Excerpt from Brad Tolinski's 'Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page': Recording 'Led Zeppelin'
You’ve often described your music in terms of “light and shade,” which are definitions used in painting and photography rather than rock music.
PAGE: “Structure,” as well; architecture plays a part, too.
“Good Times Bad Times” kicks off Led Zeppelin. What do you remember about recording that particular track?
PAGE: The most stunning thing about that track, of course, is Bonzo’s amazing kick drum. It’s superhuman when you realize he was not playing with a double kick. That’s one kick drum! That’s when people started understanding what he was all about.
What did you use to overdrive the Leslie [a rotating speaker used primarily for organs] on the solo?
PAGE: [thinks hard] You know…I don’t remember what I used on “Good Times Bad Times.” But curiously, I do remember using the board to overdrive a Leslie cabinet for the main riff in “How Many More Times.” It doesn’t sound like a Leslie because I wasn’t employing the rotating speakers. Surprisingly, that sound has real weight. The guitar is going through the board, then through an amp that was driving the Leslie cabinet. It was a very successful experiment.
How did you develop the backward echo at the end of “You Shook Me”?
PAGE: When I was still in the Yardbirds, our producer, Mickie Most, would always try to get us to record all these horrible songs. During one session, we recorded “Ten Little Indians,” an extremely silly song that featured a truly awful brass arrangement. In fact, the whole track sounded terrible. In a desperate attempt to salvage it, I hit upon an idea. I said, “Look, turn the tape over and employ the echo for the brass on a spare track. Then turn it back over and we’ll get the echo preceding the signal.” The result was very interesting—it made the track sound like it was going backward.
Later, when we recorded “You Shook Me,” I told the engineer, Glyn Johns, that I wanted to use backward echo on the end. He said, “Jimmy, it can’t be done.” I said, “Yes, it can. I’ve already done it.” Then he began arguing, so I said, “Look, I’m the producer. I’m going to tell you what to do, and just do it.” So, he grudgingly did everything I told him to, and when we were finished he started refusing to push the fader up so we could hear the result. Finally, I had to scream, “Push the bloody fader up!” And, lo and behold, the effect worked perfectly. When Glyn heard the result, he looked bloody ill. He just couldn’t accept that someone knew something that he didn’t—especially a musician.
The funny thing is Glyn did the next Stones album, and what was on it? Backward echo! And I’m sure he took full credit for the effect.
When people talk about early Zeppelin, they tend to focus on the band’s heavier aspects. But your secret weapon was your ability to write great hooks. “Good Times Bad Times” has a classic pop hook. Did playing sessions in your pre-Yardbirds days hone your ability to write memorable parts?
PAGE: I would say so. I learned things even on my worst sessions—and believe me, I played on some horrendous things.
Did your friends ever tease you for playing jingles?
PAGE: I never told them what I was doing. I’ve got a lot of skeletons in my closet, I’ll tell ya!
How did “How Many More Times” evolve?
PAGE: That has the kitchen sink on it, doesn’t it? It was made up of little pieces I developed when I was with the Yardbirds, as were other numbers such as “Dazed and Confused.” It was played live in the studio with cues and nods.
John Bonham received songwriting credit for “How Many More Times.” What was his role?
PAGE: I initiated most of the changes and riffs, but if something was derived from the blues, I tried to split the credit between band members. [Robert Plant did not receive any songwriting credits on Led Zeppelin, as he was still under contract to CBS.] And that was fair, especially if any of the fellows had input on the arrangement.
You also used a violin bow on the stings of your guitar on that track.
PAGE: Yes, like I said, we used the kitchen sink. I think I did some good things with the bow on that track, but I really got much better with it later on. For example, I think there is some really serious bow playing on the live album [The Song Remains the Same]. I think some of the melodic lines are pretty incredible. I remember being really surprised with it when I heard it played back. I thought, Boy, that really was an innovation that meant something.
How did you come up with the idea of using a violin bow on an electric guitar?
PAGE: When I was a session musician, I would often play with string sections. For the most part, the string players would keep to themselves, except for a guy who one day asked me if I ever thought of playing my guitar with a bow. I said I didn’t think it would work because the bridge of the guitar isn’t arched like it is on a violin or cello. But he insisted that I give it a try, and he gave me his bow. And whatever squeaks I made sort of intrigued me. I didn’t really start developing the technique for quite some time later, but he was the guy that turned me onto the idea.
Your bow playing, especially on “Dazed and Confused,” is really enhanced by echo.
PAGE: It was actually reverb. We used those old EMT plate reverbs.
That’s a little surprising, because there are areas that sound like you’re using tape echo. In fact, Led Zeppelin was the first album that I can think of that employed such long echoes and delays.
PAGE; It’s a little difficult to remember, and I can’t tell you on exactly which tracks, but there was a lot of EMT plate reverb put on to tape and then delayed—machine delayed. You were only given so much time on those old spring reverbs.