The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards has never hidden his admiration for the technical ability of Jimmy Page. He’s a musician that ‘Keef’ rates immensely. However, despite their relationship flourishing, that didn’t prevent him from blending the professional and personal, offering the Led Zeppelin architect some sage words of advice at the height of their fame.
In 2020, The Stones finally released ‘Scarlet’, a long-lost collaboration with Jimmy Page. It saw the most dangerous band of the 1960s join forces with one of the most clinical guitarists of his era, and the combination lived up to its divine billing. The artists have been friends since before Led Zeppelin’s incarnation, a time when Page was the most in-demand session musician in London.
Although Richards has often discussed his displeasure of the Zeppelin sound on numerous occasions, the guitarist has always managed to squeeze in praise for Page – even if it is somewhat backhanded. He once said, “To me, Led Zeppelin is Jimmy Page if you wanna cut the story short.”
“As a band, I felt aptly named, it never took off for me musically,” he uttered on another occasion before piling compliments onto Page’s performance. He added, “At the same time, Jimmy Page is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever known. Bonham was a hell of a powerhouse drummer although I think he’s kind of heavy-handed, myself — that’s when the ‘Led’ comes in.”
Despite not being their biggest fan, Richards still regularly visited Led Zep’s live shows because of his friendship with Page, and he often relayed the one piece of advice that the Zeppelin guitarist refused to take on board.
The band had certain songs that they simply couldn’t play live because it was impossible to recreate the complex sounds that Page conjured up in the studio. Richards told him a simple way to circumvent the problem, yet, it fell on deaf ears. “Then it becomes a challenge, a tough challenge in some cases,” Page told Trouser Press in 1977. “‘Achilles’ is the classic one. When Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards came to hear us play, Keith said, ‘You ought to get another guitarist; you’re rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business.'”
He added, “Quite amusing. There are times when I’d just love to get another guitarist on, but it just wouldn’t look right to the audience.”
Recruiting a second guitarist is a decision that almost every other band would make if they were in Led Zeppelin’s position, and it offered up a simple way to relieve some pressure from Page. However, in his eyes, the band was himself, Robert Plant, John Bonham, and John Paul Jones, with a fifth member potentially upsetting their chemistry.
While it would have made his life easier by reducing his workload, Page instead decided to put the group first. It says everything about his devotion to his bandmates and what they created as Led Zeppelin. He wasn’t prepared to risk it, even though it would have significantly simplified his existence.