When it comes to guitar playing, there a very few better judges than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. Combining extravagant showmanship, technical prowess, and creative flair, Page is the living embodiment of the ‘guitar hero’ – the last of a dying breed some would say. With Led Zeppelin, he created some of the most iconic riffs of all time, opening up the sonic possibilities of his instrument to the extent that guitar playing simply wouldn’t be the same without him. It’s no surprise, then, that he was once asked to rank some of the most legendary guitarists out of ten.
The first record Jimmy Page is asked to listen to begins with the gentle thrum of fingerstyle blues. At first, Page looks a little bewildered, daunted by the notion that he might unknowingly give a revered guitarist a terrible score. However, he quickly recognises the playing as that of the immortal Muddy Waters, whose ‘Catfish Blues’ sends a smile rippling across Page’s face. “Well, I think that’ great personally. I’m gonna grade that a ten because of who it is.” Waters’ riff-based blues style greatly inspired Page and countless other guitarists of his generation, so much so that, later in his career, Page was frequently accused of…how to say this…drawing a little too much from Waters’ music.
The next guitarist is equally recognisable: “Oh, I’m gonna give that an eleven,” Page laughs, realising that he is listening to his own guitar playing on The Yardbirds’ 1967 track, ‘Smile On Me’, which saw him replace none other than Eric Clapton on lead guitar. Page had been asked to replace Clapton twice before, offers he turned down on the grounds that he didn’t want to usurp his friend. However, when bassist Paul Samwell-Smith left the band under a cloud, Page agreed to fill in until The Yardbirds found a proper replacement. “Jeff had brought me to the gig in his car, and on the way back, I told him I’d sit in for a few months until they got things sorted out,” Page recalled. “Beck had often said to me, ‘It would be really great if you could join the band'”. And after a good deal of tip-toeing, that’s exactly what he did.
Quickly sliding into the next track, Page says: “Oh I know this, yeah that’s cool – I like that.” As a wave of jazz-infused fretwork bleeds out of the tinny speaker, he pinpoints the artist in question: “Steely Dan. Yeah, I really like that, it gotta be a 12 hasn’t it?”. At this point, the whole ‘out of ten’ situation seems to be getting really out of hand – and It’s no wonder. Page’s taste has always been wide-reaching. “The thing is,” he begins, “I really love all guitar playing. I remember hearing guitarist when I was a kid and just really appreciating, even then, that you’ve only got six strings, and everybody’s take on it is completely different. And that’s what’s so important about it.”
See the clip, below.