were Sony cassette recorders. We came down that week with cassette recorders and guitars. That’s the point where “That’s the Way” came out.

I just picked this because you look so f***ing ridiculously cool. [Shows photo of Page with doubleneck.]

This was after the fourth album, because I have the doubleneck. The doubleneck is a result of “Stairway to Heaven.” I put all these guitars on “Stairway” and I thought, “We’ve got to do this in the set.” I got through to Gibson and they supplied one. I don’t know whether it was actually made for me or if it was dusted off—there had been a couple of these things around beforehand. It’s an SG version, and it’s different than some of the others I’d seen before.

I love the photos with Peter Grant. He became somewhat of an icon, In my career, I wish we had that guy. It took me a long time to find someone that understood what I wanted to do—my vision—and made it his life’s work to present that and to protect that. Can you tell me a little bit about that relationship and how it started?

Peter was the manager of Jeff Beck and he was the manager for the Yardbirds. He was managing whatever it was, the “ghost” of the Yardbirds, and my vision—he understood what I was talking about. To backtrack, when I first came to America, I stayed with this guy in New York called Bert Berns. He was a really cool guy. He was in England and he produced a singer called LuLu and I did some recordings with her, like “Here Comes the Night.” Anyway, he invited me to his house if I came to America. This is all well in advance of Led Zeppelin. I stopped off with him and he took me to meet the people at Atlantic—Jerry Wexler and all of them in ’65. When it came to the point of taking the tapes to Atlantic in ’68, it was myself and Peter Grant. So in ’68 we go in there with the tape. Peter Grant was a man that could really bang the table in a way that maybe I wouldn’t be able to do. I can say, “I’ve got all these ideas, I can manifest all those ideas,” but when it got into the realms of business and high finance to a degree that’s beyond my understanding, he was really marvelous.

In the book it’s kind of abrupt when you move into post-Led Zeppelin photos. But there’s a big “thud” there for the fans, which is a member of your band dies. It felt like you were a band and were close and had camaraderie and that it meant something to you, because you didn’t reappear six or eight months later with a new guy and a new album. It didn’t appear that you felt that comfortable with just moving on. I think that’s a really special thing.

Well, thank you. How it was, was there were like two worlds of Led Zeppelin. One of them was the recording world—the albums. And then the other part of it was the live concerts. In those days, we never stopped expanding the whole musical experience of it. We could be putting in numbers from the second album before the second album was released. We could be touring on what was going to come next, say, the fourth album. I remember playing here at the Forum and we were doing “Black Dog” and “Stairway to Heaven” and the album hadn’t come out. We could never do that now because You- Tube would confound you. But people knew that we were constantly expanding and working, and the contribution of each and every one of us was 25 percent of it. Everything was living in such a way that every concert was different and you didn’t know what was going to happen when you went onto the stage. You knew what the set list was, but there were so many changes that would go on. There was just so much organic structured improvisation. Any of the members were key to this. To lose one quarter of it was like losing the whole. You couldn’t go out there with a drummer and pretend, because we had really lived this whole experience from day one.

Was the Death Wish II soundtrack the first post-Zeppelin thing you did?

The first thing I did was play with Chris Squire and Alan White from Yes. They were thinking about coming out of Yes. The name of the band, which Chris Squire came up with, was XYZ, which was quite good. But the first real project that I got offered was to do the soundtrack for Death Wish II. I had a chance to go in the studio and do some really experimental stuff. Well, it was experimental to me. It involved guitar synthesizer and I was able to work with an orchestra and some very, very fine musicians. There was a drummer, Dave Mattacks, who played with Fairport Convention. The bass player, David Paton, was phenomenal. He was from the Bay City Rollers, just a fantastic bass player. It gave me a chance to really work to the visual thing—that’s why I did it. There’s far too much music in the film. Michael Winner wanted 45 minutes of music—complete minutes—for a 90-minute film. I mean, there’s far too much of it. And I tailor made the music to fit the film and the visuals. The funny story about that is, when I first went to have a look at the footage at the viewing cinema, he had Herbie Hancock’s music on it because he had done the music for Death Wish I. What they did, they laced the music on where they wanted music in the new film. So he did a Death Wish III and did the same thing, but instead of Herbie Hancock’s music, he put my music on. I got this phone call: “An extraordinary thing just happened darling, and I’d like to use your music on Death Wish III.” I said, “But it was all tailor made for Death Wish II.” He said, “I know, but I put it on and it worked perfectly. So I’m on Death Wish II and some of Death Wish III as well, by default.

These are some shots of you with a lot of interesting people. [Shows photos from ARMS Benefit.]

What it is, is there was a band called the Faces—Small Faces and then the Faces. The bass player in that band, Ronnie Lane, is a fantastic player. Unfortunately, he contracted MS. There’d been a move to help him by having a charity concert to raise money. So people were asked. Eric Clapton was asked to do it and he said yeah, and Jeff had been asked to do it and he said yeah, and I had been asked and I said, yeah, absolutely. The picture is of the three Yardbird guitarists, but everyone came together. In the early lineup at the Albert Hall, Steve Winwood is there as well. Everybody’s there with such a spirit. We do two concerts over there and then Bill Graham offers to put a tour together over here. Steve Winwood was unable to come and Paul Rodgers joined us. At the end of this short tour I said, “What are you going to do next after this?” because we had already been writing some stuff. He said, “I don’t have any immediate plans.” I said, “Nor have I, so maybe we should team up and take this spirit,” because it was a fantastic spirit on this tour. Anyway, we take it on into this next incarnation, which is called the Firm.

