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, 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)
Later in 1964, 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!
17. “Leave My Kitten Alone” by The First Gear (1964)
This unassuming cover of a Little Willie John number by a little known five-piece group from Yorkshire bears the distinction of having one of the greatest early solos that ever came cartwheeling off Page’s strings. Seriously, this one might give you whiplash! The cut was produced, once again, by Shel Talmy of Kinks and Who fame.
16. “Baby I Go For You” by The Blue Rondos (1964)
The Rondos were produced by the influential Joe Meek, a sort of British Phil Spector. Sadly, sonic trailblazing isn’t the only trait they share; Meek was deeply disturbed and shot his landlady dead in 1967 before turning the gun on himself. Despite many published sources to the contrary (Page’s website among them), there are some who say that the solo was actually taken by guitarist Roger Hall. But even if the licks aren’t played by one of the greatest guitar gods of all time, they’re definitely worthy of him!
15. “Baby Please Don’t Go” by Van Morrison and Them (1964)
Same story as the Kinks and the Who: It’s unclear what exactly Page contributed to the Belfast boys’ debut album (and first few singles). He’s thought to have played on “Gloria,” “Here Comes The Night,” and “Mystic Eyes,” but it’s still up for heated debate. However, it seems likely that it’s indeed Page laying it down on this Big Joe Williams number.
14. “Skinny Minnie” by Carl-Lewis and the Southerners (1964)
Page started off as a session man on this big beat group’s first single in 1962, but within a few years he played on so many recordings that he was nearly accepted as a full-time member, even posing for photo-shoots with the band! Viv Prince, later of psych-pop legends the Pretty Things, also shared instrumental duties on this Bill Haley and the Comets cover.
Bonus points: Band founders John Carter and Ken Lewis penned the Herman’s Hermits’ hit “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” which Page reportedly also played on.
13. “Don’t Turn Your Back On Me” by Jackie De Shannon (1964)
Page worked a great deal with the beautiful American songstress after she traveled to England in 1964, and they even dated for a short time. “I’ve never found a guitarist who could adapt so quickly to the sort of things I’m doing,” she said of their (studio) time together, which yielded a single, an album, and six compositions. That’s Jimmy laying down some complex patterns on an acoustic 12-string, offering up further proof that he’s an unparalleled rhythm guitarist.
12. “Little Child” by Jackie Lynton (1964)
With only a handful of promo copies in existence, this is perhaps the most obscure Beatles cover of all time…which is a shame considering it holds an absolutely killer solo that rocks up a fairly subpar Fab Four offering.
11. “My Baby Left Me” by Dave Berry (1964)
You may know him for the maudlin mid-tempo oldie “The Crying Game” (which also features Page), but don’t let that fool you; this teen idol could rock. With his unique delivery, Berry arguably takes this Arthur Crudup tune further than the more popular version by Elvis Presley. And Jimmy is no slouch on the lead guitar, either. He’s joined on this record (and many others) by “Big” Jim Sullivan, the most famous session guitarist in Britain at that time, who acted as young Jimmy’s mentor.
10. “Tobacco Road” by The Nashville Teens (1964)
That searing string-bending intro was heavy stuff for ’64! Despite their name, the Teens were actually straight outta Surrey, England. Big Jim Sullivan also makes an appearance on this stomper.
9. “I’ll Come Running Over” by Lulu (1964)
The 15-year-old Scottish spitfire may have kind of a dorky name, but she gave Van Morrison a run for his money when she covered this Them cut. Years before achieving fame on both sides of the Atlantic with “To Sir With Love,” Lulu got attention in the UK as a serious soul shouter, burning up Motown hits like “Shout,” “Heatwave,” and “Can I Get A Witness” -many with the help of Mr. Page.
