While Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton have long dominated the conversation surrounding ‘the best guitarist of all time’ – though Dimebag Darrel ought to take the best metal guitarist gong – there are many others worth considering: take David Gilmour, Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler for example. Another name to be added to that list is the legendary Jimmy Page.
It is Page’s variety of styles that make him stand out on the star-studded list; he was as proficient in playing medieval acoustic folk as he was shredding into a heavy rock guitar solo. He was also a truly inventive player, bringing out the violin bow on the six-string, which arguably led to post-rock acts like Sigur Ros and their frontman Jonsi Birgisonn using the technique extensively on their recording and in live performances. Page also innovated the use of alternative guitar tunings.
Born in 1944 in the London suburb of Heston, Page took up the guitar at age 12 after finding an old Spanish guitar in the house he grew up in, suspecting it was left there by the former inhabitants of the home. While Page did receive a few lessons in a bid to learn the basics of the instrument, he was amazingly largely self-taught.
In an interview with Rock Cellar Magazine, Page opened up on his early days of playing the six-string. He said: “One day I went to school and there was a boy standing up on the school field and he was playing Lonnie Donegan songs on an acoustic guitar, which looked very similar to the one I had at home. A bit more expensive. My guitar looked like it was literally thrown away. So we got to talking and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got one of those at home.’ And he said, ‘Bring it along and I’ll show you how to tune it.’ He showed me how to tune it, and he showed me a couple of chords and I think I went home and just kept playing those chords all the time, like a mantra. And it sort of went on from there.”
Page would go on to play in The Yardbirds after a lucrative early career as a session musician. Initially, he was sceptical of joining the band as he did not want to upset his friend Eric Clapton by replacing him. He instead suggested Jeff Beck, who he had known during his childhood. In the interview, Page reveals how he met Beck and how they learned to play together: “There weren’t many guitarists in the area at that point,” he said. “There was the one at school. But then bit by bit you’d hear about other guitarists and meet other guitarists, but nobody was in a really close proximity to me, because school was quite a way from where I lived”.
Page added: “But there was an art college at Epsom. And to cut a long story short, Jeff Beck’s sister was attending that art college and there was a record collector who collected rock and roll and rockabilly records, and they were having a conversation and she said, ‘My brother’s really weird, he only plays records and he’s sort of trying to learn guitar from them, but he’s only got a homemade guitar.’”
Detailing further, Page explained: “She said, ‘Maybe we should get these two together.’ So it was sort of suggested. And there was a knock on our door and there was Jeff’s sis. And they look very similar, too. You could see the family resemblance. And there was Jeff holding his homemade guitar and we just bonded immediately. I actually did have a guitar, but I had a homemade bass, too. And we were friends ever since that point. So that’s how we got together. We sort of bonded from that point.”
Following the breakup of the Yardbirds in 1968, Page wanted to start a new band with a heavier rock sound. He enlisted Robert Plant on vocals, John Paul Jones on Bass and John Bonham on drums, and together, they became Led Zeppelin, arguably the biggest heavy rock band of all time. With that, Zeppelin is often credited with the creation of the sound of metal, though a large portion of their catalogue is comprised of acoustic efforts, and as such, the band have been wary of accepting their role in the birth of metal.