John Paul Jones Gave Led Zeppelin Their Groove

John Paul Jones in 1977
Photo Credit
Michael Putland/Getty Images

No one in Led Zeppelin can really be called underrated, but you have to give a thought for John Paul Jones. The group's bassist was surrounded on all sides by rock and roll majesty: the golden-god look and sound of frontman Robert Plant, the six-string wizardry of guitarist Jimmy Page, and the percussive onslaught of John Bonham's drums. Again, it's foolish to think of him as some other guy in this band, but perhaps he might not get the credit he deserves. That changes now.

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Jones, born John Baldwin in Kent, England in 1946, was - like Page - a prolific session player before joining Led Zeppelin's rhythm section. He once told Uncut he couldn't keep track of the artists he'd played with in the '60s, but the list included Rod Stewart, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, The Rolling Stones (he arranged the strings on "She's a Rainbow") and - perhaps most famously - Donovan, whose producer Mickie Most would call upon for hits like "Sunshine Superman," "Mellow Yellow" and "The Hurdy Gurdy Man."

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It was during his time with Donovan that Jones had met Page during some studio time and asked to be considered if the guitarist had any gigs lined up. As fate would have it, Page's tenure in The Yardbirds was coming to a close as the band broke up - but a group was needed to fill in for some concert commitments. "The New Yardbirds" featured Page, Jones, Plant and Bonham, and would, of course, come to sound very different in the years that followed.

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Ultimately, it was Jones' work as an arranger and session player that made him such a crucial component of Led Zeppelin's sound and success. His ability to handle unique time signatures and rhythms elevated songs like "Black Dog" and "Kashimir" and his love of multiple genres from Motown to classical led to countless moments that set the band apart from other rockers, from the bass line "Ramble On" to the blissed-out keyboards of "No Quarter." "'Kashimir' isn't actually that difficult," Page said during rehearsals for Led Zeppelin's final performance to date in 2007. "But it helps to have a drummer who understands the part and a bass player who can play bass with his feet. Sometimes it sounds like John's got three feet. It's intense."

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Perhaps it was his bandmates' comparative excesses that made him look tame by comparison, though Jones suggested he was only quieter about his partying than others. And while he's kept a comparatively lower profile than Page or Plant after Bonham died and Zeppelin subsequently split up, he keeps busy, making guest appearances on albums by Heart and Foo Fighters as well as being a member of supergroup Them Crooked Vultures alongside Foo frontman Dave Grohl on drums and Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme on vocals. Jones' legacy, it's safe to say, will be rambling on for some time - no matter how quiet he seems at first.

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