Thursday, 28 October 2010

Jimmy Page: the summer '68 interviews

Jimmy Page relaxing in his lovely home
As is often the way, it was only after I'd finished my Led Zeppelin book that I uncovered some of the most interesting material about them, especially concerning their early days. I thought I'd share two especially rare articles here, which I don't think have ever been reproduced since they first appeared. But first, some history...

Jimmy Page  had joined The Yardbirds in June 1966, initially playing bass to Jeff Beck's lead guitar. It quickly became obvious that this was a waste, so rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja switched to bass, in order for Beck and Page to share lead guitar duties. After releasing the fine Happenings Ten Years Time Ago / Psycho Daisies 45 in October (a chart flop), appearing in Michel Antonioni's Blow Up and undertaking a short UK tour supporting the Stones, the band set off for a gruelling and unglamorous American tour as part of Dick Clark's so-called 'Caravan Of Stars'. The band was fast losing its appeal for Beck, who started missing shows, and quit in December (after another trek around the US). In his short-lived Beat Instrumental column of January 1967, however, he was clear about the fact that Page was the one thing about The Yardbirds he still liked.

His former bandmates decided to remain a quartet, and gigged hard throughout 1967. Peter Grant took over their management from Simon Napier-Bell that April, the same month that another flop 45 appeared - Little Games / Puzzles. They may have been a spent force as far as the top 40 was concerned, but they were still a popular live attraction, and Grant quickly set up further tours (of France, Japan and the US). The Little Games LP appeared in the US in July, but not in the UK. It was another poor seller, but pointed the way towards Led Zeppelin with the folky White Summer, and guitar-bowing Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor and Glimpses. Further 45s bombed, but the US live circuit remained lucrative, and they continued to tour relentlessly. Cracks were appearing, however, with Page embracing experimentation, Keith Relf and Jim McCarty heading in a folkier direction, and Dreja wanting to leave the business altogether. After a low-selling final 45 in March 1968, Goodnight Sweet Josephine / Think About It (whose UK issue was cancelled), the band ran out of juice in June 1968. Page tried hard to keep them together, but when the split became inevitable, he immediately set about forming a new band, both to fulfil existing live bookings and to continue innovating musically. 

This article is taken from Go, America's best (and almost only) 1960s music weekly, which was distributed via local radio stations and is a goldmine of arcane information about the late 60s pop scene. Published on June 21st 1968, it finds Page happily planning his next band, and excited at the prospect of using Mellotron as a lead instrument in it:

As it happens, the band still had some bookings in the UK to honour, so their final gig took place on Sunday, July 7th 1968 at Luton Technical College in Bedfordshire. After it, Relf and McCarty formed the short-lived Together, while Page and Dreja agreed to fulfil some outstanding dates in Scandinavia that autumn. Go magazine in the US reported the following on August 2nd:

A month or so later, Page gave another interview to Hit Parader (which was, confusingly, dated three months in arrears, so the December issue was actually on newsstands in September). In it he both analyses The Yardbirds' split, and explains the progress he has made towards forming a new band. It's also worth nothing that the magazine uses the phrase 'New Yardbirds' in its headline: that is the  name under which Led Zeppelin supposedly performed in September and October 1968, but no hard evidence of them having done so has ever surfaced. Did the rumours start here?

There are several interesting things about the piece, not least of all how single-minded Page's vision for Led Zeppelin was from the start. He also mentions his boathouse in Pangbourne (where he famously had Robert Plant to stay shortly after the interview was given), and is intriguingly cynical about the process of making pop records, indicating his intention to synthesize existing ideas. Finally, and fittingly, he announces his main ambition: "to bring the guitar into a new level."


  1. Richard - an interesting read. Are you sure that final Luton show was not cancelled - I have that and the scheduled appearance at Middle Earth (at Covent Garden) as cancelled - making the last performance on June 5 in Montgomery on June 5. There were 23 shos performed by the "New Yardbirds" but some of the advertising was still as The Yardbirds even in to December. Ross

  2. It seems likely that it didn't take place (Peter Grant stated in 1994: "As I recall, we never played a gig after that American tour"). However, perhaps surprisingly - no one has categorically stated either that it did or didn't go ahead, as far as I'm aware.