Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page revealed the song that changed his life
It’s fair to say that with the Yardbirds, in-studio sessions and, of course, Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page influenced thousands and thousands of musicians. The iconic guitarist’s image was up on bedroom walls around the globe and his music is still powered through speakers across the entire planet.
Yet, all icons have their heroes, and during a conversation for Bob Boilen’s book, Your Song Changed My Life, where the veteran journalist speaks to some of music’s heroes about their own favourite songs. When he asked Page the answer became rather obvious.
Like most rock and roller’s his age, when Jimmy Page was a young boy rock ‘n’ roll was so far from Britain it wasn’t even played on the radio. As an eight-year-old Page moved houses and, upon arriving at his new bedroom, found himself a leftover guitar from the previous residents. Though the young Page had no interest in the instrument he kept it around.
Rock ‘n’ roll would of course eventually land on British shores and Page himself would do a good job in bringing his own flavour to the new sound. In fact, Page immersed himself in every piece of the delta blues he could find, giving himself a vital education as he did. But as Boilen revealed to Rolling Stone, “So many Brits of that age talk about skiffle music [and] Lonnie Donegan was king.”
However, there was something different about Page’s relation to the Scottish singer who brought rock ‘n’ roll to Britain. “But it wasn’t till I began to think of how Donegan changed the blues and ‘skiffled it up’ that I made the connection to how Jimmy Page took Donegan and electrified it to shocking and long-lasting effects.”
Page was never intent on making himself into a British version of an American product though, “I wanted to have my own approach to what I did. I didn’t want to … do a carbon copy of B.B. King, but I really love the blues. The blues had so much effect on me and I just wanted to make my own contribution in my own way.”
Lonnie Donnegan’s cover of the blues standard ‘Rock Island Line’, a song about two Chicagoan institutions, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad line and made famous by Lead Belly, found its way on to the radio. Page certainly hear dit many times. But it wasn’t until a friend of Page’s, Rod Wyatt, played the song live that something in Page was ignited.
Page told Wyatt of the guitar he had at home with Wyatt promising him that he could both tune and help Page to play the instrument. “It was a campfire guitar … but it did have all the strings on it which is pretty useful because I wouldn’t have known where to get guitar strings from,” remembers Page. “And then [Rod] showed me how to tune it up … and then I started strumming away like not quite like — not quite like Lonnie Donegan, but I was having a go.”
“He really understood all that stuff, Lonnie Donegan,” Page tells Boilen. “But this is the way that he sort of, should we say, jazzed it up or skiffled it up. By the time you get to the end of this he’s really spitting it out … he keeps singing ‘Rock Island line, Rock Island’ [and] you really get this whole staccato aspect of it. It’s fantastic stuff! So many guitarists from the Sixties will all say Lonnie Donegan was [their] influence.”
Listen to Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ and see if you can be inspired to be the next Jimmy Page.