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Jimmy Page: The Led Zeppelin Guitarist’s Life and Career

It’s been a long time since he’s rocked and rolled — and he’s still inspiring musicians and fans today.

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The status of Jimmy Page as a rock ’n’ roll legend has never dulled, even decades after Led Zeppelin ended their time together following the tragic 1980 death of John Bonham. “The magic in Led Zeppelin was the dynamic between the four of us. Losing one-fourth of the band was like losing the whole thing,” Page has said of the decision he, Robert Plant, and John Paul Jones made at the time. 

Page’s guitar solos, of course, remain some of the most revered in the music world, and he’s influenced countless musicians who came after him with his masterful playing on such songs as “Ramble On,” “Stairway to Heaven,” and “Whole Lotta Love,” just to name a few. As Louder’s Classic Rock put it, “Jimmy Page [wrote] the rule book on the art of rock guitar, from monolithic riffing to blistering solos, through acoustic beauty to vast instrumental guitar orchestration.”

Man on stage playing guitar; jimmy page
Jimmy Page (1977)Larry Hulst / Contributor

Many have attempted to replicate his style, of course, but his natural talents and brilliance are hard to measure up to. “They miss the point.… They just get caught up on imi­tating the riffs without going for what was underneath,” Page explained to music journalist J.D. Considine about those who’ve tried to simply mimic his playing. “They miss the whole spirit that was behind it and the passion; passion is the word.”

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His younger years

Boy smiling
Jimmy Page (1960s) RB / Staff / Getty

Jimmy Page’s passion for music began when he was a child in Epsom, the English town his family moved to from the London suburbs. There, he found a guitar someone had left behind and started experimenting around on it, inspired by artists such as Elvis Presley and British folksinger Lonnie Donegan. He grew to love rockabilly as well as the blues, studying the playing of the likes of B.B. King and Elmore James.

“Ah, yes, the power of riffs and the trance elements of riffs. I would take that back as far as my formative years, trying to learn from blues records,” Page told the New York Times. “I really took all of that seriously on board. The intensity of a dark riff — that definitely came to me from the Chicago blues. So when I started writing, the riffs were in the writing.”

That guitar grew to be an obsession for the young student, who had been planning on a career in science before realizing his true calling was rock ’n’ roll.

“I gave my life to [it], I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Page told Esquire of his decision to pursue music professionally. “I didn’t think I was going to be successful at it, I’ve got to say, but I just knew that’s what I wanted to be part of.”

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Four men posed; jimmy page
English rock band Carter-Lewis And The Southerners (1964) Mark and Colleen Hayward / Contributor / Getty

Upon graduation, the budding artist landed a spot in a touring band called Neil Christian and the Crusaders, making his first recording on their single “The Road to Love” at age 18. Sidelined by a bad case of mono, Page had to quit touring with that band, so he enrolled at Sutton Art College, where he studied painting and design while still hitting the music scene and playing occasionally with the likes of fellow up-and-comers Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck.

Word soon spread about Page’s talents, and he became a frequent guitarist on recordings for other emerging artists, such as The Kinks, The Who, Marianne Faithfull and Petula Clark. He also discovered he had a knack for producing other artists at that time, but he still yearned to play live, so he jumped at the chance when a spot opened in The Yardbirds when bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, left the band.

Five men posed
The Yardbirds (1966) Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

“The idea was that Chris [Dreja] would take over the bass and Jeff [Beck] and I would play guitars together, so we did stuff where I do a bit of bowing, doing stuff like ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ in harmony guitars,” Page told Guitarist magazine. “It was just fun. It was really good and promising. There wasn’t anything like that, not what we were doing or were planning.”

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Led Zeppelin’s rise

The Yardbirds didn’t last more than a few years after that, though, so Page recruited Robert Plant, drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones to help him fulfill some booked dates, renaming the outfit The New Yardbirds. By 1968, that quartet would become the iconic Led Zeppelin, going on to sell more than an estimated 300 million records worldwide.

“Let’s be perfectly honest about this,” Page has said. “When I formed Led Zeppelin, I formed it with the idea and ethos that it was going to change music. That’s what I wanted to do, and it clearly did.”

Four men in band posed; jimmy page
Led Zeppelin (1968) Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty

When the band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, their official program entry summed up their legacy quite simply in its opening line: “To say that Led Zeppelin invented heavy metal is like saying Einstein was good with numbers.”

Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, who helped bandmate Steven Tyler induct Led Zeppelin that night, praised them for having “no limits.… Zeppelin would change gears six times on one album. They played blues, funk, rock, reggae, and ballads with equal ease. I think it’s laughable that some people still consider them just a heavy metal band, since at least half of their best songs are acoustic. They were doing ‘unplugged’ long before it was the hip thing to do. They reigned as undisputed world champions of rock, [and] set an unattainable standard of music and mystique for those of us who tried to follow them.”

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“They were simply the best musicians going,” Perry added, noting that “you could put Jimmy Page up against any guitarist in the world…. I learned a lot from [him]. The best lesson was: Don’t be afraid to play any instrument, stringed or otherwise. He played slide guitar, electric, acoustic, 12-string, bass, mandolin, sitar, and dulcimer. He invented strange tunings; whatever it took to create the mood.”

