Friday, 7 January 2011

Celebration Day: Jimmy Page’s Top 10 Guitar Moments

Gibson Les Paul legend Jimmy Page is a true ambassador for the absolute power and authority of rock ’n’ roll. And this Sunday, January 9, he gets a little more senior as he celebrates his 67th birthday.

Of course, both Page and his music are ageless – enduring in the same way as David Lynch and his landmark films, or Beethoven or Poe. That is to say, he was a radical attuned to the cutting edge in his salad days, and the works he created then still have the same breathless ability to excite and inspire.

Page was a giant sprung forth in the ’60s and ’70s, who first fully realized his genius in 1969 with Led Zeppelin and Led Zeppelin II. That was also the year of the MC5’s Kick Out the Jams, The Stooges, the Stones’ Let It Bleed, Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats, Fleetwood Mac’s Then Play On, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King, Blind Faith, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline, The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone’s Stand, and many more great albums.

Yet, even in such company, Page stood out for his daredevil playing and the ungodly sounds he coaxed from his little Supro amp in the studio and a stack of Marshalls on stage. And by the time Led Zeppelin II was completed, he’d also cemented what’s been an enduring relationship with the Gibson Les Paul model.

Page purchased the sunburst ’59 Gibson Les Paul Standard that would become hallowed as his “Number One” from Joe Walsh in April 1969 during a tour of the U.S. in the wake of Led Zeppelin. Walsh was playing Gibsons and other guitars while singing in the James Gang, and had the ’59’s neck shaved to a thinner profile before selling the guitar to Page. There was already a Black 1960 Les Paul Custom in Page’s collection that he’d modified with a Bigsby tremolo arm. But the six-string from Walsh was different. It felt perfect in his hands and on his shoulders – where it would hang for thousands of iconic concerts – and conjured the heavy sound he envisioned in a nearly effortless manner.

Page has described “Number One” as his “wife” and “mistress,” and calls it irreplaceable. Unlike the Black Beauty, which was stolen in 1970, it remains in his possession and has been immortalized in several Gibson Custom Shop reissues. In the ’70s the bridge tone control was replaced with a push-pull pot that puts the pick-ups out of phase, and the bridge pick-up was replaced after it failed on tour. The instrument also sports gold-plated Grover tuners. Otherwise it remains the same as when he acquired it, plus road wear.

After making Led Zeppelin II, Page got a second Les Paul Standard he dubbed “Number Two.” He had its neck shaved to emulated “Number One’”s distinctive profile, and installed push-pull pots to coil-split the guitar’s humbuckers. After Led Zeppelin disbanded, he had phase and series switches installed beneath the pickguard. But before Zeppelin’s dissolution, “Number One” and “Number Two” helped Page and his supergroup create awe-inspiring, timeless albums. This historic instrument has also been recreated by the Gibson Custom Shop, as the Jimmy Page Number Two Les Paul.

To celebrate Page’s back pages, here’s a dream compilation of his six-string pyrotechnics.

10. “Most High,” Walking into Clarksdale (1998)

“Most High” is part of the dark, southern Gothic journey Page and Robert Plant reunited for after the dissolution of Led Zeppelin – to date their only collaboration on new material since their legendary band’s finale. It’s worth noting that the album also includes the first version of Plant’s “Please Read the Letter,” which became a hit on his 2007 duet album with Alison Krauss, Raising Sand.

9. “Wearing and Tearing,” Coda (1982)

Proof that when it came to energy and aggression, punk rockers had nothing on the Zep. This is pure China-shop bull charge with Page slashing out chords and tearing through high-speed riffs. A fitting “coda,” indeed.

8. “In the Evening,” In Through the Out Door (1979)

At the time of its release, this album was a disappointment to fans who craved Led Zeppelin’s heavier side. But, in retrospect its melodic direction and lovely arrangements prove it as enduring as any of the band’s earlier albums. “In the Evening” revisits Eastern themes to evoke a sense of mystery and romance, blending thunderous chords and memorable single-note passages that soar and sting.

7. “Achilles Last Stand,” Presence (1976)

This ripper’s lyrics are steeped in mythology, and so is Page’s legendary approach to tracking this orchestral masterpiece. There are roughly a dozen guitars overlaid on this tune, playing both scales and textural parts, some manipulated by Vari-Speed, which was one of Page’s favorite ways to doctor the tones and moods he created in the studio. This is Led Zeppelin’s most grandly conceptual guitar recording.

Celebration Day: Jimmy Page’s Top 10 Guitar Moments

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