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The Durable Led Zeppelin

Page 4 of 6

How difficult was the first Led Zeppelin album to put together?
Page: It came together really quick. It was cut very shortly after the band was formed. Our only rehearsal was a two-week tour of Scandinavia that we did as the New Yardbirds. For material, we obviously went right down to our blues roots. I still had plenty of Yardbirds riffs left over. By the time Jeff [Beck] did go, it was up to me to come up with a lot of new stuff. It was this thing where Clapton set a heavy precedent in the Yardbirds which Beck had to follow and then it was even harder for me, in a way, because the second lead guitarist had suddenly become the first. And I was under pressure to come up with my own riffs. On the first LP I was still heavily influenced by the earlier days. I think it tells a bit, too. The album was made in three weeks. It was obvious that somebody had to take the lead, otherwise we'd have all sat around jamming and doing nothing for six months. But after that, on the second LP, you can hear the real group identity coming together.

Plant: That first album was the first time that headphones meant anything to me. What I heard coming back to me over the cans while I was singing was better than the finest chick in all the land. It had so much weight, so much power, it was devastating. I had a long ways to go with my voice then, but at the same time the enthusiasm and spark of working with Jimmy's guitar shows through quite well. It was all very raunchy then. Everything was fitting together into a trademark for us. We were learning what got us off most and what got people off most, and what we knew got more people back to the hotel after the gig.

We made no money on the first tour. Nothing at all. Jimmy put in every penny that he'd gotten from the Yardbirds and that wasn't much. Until Peter Grant took them over, they didn't make the money they should have made. So we made the album and took off on a tour with a road crew of one.

Jimmy, you once told me that you thought life was a gamble. What did you mean?
Page: So many people are frightened to take a chance in life and there's so many chances you have to take. You can't just find yourself doing something and not happy doing it. If you're working at the factory and you're cursing every day that you get up, at all costs get out of it. You'll just make yourself ill. That's why I say I'm very fortunate because I love what I'm doing. Seeing people's faces, really getting off on them, makes me incredibly happy. Genuinely.

What gambles have you taken?
Page: I'll give you a gamble. I was in a band, I won't give the name because it's not worth knowing about, but it was the sort of band where we were traveling around all the time in a bus. I did that for two years after I left school, to the point where I was starting to get really good bread. But I was getting ill. So I went back to art college. And that was a total change in direction. That's why I say it's possible to do. As dedicated as I was to playing the guitar, I knew doing it that way was doing me in forever. Every two months I had glandular fever. So for the next 18 months I was living on ten dollars a week and getting my strength up. But I was still playing.

Plant: Let me tell you a little story behind the song "Ten Years Gone" on our new album. I was working my ass off before joining Zeppelin. A lady I really dearly loved said, "Right. It's me or your fans." Not that I had fans, but I said, "I can't stop, I've got to keep going." She's quite content these days, I imagine. She's got a washing machine that works by itself and a little sports-car. We wouldn't have anything to say anymore. I could probably relate to her, but she couldn't relate to me. I'd be smiling too much. Ten years gone, I'm afraid. Anyway, there's a gamble for you.

Page: I'll give you another one. I was at art college and started to do sessionwork. Believe me, a lot of guys would consider that to be the apex – studio work. I left that to join the Yardbirds at a third of the bread because I wanted to play again. I didn't feel I was playing enough in the studio. I was doing three studio dates a day and I was becoming one of those sort of people that I hated.

What was the problem with session-work?
Page: Certain sessions were really a pleasure to do, but the problem was that you never knew what you were gonna do. You might have heard that I played on a Burt Bacharach record. It's true. I never knew what I was doing. You just got booked into a particular studio at the hours of two and five-thirty. Sometimes it would be somebody you were happy to see, other times it was, "What am I doing here?"

When I started doing sessions, the guitar was in vogue. I was playing solos every day. Then afterwards, when the Stax thing was going on and you got whole brass sections coming in, I ended up hardly playing anything, just a little riff here and there ... no solos. And I remember one particular occasion when I hadn't played a solo for, quite literally, a couple of months. And I was asked to play a solo on a rock & roll thing. I played it and felt that what I'd done was absolute crap. I was so disgusted with myself that I made my mind up that I had to get out of it. It was messing me right up.

And how do you look back on your days with the Yardbirds?
Page: I have really good memories. Apart from one tour which nearly killed all of us, it was so intense – apart from that, musically it was a great group to play in. I've never regretted anything I've ever done. Any musician would have jumped at the chance to play in that band. It was particularly good when Jeff and I were both doing lead guitar. It really could have been built into something exceptional at that point, but unfortunately there's precious little on wax of that particular point. There's only "Stroll On" from the Blow-Up film – that was quite funny – and "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago" and "Daisy." We just didn't get into the studio too much at that time.

Obviously, there were ups and downs. Everybody wants to know about the feuds and personality conflicts ... I don't think that it ever got really evil. It never got that bad. If it was presented in the right way, maybe a Yardbirds reunion album would be a good thing to do someday. Somehow I can't see Jeff doing it, though. He's a funny bloke.

You live in Aleister Crowley's home. [Crowley was a poet and magician at the turn of the century and was notorious for his Black Magic rites–Ed.]
Page: Yes, it was owned by Aleister Crowley. But there were two or three owners before Crowley moved into it. It was also a church that was burned to the ground with the congregation in it. And that's the site of the house. Strange things have happened in that house that had nothing to do with Crowley. The bad vibes were already there. A man was beheaded there and sometimes you can hear his head rolling down. I haven't actually heard it, but a friend of mine, who is extremely straight and doesn't know anything about anything like that at all, heard it. He thought it was the cats bungling about. I wasn't there at the time, but he told the help, "Why don't you let the cats out at night? They make a terrible racket, rolling about in the halls." And they said, "The cats are locked in a room every night." Then they told him the story of the house. So that sort of thing was there before Crowley got there. Of course, after Crowley there have been suicides, people carted off to mental hospitals ...

And you have no contact with any of the spirits?
Page: I didn't say that. I just said I didn't hear the head roll.

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Song Stories

“Madame George”

Van Morrison | 1968

One of the first stream-of-consciousness epics to make it onto a Van Morrison record, his drawn-out farewell to the eccentric "Madame George" lasted nearly 10 minutes, combining ingredients from folk, jazz and classical music. The character that gave the song its title provoked speculation that it was about a drag queen, though Morrison denied this in Rolling Stone. "If you see it as a male or a female or whatever, it's your trip," he remarked. "I see it as a ... a Swiss cheese sandwich. Something like that."

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