It’s the first band that you’re making records with and out on the road with since Zeppelin.

Yes, it is. Working with Paul was fantastic. What a singer he is, Paul Rodgers. He is terrific. We put this band together and we made an album and had to tour. We just had to. That was really great to do that. We did a second album and we also toured on that. That was probably it, but it was cool while it lasted.

You’ve been on the cover of every guitar magazine ever made. They’re always asking who the best guitar player is. If you’re not number one, you’re number two, and usually that means number one is Jimi Hendrix. But you aren’t simply a guitar player. You’re a multi-instrumentalist, you’re a producer, you changed the face of music and you changed the face of the music business. Has that always been okay with you, to just be, you know, the greatest guitar player in the world?

All I do know is I’m very critical on my playing. But it’s okay, in retrospect.

Then you did a solo record.

Yeah, my one and only solo album, actually [laughs]. That came out in 1988. The album was okay. Jason Bonham actually plays on it. And I had some really good vocal support from Chris Farlowe—who was somebody I thought was really brilliant when I was young and heard his band—and also John Miles, who’s a superb musician.

This next shot is interesting. Are these rehearsals?

Yes. It’s the rehearsals for the UnLedded project. It’s a soundcheck, really, and we’ve got everybody amassed there. This is on tour with the orchestras—the western orchestra and, as we say, the Egyptians—four percussionists and four violinists. The idea of it was to have a western orchestra providing a bed and for them to be flying over the top. It was really cool. There were other things, like we had a hurdy-gurdy player, which is quite interesting. It’s a sort of drone instrument that you turn a handle on and there’s a disc that rubs against the strings. This guy, Nigel Eaton was his name, was fantastic. He was like a monster on this thing. It’s like a medieval instrument almost, and he was playing like Hendrix on it. He could do really amazing stuff. Anyway, so here we are. This is the embryonic stage. This is a day or so before it gets filmed so we’re not in all our wardrobe finery yet.

Talk about this instrument.

That’s a triple-neck guitar. John Paul Jones had one of these. It was really important to be able to do the mandolin because we were swapping between “Gallows Pole,” which is on the 12-string, and “Battle of Evermore,” which is on the mandolin.

What’s going on here? [Shows photo of Page and P. Diddy.]

This actually was a project. Puff Daddy, which he was called at the time, calls me up. I’m in London. He calls me up and says they wanted to do the music for Godzilla. He told me, “I can’t get ‘Kashmir’ out of my mind. I don’t want to sample it, though. Will you play it with me?” So I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” But it had to be done almost the next day so there was no getting everything together to go over to the States. What happens is, he’s in a studio in LA, and I’m in London doing it over the Internet so to speak—over the phone lines. We’ve got monitors there, but this is the early days of all this stuff, and there’s a delay in talking. But I do the guitar part and he says, “I’m going to put an orchestra on it.” He was going to make it really, really, super epic. This photo is at his studio in New York when I was invited to go hear the playback, and it was fantastic. It was so loud. It was phenomenal, and it was epic. His version was so cool. It was really good. I thought it was really great to be part of that whole thing, which was really moving. The whole hip-hop/singer thing was really cool and I was so happy to embrace it.

This looks like a rehearsal shot and then backstage shot right before you’re about to go on.

We were going to play at the O2 in London. Jason, John Paul Jones, and myself did a lot of rehearsals so we could get this whole thing going. But we never got to play in front of an audience. We’re really just working on it. The photo one on the left is the production rehearsal. The one on the right is just before going out there onto the stage at the O2, so there’s quite of difference in attitude. We had over two hours to do, and we had never played in front of an audience—only the crew members, the production team, the road crew, and all of that. So it’s quite unnerving going on.

It Might Get Loud must have been an incredible experience. All the guitar players and their stories are amazing. But I felt like you were embodying what a rock and roll guitar player is in this film, more so than the other two guys. It’s something that you were born with and created and it’s always going to be there. You’re always going to be the guy, it doesn’t matter who else you’re in the room with, and I just loved that about this movie.

All the documented parts of each of us individually were done separately and I didn’t get to see anybody else’s. The director, Davis Guggenheim, had a real master plan of how he wanted to do this. What he wanted was for us to all play together, which is really cool, but he didn’t want us to talk to each other before. So there was no phoning up or passing notes. I got driven to the lot and I was in the dressing room and then it was time to go on. So I started walking and they were walking to this sound stage, with everyone coming from different directions. We all join up on the stage, and that’s it. What you see on that film is really, really honest. It’s not staged. Everyone’s a little bit nervous because there’s no sort of plan for what’s going to happen next. It’s cool. The interesting thing about Jack and The Edge and myself, you hear everybody’s stories. Everyone gets to a point where they think, “I’m just going to not do it anymore.” Everyone had this little mini crisis point. But the music was bigger than all of us.

Talk about the last shot in your book.

On the first photograph I was a bit cheeky. I put on there, “It might get loud…” On this one it says, “It still could get loud.” I’ve got a project in mind that I want to do. You probably won’t be seeing me playing until the end of next year, but the most important part is to be seen playing, because it doesn’t matter what I do at home. You need to see it out here.

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