In terms of showmanship, it’s hard to top what Robert Plant and Jimmy Page brought to the stage as the frontmen of Led Zeppelin. The two bandmates simply overwhelmed audiences with their combination of musical talent and outright swagger.
Over the years, Page found ways to mesmerize the audience using every tool in his kit. If you’ve ever seen the Zep in concert (or the film The Song Remains the Same), you know that included the use of a Theremin for the freakout section of “Whole Lotta Love.”
Page also worked his magic with a bow. Though it was something he began testing as a session player (and later used while in The Yardbirds), Page put it to maximum effect on the 1969 Zeppelin debut. But that wasn’t the end of Page bowing his guitar on Zep albums. Six years later, he brought it back.
Jimmy Page used a bow for 2 tracks on the debut Led Zeppelin album
The first Zep album hit people hard for a number of reasons. For one thing, it was the first time Plant and John Bonham reached listeners on any type of scale. But of even greater import was the onslaught of the band as a whole.
Page’s guitar attack was a primary element of that, of course. Switching between electric and acoustic guitars, Page had a clear plan in mind for effects, solos, and recording techniques he’d use when Zeppelin recorded its debut (which Page produced). That included the bow he used on two tracks.
“Dazed and Confused,” the heavyweight number which closed out side 1, featured the most extensive use of the bow. Page deployed a wah-wah pedal and distortion (via a Sola Sound Tone Bender) along with the bow to get those haunting sounds in the middle of “Dazed and Confused.”
Anyone who saw Zep live in the early years saw Page wield the bow during that song’s performance. Meanwhile, listeners hear him use a bow a second time in the middle of “How Many More Times,” the equally heavy closer of Led Zeppelin. After that, Page didn’t use a bow on a Zep album for a few years.
Page played his guitar with a bow again on ‘In the Light’ from ‘Physical Graffiti’
If you had to pick one absolute peak for Led Zeppelin, most would go with the era of Physical Graffiti (1975). On that double album, the band played “In My Time of Dying” live in the studio while mixing in the epic “Kashmir” and scorchers like “Trampled Under Foot” and “The Wanton Song.”
To kick off side 3, the group trotted out one of its most ambitious tracks, “In the Light.” At the song’s opening, you hear Page using a bow for that droning sound that serves as the base for John Paul Jones’ synthesizer figures. And that ended Page’s run of using a bow on Zeppelin recordings.
In Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page (2012), the living legend told Brad Tolinski that a string player suggested using a bow to him one day at a ’60s recording session. Though Page didn’t see how it could work, he gave it a go anyway.
“Whatever squeaks I made sort of intrigued me,” Page said of his first bow experiment. “I didn’t really start developing the technique for quite some time later, but [the session string player] was the guy who turned me on to the idea.”
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