Jimmy Page, now 31, grew up in Felton, a dreary community near London's Heathrow Airport. An only child, he had no playmates until he began school at the age of five. "That early isolation," says Page, "it probably had a lot to do with the way I turned out. A loner. A lot of people can't by on their own. They get frightened. Isolation doesn't bother me at all. It gives me a sense of security."
Page started playing guitar when he was 12. "Somebody had laid a Spanish guitar on us ... a very old one. I probably couldn't play it now if I tried. It was sitting around our living room for weeks and weeks. I wasn't interested. Then I heard a couple of records that really turned me on, the main one being Elvis's 'Baby, Let's Play House,' and I wanted to play it. I wanted to know what it was all about. This other guy at school showed me a few chords and I just went on from there."
After a stint of several years as one of England's leading session guitarists (he played on the Kinks' "You Really Got Me," Van Morrison and Them's "Here Comes the Night" and "Gloria," the Who's "I Can't Explain" and several Burt Bacharach hits, among others), Page joined the Yardbirds as a second lead guitarist to Jeff Beck. Beck was soon to leave the band and Page was left alone in the spotlight for a time. When the Yardbirds finally crumbled, Page was free to form Led Zeppelin.
The following conversations with Page and Plant took place over a period of two weeks. We began over tea in Plant's suite at Chicago's Ambassador Hotel. The talk continued three days later in Page's darkened room. "It's still morning," he shivered, sitting underneath a blanket on his sofa. "We may have to talk for three hours before I make any sense." The resulting interview, from which most of this material is taken, stretched into late afternoon. Page, a soft-spoken man, apparently preferred candles to electric light.
A visit to Plant several days later provided more material and one final visit with Page on the plane flight to New York supplied the remaining details.
It wasn't until Led Zeppelin's last American tour in '73 that the media fully acknowledged the band's popularity.
Plant: We decided to hire our first publicity firm after we toured here in the summer of '72. That was the same summer that the Stones toured and we knew full well that we were doing more business than them. We were getting better gates in comparison to a lot of people who were constantly glorified in the press. So without getting too egocentric, we thought it was time that people heard something about us other than that we were eating women and throwing the bones out the window. That whole lunacy thing was all people knew about us and it was all word-of-mouth. All those times of lunacy were okay, but we aren't and never were monsters. Just good-time boys, loved by their fans and hated by their critics.
Do you feel any competition with the Stones?
Page: Naw. I don't think of it that way. I don't feel any competition at all. The Stones are great and always have been. Jagger's lyrics are just amazing. Right on the ball every time. I mean, I know all about how we're supposed to be the biggest group in the world and all, but I don't ever think about it. I don't feel that competition enters into it. It's who makes good music and who doesn't ... and who's managed to sustain themselves.
What motivates you at this point?
Page: I love playing. If it was down to just that, it would be utopia. But it's not. It's airplanes, hotel rooms, limousines and armed guards standing outside rooms. I don't get off on that part of it at all. But it's the price I'm willing to pay to get out and play. I was very restless over the last 18 months where we laid off and worked on the album.
Plant: There's a constant conflict, really, within me. As much as I really enjoy what I do at home ... I play on my own little soccer team and I've been taking part in the community and living the life of any ordinary guy, I always find myself wistful and enveloped in a feeling I can't really get out of my system. I miss this band when we aren't playing. I have to call Jimmy up or something to appease that restlessness. The other night when we played for the first time again I found the biggest smile on my mouth.
What's this rumor, Jimmy, about a solo album?
Page: Chalk that off to Keith Richards' sense of humor. I did what could possibly be the next Stones B-side. It was Rick Grech, Keith and me doing a number called "Scarlet." I can't remember the drummer. It sounded very similar in style and mood to those Blonde on Blonde tracks. It was great, really good. We stayed up all night and went down to Island Studios where Keith put some reggae guitars over one section. I just put some solos on it, but it was eight in the morning of the next day before I did that. He took the tapes to Switzerland and someone found out about them. Keith told people that it was a track from my album.
I don't need to do a solo album and neither does anybody else in the band. The chemistry is such that there's nobody in the background who's so frustrated that he has to bring out his own LPs. I don't really like doing that Townshend number of telling everybody exactly what to play. I don't like that too much. A group's a group after all, isn't it?
You've managed to continue undaunted in the midst of such criticism – especially in the early days of Zeppelin. How much do you believe in yourself?
Page: I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I'm doing. I know where I'm going musically. I can see my pattern and I'm going much slower than I thought I'd be going. I can tell how far I ought to be going, I know how to get there, all I've got to do is keep playing. That might sound a bit weird because of all the John McLaughlins who sound like they're in outer space or something. Maybe it's the tortoise and the hare.
I'm not a guitarist as far as a technician goes, I just pick it up and play it. Technique doesn't come into it. I deal in emotions. It's the harmonic side that's important. That's the side I expected to be much further along on than I am now. That just means to say that I've got to keep at it.
There's such a wealth of arts and styles within the instrument ... flamenco, jazz, rock, blues ... you name it, it's there. In the early days my dream was to fuse all those styles. Now composing has become just as important. Hand-in-hand with that, I think it's time to travel, start gathering some real right-in-there experiences with street musicians around the world. Moroccan musicians, Indian musicians ... it could be a good time to travel around now. This year. I don't know how everyone else is gonna take that, but that's the direction I'm heading in right now. This week, I'm a gypsy. Maybe next week it'll be glitter rock.
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