Jimmy Page Revisits 'Led Zeppelin IV' and 'Houses of the Holy' — Five Questions

by Brad Tolinski
Posted Nov 12, 2014 at 10:44am

This is an excerpt from the all-new Holiday 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the rest of Brad Tolinski's interview with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, plus features on the Kinks' Dave Davies, St. Vincent, Mike Stern and Eric Johnson, Primus, Alex Skolnick, Maroon 5 and Machine Head; reviews of new gear from PRS Guitars, Ernie Ball/Music Man, ESP USA, Mesa/Boogie and Vibramate, not to mention columns by Steel Panther's Satchel, Revocation's Dave Davidson, our own Andy Aledort and more, pick up the Holiday 2014 issue of GW at the Guitar World Online Store.

Holy Spirited: Guitarist and producer Jimmy Page revisits two of Led Zeppelin’s most god-like albums, IV and Houses of the Holy.

In this excerpt from our Holiday 2014 cover story, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page responds to five points posed by Guitar World's Brad Tolinski.

GUITAR WORLD: One of the biggest bits of news is that you’ve included some of the original Los Angeles mixes of IV on one of the bonus discs. The story has always been that, aside from “When the Levee Breaks,” the mixes done at Sunset Sound Studios were a disaster. However “Stairway to Heaven” and “Misty Mountain Hop,” both included in the companion disc, sound pretty damn good.

After we completed most of our work on the fourth album at Island Studios and Headley Grange [a remote three-story stone farmhouse that Zeppelin used as a recording facility], [engineer] Andy Johns and I went to Sunset Sound in Los Angeles to mix. The tapes included most of the music that would end up on IV, including “Stairway,” “Going to California,” and even a few things that ended up on Physical Graffiti, like “Down By the Seaside” and “Boogie with Stu”—but not “Battle of Evermore,” which wasn’t finished yet.

We did some great work there, and I was particularly impressed with their wonderful echo and reverb facilities. The only problem was, they also had a rather “colorful” studio monitoring system. While we were mixing, everything sounded huge and the low end sounded especially massive. But when we returned to England and played our work back, the sound was nothing like what we had heard in Los Angeles. It was deflated…a pale echo of what we’d heard in L.A.

Around that period of time, there were alarming stories of tapes that had been damaged or slightly erased or interfered with by magnets used by airport security. We all wondered whether anything had happened to them. In actual fact, nothing had happened to them. Regardless, the band was not particularly enamored with the way things sounded, so I agreed to remix everything.

There were exceptions. The Sunset Sound mix of “When the Levee Breaks” had a density that we could not be replicated when we remixed it in England. It didn’t have that space—that black hole. So we put that one on the original album. We’ve included the remix on the companion disc so you can decide for yourself.

I think you’ve said each album is essentially a reflection of what you were feeling at that particular time and space. Houses of the Holy is the most celebratory album in your catalog. It’s the only album without a blues.

Well, I’m not sure I’ve ever said it was a summing up of where we were at that point in time; it’s more about what we’re managing to achieve musically under the roof of a recording facility. I think it’s more about how we’ve managed to push things, and we’d been pushing all the way through.

Here’s the interesting thing: if we had been forced by the record company to make singles, we would’ve never been able to explore like we did or make albums like IV or Houses of the Holy. Because we created each album as an independent production, we could actually dictate that there would be no singles. And when you look at the whole of the catalog, my god, you realize what a saving grace that was not to have to comply with commercial radio. Our attitude was, “Here’s the album, and if you want to give something to radio, then fair enough, but don’t bother asking us to follow it up with something similar.”

“The Song Remains The Same” is genuinely unusual. It’s almost a compendium of folk and country guitar techniques presented in a completely different context—the opening solo features straight flat-picking, the bends behind the vocals are reminiscent of country guitarist Clarence White, and there’s a healthy amount of hybrid picking on your Fender XII.

That’s fair enough. It wasn’t intentionally any one of those things. It was just the result of me listening to all these alternative six-string things at the time and summing them up…or perhaps reprogramming them. [laughs] But it’s all a question of taste—of what you put in or leave out to make the most of your technique relative to the song.

I was so OCD then that, by the time it came for me to record my guitar parts, I was completely absorbed by what I was doing and the right parts just seem to come out. And most of the solos were pretty spontaneous. I’d warm up and then immediately record, and then I’d do the next one. I never wanted to labor the point of anything.

Why isn’t the song “Houses of the Holy” on Houses of the Holy?

Because it comes out on the next album. [laughs] It’s meant to be a little mischievous.

The guitar solo on the original version of “No Quarter” is one of your more unusual statements. It’s jazzy without being jazz.

With the piano being the way it is, the last thing I wanted to do was play a jazz homage. It would’ve been too obvious. I wanted to show the guitarist hasn’t gone to sleep—he’s thinking about presenting the composition in a different way, using different colors and tones and figures that are…spritely. It’s like water nymphs or something coming through.

For the rest of Brad Tolinski's interview with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, plus features on the Kinks' Dave Davies, St. Vincent, Mike Stern and Eric Johnson, Primus, Alex Skolnick, Maroon 5 and Machine Head; reviews of new gear from PRS Guitars, Ernie Ball/Music Man, ESP USA, Mesa/Boogie and Vibramate, not to mention columns by Steel Panther's Satchel, Revocation's Dave Davidson, our own Andy Aledort and more, pick up the Holiday 2014 issue of GW at the Guitar World Online Store.

Photo: MirrorPix/Courtesy of Everett Collection

Tonight, November 12, Jimmy Page will appear at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Los Angeles for "An Evening with Jimmy Page In Conversation with Chris Cornell." If you'd like to try your hand at snagging tickets, step right this way.

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