In Sunday’s Post, we sit down for a chat — well, three separate chats — with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin, guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones. The trio will be in Washington on Sunday to receive the Kennedy Center Honors for their indelible contributions to rock-and-roll. Below are some interview excerpts that didn’t make it into our feature story about the band.
Jimmy Page on Led Zeppelin’s approach: “With the guitars, I wanted to employ as many textures as possible, as many shades and colors. And talking about the light and shade of it, a good example of all of this is “Ramble On.” You’ve got this acoustic guitar sort of bed and the electric guitar overdubs and it’s sort of building through, and then you have what’s now known as a power chorus. Because John Bonham had so much power, you could, well, I could see that that was going to be a really interesting way of employing that power – coming in on the choruses. And so we did that on quite a number of songs, certainly from the first albums onward, really.”
Page on the band’s high standards: “If we were playing something in a rehearsal on the way to recording, if it sounded like something we had done before, it would immediately be eliminated.”
Page on why Zeppelin was built to last: “When you first start a group, at the most, you’re hoping that you’ll have success and the band will keep continuing. That was something I was very keen to do — to have a group that would develop on, not just splinter immediately.”
Page on the music he hopes to make next year: “I don’t want to start doing things in another five years. The time is right. The time is ripe. It could be a summing up of how I see my music over time. But it’ll be good and it’ll be pretty exciting. Some of it will be confrontational, some of it will be really caressing.”
Robert Plant on life in Austin, Tex.: “It’s fantastically stimulating. And it attracts all kinds of genres of music, which is really good. So you can go to the Long Center [for the Performing Arts] and hear the opening of a great classical season – just stunning! – and then go around the corner and hear Junior Brown, who is stunning in his own way, too.
Plant on the songwriting spark and revisiting those songs decades later: I was immediately attached to stuff. Like “Trampled Under Foot,” I could immediately put a melody line down in a second on a cassette recorder — and I just went into a whole bunch of similes between an adventure with a vehicle and a relationship. So once I kicked off, I knew where I was going. And also, I was kind of using a sense of humor. “Greased and slicked down fine/ Groovy leather trim/ I like the way you hold the road/ Mama, it ain’t no sin.” I mean, somebody should lock a guy up for saying that! ... But, I mean, it was suitable and it made the point. And singing it five years ago [at London’s 02 Arena], I was kind of smiling even more because I was thinking, ‘[Expletive!] Who the [expletive] was that guy?’ Such is life. It was great!”
Plant on the music he’s recently recorded with Band of Joy: “Well, basically, I played an Amadou and Mariam track to [bandmate] Buddy Miller and I said, ‘I wonder if we could create a rhythm that was like West African that compounds upon itself, and we could create a guitar riff that’s incessant and doesn’t stop without compromising your dignity.’ And we did! And that was the beginning of the project and we rolled off from there. It’s very, very strong.”
Plant on why he had to move on from Led Zeppelin: “The best and only fanbase you have to deal with is you, yourself. There are rock artists that say, ‘Plant won’t do it because he can’t sing it anymore.’ And then they go and play ice hockey stadiums in Finland because, you know, and they play something they wrote in 1971, or something like that. And that’s fine. But you gotta keep moving and you gotta keep drawing in stuff.”
John Paul Jones on why he doesn’t have an answer when it comes to the future of the band: “We don’t really know ourselves what we want. We’re not actually a band. When you get constantly asked, you can’t think of another answer. I was asked God knows how long ago, ‘Was that your last concert?’ And I said, ‘Yep. That was it. No more.’ And a couple of years later, we’re all standing on a stage together! Don’t ask me. I’ll give you the wrong answer. Probably. You don’t want to keep giving people the wrong answer or getting people’s hopes up.”
Jones on why listening is the most important part of playing music:“If you’re going to play music with other people, you’ve got to listen to them first. Otherwise you’ll play all over them. That’s the whole point — just paying attention. I go and play with people, and I can walk on any stage with pretty much any musician in the world and make a pretty reasonable account for myself for a whole set without even ever having heard the stuff before. Because I listen. I’m quick. I listen all the time.”
Jones on Led Zeppelin’s fabled chemistry: “Everyone was serving the Zeppelin music, basically. That was always the thing in the old days. The entire point of being in Zeppelin was to make the band sound good. Whatever we did, the band was the most important thing. If it meant playing something, good. If it meant not playing something, just as well. Because the band had to sound good. Everything was geared toward that. ... That’s what made the band so powerful. Not just in raw power — even though there was that as well. But musical power.”