Try as I might, I find it impossible to successfully define Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page in one word, though some critics have done just that.
Page has been a central key figure and element in composing and performing all genres of music, most notably blues, R&B, rhythm and blues; country rock; rock; some jazz; folk; and what musicians and critics might refer to as early heavy metal, futuristic and experimental progressive music. However, a word of advice: one word does not do Page justice.
I even tried to arrive at composing a decent sentence in honor of his artistry, musicianship, outstanding guitar work, astute inventiveness and complex inner soul…hmmmm…but it too left me minus a four-leaf clover.
Come on, Page, help me out here, won’t you? No? I should have expected a “no” response, judging by the way you tone down many facets of your life.
No problem. I can accept that. You are like an unsolved mystery, full of strange and wonderful secrets.
There’s only one thing left for me and other curious people to do.
That is to ramble on and find someone who might tell me more about you. After all, we your fans, can’t help but absorb all that you are capable of.
Thank the gods that I sought and bought the expertise of Brad Tolinski, author of “Light & Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page.”
Tolinski’s book is far more compelling than some of the other previously published biographies about Page and the original Led Zeppelin band members Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones.
This book by Tolinski, who has been editor-in-chief of “Guitar World” magazine and has interviewed numerous musicians such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and B.B. King, is different in that he features a variety of conversations he conducted with Page through the past 20 years.
“Light & Shade” was not always an easy project .
Page usually stayed away from the press and wasn’t too thrilled about being an open book — it is a grand vision of Page that starts with his early music career in the1950s and expands to his involvement with Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, the Yardbirds and on to Led Zeppelin.
Page, who founded Led Zeppelin, has worked with many artists and some associated acts including The Kinks, The Honeydrippers, The Edge, The Black Crowes, The Rolling Stones and a multitude of other musicians.
Not only that, Page’s passionate guitar wizardry can be heard on early 1960s soundtracks including, “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones; “Goldfinger” by Shirley Bassey’s and the classic number by Them, “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”
Page has often said that not too many people recognize him for his skills and talents as producer, engineer and all-round innovator.
People, he commented, assumed and still might assume that he is only a guitarist.
Many groups have tried to imitate Led Zeppelin with little success, although Page, Plant and Jones highly-praised their tribute during the recent Kennedy Center Honors.
The song, “Stairway To Heaven,” was especially appreciated and presented by a variety of musicians, an orchestra and huge choir. This performance moved them tremendously.
Tolinski’s research for “Light & Shade” was a pure delight.
What truly stole the show, so-to-speak, was the conversations between Page and the author.
The conversations between Page and other musicians, like Beck and Jack White, were also impressive
Throughout the book questions are intelligent, dialogue is thought provoking and the stories are heart crushing, causing tears to fall.
However don’t fret, there are also happy, humorous and memorable stories to treasure.
Page is not only a brilliant musician, he relates many lovely stories behind Led Zeppelin songs to his audience, including “Bron-Yr-Aur,” which had been accidentally misspelled “Bron-Y-Aur” on their “Led Zeppelin III” album, “Kashmir,” “Celebration Day” and the 2007 “Celebration Day” DVD and CD which was recently released.
There’s so much to learn about Page’s life, music career, sadness, vulnerability, his raw and sensitive nature, carefree humor and who-gives-a-darn language — in short — his entire being.
I particularly felt inspired by his desire and need to continue producing and coming up with new sounds and ideas for the music world to ponder.
Another enjoyment for me was learning about the formation and production of Led Zeppelin’s albums. I was surprised as to how many of their their songs still remain popular.
It has been said by some that Led Zeppelin topped The Beatles and The Stones.
Led Zeppelin reached its height during the 1970s and faded away for awhile in the 1980s after the death of drummer Bonham.
They then regrouped, reorganized and finally got on with pleasing the masses with their famous 2007 “Celebration Day” reunion.
Page and the group faced many struggles along the way to stardom and fame. They made millions of dollars and lost many friends to drugs and tragic accidents.
In the beginning critics didn’t know how to define Led Zeppelin; many critics were harsh, some however understood their music.
Their lyrics and instrumentation were and still are outstanding, like no other band in the world.
I was surprised to find out from reading “Light & Shade” that Page first played the sitar long before Beatle, George Harrison did for some of his more philosophical songs. I am impressed with Page’s ability to play so many unique instruments.
If you were a Zeppelin fan, chances are you still are a Zeppelin fan. I think it’s not too late for anyone to become an admirer of Page and the band.
I marvel at the way in which Tolinski and Page give a really good description of the Zeppelin albums and their possible meanings or interpretation of different songs.
To some fans, there will always be a variety of meanings or messages in their compositions, as with “Stairway to Heaven,” “Immigrant Song,” “Ramble On” and lots of other tunes that evoke images of J.R.R. Tolkien, Frodo, Gollum and Mordor; heroes and villains; kings, queens, knights and maids; mythical or undiscovered lands; and lovers and lost loves.
Page is often called a genius within the rock music industry but he neither likes nor wears the label, “genius.”
Still, watch him in action in a documentary, “The Song Remains the Same,” or in any past concert or current workshop and behold.
He’s still that remarkably passionate wizard of a musician who just happens to be quick with the violin, cello bow on guitar or with the double-neck guitar on which he can play both a six- and 12-string.
I believe anyone who appreciates the music of Led Zeppelin will also likely embrace Page.
Without Page and Led Zeppelin, Tolinski would not have accomplished his goal and readers and fans might not have had the opportunity to better understand Page and his music.
Carol Wright is a contributing writer and was a previous Manhattan resident.