Jimmy Page, the now-iconic guitarist and founder of the rock band Led Zeppelin, has traversed the world of alternative, popular and contemporary music for the better part of six decades. Considered by many to be the creative spark behind a large majority of Led Zeppelin’s material, Page’s pioneering work with the guitar changed the landscape of music as we know it today.
Having formed an uncompromising creative unit alongside Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Page went on to rub shoulders with some of the greatest artists to ever impact the music industry. “I believe every guitar player inherently has something unique about their playing,” he once commented. “They just have to identify what makes them different and develop it,” he added. It is that sentiment that has seen Page chew the fat with some of the most iconic names, from The Beatles to The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and countless others.
Given the fact that Page has been actively working in and around a slew of recognisable faces, the Led Zep man has never been shy about throwing around his admiration for certain guitarists. “Out of all the guitarists to come out of the sixties, though, Beck, Clapton, Lee, Townshend and I are still having a go. That says something,” Page once noted when asked for his favourites. “Beck, Clapton and I were sort of the Richmond/Croydon type clan, and Alvin Lee, I don’t know where he came from, Leicester or something like that. So he was never in with it a lot,” he added. “And Townshend, Townshend was from Middlesex, and he used to go down to the clubs and watch the other guitarists.”
During the same interview, Page added: “The other guitarist I started to get into died also, Clarence White. He was absolutely brilliant. Gosh. On a totally different style—the control, the guy who played on the Maria Muldaur single, ‘Midnight at the Oasis’. Amos Garrett. He’s Les Paul oriented, and Les Paul is the one, really. We wouldn’t be anywhere if he hadn’t invented the electric guitar. Another one is Elliot Randall, the guy who guested on the first Steely Dan album. He’s great.”
While rolling off a list of esteemed guitar players that he admires, Page casually dropped in the nugget of information that he considers the longstanding and somewhat cult band Little Feat as his “favourite American group” of all time.
The band, formed by singer-songwriter, frontman and guitarist Lowell George alongside the keyboardist Bill Payne, started their genre-melding outfit in 1969 in Los Angeles. Combining elements of blues, folk, rock and roll, soul and the lesser-seen elements of a genre defined as ‘swamp pop’, it’s little surprise their material tickled Page in all the right ways. If you add all that into the mix, along with the fact that founding member George quit Frank Zappa’s band Mothers of Invention to form the group, you’ve got yourself a bizarre yet brilliant combination.
The band, who gathered supporters with every performance, relentlessly attempted to break down barriers both on the stage and in the studio. “Lowell used to do this thing with cassette tapes where he would take the tape and cut and splice it together, not knowing what was going to happen,” Feats guitarist Paul Barrere once explained. “[On ‘Rock & Roll Doctor’] there was like a couple of measures that were 3 1/2 beats instead of 4 beats and he would hand the tape to [keyboardist] Billy [Payne] and say, ‘Normalise this.’ I think within the framework of the verse there’s a 6/4 measure, which is probably why we didn’t get a whole lot of airplay on jukeboxes. If people try to dance to it, it’s like they’re on the wrong foot!”
However, as is normally the way with feverishly creative people, Little Feat was rife with bitterness, infighting and discontent. Despite being adored by some of the biggest names in the business, they struggled to properly reach the heights of major critical success. “It’s not entirely wrong to say Lowell was the leader, but then one has to lead,” Payne once said of the band. “He was fine for a while, but he didn’t have the capacity or the sense of responsibility. He’d do silly things like lose master tapes and he took too many drugs. He was like Jerry Garcia. He’d disappear for weeks at a time on some binge and then come back in reasonable shape. ‘Oh, you’re back! Great!’.
Needless to say, the issues would end up being too great to deal with. George took the decision to end the band shortly before his death in 1979, citing creative differences as the reason. However, the surviving members reunited in 1987, and the band has remained active to the present.