In his 70 years, it’s fair to say that Jimmy Page has seen and experienced more than most. A hell of a lot more. Nevertheless, even he fails to hide the look of astonishment and boyish wonder that lights up his face upon exploring the Gothic splendor of “The Tudor Room” at London’s The Gore hotel, located mere yards from The Royal Albert Hall.
“Oh, wow! You have to come and see this,” exclaims the soft-spoken guitarist from behind the wood paneled door of a hidden annex room, which turns out to be a luxuriously opulent bathroom. “Now I’ve been in there I don’t mind it being cold. That has warmed me up,” he continues as he take in seat in the (admittedly) chilly main room, adorned with a Portland stone fireplace, oak four-poster bed and 15th Century Minstrels’ Gallery.
It’s a suitably stately and atmospheric setting to interview a member of British rock royalty about his self-titled autobiography, the first ever book by a member of Led Zeppelin. “It’s a very honest book,” says Page of the personally curated 500-page photographic account of his life, published this month by Genesis Publications.
This is an impressive location for an interview. Didn’t you once own a bookshop around the corner from here?
I did. In Holland Street, just off Kensington High Street. It was in the 1970s. I had it for a few years and I published a few books as well, although not [ones] written by me. The idea was to set it up as a bookshop and then in the old tradition of book shops to be a publisher as well. It was one of these things that was a great idea, but people didn’t necessarily have a lot of money in those days for books on yoga and Eastern mysticism. [Laughs]
A limited edition, deluxe version of your autobiography was first released in 2010. What made you want to revisit and re-release the book now?
The other book is astonishing. It’s an incredible work of art, but pre-publication, it had already sold out. The amount of work that I had put into it, I had always hoped that we could do an edition that was more user friendly, more available and more affordable. We’ve also added in some extra material, one being Led Zeppelin at the Kennedy Awards and meeting President Obama. And also me receiving a Berklee College Honorary Doctorate, which was earlier this year, so that brings it right up to date.
What about a photographic journey through your life appealed to you, as opposed to a written autobiography?
I thought it was really the right thing to do. I knew nobody else had done it, so that was really appealing. It’s a whole career in front of you in photographic images. It’s a snapshot of the time and of the situations and the characters involved, [as well as] the attitude that you have when you are photographed — the melancholy that’s there, or the joy, or the positive assault that you are doing through the lenses. It’s all totally upfront. It’s a very honest book. Where I thought it might need a little footnote to make sense of it all, I added one, because not many [people] really know all the history of all of this.
The book opens with the great story of how you got your first guitar, when your family moved to Epsom, Surrey, and you discovered that one had been left in the house by the previous occupants.
It’s a weird story, but I love the romantic imagery of it — that’s there is a guitar there and that’s the sculptural object in the house. Then bit-by-bit you get to have a connection with it and actually tune it and start to play it. I don’t know what happened to it. The first guitar that’s shown in the book is a guitar that my mum and dad bought me. That was the only one because my dad said, ‘You’re on your own after this.’ But it made me really want to work for what I did.
Do you ever think about how your life might have been different if that abandoned guitar had not have been left in your house?
I don’t know what might have become of me. It’s more of a question of would I have been a guitarist or not? It’s that intervention. Because the guitar had all the strings on it, and that’s the really weird part. You sometimes see guitars [abandoned] if they are broken. Anyway, it’s something that I can ponder and wonder about, but be very grateful for.
What are some of your favorite photos in the book?
The opening one of me as a choirboy one is pretty good. And then there is the last picture [a present day shot of Page holding a guitar]. I put the choirboy picture in there with my tongue in my cheek. You know how all those black soul singers say, ‘Well, you know it all started in church, man.’ I thought, ‘Okay, well here we are: A white Anglo Saxon protestant in church.’
How did you feel when compiling the book and looking back over your life?
It is a privilege to be able to do because it’s the sort of thing that somebody would probably do after you were dead. I would rather do it while I was still alive because at least I know what the proper journey of it all was. One of the things that became quite apparent doing all of this was just how some of the Led Zeppelin stories and the history had distorted over the years and just absolutely wasn’t accurate.
The reality of [Led Zeppelin] is that it came out of the ashes of the Yardbirds disbanding [in 1968]. I knew I wanted to form my own band at that point and what material I wanted to do. And from the point of having no band at all — no Yardbirds, no nothing — to actually going [forward] with determination and getting in touch with Robert [Plant] and going through the whole game plan with him. Because if he hadn’t got it, I would have been looking for somebody else. But it came together relatively quickly. The Yardbirds break up in July. I’m probably doing this in August. John Bonham and John Paul Jones come in at the last minute, so the group suddenly solidifies pretty quickly. From that point we go to my house to rehearse. All of this sort of stuff people don’t really know. Not just the fact that we rehearsed in my house, but that we played some dates in September in Scandinavia [as the New Yardbirds] to really get used to all this material. We then go in and do the album in October, and by the end of the following January, we have broken America. It’s a handful of months and that’s what is so astonishing out of all of it.
