Led Zeppelin in all formats

Led Zeppelin in all formats

In Boston recently to deliver the commencement address at the Berklee College of Music, Jimmy Page, the founder of Led Zeppelin, learned to his surprise that the school had a course in which his guitar licks were minutely analysed.

For Page, who turned 70 in January, the encounter was a reminder not just of his exalted status among guitarists, but also of the practical applications of a project that occupied his attention for the better part of the last three years.

Track by track, he has been remastering the entire Led Zeppelin catalog of nine studio albums and combing through the group’s archives looking for alternative versions that can illuminate how the band created songs that came to define 1970s rock. “I knew it was a long haul, that it would involve hundreds of hours of tape,” he said in an interview in New York recently. “I had to listen to everything, every bootleg that was out there, too. But it has to be done if you’re going to do something really authoritative.”

The first three records, covering 1968 through 1970, will be released on June 3, with the rest to follow this year and next, in formats ranging from vinyl to digital.

In each case, the original remastered disc is accompanied by another in which songs that are now famous, Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven among them, are shown as works in progress.

In the interview, he was by turns reflective and proudly assertive about his and Led Zeppelin’s place in the history of pop music. Here are a few excerpts:

Why are you doing this? Cynics will no doubt say you’re just another classic-rock star trying to make a buck, but you’re known to be very well off, so what is driving you?

It’s multifaceted. The original Led Zeppelin analog tapes were done for vinyl. Then they made CDs of the original analog tapes, and not very well. I knew it could be done better, and so we remastered specifically for CD. That was 20 years ago. You’ve got all these digital formats, and it was apparent that everything had to be remastered in every format. The advent of Beats headphones has given everyone a different perception of listening.
 
I assume that you’re also thinking about your legacy.

Yes, I am aware of that. I’m fully aware of what it means as a textbook to musicians. There is a wealth of musical content and attitudes and variations. That passing on of the baton, if you like, is part of the whole thing.

Looking at the credits for these first three records, it is clear that you were the producer at a time when everybody else, even the Beatles and the Stones, had a producer in the booth supervising things. How were you able to pull that off?

I’d learned so much being a studio musician. I’d learned how to do things technically, how things were recorded, the aspect of compression and echo and reverb, all of these things. And I’d also seen things really suffer in the studio because of producers who were really annoying. I didn’t want anybody saying to me, ‘Oh, I don’t think you should use the bow on that.’

You were criticised for using the material of Chicago blues greats, especially Willie Dixon, without acknowledging their authorship.

Yeah, but he got credited.

But only after a lot of legal wrangling. How did that happen, and once it was brought to the attention of your management, why did they resist it?

I had a riff, which is a unique riff, OK, and I had a structure for the song that was a unique structure. That’s it. However, within the lyrics of it, there’s You Need Love, and there are similarities within the lyrics. Now I’m not pointing a finger at anybody, but I’m just saying that’s what happened, and Willie Dixon got credit. Fair enough.

After being ensconced in the studio for three years, do you now feel a need to play live?

Absolutely, absolutely. I definitely want to play live. Because, you know, I’ve still got a twinkle in my eye. I can still play. So, yeah, I’ll just get myself into musical shape, just concentrating on the guitar.

So when you go out, would it be as Led Zeppelin?

I was told last year that Robert Plant said he is doing nothing in 2014, and what do the other two guys think? Well, he knows what the other guys think. Everyone would love to play more concerts for the band. He’s just playing games, and I’m fed up with it, to be honest with you. I don’t sing, so I can’t do much about it. It just looks so unlikely, doesn’t it?

But over the years you’ve done other things, like with the Black Crowes or Paul Rodgers...

I’m not devoid of ideas. So let’s hope that sometime in the next year, I’m seen to be playing out there. Because that’s the only thing that’s been missing. But you have to do what you have to do, and I had to do this.

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