Jimmy Page isn’t a man who is often left in the shadows. Not only was he one of the most prominent session musicians in the 1960s, but with Led Zeppelin, he dominated an entire facet of the music industry. For a while, there was simply nobody more imposing than Jimmy Page. Except, of course, the unwavering figure of Bob Dylan. But while many will point to Dylan’s incredible lyrics as the main reason for his enduring success, Page has also hailed the singer-songwriter’s “intoxicating” live performance as the key to his success.
It’s a sentiment that many have shared over the years. While David Bowie always noted his jealousy over Dylan’s extensive setlist, Leonard Cohen called watching Dylan perform a “strange experience” that left him completely mesmerised. It was a similar story for the Led Zeppelin guitarist when he spoke about the inspiring moment he saw a young Bob Dylan perform.
“In May 1965 I experienced the genius of Bob at the Albert Hall,” Page wrote as part of an Instagram post. “He accompanied himself on acoustic guitar and cascaded images and words from such songs as ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ and ‘She Belongs To Me’ to a mesmerised audience. It was life-changing.” The guitarist also saw Dylan perform in 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall, calling the experience “intoxicating.”
The experience of witnessing Dylan do his thing wasn’t exclusive to Page. Friend and bandmate of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant, has often shared his adoration of Dylan. “Something happened when Dylan arrived,” the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ singer told the Guardian in 2007.
“I had to grapple with what he was talking about,” he continued. “His music referenced Woody Guthrie, Richard and Mimi Farina, Reverend Gary Davis, Dave Van Ronk and all these great American artists I knew nothing about. He was absorbing the details of America and bringing it out without any reservation at all, and ignited a social conscience that is spectacular. In these Anglo-Saxon lands, we could only gawp, because we didn’t know about the conditions he was singing about. Dylan was the first one to say, ‘Hello, reality.’ I knew that I had to get rid of the winkle-pickers and get the sandals on quick.”
Paradoxically, for a while at least, Dylan was not exactly a fan of Led Zeppelin. Peter Grant, Led Zeppelin’s manager, met with Dylan and, upon introducing himself: “Hello Bob, I’m Peter Grant, I manage Led Zeppelin,” was met with the gruff response “Do I come to you with my problems?” It’s an iconic line, but one that we’d imagine came and went. In more recent years, tensions have seemingly evaporated, with Robert Plant even covering Bob Dylan on many occasions.
It’s a joyous thing to witness the heroes of rock and roll pay tribute to those who have inspired them. For Jimmy Page, like every other member of the audience, seeing Bob Dylan perform live was a life-changing moment he will never forget.