This quote came from a rare 1975 interview by Rolling Stone’s Cameron Crowe (CC) with Led Zeppelin ace guitarist and writer-producer Jimmy Page (JP). Rare because Jimmy Page’s band gave very few interviews. Though massively popular, Zeppelin were often critically slammed so relations between the band and press were cool and distant to put it mildly. The band were at the peak of their powers and success, yet the press were all over the Rolling Stones live shows . All Zeppelin got was word of mouth stories reporting gossip about black magic hotel wrecking, and mass orgies. The band were on tour in America at the time and to achieve some more musical rather than gossip coverage, the manager Peter Grant decided to hire PR to get interviews with the band.
This was one of them. Interview transcript courtesy of Rolling Stone, this puts Jimmy’s quote in context:
CC: You’ve managed to continue undaunted in the midst of such criticism—especially in the early days of Zeppelin. How much do you believe in yourself?
JP: “I may not believe in myself, but I believe in what I’m doing. I know where I’m going musically. I can see my pattern and I’m going much slower than I thought I’d be going. I can tell how far I ought to be going, I know how to get there, all I’ve got to do is keep playing. That might sound a bit weird because of all the John McLaughlins who sound like they’re in outer space or something. Maybe it’s the tortoise and the hare.
I’m not a guitarist as far as a technician goes, I just pick it up and play it. Technique doesn’t come into it. I deal in emotions. It’s the harmonic side that’s important. That’s the side I expected to be much further along on than I am now. That just means to say that I’ve got to keep at it.
There’s such a wealth of arts and styles within the instrument … flamenco, jazz, rock, blues … you name it, it’s there. In the early days my dream was to fuse all those styles. Now composing has become just as important. Hand-in-hand with that, I think it’s time to travel, start gathering some real right-in-there experiences with street musicians around the world. Moroccan musicians, Indian musicians … it could be a good time to travel around now. This year. I don’t know how everyone else is gonna take that, but that’s the direction I’m heading in right now. “
I sense a bit of frustration from Jimmy in the interview when he gives that quote. He is talking as a musician, a guitar player, comparing his playing and music with John McLaughlin and similar lightning fast players. He sounds frustrated at how slow his own music is developing in comparison. Yorshireman McLaughlin had played with jazz legend Miles Davis and led a popular jazz fusion band at the time called The Mahavishnu Orchestra that record mogul Clive Davis had signed to major label CBS Records. Davis had also signed Miles Davis, Janis Joplin.
Jimmy justifies his progress as the legendary slow tortoise who wins the long race overtaking the far faster hare who tires before the finish line. He also mentions his love of Indian and Moroccan musicians. I relate to that, having just visited Morocco before the Covid pandemic and lockdown last February 2020. To hear the sophistication of playing and rhythms of those street musicians in Marrakesh was a major shock to see for myself how good those guys were. And what an honour it was to play with some of them.
So much to learn in so little time. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
Sounds like Jimmy Page would too.