Led Zeppelin Led Zeppelin DVD How the West Was Won 3-CD set “No Led Zeppelin concert was ever the same as the one before it,” says Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, and nothing proves his claim better than the newly released Led Zeppelin DVD. Featuring more than five hours of previously unreleased footage, the double-DVD set traces the onstage evolution of Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant, and late, great drummer John “Bonzo” Bonham—the ¨ber-foursome that defined, refined, and marked the pinnacle of arena rock as we know it. “The Royal Albert Hall stuff is just brilliant,” says Jones without a trace of conceit, because, well, he’s undeniably right. That 1970 show opens the DVD, and it is mesmerizing. It’s a time when a youthful Led Zeppelin already had two huge albums behind them and were playing giant rooms, yet still had all the exuberance of a hungry, young band out to prove something to the world. There’s a spark in their eyes—not to mention in their playing—that isn’t present in their only other concert film, The Song Remains the Same, shot a few years later at Madison Square Garden. “The California shows are searing as well,” says Jones of the two 1972 concerts that make up How the West Was Won, a three-CD set released in conjunction with the DVD. “Usually, by the time we got to the West Coast, we’d toured everywhere else in the States, so, naturally, we were hot. We’re just so lucky that these shows were recorded, and that the sound quality is as good as it is.” Here, Jones recalls what it was like being one fourth of the world’s greatest jam band. —Jude Gold Is there any one moment on the DVD that especially knocks you out? Probably “Moby Dick.” When I saw it for the first time on the big screen in London, and everybody stood up and cheered at the end of the song, I cheered right along with them—I couldn’t help it. The DVD just pulls you in. The sound is so good, you feel like you’re at the gig. In a sense, it was my first Led Zeppelin concert. Any moments that make you cringe? Not really. The buttocks-clenching moments were kept to a minimum in Led Zeppelin. I always say that, at our worst, we were better than most, and when we were in top form, we were untouchable. Some of my clothes back then were a bit funny, though [laughs]. Zeppelin was a very organic, honest band, and things developed naturally. Our approach was always “Keep your eyes and ears open and pay attention,” as well as doing simple stuff that other bands might take for granted—such as showing up to rehearsals on time and really committing to the band. But there are a zillion bands whose members really listen to each other, show up on time, and everything else, yet the magic doesn’t happen. One thing that was different about Led Zeppelin is that we all had really wide-ranging influences—from rock, blues, soul, country, and folk to the Indian and Arabic stuff—so the music sparked off in many exciting directions. No other bands were doing that back then. And when I listen to many of today’s bands, it often sounds like the members all listen to the same music. What was your biggest challenge being the middle man between Page’s giant guitar sound and Bonham’s huge drums? When you get down to it, everybody’s role in the band was essentially the same, and that was simply to make Led Zeppelin sound as good as possible. Maybe that’s what was different about Zeppelin—none of our egos were bigger than the combined Led Zeppelin ego, which was huge [laughs]. Did that collective ego ever get out of control? Couldn’t possibly have! One thing that was magical about Led Zeppelin is that while the arrangements and riffs were very tight, the grooves were always loose. Well, in order to be loose, you really have to know what you’re doing. For instance, if you know exactly where the beat is, you can either push it or lay back on it—without changing the tempo—and you can use that difference in feel as a musical dynamic. People will say, “What do you mean? You’re either on the beat or you’re not.” But that’s not true. Bonzo and I could fall completely backwards over the beat without losing the groove—which is fun to do sometimes. How much of Bonham’s reputation as the world’s greatest rock drummer was his own talent, and how much of it was Jimmy Page’s remarkable ability to make his drums sound huge on recordings? It really was Bonham. He’d sit down on horrible kits that hardly sounded any better than the cases they came in, and he still sounded like John Bonham. It was his feel, and also his authority. When he laid it down, you just felt, “Wow, that is exactly where it needs to be.” He also had this great flashy side to his playing. He loved to show off—which he could do, because he had the tools to do so. Did you ever feel that you and the others could have done more to prevent his death? You always think, “If I’d have done this or that it might not have happened,” but, in those days, people knew less about helping other people with those kinds of problems. And besides, none of us were in much of a position to tell other people how to live their lives. We all partied all the time. Do you think it ever hindered the music? No, which is probably why it never got addressed. If it came on stage, then we would have said, “Whoa, hold on.” We had a very workman-like attitude when it came to playing shows. Do you think one reason for that professionalism is that you and Page were such experienced session musicians? It certainly helped. As you can imagine, doing two or three sessions a day teaches you to be very disciplined. And when the day comes that you’re leading a session, you know how to keep things moving. I learned how to be a musical director and a producer simply by watching other people do it. One thing that’s cool about Zeppelin recordings is that they’re plenty rough around the edges. That’s a matter of knowing when you’ve got something good without beating it to death. Perfection is a very relative term. A song can be performed and recorded perfectly, yet be so completely devoid of feel that it’s actually nowhere near perfect. Even if you accidentally played A instead of B, who’s going to notice unless it seriously compromises the harmony of the song? The best results usually come from going for the take that really feels great, because the feel is what will move the whole thing along. And from our studio days, we knew that it was possible to record three songs in two hours. Led Zeppelin IV was recorded in just three weeks! Atlantic.
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