THERE ARE A THOUSAND LED ZEPPELIN biographies out, some better than others. However one book published this week (October 14) is sure to stand out in this overly competitive market, that of Jimmy Page himself who has created a photo-biography, snappily titled: Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page. Containing over 650 images of Mr Zoso – from a knobbly-kneed lad with an acoustic guitar in his mother’s living room, through disembarking his personal helicopter at Knebworth, to the wise, white-haired shaman we have today – it’s a fascinating, star’s-eye view of life at rock’n’roll’s cutting edge. Speaking to MOJO, Page explains why he shunned writing his memoirs in favour of pictures, how he freaked out Greater London Council with a futuristic weapon and more…
Why did you decide on a photo book, rather than a written biography?
JP: I got asked to do written word books in various formats. Somebody else could write it, or you can do it with somebody or you can do it yourself and have it transcribed… It was just people wanting to get you at the book fairs, or get advances out of it. And I thought, You know what? If I’m going to put my image into something, I’ll put my image into something that I actually feel like I’d like to do.
Jimmy Page, the guitar prodigy, by Dennis Coffin
Jimmy Page, noisy beggar, by Dennis Coffin
Jimmy Page in Beat Instrumental, August 1965, by Dennis Coffin
Jimmy Page near Bron-Yr-Aur by Chris Dreja
Jimmy Page by Hipgnosis
Jimmy Page, for his Outrider solo album, 1988, by Peter Ashworth
Led Zeppelin, together again at last in 2007, by Ross Halfin
Was it easier or harder than ‘writing’ a book?
JP: If you write a written book, you’re gonna get slowed up by lawyers wanting to see what you say about this person, that person – I couldn’t be bothered with it. But I had a number of photographs in my personal archive – some of the early stuff. I thought, This is gonna show the musician’s journey from the age of 12, 13. And every picture tells a story – it’s actually going to relay so much information on this whole journey, from a kid at Epsom learning from records all the way through to Boston at the end of it. No-one else has done it. No one else would do it on me.
With all the passport stamps and flyers and personal extras in it, the book feels like your personal scrapbook. Was that the feel you wanted?
JP: Yeah, and it’s very clear that I’m personally doing all this, as opposed to somebody else. It wasn’t somebody in a design studio. I’m a nightmare with the projects I get involved in. I really want to give everything I’ve got to it.
“Led Zeppelin had the first laser. The GLC said, You can’t use this – it’s gonna cut holes in the roof!”
The book illustrates some great Led Zeppelin stories. There are pictures of you wading in your wellies at Bron-Yr-Aur…
JP: No one else had any photographs from Bron-Yr-Aur cottage! Even in the Led Zeppelin book for the box set of III, they were my photos. I was really shocked because I thought Rob [Plant] would have loads of photographs, but he didn’t have them all. They were all mislaid or whatever. So again, it gives that little time capsule.
Those pictures really give an idea of what life at the cottage was like.
JP: I think so. There’s a picture of me that turned up really late, me playing by the fire in Bron-Yr-Aur cottage. I’ve got the acoustic at one angle, you can see me in the fire… You can see how primitive it jolly well was.
There’s a lot of pre-Led Zeppelin stuff from your session days, too.
JP: Yeah, and I didn’t think I’d have many photographs of that! A studio musician was an anonymous person. You’d just come in, do your part and go. Bit like somebody who comes in to repair the radiator, you know? You don’t know who he is, but he just repairs the radiator, gets paid and is gone. So it was very much like that. So I didn’t think there would be many photographs of all this, but actually there’s quite a lot.
Those images illustrate how your guitar playing was becoming a more and more important part of your life.
JP: That’s right. There’s no pictures of the guitar that I started on, though. There’s a Höfner guitar, and that was considered to be a pretty cool guitar. But curiously enough, there are pre-Beatles pictures of George Harrison playing the same guitar. It’s a design around a Fender Stratocaster, but it still looks pretty cool.
You also get a sense from the book of how Led Zeppelin had to make things up as you went along. No-one else had done gigs as big as you at that stage…
JP: One of the things, when we played in Earls Court here in 1975… We’ve got a big screen at the back, they’re filming the close-up detail so people from way back can see us. We were the first people to do that. When I saw Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young at Wembley in 1974 you couldn’t see what was going on. So anyway, we had screens. We also had a laser, the first laser over here that’s for sure. The GLC, the Greater London Council, they came down and said, “No you can’t use this, it’s gonna cut holes in the roof!” Honestly, it was a f**king laser pen!
Jimmy Page, the official autobiography by Jimmy Page, is released on October 14, 2014 by Genesis Publications. Price £40 from major bookstores or jimmypagebook.com.