Every career guitarist has his or her own set of idiosyncratic methods and interests that inform style. It’s what makes each player unique. There are three key ingredients to Jimmy Page’s spellbinding success: a firm grasp of the importance of dynamics, a vocal approach to his instrument and a vast sonic palette.
Page sees the big picture, both in terms of album sequencing and individual track dynamics. From the opening energetic stabs of “Good Times, Bad Times” off the first Led Zeppelin album to his work with the Firm and beyond, he has explored shades of volume, density, and tempo on the macro and micro scale. He knows the whisper-to-a-scream dynamic is a vital part of what allows a piece of music to tap into emotional power, and he knows that listeners generally don’t want an album full of barn burners with no slower numbers. He gives his audience a story and takes the time to breathe between scenes.
A questionable singer can ruin the potential of even a great band. In his wisdom, Page has always worked with great vocalists and frontmen, and his taste in fills often serves as a foil to the main vocal line. His melodic call-and-response duels with Robert Plant are legendary. While he’s a great showman himself, Page’s other collaborative partners have been more than capable in that regard, too. Paul Rodgers, David Coverdale, and Chris Robinson are all exceptional blues-influenced singers with the energy to rouse a crowd to a standing ovation, and the guest singers for his solo album, Outrider, reveal an attraction to and respect for the human voice as a primary element. As an extension of this, Page has not been shy about stepping out front on occasion with a vocal-esque melodic solo that ebbs and flows as it unfolds. Check out his lesser known tracks, “Hummingbird” and “Prison Blues” from Outrider for some fine examples of how pacing in a solo builds to an extraordinary statement of taste. He communicates with his note choices and phrases much like a singer.
When one thinks of Jimmy Page, images of a Les Paul slung low and a Marshall stack loom large. But Page has many interests outside of guitar. From his involvement in charity work, film, and publishing, he undoubtedly comes into contact with varied stirring experiences. It would be difficult to have seen as much time on the road as Jimmy Page and not walk away with a unique perspective. In the end, however, he focuses on channeling his energy into musical composition—and he does it with a palette of sounds, guitar and otherwise, that are wide-ranging despite his iconic status as a Les Paul player. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, hurdy gurdy, violin bow, and Theremin all find their way into his ongoing love affair with timbre. It’s all about the song for him. He told Steven Rosen in a 1977 interview for Guitar Player, “My vocation is more in composition really than anything else — building up harmonies using the guitar, orchestrating the guitar like an army, a guitar army.”
From his early session days, Page took the time to learn both the studio and the guitar—and he has a reputation for getting things done and for tireless hours behind the mixing desk. Few rock and blues guitarists can claim so many sideman credits while also managing to emerge as one of the most prolific and influential musicians of his generation. The birds-eye view of his career so far could be described as alchemical—a little bit of this, a little bit of that, voilà, gold!