Any guitar player, even one as talented as Jimmy Page, has his formative influences, and he has given a strong insight into the guitarists who inspired him over the years. Someone with Page’s fame and talent is bound to be asked who inspired him to pick up a guitar and play, and he’s always been generous with his answers over the years.
The first entry is a curio because it’s a man who is better known for his voice as opposed to his guitar skills, but Elvis Presley was nevertheless a passionate type of musician who could create “When Elvis grew up it must have been pretty bleak but the white and black picked the cotton side by side and the local indigenous music provided the soundtrack to this tough environment,” Page once said. “So it took the visionary genius of Elvis to blend those musical sources and change the world”.
Page grew up in a Britain that was recovering from two world wars that had threatened to bring Europe down to its knees, and music proved an easy portal to escape into. He was buoyed by the presence of blues-rock, which might explain why musician number two earned its position on his list of personal faves. It’s Johnny Burnette, the rockabilly guitar player who helped fashion a new sound that burned through the proceedings, into something more genuine and complete.
“You were fueled to do the best you could,” Page remembered, “And it’s quite right. I mean, one of the records that stopped you in your tracks was [1956’s] Johnny Burnette and the Rock n’ Roll Trio.” Page wasn’t the only one blown away by rockabilly, as it soaked its way into the early Beatle recordings, which is why the British records of the early 1960s were so fun and fresh to listen to.
Jeff Beck was another bouncy guitar player who enjoyed a rapport with Page, and the two of them collaborated together on the spellbinding ‘Beck’s Bolero’. Together, they shared a deep love for Gene Vincent. “As each release came, with the Gene Vincent stuff,” Page revealed, “It was really challenging to even attempt to play it. But once you had a solid-body guitar, as opposed to a cello body, it became more doable. Nevertheless, you were fueled to do the best you could, and it’s quite right.”
But how does this connect to Beck? “The very first time I met Jeff, I said, “What’s your version of [Little Walter’s] ‘My Babe’?” to see how he played it. And I said, “Yeah, well, I’ve been doing it like this.” He just had an instant rapport with me.”
Beck and Page both played in The Yardbirds, even completing a stint together as co-lead guitar players. Both were blown away by Muddy Waters’ innate talent. “As far as the blues, it just captured them hearing Chicago blues. When the Stones first started they were doing really good interpretations of Muddy Waters songs and all that Chess catalogue.”
The guitar player continued down this train of thought, stating that it was friendship with The Rolling Stones that led him to understand how to play Elmore James’ barrelling material. “I didn’t know Mick and Keith as well as I knew Jeff. But I’d seen Brian at the Ealing Jazz Club. I saw him play bottleneck guitar. So I was struggling with the Elmore James stuff. Suddenly, it clicked. It was in the tuning. He was doing it.”
Page embraced his inner Elmore James on the ferocious ‘In My Time Of Dying’, which was one of the undisputed classics on Physical Graffiti, allowing his fiery guitar to burn over John Bonham’s backpedal and cymbals. Such was the power of the track, it showed the quartet returning to the blues records that brought the four men together under one band.
It was the purge, the urgency, and the urbane presentation of the riffs that made the album sound so spectacular, much as it was the raw, rapid attack of the vocals that made it endlessly repeatable to listen to. Best of all, it showed that Page – nominally regarded as one of the Gods of rock – had his superiors, and knew when he had to recognise the greatness of others.
The five guitarists who inspired Jimmy Page:
- Elvis Presley
- Johnny Burnette
- Gene Vincent
- Muddy Waters
- Elmore James
Listen to Jimmy Page discuss his influences, below.