Jimmy Page In-Session: A Look at the Guitar Legend’s Pre-Zeppelin Studio Work
Jimmy Page has always been reluctant to talk about his ’60s session work, perhaps because he can’t recall the majority of it. The sheer volume of that work is staggering, as Page laid down tracks for everyone from The Who to Tom Jones to Donovan to the Kinks. Below, we take a look at samplings of the extraordinary array of ’60s recordings that feature his contributions.
1963 – The Apprenticeship
Page’s earliest sessions were with artists who, though popular at the time, have since been relegated to obscurity. Brian Howard and the Silhouettes (“The Worrying Kind”), Tony Meehan and Jet Harris (“Diamonds,” which actually topped the U.K. charts), and Carter-Lewis and the Southerners (“Your Momma’s Out of Town”) are among the first recordings on which Page appeared. Several of these recordings fared well, commercially, and Page’s reputation as a versatile player took hold. “He was a fast player, he knew his rock ’n’ roll, and he added to that,” John Carter, of the Southerners, later recalled. “He was also quiet and a bit of an intellectual.”
1964 – The Busiest Year
In his fine biography of Page, author George Case asserts that 1964 was Page’s “most productive and most positive year as a studio guitarist.” Though the recordings he played on are mostly forgotten, “Tobacco Road” (the Nashville Teens), “I Just Can’t Go to Sleep” (The Sneekers), and “Sweet and Tender Romance” (The McKinleys) feature riffs that foreshow Page’s work in the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin. His fiery solo on First Gear’s “Leave My Kitten Alone” was one of the first instances in which Page put his beloved, newly purchased Les Paul “Black Beauty” to use.
As the year wound down, Page applied his six-string skills to several songs that took hold not only in England, but in America as well. The first of these was Tom Jones’s massive hit “It’s Not Unusual,” which saw Page deliver steady, straightforward rhythm guitar. That session was followed by contributions to a cachet of songs that have since become classic-rock staples. At the behest of producer Shel Talmy, Page played “at least a couple of riffs” on The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night.” (Note: the fiery solo on the former song was recorded by Dave Davies.) Page also played on Van Morrison and Them’s “Gloria,” “Here Comes the Night,” and “Baby Please Don’t Go,” though to what extent no one is certain.
Later in December, Talmy summoned Page back into the studio to “strengthen up” the riffs to The Who’s “I Can’t Explain.” Page also played scorching lead on that song’s B-side, “Bald-Headed Woman.” Other noteworthy Page contributions that year include an appearance on Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By,” and showing Keith Richards the solo that Richards employed on the Stones’ “Heart of Stone.”
To hear samplings of Page’s studio work from this period, click here.
1965 through Mid-1966 – Recording with Pop Stars
His reputation as a top-tier session player in full flight, Page kicked off 1965 with lounge-pop artist Burt Bacharach, helping the American songwriter record instrumental versions of classics like “Walk on By” and “Always Something There to Remind Me.” Page was then asked by the Yardbirds to replace the recently departed Eric Clapton, but Page declined, in part due to his lucrative session work. That spring, Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham recruited Page as in-house producer (and sometimes player) for his upstart record label, Immediate Records. The job resulted in session work with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (which then featured Eric Clapton), future Velvet Underground singer Nico, and R&B singer Chris Farlowe. Page also recorded a single of his own, titled “She Just Satisfies,” on which he sang lead vocals. Other artists with whom Page recorded in the first half of 1966 include Petula Clark, Lulu, Herman’s Hermits, and David Jones, a brash upstart who would soon change his name to David Bowie.
To hear more samplings of Page’s session work, click here.
Mid-1966 through 1968 – Yardbirds
First as the band’s bass player, then as co-lead guitarist with Jeff Beck, and finally as the group’s sole guitarist, Page was a member of The Yardbirds throughout this period. This part of Page’s career constitutes a lengthy story unto itself.
1968 through 1969 – Led Zeppelin Rumbling in the Distance
Page resumed his session work in early 1968, accompanying Joe Cocker in the studio for Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from my Friends.” Page went on to play guitar on five songs featured on Cocker’s debut album. The most momentous session of this era, however, was one Page did for Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Trying to emulate Pete Townshend, Donovan recorded the song playing power chords on his acoustic guitar. Page listened to the track, plugged in his guitar, and delivered what Donovan called “rock’s first power-chord solo.” On-hand to help arrange the song was John Paul Jones. Years later, drummer John Bonham recalled being present at the session as well. The rest, as they say, is history.
Other notable recordings that feature Page as session guitarist include Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman,” Marianne Faithfull’s “Come and Stay with Me,” Les Fleurs De Lys’s “Circles” (a cover of the Who song), and The Lancastrians “We'll Sing in the Sunshine.”