Jimmy Page after Led Zeppelin

Two men performing on stage; jimmy page
Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (1985) Paul Natkin / Contributor / Getty

John Bonham’s 1980 death, however, led Page’s run with Led Zeppelin to end. “It’s such a tragic loss, just for the music he would have been making all those years,” Page told Esquire. “Who knows what he would have done? I hope I would have done it with him along the way.”

Page did continue to make music with other bandmates, teaming up with Plant for 1984’s The Honeydrippers project, as well as for a couple of albums: 1994’s No Quarter and 1998’s Walking Into Clarksdale, the latter of which earned them a Best Hard Rock Performance Grammy for the song “Most High.”

Page also branched out into scoring a string of feature films, including 1984’s Scream for Help, 1998’s Godzilla, and 2022’s The Adam Project, among other titles. Filmmaker Michael Winner told Uncut that Page’s first foray into the movie scoring world — for Winner’s 1982’s Death Wish II, starring Charles Bronson— “was absolutely magical.… I’ve never seen a more professional score in my life.”

The director labeled Page’s job as “immaculate,” explaining, “I personally edited the film and I laid the music on the film, and I’ll never forget…I put his start mark against our start mark, and I said, ‘F— me! This is absolutely f—ing incredible! Great music and its hits every f—ing thing it’s meant to hit at the right time to the 24th of a second! … I was flabbergasted.”

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Three men on stage smiling
Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton performing at ARMS Charity Concert (1983) Vinnie Zuffante / Stringer / Getty

In 1983, Page partnered with artists such as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Steve Winwood to raise money for the nonprofit Action into Research for Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS) by doing a series of ARMS Charity Concerts. He then formed The Firm in 1984, releasing two studio albums with bandmates Chris Slade, Paul Rodgers, and Tony Franklin. In 1993, he teamed up with Whitesnake’s David Coverdale for their musical project Coverdale–Page, which produced an album of that same name. His only solo effort was 1988’s Outrider, about which Guitar World noted that Page proved that he “remains one of rock’s pre-eminent riffmeisters, rhythm players and pyrotechnicians.”

Further charity work the musician did in the mid to late 1990s — helping the British charity Task Brazil protect street children from gangs — led to Page receiving an Officer of the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II in 2005. He noted he was “overwhelmed” by the honor, but he only did what he humbly could for the children.

“I think when you’re faced with a plight that’s inescapable, and there’s something you can do about it, you hope you can make a difference,” he told the press.

Jimmy Page is back

Woman and man performing; jimmy page
Leona Lewis and Jimmy Page performing at 2008 Beijing Olympics closing ceremony AFP / Staff / Getty

The musician was back on the world stage in 2008, when he performed Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” with Leona Lewis on vocals, at Beijing’s 2008 Olympics. “When they said they wanted the whole full-length version of [the song], I said: ‘Really? No edits?’ ‘No, really, the full version.’ So I said: ‘Now you’re talking,’” he recalled of diving into the thrilling appearance. “I had a great time, and it had the largest audience of anything I’ve ever done,” he shared with Classic Rock.

Four years later, the surviving Led Zeppelin band members were feted at the Kennedy Center Honors, where Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson gave a stunning finale performance of “Stairway to Heaven.” At the honors’ accompanying ceremony at the State Department on Dec. 1, 2012, then-President Barack Obama praised Page for being “a guitar prodigy who left people’s jaws on the floor,” adding that “Led Zeppelin grabbed America from the opening chord. We were ready for what Jimmy called ‘songs with a lot of light and shade.’”

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The twice-divorced Page (who has three children from his previous relationships) has been with current partner, poet Scarlett Sabet, since 2014, and in 2019 he produced her envelope-pushing spoken-word album, Catalyst.

“To arrive where we arrived, with something that was really avant-garde, that had not been done before, was really thrilling,” Page told British GQ of the collaboration. “It was a ‘catalyst,’ but also a milestone that others hadn’t got to yet.”

Turning a new page

Man playing guitar
Jimmy Page performs at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2023) Theo Wargo / Staff / Getty

In late 2023, Page even made a surprise performance — his first in 12 years — to honor one of his musical heroes, Link Wray, at Wray’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Page —who, in addition to being inducted with Led Zeppelin, was also inducted as a member of The Yardbirds in 1992 — performed the guitarist’s “Rumble” at the ceremony.

“I first heard [‘Rumble’] when I was 14, roaring from a jukebox in my hometown of Epsom,” Page posted on social media, adding, “As a guitar instrumental, the attitude of it was totally unique in its mystery, imagination and execution — it had a profound effect on me.”

Between 2014 and 2019, he produced and remastered all nine Led Zeppelin studio albums, and in February 2024, the guitar hero announced a multi-year partnership with Gibson to release a new line of replica guitars. “We think of Jimmy as an ambassador emeritus of guitars and a music trailblazer in the birth and evolution of rock,” Gibson’s President and CEO Cesar Gueikian said. “We look forward to paying tribute to him by bringing this epic collaboration to life.”

Fans of Page and his most iconic rock band can now look forward to soon seeing the long-awaited documentary film Becoming Led Zeppelin, which offers never-before-seen footage and performances from the music icons. As Yahoo reports, it’s the first officially sanctioned project charting their legacy.

“When I saw the early cut of the film premiered [in 2021] at the Venice Film Festival, it was amazing,” Page noted in a release about the project, which was just acquired for theatrical distribution by Sony Classics in May 2024. “The energy of the story, and the power of the music, is phenomenal.”

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