James Patrick Page cashed in the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll sweepstakes ticket. What price did he pay?
His story is comparable to that of Robert Johnson, the bluesman who sold his soul at the crossroads for acquiring unparalleled guitar skills. (Yeah, I know … allegedly.) Johnson paid with his life when a jealous cuckold fed him poison whiskey on Aug. 16, 1938, which happens to be the day before my mom was born.
Jimmy Page is very much alive, turning 68 this very day. For decades, it’s been rumored that he settled up with the lives of others. He’s supposedly dabbled with the black arts, what with his buying Aleister Crowley’s house and all.
I don’t believe any of that, except that he really did purchase Mr. Crowley’s mansion. But for the record, here are some folks associated with Mr. Page for whom the bell has tolled:
- Keith Relf (1943-76) was lead singer for the Yardbirds, the band Page joined in 1966. Creative differences led to the band’s dissolution in 1968; some sources conjecture that Relf’s drinking had something to do with it. Whatever the case, Jimmy fulfilled contractual obligations in the summer of ’68 with the New Yardbirds, which, of course, morphed into a band with yet a newer name. If the Yardbirds would have stayed intact, rock history might have been written completely differently.
- Karac Pendragon Plant (1971-77). Led Zeppelin was in the midst of an American tour when Robert Plant’s young son contracted a viral infection and died suddenly. Plant caught a flight back home, and the band never played in the United States again.
- Sandy Denny (1947-78). The former lead vocalist of Fairport Convention is known to aficionados as one of the finest singers of her era. Rock audiences at large, though, recognize Sandy for her duet with Plant on “The Battle of Evermore.” When she died after a fall down a staircase, the rumor mill really started in earnest that a curse surrounded Jimmy Page.
- Keith Moon (1946-78). The story goes that it was Moon, probably after more than a few drinks, who told the joke that created the name Led Zeppelin. Again, a band called the New Yardbirds might not have had the same type of impact.
- John Bonham (1948-80). You’d think Bonham might have learned a lesson from fellow drummer Moon not to drink himself to death. But that’s what he did. I was a freshman in college and remember my friend Ross announcing, “Led Zeppelin canceled their tour.” And I definitely remember the answer to, why?
- Peter Grant (1935-95). Stephen Davis wrote in “Hammer of the Gods” that Grant cried when he heard Les Harvey, guitarist for Stone the Crows, had been electrocuted onstage in Swansea, Wales. That was the only time anyone remembered Grant shedding tears. The Zeppelin manager pulled no punches, except when he was throwing them, and the band owes a lot of its success to his strident (to say the least) personality.
- David Edward Sutch (1940-99). If that name doesn’t want a bell, maybe Screamin’ Lord Sutch does. Or maybe not. Anyway, his 1969 album “Lord Sutch and Heavy Friends” featured contributions from one Jimmy Page, who had played with Screamin’ Lord earlier in the decade. Rolling Stone magazine panned the project, saying the “heavy friends” sounded “like a fouled parody of themselves.” For the record, Page is credited as co-composer on half the album’s 12 tracks, and Bonham even gets part of a songwriting credit. Others on the album who no longer are with us include Noel Redding and Nicky Hopkins.
Associated listening: “Led Zeppelin IV” by Led Zeppelin