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Led Zeppelin

By Dominick A. Miserandino,
John talks about his musical career with Led Zeppelin, before and after

DM) I can see you're really exhausted from a day of interviewing...

JPJ) Well, you know the trouble is, you tend to forget what you said. Going on from an interview to a cell phone interview to another one can get difficult at times. You go, "Arrghhh, what am I doing here?"

DM) To make it easy then, I have only one specific question for you.

JPJ) Just one?

DM) Well, after that, who knows what will come out of it?

JPJ) Oh, all right.

DM) My father is actually very angry at you.

JPJ) Personally?

DM) Yes, personally, and with Led Zeppelin as a whole. In 1969, he went to the Fillmore West in San Francisco to see his favorite band, Country Joe and the Fish.
(Jones starts laughing. Led Zeppelin was the opening act.)
He went to see a calm concert. The band (Led Zeppelin) started burning guitars and breaking things.

JPJ) No, we didn't do that! We were musically just bloody noisy, and musically we were fairly abrasive.

DM) Not at all like Country Joe and the Fish.

JPJ) Although, I think we shared similar attitudes. So if you went for a quiet evening of a silent protest and some country music, we wouldn't have sounded very good. Country Joe and the Fish liked us.

DM) You got along with those guys?

JPJ) Yep. We got along with them fine.

DM) So did you have any clue back then that this was going to be the big concert Dominick's father would be talking about?

JPJ) (Laughs) I knew it all along. As soon as you walked in, I thought, "His dad was in the third row." Am I right?
To be honest, most of what Country Joe was doing was just a band of friends going on stage. They would play, start a song and drift into another song, which sounded really great. And we would just go on and go "bang, bang, bang" with three driven songs with solos, and people must have thought, "What did we just see?"
And there was nobody else doing that at that time. I'm sure it had a lot to do with the success. We got four numbers in by the time most bands had tuned up.

DM) So you just went right in running?

JPJ) Oh yeah. We were very tight and close as well. It was always kind of "us against the world" back then.

DM) So was there a lot of comradery outside of just playing?

JPJ) Oh yes, on the road together. We didn't really socialize much when we got back to England, but I think that was because two of us lived down south, and two of us lived up north. Page and I were Londoners, and Plant and Bonham were midlanders. There was a national geographic divide.
You don't hang around when you're not working. When you are working, you're really pleased to see each other. That's how it was. Bands like Traffic--who all lived in the same house--by the time they got on the road they were at each others' throats. They were ready to kill each other, whereas we were all friends. It was a cycle of touring and being close and having that time off. It was a great cycle.

DM) So what happened then?

JPJ) Before the death of John Bonham?

DM) Yeah.

JPJ) Maybe the cycle had gone around a few too many times. The concerts had gotten bigger and bigger, and there were various amounts of substance abuse.
By the time John died, we all had sorted it out and were ready to go again. He died in rehearsals for an American tour.

DM) So, if he was still alive at that time, do you think it would have all worked out?

JPJ) Sure. I don't know where it would have gone or for how long, but it certainly had gotten a new lease on life. Morale was very high. We were in really good spirits. We were stripped down a lot, musically, and as an act, we remember back to what we were doing.
Punk kind of woke us up again. "Oh yeah, I remember what we are supposed to be doing here." It was about to go for a change of gears and round two.

DM) Lately, there's been a resurgence of interest in the band, The BBC Sessions. And it seems the whole popularity got an entirely new breath of life. Before that, you had the Page/Plant tour...

JPJ) Yes.

DM) What happened to Page, Plant and you?

JPJ) I don't know. It was Page/Plant, you're right. They decided to do something on their own.

DM) They didn't call you?

JPJ) No, they didn't call me. I suppose they didn't have to. But they could have called me to tell me what they were doing -- or at least to have to read about it as a reunion of sorts -- because they had to know people would call it a Zeppelin reunion, regardless of whether that's what they intended or not. They might have just warned me that it would be in all the papers.

DM) That's how you found out?

JPJ) I saw it in the papers and called somebody up, and said, "God, I see all of the rumors are all starting again. Here we go ..." because it happened kinda regularly. I thought it was just more rumors. And this person said, "Haven't they told you?"
"Told me what?" I asked.
"Oh, they're going out on the road again together."

DM) Why didn't they?

JPJ) I have no idea. To this day, I have no idea.

DM) Have you ever talked to them since then?

JPJ) Oh yeah, but we keep it on a kind of business basis, a professional basis. I deal with what I have to deal with concerning them. And I haven't really asked them about it. Five years have gone by, and I didn't really care, you know? Unfortunately, at the time people were saying, "Why do you mention it?" or "Why didn't you just forget it?"
Well, the day after they appeared on television, I was just on the road and when I turned on the TV. Then my organ parts came in, my bass parts came in, and my string parts came in. I left the hotel room, did the gig and then immediately after that, I had to do some press. And the first thing they asked is, "Well?"
I haven't had a chance to forget it, because at every press I do, everybody says, "Well, why are you? ..."

DM) I'm sorry. (Both laughing.) I didn't want to make you feel that way.

JPJ) No, it's understandable. They did me a favor. I got an album now. I suppose it kind of made me ask, "What am I doing?"

