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(from Guitar World 1/91) Steady Rolling Man ================== by Alan di Perna - Led Zeppelin's "quiet man," John Paul Jones spoke volumes with his masterful bass riffs and eclectic contributions on keyboards and other instruments. "Hero worship is always a bit suspect. Especially when you know it's not based on a real awareness of what Led Zeppelin was all about in the first place." There's a tinge of world-weariness in the voice on the other end of the phone line - a kind of jaded pop star ennui that is rarely encountered these days. John Paul Jones, summing up his feelings on the phenomenon of Led Zep adulation, concludes, "It's quite pleasant, I suppose." Jones (born John Baldwin) was always the least extroverted Zeppelin, the guy who would "forget" to jump around on stage because he'd become so lost in the music. And if Jones is the least-deified member of Led Zeppelin, perhaps it's because his role was the most multi-faceted. Jimmy Page is a guitar hero. Bonham was a drum demigod. And Plant is a sex symbol lead singer. All very simple. but instrumentally, Jones was always all over the place, playing bass, keyboards, mandolin, recorder... a bit like the Jones guy in that other legendary rock band. As a bass player, Jones is often sadly underrated. What most people think of as "duh outwageous John Bonham dwum sound" is actually an outrageous rhythm section sound, with John Paul's bass lines lending maximum impact to Bonzo's thermonuclear snare thwacks. These days, JPJ lives with his family out in the English countryside, where he just produced an album for his daughter, Jacinda. "I'm a bit isolated out here," he confesses. "Sometimes I turn to magazines for inspiration." But Jones is hardly out of it. In fact, he's arguably the most up-to-date ex-Zeppelin. He's produced the alternative rock darlings, the Mission UK, and recorded his own synthesizer compositions for Brian Eno's Opal label. Jones even has plans to do a record of electronic dance music. "For me," he confides, "there's certainly more interesting music being made in the dance field than there is in rock and roll these days." At the same time, Jonesy's composing a chamber opera for the noted British early music group, Red Byrd. He is, you might say, a man of many parts. Always was, in fact. Even back when - along with Jimmy Page - he was a first-call British Invasion session ace. GW: You appeared on tons of records from that "Swinging London" period of the mid-to late Sixties, on albums by Jeff Beck, Donovan, the Downliner Sect and so forth. Were you principally a bass player in those days? JPJ: I was an arranger for all those people you mentioned. I played all sorts of instruments on those records, though mainly I played some keyboards on some Downliner Sect things. I played bass on the Donovan stuff and arranged them. I also arranged for the Rolling Stones, Lulu, Herman's Hermits - lots of people. And played bass for everybody else. GW: Including Led Zeppelin, of course. Can you recall the first songs you ever played with them? JPJ: The idea for the band was Jimmy's, meaning that he came in with the first tunes. He had "Dazed And Confused," and we played "Train Kept A Rollin'." That was the first thing we ever played, actually, at the first rehearsal we ever had - the "tryout," as it were. GW: Both those songs were also done by Jimmy with the Yardbirds. What were your feelings, in the very early days of Led Zeppelin, on being compared with the Yardbirds? In 1968 the Yardbirds were a legendary band, whereas Led Zeppelin was essentially unknown. JPJ: I don't remember being compared to the Yardbirds, particularly. I'd arranged for the Yardbirds, anyway; if we'd had been compared to them, it wouldn't have worried me at all. I'm not very impressed with legends, I suppose. GW: There was certainly a sense at the time that Led Zeppelin was "Jimmy Page's new band." Wasn't it even called the New Yardbirds, initially? JPJ: I think we had to be the New Yardbirds for a little while, because there were some contractual obligations to be fulfilled. So we sort of went in as the New Yardbirds on some of the dates that I think maybe the old Yardbirds had already booked. GW: Were you influenced by what [Yardbirds bassist] Paul Samwell-Smith had been doing behind Jimmy? JPJ: Not really - except perhaps with some bass parts on "Dazed And Confused" that maybe Samwell-Smith had done, because he'd been doing that tune. The same with "Train Kept A Rollin'," on which Jimmy said, "There's a part for that." He just showed me what the first riff was. GW: So many archetypal heavy metal moves seem to date from the early period of Led Zeppelin. Like all those riffs