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Kennedy Center Honors Highlights 2012
John Paul Jones
(Rock bassist and keyboardist, composer and producer; born January 3, 1946, in Sidcup, Kent, England)
(Rock guitarist, composer and producer; born January 9, 1944, in Heston, Middlesex, England)
(Rock singer, composer and producer; born August 20, 1948, in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England)
It took a whole lotta love for Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant to help create a new sound in rock and roll, but that is what they did, spectacularly. With John Bonham who passed away in 1980, they combined the unlikely virtues of high-energy rock and roll with the sweetness of British folk music, American blues, and English skiffle, heavyweight guitar riffs. They sang from the soul with superhuman, primal passion and their sound carried something new. "I can't put a tag to our music," Page has said. "I wanted Zeppelin to be a marriage of blues, hard rock and acoustic music, topped with heavy choruses--a combination that had never been done before. Lots of light and shade in the music."
They succeeded. Rolling Stone described Jimmy Page as "the pontiff of power riffing, and probably the most digitally sampled artist in pop today after James Brown." Robert Plant, according to a 2011 Rolling Stone readers' poll, is simply "the best lead singer of all time." Together, their influence is vast. It would be all but impossible to find a rock singer or guitarist today who does not carry the larger-than-life, generous mark of Led Zeppelin. Queen, The Ramones, Joe Satriani, Slash, Freddy Mercury, Axl Rose, Jeff Buckley, Jack White, young garage bands and seasoned arena rockers all have followed the path blazed by this most influential rock group of the 1970s. Page summed up Led Zeppelin's mission in 1977: "The motto of the group is definitely Ever onward." Plant described Led Zeppelin's hold on the music world's imagination as a "sort of a feeling of power onstage. It's really the ability to make people smile, or just to turn them one way or another for that duration of time, and for it to have some effect later on. I don't really think it's power... it's the goodness."
James Patrick Page was born in Middlesex on January 9, 1944. He picked up the Spanish guitar. "I taught myself the guitar from listening to records," Page recalled. He enrolled in art school in Sutton at 15, but kept up his music and frequently jammed with classmate Jeff Beck. Soon he was noticed, and work as a session musician became an invaluable part of his musical education. In London studios, Page played for recordings by The Who (2008 Kennedy Center Honorees), The Kinks, Herman's Hermits, Burt Bacharach, Donovan and Lulu. Page's guitar can be heard in such classics as Marianne Faithfull's "As Tears Go By," and the great Petula Clark's "Downtown," as well as later in Joe Cocker's "With a Little Help From My Friends" and Donovan's "Sunshine Superman." When Eric Clapton left The Yardbirds in 1965, Page was approached to be his replacement. But at this time he was hesitant about leaving his own lucrative session work, so he suggested his friend Jeff Beck. He eventually joined what was known briefly as The New Yardbirds, recommended Robert Plant as frontman, added John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, and John Bonham on drums, reconfiguring a new group that became Led Zeppelin. "There were a lot of virtuoso musicians around at the time who didn't gel as a band. That was the key: to find a band that was going to fire on all cylinders."
Robert Anthony Plant was born in West Bromwich on August 20, 1948. He quit school at 15, left home at 16 and started what he later saw as his real musical education, "moving from group to group, furthering my knowledge of the blues and of other music that has weight and was worth listening to." The teenager joined a string of bands in the Midlands, such as the New Memphis Blues Breakers, Black Snake Moan, Delta Blues Band and Crawling King Snakes. In 1968, while touring with a group called Obs' Tweedle, Jimmy Page heard Plant's raw, unfettered vocals at a gig in the teachers training college in Bromsgrove. What followed was rich.
John Paul Jones was born John Baldwin on January 3, 1946, in Sidcup, Kent. His was a musical family, the father a pianist and big-band arranger, his mother a dancer and singer. He took to the piano at an early age, started his own band in school, and by 17 he left home to join a blues band that led to session work in London--he can he heard on hits by The Rolling Stones, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Donovan and others. He stood out. While playing in the studio for Donovan he heard Jimmy Page mention that he was starting a new group. The combination worked, he joined the young threesome that also included the extraordinary drummer John Bonham and Led Zeppelin was now complete.
This was no longer the blues, and it was not like the rest of the British Invasion either. There was something new, spicy, and loud in Led Zeppelin, something transgressive but always appealing, raw, sensual, rhythmically almost primitive, and vocally out of this world. Plant himself later objected to their being classified as heavy metal, given that so much of their work is actually acoustic. But Led Zeppelin added a new dimension to rock and roll, and it was heavy. "The very thing Zeppelin was about," Jones said, "was that there were absolutely no limits."
The hits came one after another: "Whole Lotta Love," "Thank You," "Ramble On" "Black Dog," "Dazed and Confused," "Immigrant Song," "Kashmir," and, from 1971's album Led Zeppelin IV, the staggering epic "Stairway to Heaven." They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, and sold more than 100 million records in the United States alone.
Led Zeppelin's live album and concert film The Song Remains the Same remains true to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones' gifts. Today, their song remains the same, and it is glorious.