Jimmy Page Visits Oxford University & Tells Students How He Went from Guitar Apprentice to Creating Led Zeppelin

It’s maybe a cul­tur­al tru­ism that icon­o­clasts who live long enough even­tu­al­ly become icons. So I sup­pose it shouldn’t sur­prise us much to see a rock ‘n’ roll hero like Jim­my Page stand­ing behind the podi­um at the Oxford Union, for a lec­ture and Q&A series put on by the famed debat­ing soci­ety. But as he tells his audi­ence, it isn’t his first time at Oxford—he made an appear­ance at 16, accom­pa­ny­ing beat poet and nov­el­ist Roys­ton Ellis on gui­tar. (It was Ellis, Page notes, who sug­gest­ed the quirky spelling of the Bea­t­les to John Lennon.) This sto­ry leads to Page’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch of how he became a musi­cian by lis­ten­ing to “the music com­ing over from Amer­i­ca” and the skif­fle ver­sions of the same by Eng­lish musi­cian Lon­nie Done­gan.

It’s a sto­ry famil­iar to fans not only of Page but of every British inva­sion band inspired by the Amer­i­can blues and R&B. But it’s always inter­est­ing, espe­cial­ly for Amer­i­cans, to hear it told. Home­grown tra­di­tion­al music we take for grant­ed sound­ed to the young Page like “it was com­ing from Mars.”

He describes the influ­ence of Done­gan as a “por­tal” to the blues and rock ‘n’ roll, which bands like the Yard­birds picked up in the ear­ly six­ties. Men­tion of that sem­i­nal Eng­lish band leads Page to recount his sec­ond time at Oxford, to see the Yard­birds at Queen’s Col­lege, a fate­ful night that end­ed with Page join­ing the band on bass after Paul Samwell-Smith quit. By that time, he had served what he calls a “three-year appren­tice­ship” as a stu­dio musi­cian, arranger, and com­pos­er.

These rem­i­nisces set the tenor for Page’s short address, a series of vignettes from his ven­er­a­ble career, full of fas­ci­nat­ing digres­sions and asides. At around 13 min­utes in, he con­cludes that his “life­time achieve­ment” was to “do some­thing which was ini­tial­ly my hob­by, turn that into some­thing which was a very pro­fes­sion­al process, but still a very cre­ative one… and to inspire young musi­cians.” After his short speech, the pro­gram tran­si­tions to an inter­view for­mat, and Page expands on and clar­i­fies many of his com­ments. His affa­ble humil­i­ty and desire to share his wis­dom and expe­ri­ence make this very enjoy­able view­ing for any­one inter­est­ed in Page’s life and work, or in the his­to­ry of rock ‘n’ roll more gen­er­al­ly, which can­not be told with­out him, and for which he is a very able chron­i­cler.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Jim­my Page Tells the Sto­ry of “Kash­mir”

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

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