where the bass doubles what the guitar's doing, as on "Heartbreaker." Where did that stuff come from? JPJ: Jimmy and I both liked blues riffs. You say the bass doubles the guitar. In some cases, of course, it was the guitar doubling the bass [laughs]. Things like "Black Dog" are my riffs. Basically we just felt that a particularly effective way of bringing a riff across was to have two instruments doubling it. GW: Tonally, what were you going for with your bass on those early records? JPJ: I was always influenced by the Motown sound and style of bass playing. I liked that nice round sound - the finger-style bass. But as a session player I also used a pick, to get a reasonably guitary sound. But not _too_ twangy. Not an Entwistle-type sound. But something with quite a lot of attack, which I used to use on top of the riffs more, to drive them through. With only two instruments apart from the drums, you really have to cover quite a large frequency range on the bass. In later years I switched to eight-string bass, which could do just that: cover quite a large area tonally. GW: There were times when you used a fairly distorted sound. And where - on "Heartbreaker" again - you played two-note chords and such. JPJ: Yes. There are some three and four-note chords as well. With Led Zeppelin's instrumentation you couldn't be restricted to conventional bass lines alone, because there'd be big gaps in the middle where there was no keyboard or no rhythm guitar. And so one would tend to use chords and other effects to create more of a pad for the solo work. GW: What prompted Led Zeppelin's interest in odd time signatures around the time of _Houses Of The Holy_? JPJ: Jimmy and I were always interested in odd time signatures. But it was like we had a "let's do an odd time signature" day. Some songs were just formed that way. some of them came from Bonzo, as well. We'd just find a pattern he would like which would just happen to be in an odd time signature. And then we would write the riff around that. Great fun they were, too. GW: That's the way "The Crunge" came about, I guess. JPJ: Oh yes. "The Crunge" is brilliant. "The Crunge" is very tight, really, when you think about it. It's one of my favorites. All the synthesizer lines were done monophonically from an old VCS3. GW: They're wonderful lines. A very early synth emulation of that Stax/Motown horn sound. JPJ: Well, yeah, [laughs]. It does betray my influences, as far as that's concerned. And Bonzo was also very interested in Stax/Motown. GW: Odd time signatures were something that a lot of progressive rock groups were exploring at that time. Were you picking up on that? JPJ: Not really. I was never a great progressive rock fan, to be honest. I really didn't listen to other bands, I must admit. In those days, for relaxation we tended more to listen to people like Joni Mitchell, CS&N, Buffalo Springfield and those sort of people. Our tastes covered a really wide area. People are always surprised when you like folk music or jazz or classical. It never occurs to me personally that one type of music is really any different from another music. But people can't understand it. They think you've really gone out on a limb to do something that's Arabic, or like a fifties rock and roll thing. GW: Do you think people tend to fixate, retrospectively, on certain aspects of Led Zeppelin? The heavy rock aspects, for example? JPJ: That's right. Especially the heavy rock aspect. I mean, by the third album everybody was saying, "Aww, they've got an acoustic number; they've gone soft." Not realizing that there were two acoustic numbers on the first album. It seems very short-sighted. People remember the heaviness and immediately assume that it was created the same way that heaviness is created today - which is with a very loud drum sound and lots of electric guitars banging away. But "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" was an acoustic number, and yet it was heavy. Which was one of the things that was part of Jimmy's vision - using an acoustic guitar in a heavy manner. GW: What was it like working with Jimmy Page, the producer? JPJ: Generaly, he didn't produce us in the studio as musicians. He didn't say, "you do this, you do that." There was none of that. We would produce each other, as it were. Especially for overdubs. Jimmy genearally became the producer because he spent the longest time on the mixes. But it's not like he was a producer in today's sense of the term. I would be in the box [control room] when he was overdubbing on guitar, and he would be there when I was on bass overdubbing. We were both in the box when Robert was singing. So the production was a lot more of a band thing than it perhaps would seem from