Friday, January 11, 2008

Q&A: John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin

The bassist talks about the band's monster reunion — and the prospect of a tour

DAVID FRICKEPosted Jan 09, 2008 8:29 AM
Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones' small bombshell in the current issue of Rolling Stone — "There is a band meeting in January" — will be more than enough to set off new tremors of hope among fans for a full-fledged tour following the group's December 10th reunion performance at the O2 arena in London. But in these additional excerpts from an exclusive interview a week after the concert, Jones also talks about Zeppelin's intense preparations for that night, the backstage vibe, what it was like on stage and why — as he puts it in the magazine and explains in detail here — "It could be fun to do more stuff."

What were your feelings the day of the show, in the hours before you went on stage?

I tried to keep the enormity of it all as far away as possible, until the last minute. I sat around playing banjo all day. It calms me down. For every show we've ever done, there is always hype, expectancy. For us, it was just "Let's get on and do it." Obviously, it was quite a reception when we did get out there.

There was a dramatic quality to opening with "Good Times Bad Times" — the first song on Led Zeppelin's first album.

That's the hardest riff I ever wrote, the hardest to play. But it was a good starter, because everybody had to focus. We soon figured out in rehearsals what the first three numbers would be ("Good Times Bad Times," "Ramble On," "Black Dog") and that we would play them straight through.

What gave us confidence was the week before [the show], we did a full production rehearsal, with the full screen set up. That was really good. It was a smaller room, and you could hear everything, which is the only thing I regret about those stadiums — you don't hear all of the subtleties. The groove is much tighter in the small room. I can only wish we could play 2000 seaters forever, because that's where it sounds great. But the excitement was there on stage [at the O2 arena], as it was in the old days.

At soundcheck, I was surprised to hear you, Jimmy Page and Jason Bonham play instrumental versions of "Good Times Bad Times" and "Ramble On." It was like hearing Zeppelin in dub — the subtleties and interplay that go into the background when Robert Plant sings over them.

He didn't do that much singing in rehearsal. Robert wanted to protect his voice. We did a lot of the songs instrumentally for quite awhile, especially when he was out doing promotion [for Raising Sand, Plant's hit album with Alison Krauss]. And it was really good for us. It was us getting used to each other, which you have to do in order to bring this off. You want to be tight. But I like to be free in what I do. I hardly ever play the same bass line twice. Even in songs where it's mapped out, like "Good Times Bad Times," I swap it around a little bit. We all enjoy the freedom to do that. In order to have that freedom, you have to know each other so well.

How would you describe Jason's playing during the show? He was very much his father's son.

A lot of the fills were not what his dad did at all. He's as fearless as his dad, that's for sure [laughs]. But he did an amazing job, when you consider that he had to answer to every drummer in the world after that show. With that sort of pressure, to bring all that off was astonishing. "Kashmir" was absolutely wonderful, the way he led in and out of the choruses and bridges.

How has Jimmy's guitar playing changed or evolved, compared to the Seventies?

He certainly hasn't lost anything. He's rock-ier [laughs]. He really goes for the solos. And in the rhythm parts, he throws things in that knock you out. He's matured but lost none of the excitement along the way.

In "Ramble On," he recreated the bridge section — the overdubbed harmony guitars on the record — on one guitar with just glide and reverb.

He is the one-man guitar army. But we've always had to do that. We never had other musicians or pre-recorded material [in concert]. And there were always a lot of overdubs on the albums. We had to make up for it. You have to take over as many parts as you can, then make up for the rest in the excitement of the moment. That show was basically opening night, and I went through all those opening-night things — "Oh, I must remember that for next time" and "We could get out of that a bit smoother."

I was concentrating so hard. But there was a general high going through the whole thing. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" was good. And "Ramble On" — I'm freer in that one than I used to be.

I noticed that "Stairway to Heaven" moved at a slightly slower tempo, giving the song a more relaxed elegance, especially when Jimmy hit those twelve-string-guitar strums at the end of the opening segment.

Part of the reason for that was the song's placing in the set. It used to come quite close to the end of the show. But putting it in the middle gave it a completely different feel. I really enjoyed it.

They are complicated songs to play. There are lots of different parts — you have to get from one to another. There are guitar turns in the middle. To get them all sounding right, you've got to be on your toes through everything. A Zeppelin show is not something you can sleepwalk through.

Were there any rough moments — a small mistake here and there?

There were a couple, but I'm not going to tell you where they were. If you didn't hear them, it doesn't matter.

But the stage production that night — the lighting, the live-action video and digital graphics — was so good you could take that show out on the road right now.

[Laughs] Well, that doesn't look like it's going to happen. I don't know honestly. We have to talk about it.

What is your standard response to people who ask you, "What's next?"

Nobody's asked me since the gig! Before, it was "We've got to wait and see 'til after the gig." But we'll start talking to each other soon.

(source: )

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