You mention going through the game plan for Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant soon after meeting him. You obviously had a concrete idea of what you wanted to achieve with the band before the individual parts were in place.
Yes. If you look at the whole blueprint for it — you make sure you get right the decisions on who is going to be in it. You don’t try them out and then see if somebody doesn’t look right and get rid of them. No. You get a firm commitment from everybody and then you do some concerts beforehand so you are limbered up enough to be able to do the album. And it was an independent album, too. It wasn’t funded by a record company. It’s the same blueprint for now. But now it takes so damn long. In those days you could be really speedy and efficient.
How important was it to Led Zeppelin’s long term career that the first album was independently funded, rather than by a record label?
The thing about giving it [ready-made] to the record company was that you could make certain stipulations and say, ‘We don’t want to get to caught up in the singles market.’ And the [response] would be, ‘Why not?’ ‘Well, we’re not going to. That’s why.’ Because that way we didn’t have to keep referring back. We could just keep the music going on and on and on without having a point of reference, which would be a single for the next album.
Looking through your autobiography, you were astonishingly productive from the early 1960s, when you were an in-demand session musician, right through to the end of Led Zeppelin in 1980. With the benefit of hindsight, do you feel that your prodigious work rate throughout this period impacted on your creativity in the years that followed?
After we lost John Bonham, it wasn’t a question of being burned out. I was just absolutely gutted. I had lost a great friend and a musician the likes of which don’t come along all the time. He had established his identity on the very first track of Led Zeppelin I. He did that roll on the bass drum with one foot and it just changed drumming overnight. Me and him really understood what we were doing with Led Zeppelin and we just worked so well together. [His death] was a tragic loss all around — obviously for his family, but for the world of music in general because he was just phenomenal. So, yeah, I wasn’t feeling that good when we lost John. But then things started to come along. It’s not in the book, but I did some work with two guys from Yes [Chris Squire and Alan White] and that was really interesting. It was a good workout for me.
In recent years, you have devoted your energies to overseeing the remastering and reissue of Led Zeppelin’s nine studio albums, the first five of which were released this year. How important are those releases in maintaining and building on the band’s legacy?
Very important. Absolutely. Because there had been a certain amount of live material out, including The O2 concert album Celebration Day, we felt it was important to have the re-address the balance of the studio material and give [the fans] all this extra information. I never under-estimate the fan base and how many are out there, and I know what they want. The only conflict was when to put them out. So the [remastered albums] are coming out in measured periods over the next year or so. And then there is still other stuff to come from me.
What can you reveal about your own solo material or live plans?
Only so much because I’m not working with other musicians yet, but I am currently playing the guitar at home. If you spoke to me a year ago, I just wouldn’t have had time. I would have been listening to hundreds of hours of Led Zeppelin material [for the deluxe reissue campaign], but now that I have stockpiled all this material for scheduled releases, it gives me a chance to focus on my own music and then get the musicians in. My master plan is to be playing live next year. I haven’t got another 20-30 years left in me, so I really need to get out there and present myself the way that I like to present myself and to be seen and be heard.
Can you elaborate on what form this music might take?
Clearly, I will do music that’s reflective of this book and that covers all of the Led Zeppelin releases. But I have new music and I want to present new music. It wouldn’t really be me if I didn’t have music that was in various genres and moods, but there will be some surprises to go along with that. That’s the idea. I can’t say what that is because I haven’t had the chance to really work on it. But given the momentum of working and knowing that I’m going to be doing concerts, I’m getting ready to start putting all the pieces into play.
Presumably you going back on the road negates the already slim prospect of there ever being any more Led Zeppelin live shows?
Out of all the years from 1980, let’s say there was one serious concert [the 2007 Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at The O2, London], as opposed to doing just a few guest numbers, and that’s seven years ago now. Certainly, from the point of view of Jason [Bonham], myself and John Paul Jones, there was a real will to actually work at it, but there was only one concert. I thought there was going to be more. It was intimated that there was going to be more. And quite clearly, seven years later, there is not going to be any more because obviously you need the will of all people involved. However, I guarantee that I will play Led Zeppelin music because I’m really proud of the music that I did and the instrumental side of it — things like “Black Mountain Side,” “White Summer” and “Dazed and Confused,” which only has two verses when you play as an instrumental — you can take into another sort of feel. So I would do all that stuff, but I would do it well. I wouldn’t go out and make it look like a tribute band.
Images courtesy of Genesis Publications 2014.
An edited version of this story originally appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.