Celebrate Jimmy Page’s 70th Birthday With His 20 Greatest Pre-Zeppelin Session Guitarist Tracks

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70 years ago today, James Patrick Page was born into this world…and rock has never been the same. His name would be secure in the history books even if he only penned “Stairway To Heaven”, but that’s just the first step on the journey to appreciating Jimmy Page‘s guitar brilliance. Long before selling out stadiums in the seventies with Led Zeppelin, Page had already made a name for himself a decade earlier as one of the most sought after session musicians in Britian. He played on literally hundreds (if not thousands) of records from 1963 to 1966, admitting in later years that “At one point I was playing on three sessions a day, six days a week.” Known for his diversity as well as his virtuosity, these tracks ran the gamut from hard-edged R&B, easy-listening Burt Bacharach standards, and Top 40 pop like “Downtown” by Petula Clark, “It’s Not Unusual” by Tom Jones, and even the James Bond theme “Goldfinger”! Of course, he also played for future legends like the Who, the Kinks, Van Morrison and David Bowie

Page did so many dates that even he has difficulty recalling exactly what he did and who he did it for. As a result, his session-man days have taken on an almost mythical quality, leading diehard fans to endlessly debate which songs have been graced by Jimmy’s strings. In honor of the man’s 70th birthday, we’ve done our very best to separate fact from fiction and sift through hundreds of tracks to bring you our picks for his most badass session work ever. It’s a mix of incredible yet little-heard deep cuts, and beloved classics you probably never knew he had a hand in creating. Read on and rock on, friends!

20. “Once In A While” by The Brooks (1964)

This early session for England’s “answer to the Everly Brothers” was reportedly one of Page’s favorites. He would later go on to reuse some of these riffs on the first Led Zep album nearly five years later.

Bonus Points: Page apparently played with the real Everlys on their Two Yanks In England album in 1966.

 

19. “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter” by The Kinks (1964)

As there is no comprehensive list of all the songs that Jimmy played on (and which lines he actually played), many of his session credits are mired in controversy and speculation. Case in point: his role in the Kinks’ early recordings. For years it’s been popular belief that Page was tapped by producer Shel Talmy to play the blistering solo on their first monster hit “You Really Got Me,” as well on the followup, “All Day And All Of The Night.” But Talmy denies that this ever happened, saying that he only brought Page in for some rhythm guitar work on their debut album some time later, churning out power chords in order to allow band leader Ray Davies to focus on singing. Page himself also supports this story. “I didn’t really do that much on the Kinks’ records,” he admitted in a 1972 interview. “I know I managed to get a couple of riffs in on their album, but I can’t really remember. I know that Ray didn’t really approve of my presence. The Kinks just didn’t want me around when they were recording. It was Shel Talmy’s idea.”

Ray, not amused by the rumor that a band outsider played one of their most iconic lines, offered up a fairly dismissive view of Pagey’s role in the 1976 book Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography. ”Dave Davies did all those solos…The [version] of ‘You Really Got Me’ that was actually released was the third [recording]. There was a demo thing with Dave playing lead, a second cut which may have had Jimmy Page on it (and which Pye Records still have in their vaults) and a third which definitely had Dave on it. I know because I was standing right next to him when he played on it. And that’s the one which was released. Jimmy Page did play tambourine on our first album. It’s very good tambourine and he’s a very good musician. I’d use him if I was producing a recording.”

Obviously Page was not happy about having his credit demoted to 3rd grade percussion. “I never played tambourine on the damned records,” he shot back in an interview the following year. “I played guitar. But I didn’t play on ‘You Really Got Me’ and that’s what pisses [Ray] off.” To put an end to the whole feud, we chose this appropriately titled album cut, which does feature Jimmy on acoustic 12-string.

 

18. “Bald Headed Woman” The Who (1964)

Get ready for take two. Later in the year producer Shel Talmy called upon Page once again, this time to “thicken up” the rhythm on The Who’s single “I Can’t Explain”. Rumors persist to this day that it’s him on the solo, but guitarist Pete Townshend insists that this isn’t the case. He concedes that Jimmy played on the session, but claims that his part was buried deep down in the mix. It’s much more verifiable that Page played the fuzz box licks on the song’s B-side, a cover of the slow-burning blues standard “Bald Headed Woman”.  That’s because he apparently owned the only fuzz box in the country at that point, and wasn’t about to lend it out to Townshend!