"It will be coming out, bit by bit," Jimmy Page says with a tantalizing lilt in his voice. The Led Zeppelin guitarist is referring to his current labors in the band's archive, preparing new deluxe editions of each of Zeppelin's studio albums, from 1969's Led Zeppelin to 1979's In Through the Out Door, plus the 1982 post-breakup collection, Coda. Page says the reissues will include "added sonic and visual thrills," and he expects to begin issuing the first albums in the series sometime next year.
Details of the project emerged during Page's interview for the new issue of Rolling Stone – his longest and most extensive conversation with the magazine, coinciding with the release of Celebration Day, the new film and album of Led Zeppelin's 2007 reunion concert at London 02's arena. I had asked Page about the reissues in a phone interview three days before our first session in London, but he preferred to wait and discuss them in person – which he did, as soon as we sat down in a lounge in his management's office in London.
"The catalog was last remastered 20 years ago," Page said, referring to the 1990 release of the four-CD box set, Led Zeppelin. "That's a long time. Everything is being transferred from analog to a higher-resolution digital format. That's one of the problems with the Zeppelin stuff. It sounds ridiculous on MP3. You can't hear what's there properly."
Whole Lotta Extras
Based on the unreleased studio tracks that have circulated on bootlegs since Led Zeppelin split in 1980, following the death of drummer John Bonham, the group did not record a lot of additional songs for each LP. "But there was an overage of material – different versions of things, different approaches to the mixes," Page explained. He mentioned experiments with equipment and sound on early alternative takes at Headley Grange, the English manor where Zeppelin recorded some of their most iconic work, particularly their 1971 untitled fourth album.
"The classic there was 'When the Levee Breaks,'" Page said, "where the drums were set up in the hallway. You know what it sounded like – immense – from the recorded version. But we used the drums in the hall for a number of things, like 'Kashmir' [on 1975's Physical Graffiti] – some with closer miking. So there were a lot of different approaches. It will be fascinating for people to witness the work in progress."
Page is also looking at relevant live recordings and film to accompany the reissues. "There are concerts that were recorded – some that might have appeared on bootleg in some shape or form – and a certain amount of footage, though not a lot," he said. "I started doing this with [2003's] Led Zeppelin DVD and [the 2003 three-CD set] How the West Was Won, which was a superb live performance." Page believes BBC Sessions, a 1997 release of Zeppelin's recordings for British radio, "didn't have that open horizon" of the group's best concerts, "where you're just going and going, right over that horizon.
"But all of it is good," Page said of the music his band left behind, on record and in the vaults. "It has its own character and validity."
Your Time Is Gonna Come
Pressed on a release date for the initial reissues, Page warned that "you've got to get to the point where all of the members of the group are in agreement," referring to singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones. "I would hope it is sooner rather than later. But it will be in the course of next year and going on for awhile.
"And I'm not just throwing on any old flotsam and jetsam," he insisted, referring to the bonus material. "This will be really substantial stuff."