Jimmy Page needs no introduction. As the founder of Led Zeppelin and one of the greatest guitarists and producers in rock history, he's left an indelible mark on music and is rightly revered as one of the all time giants of the genre. However, much like the band he launched and guided to almost universal acclaim during their twelve year career, the man remains shrouded in mystery. Part of this is down to how private and quiet a person he is, while much of it was and still is a purposely cultivated mystique. His long-standing distrust and disdain for the press, going back to the earliest days of Led Zeppelin, are also a huge reason why so little is known about Page beyond the music. While there have been books written about the band, some of them quite good, not much has been devoted to Page in particular. This is surprising given his stature as a musical giant in the rock world and the high esteem in which he is held. A very good biography was published several years ago, but this was unauthorized and done with no input from Page whatsoever...only the author's dogged research gave the book its source material. In recent years, Jimmy has published a photographic memoir called Jimmy Page on Jimmy Page, but this was a very expensive limited edition book although a less expensive mass-market version has recently been released (which I hope to review on this site soon). However, even this book focuses only on Page the musician and doesn't reveal any insight into his private life. That is where Light and Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page tries to fill the gap.
Brad Tolinski is well known as the editor-in-chief of Guitar World Magazine and is someone who has interviewed some of the most famous names in music. Over the years, he's sat down multiple times with Jimmy Page and discussed a wide range of topics, mainly relating to music but also to Page's personal life, drugs use, and interest in the occult. This book is compiled from the author's numerous interviews with Page and presented in chronological order such that it presents a picture of the guitarist's life from his birth and childhood in rural Surrey in 1944 all the way to the present. While the bulk of the book understandably focuses on his work in Led Zeppelin, there are also many other fascinating areas of Page's career that are touched on. This is most notable when the end of Zeppelin in 1980 is discussed, as most books treat Page as though he'd stopped working at this point. Light and Shade doesn't do this, instead devoting a significant portion of the book to Page's various solo and side projects throughout the 1980s and 1990s, culminating with the one-off Led Zeppelin reunion in 2007.
The structure of the chapters remains the same throughout the book: a short two-to-five page summation of that particular phase of Page's life and career followed by the relevant interview between the two. Even though these interviews took place over the course of many years, it is to the author's (and his editor's) credit that it never feels like a cut-and-paste job. It's remarkably readable and flows quite nicely. Many of the passages will be well known to fellow Zeppelin fans, but there is still a lot of interesting insight from Page. More than that, hearing him discuss his life and music in such informal settings really does a lot to humanize him. While one is still left with a sense of mystique and intrigue about the man, especially because he never gives away too much when it comes to his personal life, he does peel away quite a few layers of mystery from his image. It was interesting, too, to hear him say that he knows a lot of the false narratives and urban legends that have sprung up about him over the years. In many cases, he's more than happy to reveal that what we've all thought about him over the years is incorrect...but he won't set the record straight. It also shows that he has quite a dry and funny sense of humor, something that is not usually associated with him.
Where the book really gets good for fans, especially if, like me, you play guitar and grew up in awe of Page's mastery of the instrument and his studio production, is when the discussion turns to specific songs, albums, and recording sessions. Again, Jimmy doesn't give all of his secrets away, but to hear him discuss the various guitars, amps, effects, and settings he used, as well as how he mic'd and recorded it all, is just wonderful. I was instantly transported back to my small bedroom circa 1993, remembering how I spent hours puzzling over certain riffs and sounds on Zeppelin records while I tried to suss them out on my guitar. It's also great to read him really expound upon his early pre-Zeppelin years as a top session guitarist and member of the Yardbirds. In particular, his lifelong relationship with childhood friend (and former Yardbird bandmate) Jeff Beck is really cool to read about. There are several chapters, termed "Interludes," where Page, the author, or an outside writer will expound upon a particular aspect of Page's life, such as his gear set-ups, his top-10 guitar moments, his stage fashion, and so on. There is even one written by his former Zeppelin bandmate John Paul Jones, which I really enjoyed! The only ones I didn't particularly care for were the joint interview with Jack White (whom I do like) as it didn't really contribute anything in the way of knowledge about Page, and the final one where an astrologer expounds upon the heavenly signs to discuss Page's life. However, these are minor quibbles of mine and hardly take away from the book as a whole.
Overall, this is a great book and probably the closest we will ever get to an actual autobiography from Jimmy Page. While it does somewhat frustratingly not offer a ton of new information in regards to his personal life, there are some new bits in here. Better than that, though, are all of his discussions on the music...how it was written, how it was recorded, and how Zeppelin performed it live. This book isn't perfect, but it's excellent and I highly recommend it as an essential read for any Led Zeppelin fan. Any time you can learn from the master himself, how can that not be a good thing?
(for more great content, please visit my website, The Rock and Roll Chemist, at www.rnrchemist.blogspot.com and follow me on twitter @rocknrollchem)