Jimmy Page Says He ‘Left No Stone Unturned’ While Crafting Led Zeppelin Box Sets
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page told us he “left no stone unturned” while remastering and expanding the legendary group’s studio albums for their upcoming deluxe edition re-releases, and said his goal was to offer listeners “a window into when they were recorded.”
Page hosted an intimate listening event to preview songs from the expanded versions of Led Zeppelin’s first three albums yesterday in New York City. He shared alternate or newly unearthed live performances of seven of the band’s classics — including a version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ with a completely different vocal take, and a ‘Gallows Pole’ demo that removes the mandolin and banjo in order to put the focus squarely on Page’s acoustic guitar work. He also played us one of the collection’s most anticipated treasures, an acoustic version of the blues standard ‘Keys to the Highway / Trouble in Mind,’ which featured just himself on acoustic guitar and Robert Plant on harmonica and vocals.
Our initial impressions were something like “holy (word we can’t use)!,” but to be more professional about it, these alternate versions sound refreshingly raw and original. They’re not so radically different that you can’t easily reassemble the more famous versions in your head — we kept adding the guitar slide back into the chorus of this version of ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ for example. But hearing first-hand the effects of the different track and mixing choices Page and his bandmates made back in the day does indeed accomplish their stated goal of offering exciting new perspectives on songs we’ve all enjoyed hundreds of times.
The fit-looking, sharply dressed and quick-witted Page also participated in a highly entertaining Q&A following this listening session. He took us all the way back to the band’s formative days, recalling that when he, Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham first played together, “We knew we’d never heard anything like this before.”
He went on to praise both the individual talents of his former bandmates (“each of us were musical equals”), and Led Zeppelin’s collective chemistry, noting “we played so well as a band and that’s what’s reflected” on these new collections. Page also revealed that no actual restoration was needed for the tapes of the first three albums, as the masters were still in good condition.
As far as the painstaking amount of work Page put into this massive project, he said that he listened to every single one of the group’s recorded tracks and used only complete takes for the new versions of songs. That means there was no after-the-fact Beatles ‘Anthology’ cut-and-pasted “jiggery-pokery” to create the illusion of completed tracks out of different partial versions. “They’re all the real deal,” he assured us.
Which doesn’t mean we’re not in for some big changes. For example, ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ has what Page called “a completely different drum take,” while the guitars used on the new versions of that track and ‘Heartbreaker’ are “much cooler” and laid back than their fiery original album counterparts. Page sees these different versions as a natural reflection of the band’s musical open-mindedness. “I recall having many different approaches to the guitar. … We pushed things. … Everything was supposed to sound different.”
Always known for his innovative producing skills as well as his songwriting and guitar-playing wizardry, Page told us that the music of Led Zeppelin is now as prepared as possible for whatever the future of audio playback brings. Although he wouldn’t give away his “trade secrets,” he assured us that his work was done in such a cutting edge, high-resolution format that it’ll be ready for future formats Apple and Neil Young haven’t even dreamed of yet.
Page summed up his thoughts by saying that the overall experience of going back through Led Zeppelin’s recorded work was “so joyous,” and that he’s excited for fans to hear the treasures that await them on the expanded versions of the rest of the band’s catalog: “There’s lots of good things to come.” Among them are an alternate version of ‘Bonzo’s Montreaux,’ a percussion solo Page included on 1982’s ‘Coda’ as a tribute to his fallen friend. You can expect those albums sometime in 2015.