Jimmy Page Unplugged: Led Zeppelin’s Guitarist Reveals His Acoustic Talents in Four Videos (1970–2008)

There are those who say Jim­my Page’s gui­tar play­ing went into decline near the end of the 70s for rea­sons that are in dis­pute, whether drugs, ten­donitis, or a bro­ken ring fin­ger dur­ing a 1975 tour. (Thir­ty-two years lat­er, he broke his pinky and had to delay a Led Zep­pelin reunion.) Every musi­cian goes through slumps. Page talked in a 1977 inter­view about an ear­li­er such episode, dur­ing his ses­sion work in the six­ties when horns and orches­tras began to eclipse gui­tars, and he found him­self “tak­ing a back seat with just the occa­sion­al riff.” The expe­ri­ence made him reeval­u­ate his career. “I didn’t real­ize how rusty I was going to get until a rock and roll ses­sion turned up from France, and I could hard­ly play.”

One thing that sus­tained Page in those low times was his acoustic play­ing. As a ses­sion play­er, he tells the ‘77 inter­view­er, “I had to do it on stu­dio work, and you come to grips with it very quick­ly too, very quick­ly, because it is what is expect­ed. There was a lot of busk­ing in the ear­ly days, but as I say, I had to come to grips with it, and it was a good school­ing.”

Though Page first start­ed out play­ing in acoustic skif­fle bands, he says his first gui­tar was a Grazz­ioso, “which was like a copy of a Stra­to­cast­er,” his next instru­ment a real Fend­er Strat, and his third, the “Black Beau­ty” Gib­son Les Paul that he played on Zeppelin’s ear­ly stu­dio ses­sions before it was stolen. It was his ear­li­er ses­sion work that trained him as a dis­ci­plined, and under­rat­ed, acoustic player—and at times a pro­found­ly inspired one.

When, after almost ten years, Page reunit­ed with Robert Plant in 1994 for a series of MTV Unplugged ses­sions (top), his acoustic play­ing was top notch. In oth­er acoustic ses­sions from just a few years ear­li­er (the 1989 video fur­ther up) a slight­ly out-of-it Page plays with quite much less sub­tle­ty and restraint, though he’s cer­tain­ly still got the skill. But care­less per­for­mances like these are not char­ac­ter­is­tic of Page’s true tal­ents as an acoustic play­er. Ignore the poor video qual­i­ty and lis­ten to his incred­i­ble pick­ing above on a 1970 broad­cast of The Julie Felix Show in Eng­land.

Page could show­case his lead play­ing, adapt­ed to a folk idiom, on the acoustic gui­tar, but he has always excelled as a rhythm play­er as well. Just above, in an out­take from the 2008 doc­u­men­tary It Might Get Loud—while still recov­er­ing from that bro­ken pinky finger—Page plays what Gui­tar World iden­ti­fies only as “an uncred­it­ed instru­men­tal” on a gui­tar that “appears to be in an open tun­ing, pos­si­bly C.” What­ev­er this com­po­si­tion, we can hear in these broad strums a whole rhyth­mic arrange­ment, with drum and bass parts and neg­a­tive space drawn around the hints of melody. Page has always had one of the most thor­ough­ly imag­i­na­tive gui­tar styles in rock and roll, and when he steps back from his blues-based elec­tric play­ing and embraces the acoustic gui­tar, he show­cas­es how much the influ­ence of var­i­ous acoustic world and folk musics “gave Led Zep­pelin a rich­ness,” writes Stephen Erlewine at All­mu­sic, “unheard in their heavy rock peers.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Jim­my Page Tells the Sto­ry of “Kash­mir”

Jim­my Page Tells the Sto­ry of “Stair­way to Heav­en”: How the Most Played Rock Song Came To Be

13-Year-Old Jim­my Page Plays Gui­tar on TV in 1957, an Ear­ly Moment in His Spec­tac­u­lar Career

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John Fremont says:

    Page always cit­ed gui­tarists Bert Jan­sch, John Ren­bourn, and Davy Gra­ham as influ­ences on his acoustic gui­tar style.He once called him­self “a Bert Jan­sch clone.” A lis­ten to Bert Jan­sch’s Jack Ori­on, John Ren­bourn’s Anoth­er Mon­day, and Davy Gra­ham’s Folk, Blues and Beyond albums all show the influ­ence that showed up in Page’s work with Led Zep. A par­tic­u­lar track with his 80’s group the Firm called Mid­night Moon­light shows Page con­tin­u­ing to devel­op musi­cal ideas he first heard from those guys. Page and Zep always get slammed for not cred­it­ing their musi­cal sources but I think they inno­vat­ed on and not just imper­son­at­ed their inspi­ra­tions.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.