Brad Tolinski's Comprehensive Look at the Musician: 'Light and Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page'

When questioned about music, the reticent Jimmy Page is an articulate, gracious and generous interviewee. Just don't ask him about anything else.

Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page

Publisher: Crown
Length: 320 pages
Author: Brad Tolinski
Price: $26.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2012-10
"Most writers just wanted to know about his (Jimmy Page’s) alleged drug use, weird groupie sex, or whether it was true he’d made a pact with Satan… This is where I come inI had always admired his innovations as a guitarist, composer, and arrangerAs a journalist, I always wondered why nobody ever asked him about that (italics author’s) stuff… This is what I wanted to read about and wanted to write about.”

-- Brad Tolinski

Tolinski makes good on his interest. Even Led Zeppelin fans who have read Ritchie York’s Led Zeppelin: The Definitive Biography and Stephen Davis’s notorious, unauthorized Hammer of the Gods stand to learn much about Jimmy Page in Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page. While guitar freaks may realize the extent of Page’s contributions to the instrument, lay fans may take for granted Page’s impact on use of fuzzboxes, extended jams, or use of the whammy bar. For those of us unfamiliar with the musician'ss technical side, Tolinski, editor-in-chief of Guitar World Magazine, makes Page’s musical contributions accessible.

Tolinski is correct in noting too much is known about Led Zeppelin’s offstage antics, including Page’s many love affairs. Tolinski, to his credit, handles this material with sensitivity. Some biography creeps in: we learn Page has been in several serious relationships and fathered five children. When tentatively questioned about the band’s Los Angeles road antics, he replies, in true Spinal Tap fashion, that he believes that band behaved far worse in Japan, where hotel room trashing included destruction of several precious Japanese screens.

When questioned about music, reticent Page is an articulate, gracious and generous interviewee, falling silent only when questioned about personal issues or when asked to criticize fellow musicians.

The resulting text is divided chronologically into chapters concluding in “musical interludes”, conversations with Page himself or his musical colleagues. The final interlude, with clothing designer John Varvatos, may strike some as misplaced amidst a roster of serious musicians, but Page honed every aspect of his stage presence, including custom clothing Varvatos cites as influential to his work. The “Grand Finalé”, Jimmy Page’s astrology by Margaret Santangelo, will either strike readers as in keeping with Page’s mystical leanings or downright silly, but Tolinski intended a comprehensive look at the musician, and readers get one.

Tolinski starts with the very young Page picking up his first guitar and immediately messing with effects. By age 14, Page was playing on the radio. By 1962, he had begun years of sessions work that sharpened his playing and professionalism. Page is on countless '60s recordings ranging from Shirley Bassey to The Who. He soaked up music—Elvis Presley, American Blues, the burgeoning English folk scene, Indian and Moroccan music. Tolinski notes Page was one of the first English musicians to acquire a sitar. What rapidly emerges is a voraciously driven, immensely talented, uniquely gifted individual.

Page’s avid attention during studio sessions led to producing and a lifelong interest in innovative sound. He has strong feelings about drums needing to “breathe” and mics accordingly. He was an early adopter of fuzzboxes and pedals, creating sounds that in 1964 were entirely new. He played in the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck, then took over after Beck pulled one of his infamous walkouts. Yet Beck and Page—at least, to hear Page tell it—remain close friends.

When Page realized his musical dreams in Led Zeppelin, the band hit so hard and so fast that reading about their truncated career is a whirlwind, even with Page breaking down every record. The band toured and recorded relentlessly. Led Zeppelin II was recorded while the band toured supporting the first album. Presence was recorded shortly after Robert Plant, his family, and Page’s daughter Scarlet were in a horrible car accident; Plant’s ankle was shattered. He recorded from a wheelchair (try to imagine that kind of vocal power while sitting down in what had to be awful pain). And it’s shocking to realize that drummer John Bonham was only 33 when he died, ending the band’s glorious ten-year run.

Tolinski even manages to work in questions about Led Zeppelin’s musical plagiarism. The band has ended up on court more than once for borrowing riffs, lyrics, even entire songs without crediting the original composers. Page is cagey: “Well, as far as my end of it goes, I always tried to bring something fresh to anything I used… In fact, I think… you would never know what the original source could be. Maybe not in every case…” Page goes on to blame Robert Plant for insufficiently changing some lyrics (!), adding: “We did, however, take some liberties, I must say. But never mind: we did pay!”

Much is made of the band’s professionalism. Page is a perfectionist, and expected his bandmates to be as well. They were. Led Zeppelin never missed performances. They showed up and played, often in excess of three hours, regardless of what may have transpired the night before. Page tells Tolinski “Things ran smoothly because I had the last decision on everything.”

After Bonham’s death in 1980 (a shitty year for rock—we also lost Keith Moon and Bon Scott), Led Zeppelin disbanded, reuniting only twice since. Page remains an active, amazingly productive musician, producing, scoring films, working with everyone from David Coverdale to Sean Coombs while meticulously maintaining the Led Zeppelin archives.


During my teenaged years in Detroit, there were two FM rock stations. One was derisively nicknamed “Whole Lotta Led Zeppelin” by listeners, for its seemingly Led-only playlist, while the other rock station, the great, wondrous, and holy WRIF, disc jockey Arthur Penhallow played “Stairway to Heaven” every afternoon at 4:00. I imagine this went on across the world, making even hardcore fans deaf to the band. Light and Shade: Conversations With Jimmy Page, is a refreshing corrective. Read it, then pull out your LPs or your remixed CDs or your downloads and listen anew. The music, 30 years on, remains timeless.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.