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Classic Rock May Issue - Transcript [Part 2]

Here's the second part of the Classic Rock article. Hope there are no
typos. I'll will try to get the final section typed out over the weekend
=P, but first:

Good Times Bad Times
- --------------------------
[continue from part 1]

Indeed, so difficult does Plant appear to find working with Page of
late, the last few weeks of their 1998 ?Walking Into Clarksville? world
tour were cancelled at short notice.

?It got to the point where we finished November before last, in Paris at
the Amnesty International concert,? says Jimmy. ?We were due to go to
Japan and Australia in January [1999] and then suddenly Robert
cancelled. He?d decided he didn?t want to do that. Everybody else did. I
mean, I was really looking forward to it??

Again he forces himself into silence. Not just because he?s reluctant to
air his dirty laundry in public, but because, if truth be told, Jimmy?s
never really stopped being hurt by his former singer?s inexplicable
reluctance to really get back together with him. To really go, musically
at least, where no one?s gone before, the way they did back in? the old

So is that it then, I ask him? Is that the much longed-for Zeppelin
reformation officially dead and buried now? forever?

?Well,? he says, still reluctant to admit the dream might finally be
over. ?I thought we had at least one good album left in us, put it like
that. But I just presented scenario after scenario to him and Robert?
Robert wasn?t interested. He just didn?t want to know. All we needed to
do was get in a room together, there was lots of ideas, things that came
up at soundcheck or whatever. There was stuff there, but? it just didn?t

So how did it end?

?We were supposed to get back together last May, to do some writing. But
again Robert cancelled at the last minute. He was like, ?We can
reconvene in August?. Then August came around and nothing happened, so I
got in touch and said, I thought we were supposed to be reconvening, you
know? But he just? I don?t know. And like I say, time is precious. Now
he?s out on his own.?

So it?s never going to happen?

?He said he doesn?t want to sing Led Zeppelin numbers. But I love
playing Led Zeppelin music. For me, they were one of the best bands ever
and they made some of the best music ever and we should be out there
playing it. But I don?t see that it?s ever going to happen again, no.
Not now??

Switching tack, I ask what he thought of John Paul Jones recent ?Zooma?
album, and the subsequent live shows at which Jonesy threw in the
occasional instrumental Zeppelin tune like ?No Quarter?, ?Trampled
Underfoot?, ?Black Dog? and ?When The Levee Breaks??

?Yeah, I thought it was good,? he says, recovering his good mood.
?John?s doing it, he?s out there playing Zeppelin songs. Why shouldn?t

They?ve always been mates, Pagey and Jonesy. Always had that peculiar
musical empathy you only get from two musicians who have spent so many
years playing together. I recall seeing them jamming together at a
private party one Christmas back in the early 90s and you could tell
even in that loose environment that they had a deep, almost telepathic
musical understanding.

?I would play with Jonesy again, for sure,? says Jimmy. ?The trouble is,
if I did stuff with Jon now, it?s going to be like with Robert ? it?s
Led Zeppelin again. But then, if Robert won?t, maybe that?s the way it?s
got to be. There?s definitely a chemistry there, it?s so obvious. When
we did the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame show when Led Zeppelin was
inducted [in 1995], John got up and played bass with [the Page/Plant
band] and it was fantastic. The last time I actually saw him though was
when we went to New York for the Diamond Awards last year, and it was
really nice. We both went. Robert didn?t??

As we?re on the phone, I can?t see for myself, but friends say he is
looking better than any time since he set out on the road on the last
ill-starred Page/Plant tour two years ago. Word round the campfire is
that he?s cut down on the booze and smokes and gone out of his way to
get more ?focused?, in preparation for the blitz of publicity he knew
would surround ?Live At The Greek?.

Not that Jimmy would ever crack on that he might for once in his dancing
days actually be contemplating? well, easing up a bit.

?I don?t know about that,? he cackles. ? I think you?re the one that?s
quietened down. You must have because I ain?t seen you around any of the
places I go, and I?m having myself a good old rock ?n? roll time!?

But then, Jimmy Page, bless him, is old school. The man who wrote the
book on rock ?n? roll excess; you think he?s going to admit to a diet of
Perrier and press-ups? Pull the other one, it?s got a moon and some
stars on it?

It was strange, that first meeting in 1988. I didn?t really know who or
what it was I might meet as the limo that picked me up glided down the
M4, out of London and towards the Windsor retreat which Jimmy Page now
called home. The same house, in fact, in which John Bonham had died
eight years before after another long day and night on the hard stuff;
the event which effectively also killed off Led Zeppelin.

Just like ever other old Zep fan, as well as many of the bands that had
followed them, I had read and re-read Hammer Of The Gods with a certain
admiring awe. To this day, you only have to mention the words ?Red
Snapper? to elicit knowing laughs from any dressing room in the world.

Unlike most Zep fans though, I had, by then, got to know enough major
league rock stars to realise the stories in that scuzzy, often wildly
inaccurate little book were hardly unusual for the people and the times
it depicted. Sex and drugs and rock and roll? er, weren?t they supposed
to be the vital ingredients in every rock star?s story back in the 70s?

