“Black Hole Sun,” meet “Black Dog.”
On Nov. 12, 2014, in Los Angeles, The Theatre at Ace Hotel played host to “An Evening with Jimmy Page in Conversation with Chris Cornell,” with the two rock stars taking the stage to discuss Jimmy Page, the exhaustive new autobiography/photo book compiled by the legendary guitarist spanning his entire musical life.
The sold out crowd that filled the ornate theater looked a lot like who you’d imagine packed stadiums across the country on Led Zeppelin‘s 1977 tour, only 37 years later, many of whom brought their children and even grandchildren for a glimpse inside the life of arguably rock’s most celebrated guitarist in history.
Still every bit the consummate rock star at 70 years old, Page and the Soundgarden singer had an easy rapport onstage, with Page discussing the details behind a selection of photos from the book previously chosen by Cornell without the guitarist’s knowledge.
Moving through photos of Page’s childhood as a choirboy and in early bands before becoming one of England’s most celebrated session musicians, describing a photo of him working the late Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones on the ill-fated soundtrack to Anita Pallenberg film, Degree of Murder, which was never officially released. Making the photo even more interesting is the fact that Page is using a violin bow on his guitar, a technique he would make famous years later on Led Zeppelin’s live renditions of the song “Dazed and Confused.”
Page delivered details of how quickly Led Zeppelin formed in the wake of his previous band, the Yardbirds, breaking up in the summer of 1968 (Cornell showed photos of Page with fellow ex-Yardbird Jeff Beck shot by the late Linda McCartney). In the time between July and the end of that year, the band came together, recorded its legendary debut album and played a series of dates, including shows opening for Vanilla Fudge. Led Zeppelin as an opening act didn’t last long, with Cornell displaying a photo taken from behind John Bonham’s drum kit of a packed L.A. Forum in 1969.
Page’s passion for the music was palpable through the conversation, with the guitarist making a point to deliver new bits of information to the crowd of diehard fans well versed in the group’s history. He spoke lovingly of his bandmates throughout, stressing how much they elevated each other both in the studio and onstage.
The fans ate it up, interrupting the conversation countless times to erupt in applause. Cornell came across as big a fan as anyone in the room, emphasizing how important Led Zeppelin’s success was in his ability to achieve rock stardom fronting Soundgarden, offering his own memories of first hearing the band on a free-form FM radio station as a kid.
There was a poignant moment when Cornell displayed a photo of Page on Led Zeppelin’s final tour before the death of John Bonham essentially bringing the band to an end, explaining how as a fan it meant a lot that they didn’t just grab another drummer and carry on.
“The magic in Led Zeppelin was the dynamic between the four of us,” Page explained. “Losing one-fourth of the band was like losing the whole thing.”
There was ample discussion of Page’s post-Zeppelin career, with the guitarist talking about the band XYZ he nearly formed with Chris Squire and Allan White of Yes, going on to discuss the ARMS Charity Concerts for MS research in support of former Faces bassist, Ronnie Lane, and how that led to him forming The Firm with Bad Company vocalist, Paul Rodgers.
Wrapping up with images from Led Zeppelin’s reunion show at the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert in 2007 and Page alongside Jack White and U2's The Edge from the set of movie It Might Get Loud, it was a shot of the guitarist on the cover of Guitar World magazine in the ’80s that truly capped off the evening.
With Cornell stating that it typically comes down to Jimi Hendrix and Page, he proclaimed Page as the greatest guitarist of all-time, which generated the most rousing round of applause of the night and a spontaneous standing ovation, with an embarrassed Page begging the crown to sit down.
After he detailed receiving an Officer of the Order of the British Empire from the Queen in 2005 to the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors (where he was charmed to discover that the violinist and cello player covering Zeppelin classics in the White House had been part of the live orchestra on an “Unledded” tour with Page and Robert Plant in the mid-’90s), Cornell asked Page what’s next, with the guitarist teasing that he’s working on something now that will bring him back to American stages later on in 2015.
That bit of news elicited another explosion of cheers as Page and Cornell waved and walked offstage arm in arm, sending the satiated crowd (clutching their copies of Jimmy Page that were included in the ticket price) off into the night with dreams of Led Zeppelin dancing in their heads.