the credits. GW: Speaking of diverse styles: "D'yer Mak'er" is, of all things, a reggae groove! Were you listening to a lot of reggae when you recorded that in '72? JPJ: Oh, I've always listened to a lot of reggae, right back from the Sixties. I used to like what was then called "ska" music. I'm a great reggae fan, actually. Personally, though, I don't like "D'yer Mak'er." But that's because, to my mind, it didn't work at all. I know Robert really likes it. Even in the band, people have different opinions about the songs. GW: What is is that you dislike about it? JPJ: It just makes me cringe a bit. It started off as a kind of joke, really. We were sitting around and playing some stuff. It got into a reggae rhythm and we put it down. I wasn't happy with the way it turned out; it wasn't thought through carefully enough. GW: Speaking of which, the endearing sloppiness of the first Led Zeppelin album is often noted. What was the real story with making the records? JPJ: What? The endearing sloppiness? Are you sure about that phrase? GW: You mean maybe I shouldn't have said "endearing"? JPJ: The store there, I suppose, is the speed at which the record was done. The whole thing was recorded and mixed in about 30 hours. It seemed pointless to go over a tune so many times that it would be note-perfect and then lose all its feel. GW: Had you played that material live? Did you rehearse it often? JPJ: We played it in rehearsal. I think we did a few gigs and then did the album. Then again, it might have been the other way around. It was a long time ago [laughs]. GW: To what extent did Bonzo's drum style determine what you were doing on bass? JPJ: To quite a large extent. Bass players and drummers tend to grow together; it's kind of a marriage, really. You have to listen to each other very carefully. And we did. Bonzo was one of the finest drummers I've ever come across. A joy to play with. And very inspiring. I hope perhaps I inspired him a bit. GW: He was perhaps the most unrelentingly _solid_ drummer ever. Was that a very liberating thing for you on bass, in terms of what you could play rhythmically and tonally? JPJ: Yes. But then again, I used to enjoy locking into the drums very tightly - I suppose it was my session background. A good session was one where the rhythm section really locked together. In Led Zeppelin, I would listen to the bass drum and be very careful not to cross it or diminish its effectiveness. I really wanted the drums and bass to be as one unit - that's what drove the band along - so for Jimmy and Robert there would be a really solid foundation between the bass and the drums that would leave them more free. Robert always used to say that on stage I should stand much nearer the front - get some light on me and all that, from the visual angle. And I would try. I would start at the front and I would just move backwards and backwards. I would always end up in my favorite position, which was as close to the bass drum as possible. GW: Are you fairly indifferent to the idea of "showmanship"? JPJ: Well, no. I think it's very important. It's just that I was never much good at it - mainly because I would always forget [laughs]. It didn't come very naturally to me. I would say, "I really must do this move or do that move." But then the music would start and I would forget every- thing else and just end up concentrating on the playing. Showmanship is second nature to some people, and to other people it's not. I think if it's not, you shouldn't go leaping all around the stage. Jimmy is a born showman and a great musician. It was easy for him. I couldn't really get into that. GW: Your bass style seemed to become sparer and more concise as the years went by. There's less of the sort of playing we hear on tracks like "Communication Breakdown," for example. JPJ: Really? I dunno. Hmmm, let me think this through now that you come to mention it. On stage, obviously, if I'm playing keyboards, the bass would have to be very simple because I'm playing with my feet - on bass pedals. So maybe what I did in the studio was a reflection of how I did it onstage. That is, keeping the bass fairly simple and then doing an overdubbed keyboard so that it would sound exactly the same. That might have something to do with it. GW: Tell me about the recording of "Kashmir." Your Mellotron work gives that track so much of its character. Was that part of the initial concept of the song, or did it come as an afterthought. JPJ: It was sort of an afterthought, although things were going that way. We actually used a real string section for all the riffs, and brass. Then, playing it back, it seemed that there was room for much more on the end. Or, come to think of it, maybe in rehearsal I