No less so in the dastardly decade that followed. Make no mistake, while
the public profiles of 80s bands like Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi
et al were apparently built around the whiter-than-white twin pillars of
working-out and drinking mineral water, the behind-the-scenes
shenanigans were just as full-on back then as they had ever been. The
only difference was you didn?t talk about it anymore. The spectre of
AIDS still hung over everything and it was simply not cool anymore to
admit to that kind of private depravity. Not openly, anyway.

No, I was more concerned with the other ?off the record? stories I had
heard about the bizarre after-life the Zeppelin guitarist had apparently
led since the band?s dreadful demise: how Jimmy had literally not
touched his beloved Les Paul guitar for three years after Bonham?s
death. How he had become a virtual recluse.

Then came the unexpected hook up with Paul Rodgers in the Firm and the
start of what would eventually become a long, slow, sometimes painful
rehabilitation. He still only came out at night, they said, but Jimmy
recorded two albums with the former Bad Company and Free vocalist: ?The
Firm?, in 1985, and ?Mean Business?, a year later. I reviewed them both
at the time and claimed the first fell short of expectations, while the
second was a much more ?rounded? affair.

Wrong on both counts. In fact, the first Firm album, for me, remains one
of the overlooked classics of the mid-80s ? burnished with brisk,
sometimes jazzy numbers, not least the sublime ?Midnight Moonlight?
finale ? while its follow-up was merely that: a fun but largely
formulaic rehash of its predecessor; the band more polished from their
long months of touring, but the songs already running desperately short
on inspiration.

But if Rodgers and The Firm was largely a compromise for Page ? his
playing so worryingly understated that at times it was hard to believe
this was the same guitarist who had led the mighty Zeppelin through
their most majestic moments ? it had, he conceded, provided him with ?a
reason to get out of bed in the morning.?

?It was very much Paul?s band, too,? he told me back at the very first
meeting. ?So maybe that?s why people were surprised by the playing. It
wasn?t meant to be like Led Zeppelin anymore than it was supposed to be
like Free or Bad Company.?

Indeed. Now in 1988, he was about to release his first solo album,
?Outrider?. On the strength of a weekly rock show I used to present on
Sky TV which Jimmy, to my astonishment, claimed to be ?a fan? of, I had
been hired by his American record company, Geffen, to film and record a
series of interviews with him for circulation, along with the new album,
to a variety of different media outlets around the world. Jimmy didn?t
want to do hundreds of different interviews, they explained. He just
wanted to do one. With me.

Still gobsmacked, I turned up to see him that day not knowing what to
expect. Would I find the fire-breathing rock devil of legend waiting
there or? what? But as soon as he entered the room with a small, modest
smile on his face, his right hand extended in greeting, I knew it was
not going to be like that. Instead, I met a man anxious to put everyone
at ease, aware no doubt of the effect his presence could have on
certain, impressionable types like myself back then. Someone, above all,
who wished to be treated as normally as possible.

He was going through one of his periodic clean-ups and as I sat in his
studio drinking lager while we listened to the album at top volume, I
noticed he was sipping from a bottle of alcohol-free beer. I wanted to
ask him about it. But then there were so many things I wanted to ask him
about, and in amongst all the predictable questions about the ?Outrider?
album which we recorded over the subsequent weeks, I couldn?t help but
stray ever deeper into Zeppelin territory whenever the chance arose.

Of the many things we discussed both on and off the record, one of the
most memorable was the time he described the period immediately after
Bonham?s death in 1980.

?I was shattered at the time,? he said quietly. ?I lost a very, very
close friend. There was a point after that where I hadn?t touched the
guitar for ages and I just? it just related everything, you know, to
what had happened, the tragedy that had happened.?

It had been a ?long, dark period,? he said. The days passed slowly but
the years flashed by like lightning.

?I called up my road manager one day and said, ?Look, get the Les Paul
out of storage?. But when he went to get it the case was empty! I think
somebody took it out and borrowed it. They shouldn?t have and it
eventually reappeared. But when he came back and said the guitar?s
missing, I said ?That?s it, forget it, I?m finished?. But it eventually
turned up, and thank God, it did??

Otherwise you wouldn?t be here today?

?That?s right,? he said matter-of-factly.

On anther occasion, I enquired whether there was a particular period in
Zeppelin he looked back on as the high point?

?That?s a difficult question,? he said, his eyes twinkling. ?I could go
on for hours about the memories I have [of Zeppelin]. It was always
exciting in one way or another. There was a high point virtually every
six months. One of the most surprising times, actually, was when we went
back to the States. It must have been about 1974, and we did two
open-air festivals, one after another. These were the first two dates on
the tour and there were, well, 50,000 people at each one. And that was
just for the band on its own, because we didn?t have a support act. And
we thought, hey, what?s going??

That was when it hit you just how enormous the band had become?

?I guess, in a way, yes. I mean, I knew that we were pretty big, but I
hadn?t imagined it to be on that sort of scale. In fact, even now, I
still find it difficult to take it all in, just how much it all meant,
you know??
- ---------

[to be continued]
- -Terra

- --
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry.

- -The Tyger (William Blake 1757-1827)