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“Why don’t you give Jimmy Page a ring?” How John Paul Jones came to join Led Zeppelin

All it took was a bit of encouragement from his wife, one phone call, and just like that bassist John Paul Jones joined forces with a little band called Led Zeppelin



Ask John Paul Jones for his first memories of playing alongside Jimmy Page and you won’t be regaled with tales of being wowed by a powerhouse six-string virtuoso. Instead, Jones will tell you all about “Little Jim”, the rhythm guitarist. “I’d been doing sessions for three or four years, on and off,” he told Classic Rock’s Steven Rosen. “I’d met Jimmy on sessions before; it was always Big Jim and Little Jim – Big Jim Sullivan [leading session guitarist] and Little Jim [Page] and myself and a drummer. Apart from group sessions where he’d play solos and stuff like that, Page always ended up on rhythm guitar because he couldn’t read [music] too well. He’d have to do anything they’d ask when he walked into a session. So I used to see a lot of him just sitting there with an acoustic guitar, sort of raking out chords.” 

Far from looking around and saying to everyone, “err, isn’t this fella a bit wasted strumming away over there?”, Jones was more concerned with his own playing. “I always thought the bass player’s life was much more interesting in those days, because nobody knew how to write for bass, so they used to say: ‘We’ll give you the chord sheet, and get on with it’. So even on the worst sessions you could have a runaround…”

Soon after, Jones had got into a routine of working from home, arranging material for other artists, but something was missing. It was his wife who noticed him moping round the house and asked, ‘Why don’t you join a band or something?’ “I said: ‘There’s no bands I want to join.’” Jones told Rosen. “And she said: ‘Well, look, Jimmy Page is forming a group’; I think it was in Disc magazine. ‘Why don’t you give him a ring?’ “So I rang him up and said: ‘Jim, how you doing? Have you got a group yet?’ [He hadn’t.] And I said: ‘Well, if you want a bass player, give me a ring.’ And he said: ‘All right. I’m going up [to Birmingham] to see this singer that Terry Reid told me about, and he might know a drummer as well. I’ll call you when I’ve seen what they’re like.’

Page liked what he saw in the singer (you’ve already worked out that it was Robert Plant, yeah?) and the band started operating under the name The New Yardbirds. “Nobody would book us under anything else,” explained Jones. “We rehearsed an act, an album and a tour in about three weeks, and it took off. The first time, we all met in this little room just to see if we could even stand each other, and now I wouldn’t be without Zeppelin for the world.”