The ‘Led Zeppelin III’ bass line that wasn't played by John Paul Jones

Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page performing live onstage
(Image credit: Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns)

It’s hard to believe that Led Zeppelin III was released on this day over half a century ago. As the band transitioned from the hard rock they displayed on their first two records to a softer, acoustic sound, Led Zep III showcased their true versatility. It’s also a firm favourite with Guns N’ Roses bassman Duff McKagan. 

There are no bad bass lines in Led Zeppelin. John Paul Jones is amazing.

Duff McKagan

“I’d pick Led Zep III as my favorite Zeppelin record,” Duff told BP. “I was on tour when I started doing bass lessons for the first time ever, and I really started taking the John Paul Jones lines apart. One of the things I noticed was the lines weren’t sloppy, exactly, but they have a raw feel and you knew that Jones was just having so much fun with the bass parts.”

Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, February 28, 1970

(Image credit: Photo by Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

It was a standing joke in Led Zeppelin that if there was an exotic instrument needed for a track, John Paul Jones would take care of it. Organ, mandolin, recorders? No problem. During the second half of the band’s career he was also their go-to keyboardist, often switching between bass and keys during live shows. Yet in a band where the bass player had a viable claim as being one of the best of all time, why would you want anyone else in the bass chair? It only happened once, and it was on the Led Zeppelin III track ‘That’s the Way.’

I was doing a bunch of overdubs and got excited. John Paul Jones went home, so I put the bass part on it as well!

Jimmy Page

Led Zeppelin III featured many new instruments for the band. And this track was no different. “The main breaks are taken up with the pedal steel guitar,” Page mentions in the book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (opens in new tab). “And right at the end, where everything opens up, I played the dulcimer.” 

While fleshing out the track, Jones added to the arrangement with a mandolin part, and since there was no specific plan to add any bass he retired for the night. It was at this point that Page decided he wanted some more low end. “I was doing a bunch of overdubs and got excited. John Paul Jones went home, so I put the bass part on it as well!” said Page.

“That didn’t happen often, believe me!”

Led Zeppelin III is available on all streaming services and to buy on Amazon (opens in new tab)

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Nick Wells was the Editor of Bass Guitar magazine from 2009 to 2011, before making strides into the world of Artist Relations with Sheldon Dingwall and Dingwall Guitars. He's also the producer of bass-centric documentaries, Walking the Changes and Beneath the Bassline, as well as Production Manager and Artist Liaison for ScottsBassLessons. In his free time, you'll find him jumping around his bedroom to Kool & The Gang while hammering the life out of his P-Bass.