did the whole thing on the Mellotron and then just played those parts as the came along in the recording. It just seemed to fit the flavor of the piece. It was Jimmy's riff. And I'm sure he worked out something with Robert beforehand. I came in fairly late in that tune. And it just immediately suggested to me an Arab orchestra. GW: So that Arabic flavor was there already? JPJ: Yes, I think it was. I think they conceived the track in Morocco somewhere, when they were driving through the mountains. So putting on Arabic strings wasn't out of left field. GW: Was there ever a point where you felt torn between your bass role in the band and your keyboard role? JPJ: I enjoy both instruments. But yeah, sometimes it would have been nice playing keyboards, if there had been a bass player as well. There are some things you just can't do with your feet. GW: Between bass and keyboards, you were resposible for an awful lot of sonic territory. JPJ: Yes. And when I was playing keyboards, I sort of had control of every- thing, tonally. If I wanted a piece to change key, it would change key - sometimes inadvertently. Again, it was nice working with Bonzo on those. We used to have a joke band: we were the Bonham-Jones duo. We had a whole act worked out. We would do a lot of soul stuff. It was good fun. But between us we made a hell of a lot of noise. GW: Did any actual Led Zeppelin tracks emerge from that? JPJ: Yes. Most of the _In Through The Out Door_ did, in fact. "Carouselambra" and "In the Evening" were all keyboards and drums to start with. The guitar was added on, as it were. And that's mainly because Bonzo and I got to rehearsals first. GW: What are some of your all-time favorite Led Zeppelin tracks? JPJ: "Kashmir" is one of my favorites, and "The Crunge." I actually like "Stairway." I know that's really corny. But it encompasses a lot of the elements of the band - from the acoustic start to the slightly jazzier section, even, and then to the heavier stuff towards the end. It was a very succesful song. I'm not talking about it being succesful in commercial terms, but succesful in that everything worked well and fell into place. Everything built nicely. GW: Led Zeppelin's feel for episodic, multi-section songs was unique. It differed from the free-form jamming that characterized the music of Jimi Hendrix and others. It also differed from the song cycles and rock operas of Pete Townshend. What was the source of Zeppelin's approach? JPJ: I suppose there was always a reasonably conscious dramatic shaping of the music. Both Jimmy and I were quite aware of the way a track should unfold, and the various levels that it would go through. We were quite strong on form. We tried to extend those ideas to the live shows too. Also, I suppose we were both quite influenced by classical music, and there's a lot of drama in the classical forms. It just seems natural for music to have that, as opposed to everybody starting and just banging away and finishing. That's part of song structure. It's also part of pop music. A good pop record usually has some drama in it. From the Phil Spector days, or even the Motown days, they would build through the song. So I suppose we were influenced by some of those elements too. GW: In the late Seventies, punk rock came along and Led Zeppelin became one of those "boring old fart" bands. Then there was a metal revival in the Eighties and Led Zeppelin became founding fathers and demigods. What are your feelings on that cultural mood swing? JPJ: A lot of it was media-directed. But people wanted a change. Punk was refreshing. Maybe bands like ourselves were getting a bit stodgy by then. As far as the Eighties revival is concerned, I don't know; they seem to have missed the point as to what we were all about. All the bands that are supposed to be based on us which I've heard tend to have picked one track and based their whole style on that. And the one track is usually "Whole Lotta Love," or something like that. And then the media follow in with, "Oh, that's what they were all about." It's strange. GW: Here's your change to set the record straight. What _was_ Led Zeppelin all about? JPJ: I've said it before. Led Zeppelin was the common ground between four individual musicians. We all had different, very wide-ranging musical tastes. And the space between us, the area in the middle, was Led Zeppelin. That's kind of obvious in one way, I suppose, but we were _not_ the kind of band where everyone would listen ot the same kind of music and that music would be the basis of the band. It was more a common ground. So no one musician could ever re-create Zeppelin on his own. It would have required the four of us.

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