8. “I Pity The Fool” by The Manish Boys (1965)
The ’Boys were fronted by a 17-year-old singer then still known as Davy Jones. Within a few years (allegedly to avoid confusion with the Monkees singer), he’d adopted a more distinctive stage name: David Bowie. The Thin White Duke had fond memories of the session years later. “When I was a baby, I did a rock session with one of the bands, one of the millions of bands that I had in the ’60s – it was the Manish Boys, that’s what it was – and the session guitar player doing the solo was this young kid who’d just come out of art school and was already a top session man, Jimmy Page. He had just gotten a fuzz box and he used that for the solo. He was wildly excited about it.”
7. “Circles” by Les Fleur De Lys (1966)
Page acted as producer for this supremely talented Brit-garage band, before laying down guitar work on their second single, a cover of the Pete Townshend song. Play it loud and let your freak-beat flag fly!
6. “Beck’s Bolero” Jeff Beck (1968)
Jimmy only backed Beck with some 12-string rhythm guitar for this 1966 sesesion, but it easily the most important title on this list. It was essentially conceived as a side project for a bunch of discontented musicians: Jeff Beck wanted to express himself outside of The Yardbirds, bringing on Page who in turn called upon Keith Moon and John Entwistle, both fed up with the bickering in the Who and anxious to try something different, and pianist Nicky Hopkins.
At the last minute Entwistle couldn’t make the session, and renowned session man John Paul Jones stepped in on bass. The result was an instrumental for the ages, a driving piece based on Ravel’s classical composition, “Bolero.” They had so much fun that they began to talk about recording together again, but Moon (or possible Entwistle) was wary of the contractual disputes and ego clashes between Page and Beck. “Yeah, it’ll go down like a lead zeppelin” he joked, laying the seeds for a kickass band name. Today the venture is widely seen as a dry run for the Led Zeppelin lineup, with Page even recycling some of the melody lines on “How Many More Times.”
5. “Season Of The Witch” by Donovan (1968)
Jimmy worked on several of Donovan’s biggest trans-Alantic hits, including this one and “Sunshine Superman.” Popular legend has him also playing the sizzling lines on the truly haunting “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and for years we were happy to believe it. Despite both producer Mickie Most and Donovan himself claiming it happened, Page insists that he wasn’t the guy. Instead, it looks like Alan Parker is responsible for the unforgettable solo. We know, it’s like finding out Santa isn’t real. But at least he did really play on…
4. “With A Little Help From My Friends” by Joe Cocker (1968)
Yup, that’s Jimmy on this classic. We bet you’ll never watch The Wonder Years in quite the same way, huh?
3. “A Tout Casser” by Johnny Hallyday (1968)
Strange but true: Jimmy was (and apparently still is) tight with France’s biggest rock star. He also played on Johnny’s 1967 song “Psychedelic,” employing a bluesy Albert King-like bending riff that he would later use on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
2. “The Train Kept A Rollin'” by The Scotty McKay Quintet (1968)
For years we had serious doubts that Jimmy tore off this ferocious solo. What the hell is he doing with an American band, who recorded the song in America at a time when he was very clearly in England? But it turns out that the Texas-based band served as Jimmy’s opening act while he was touring with the Yardbirds. Scotty and Jimmy apparently became friends and hatched a plan to record this old blues number, but the Yardbirds had to leave town before the session. So the Quintet recorded their parts and sent the master tape over to Page, who dubbed in his guitar work in the studio. That’s the legend, at least.
1. “Thumping Beat” by Screaming Lord Sutch (1970)
Technically, Jimmy was already in Led Zeppelin when he helped out on the eccentric Lord Sutch’s criminally underrated Heavy Friends album. And the friends were indeed some of the biggest heavies in the music business, including Page, his Zep-mate John Bonham, Jeff Beck, Noel Redding, and session pianist Nicky Hopkins.
Apparently the musicians all assumed they were just making demos, and took an appropriately casual attitude towards the sessions. Things took a turn for the worse when they found out that the tapes were getting released for real. “I just went down to have a laugh, playing some old rock ’n’ roll, a bit of a send-up,” he told Melody Maker after its release in 1970. “The whole joke sort of reversed itself and became ugly.” He may have disowned it, but we think it rocks!