From the Archive: Jimmy Page Discusses Tour and Album with The Black Crowes
From the archive: Jimmy Page and The Black Crowes discuss their 2000 tour and live album.
"There were a few songs," Chris admits, "that we played by ourselves, before Jimmy got there, where we said, 'We're not really killin' this one. Let's drop it.' Like 'Houses of the Holy.' I just didn't think we had the funk.''
Much credit is due to the Crowes and Page for taking on difficult Zeppelin material like "Nobody's Fault but Mine" and "Ten Years Gone."
"I was afraid we were gonna spend the whole rehearsal time learning 'Nobody's Fault but Mine,' " Rich laughs.
"I think we all were," Page counters.
"We put on the record to get the arrangement down,'' says Chris. ''And Jimmy's writing out a chart for himself, 'cause Zeppelin only did it that one time in the studio. So Jimmy's writing this chart out, and at one point he just looks up and scratches his head, like, What were we doing? I said, 'I don't know, man. This shit is hard!' "
Like many rock and roll siblings, the Robinsons are polar opposites in many ways. Square shouldered and straight backed, Rich Robinson seems to have spent his entire life playing the sensible counterpart to his excitable, loose-limbed brother. When Rich speaks -- which he does with the hint of a southern accent --it's mainly to make some practical observation or point out a useful detail. Getting to play with Jimmy Page would be a wet dream come true for nearly any rock guitarist. Rich is no exception.
"It was really cool to learn all those Zeppelin songs and play them with Jimmy,'' says Rich. "Because I'd never learned them. I never played in cover bands or anything like that. And it was just amazing to dissect those songs and find out how they were put together."
But a lot of the pressure was really on Chris, who had to put across songs inextricably associated with Robert Plant's persona and vocal style.
"I have an insane amount of respect for Robert," says Chris. "He's always been great to us. But I'm gonna sing the songs the way I sing them, although I want to stay close to the way Robert sang them, in terms of melody and phrasing. We come from the same kind of background, as far as r&b and blues and that kind of thing. But obviously we're different. It's the same kind of vocal range. I just don't have the blond hair to go with it."
Stylistically, Robinson has always been a little closer to the Steve Marriott/Rod Stewart school of r&b-inflected rock vocals. There's a kind of historical poetic justice in this, as Marriott -- the lead singer of the Small Faces, who was succeeded by Rod Stewart -- was one of the people originally slated to be Led Zeppelin's lead singer. "It was a Led Zeppelin that almost came to be," says Page. "Or at least it was spoken about very passionately after the session that produced 'Beck's Bolero' [from Jeff Beck's Truth]. Keith Moon was playing drums. John Paul Jones played bass, curiously enough. Nicky Hopkins was on piano. I was on electric 12 and Jeff was on electric six. And Keith Moon was so keen about what had gone on that he wanted to do a band with us. He was going to come out of the Who. He said, 'Entwistle will come and join us.'
"That's how the whole Led Zeppelin thing came about [i.e. through Moon]. He said, 'Let's call it Led Zeppelin.' The singers proposed at the time were Steve Marriott and Steve Winwood. Somebody approached Steve Marriott about it. I think it must have been Moonie; it wasn't Jeff. And apparently Don Arden, who was the manager of the Small Faces, called up and said, 'How would you like to play in a band with broken fingers?' And that was the end of that."
Rock history was also revisited in the arrangement of "Shapes of Things" that Page and the Crowes fashioned for their set. "It was Jimmy's idea to mesh the Jeff Beck Group version with the original Yardbirds version," says Rich. "Chris probably sings the Jeff Beck Group version better. But the guitar solo in the Yardbirds version is amazing."
"We asked Jimmy, 'When was the last time you played that solo?'" Chris adds. "He said, 'Oh, probably 1969.'"
It was Jeff Beck, of course, who played the solo on the original Yardbirds recording of "Shapes." But as Beck's successor in the Yardbirds, Page would often recreate the landmark guitar moment in concert. "That solo was absolutely astonishing at the time it came out," he says. "It was so heady in its concept and technical ability that I had no problem playing Jeff's solo. No problem whatsoever. And I just thought it would be a cool idea to combine the two versions of 'Shapes' -- just for the musos out there, the ones who know both. Just to show people we were thinking about what we were doing."
Stepping outside the players' personal histories and the 12-bar-blues domain, Page and the Crowes also put together a kick-ass cover of the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac song "Oh Well." Coincidentally enough, the music of Fleetwood Mac had been the catalyst for an early bonding experience between Page and the boys.
''A few years ago, the Black Crowes were doing the festivals in Europe," Chris recalls, "and we were on a bunch of shows with Jimmy and Robert. We were in a trailer around the back at one of these dates. We always carry a huge sound system with us. And we were playing the Otis Spann album Bigger Than Colossus. [Blues piano/vocal great Otis Spann was backed by Fleetwood Mac on this particular album -- GW Ed.] And Jimmy comes running over, like, 'Is that Otis Spann? Alright!'"
''Actually, to be honest, I think I ran over there saying, 'What in heaven's name is that?'" Page laughs. "Because I wasn't sure whether it was Otis Spann. That album is Fleetwood Mac with Otis Spann, and I'd never heard it before. The whole thing was throwing me. 'Cause it sounded like Otis Spann, but I wasn't sure. So I just had to go over and ask.
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