Jimmy Page is a symbolic guitarist, an artist that sits firmly within the pantheon of greats to have ever picked up the instrument. However, even when Led Zeppelin were flying high, he still felt like the imperious talent of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were unmatched. It was an insecurity that left Page feeling like a mere mortal in comparison.
Together, the three musicians helped define the art of guitar playing in the late 1960s. However, Page still found himself overcome with fear that he would lose his individuality if he studied their work. Instead, he focussed on Led Zeppelin and stopped himself from fully indulging in the world going on outside around him.
A deep regret of Page’s is that he never managed to get to know Hendrix on a personal level. Sadly, they only ever shared one encounter, and his recollection of the event doesn’t paint a pretty picture. “Did I ever meet him? I did actually go into a club in New York called Salvation, and he was there, but he was totally out of it,” he remembered. “He didn’t really know who anybody was — he was barely conscious. Somebody was just kind of holding him up.”
He added, “It is just kind of a shame that I never really had a chance to talk with him or hear him,” the Zeppelin man confirmed. “I heard his records, naturally, but it would’ve been a thrill to see how he worked things out on stage. That’s quite another ballgame, as you know.”
Hendrix’s records were unavoidable. Even though Page deliberately attempted to steer clear in order for it not to have a damaging effect on his artistic integrity, they still crept into his life. Shortly before the death of Jimi, he brazenly revealed, “I don’t listen to current guitarists. Whether that sounds right or not,” he told NME in a past interview, according to Cheat Sheet.
He continued, “I thought that if I started to listen to everybody else like Eric and Jimi, then I’d get bogged down with their ideas and start nicking their phrases, which I probably did do subconsciously, and I think everybody does. You can hear Eric’s phrases coming out on Jimi’s albums, and you can hear Hendrix phrases coming out on Eric’s records.”
Although it seems peculiar for Page to devoid himself of the joy of hearing what Clapton and Hendrix could produce, his reasons were professional. After all, the three players are revered so highly because of their originality. In a bid to not sacrifice that, Page thought about the greater good of rock music. At the end of the day, nobody will be better at sounding like Clapton than the man himself, and it’s impossible to outgun Hendrix. Still, Page could easily have accidentally lost a portion of what made him spellbinding on the way.
In his view, Hendrix is the greatest to have ever played the instrument, once saying, “We’ve lost the best guitarist any of us ever had, and that was Hendrix.” After being taken out of the rock ‘n’ roll cauldron, Page could finally admire artists from his generation without going green with envy. His love for both Hendrix and Clapton continues to burn bright over half a century from his original gushing comments.