DM) So it kind of motivated you in a way?

JPJ) That, and the Diamanda Galas tour I did: A Sporting Life. That got me back on stage, which is what I wanted to do. She also got me playing steel guitar, which is what I didn't want to do, but I am doing again. I used to take a steel guitar with me on the road like a hotel instrument.

DM) What do you play when you sit at home?

JPJ) Mandolin. (Laughs)

DM) Mandolin? Are you serious?

JPJ) Yeah, it's a little instrument that fits great when you're watching TV.

DM) I just can't imagine you playing "Stairway" on the mandolin, watching TV.

JPJ) Well, "Stairway" on mandolin works, but "Zoomba" on mandolin is a bit more difficult.

DM) You're really destroying the "rock star" image by playing the mandolin. It doesn't fit the image.

JPJ) No, it doesn't, but who cares? But then again, being a rock star is my third career.

DM) So what were your first and second?

JPJ) First career was as a pop star. I was with a pop band, and we had three Top 10 hits. We used to play large theaters and had girls screaming.
Then I gave the road up and became a session musician. I was a studio musician, arranger and a producer. I lump that all into a second career.
Then I gave all of that up at the height of it when I couldn't even fit in any more work. They all thought I was crazy, but I gave that all up and joined Page. I became a rock star.

DM) You consider it then that you had three separate careers?

JPJ) I didn't dabble in sessions. I was doing two and three a day, six and seven days a week. I was a serious first core, bass player and arranger. It wasn't like I did a few sessions. I did every session I could in those days.

DM) It sounds kind of funny though. When you hear about people changing careers, most times it's because people move on from a career they didn't like to one they did like. What was the reason you changed careers?

JPJ) Same reason. I was just going crazy doing that type of work. I was earning a ton of money, before Zeppelin. They all thought I was crazy for giving it up.

DM) They thought you were crazy for going into Led Zeppelin?

JPJ) Yeah. Well, who knew it was going to be a rock and roll band? Who knew?

DM) Why did you do it?

JPJ) I was becoming a vegetable. I wasn't saying anything musically. I was churning this stuff out, and as I said, making a ton of money, doing 20-30 arrangements a month for everybody... accepting all work, and going crazy.

DM) So your name's on hundreds of CDs?

JPJ) Oh yeah. In fact, my wife read about Page forming a band in one of the music magazines. She was the one who suggested I give him a call.
I did, and he said he was going up to Birmingham to see a singer, and he thought the singer knew a drummer. And he said, "I'll tell you what they're like when we get back."
When he got back, he said, "They were fantastic. The singer had a huge voice. And the drummer, we're going to have to pay a bit for. He won't leave. Can we pay him more than 40 pounds a week?" So we put him on wages for a year.

DM) So it was really you and ...

JPJ) Page.

DM) You guys were the form of the band...

JPJ) Yeah.

DM) Because media-wise, everybody thinks it's ...

JPJ) Page and Plant.

DM) Why does it seem the front men get a lot more of the...

JPJ) I don't know. Because they're the front men press.
Well, we were happy to do it. Robert will talk to everybody. It was like, "Yeah, sure. Talk to him. Talk to the blond one over there." (Laughs)

DM) It doesn't sound like the fame was as big of a thing to you.

JPJ) Not really; I'd done it all before.

DM) It was your third career.

JPJ) In the first career, I had to sneak out of the theater undercover to avoid the crowds. I was 17.

DM) You mentioned your wife. To be together for this long is quite an acknowledgment, especially by Hollywood/rock star standards. How did you pull that one off?

JPJ) I'm not sure. She's a good woman. She's very supportive and nearly runs this little show.
She holds my book. She used to do that in the days I was a session musician. People would call her, and she would book me in. "Where am I going today, darling?"
She handled all of my scheduling. She does the same now, handling all of my press in England. The publicity people call her, not me.
"Call her, and she'll sort it all out." She's a rock.

DM) I would think when Zeppelin was touring, there must have been times that it might have caused a little tension?

JPJ) Just being away from home. But then again, she's a smart woman. She's not stupid. I would like to think that
I wasn't too stupid either. I tried to stay out of the drift of the rock star's path, mainly because I needed my sanity and freedom on the road. So generally, I used to check out of the hotel, and then get out on the street. I'd go walking.

DM) When you got out on the street, though, didn't ...

JPJ) Well, I'm not as recognizable as Plant and Page. Plus, I used to change my appearance all the time just to make sure I wasn't as recognizable.

DM) How often did people actually recognize you?

JPJ) Not too often. If they knew I was in town, then they'd go, "Oh yeah," but generally, I'm pretty quickly into the shadows. Then I'd go out and have a great time. I had friends everywhere. John was never there. I used to party with everybody else.
The promoter would say, "Where's Jonesy?"
They'd answer, "Oh, he'll be there."
And then I'd come out of the desert with a bus full of hippies.

DM) It sounds like you were able to lead both lives...

JPJ) Sure. I'd find all sorts of interesting people who used to stay away from the whole rock star scene. The people who kind of gravitated towards it were often a bit flaky. There are really nice people, like families, or people who were just into a bit of music, smoke a bit of dope. They used to stay away. So I used to have a network of friends and people who I could call and see whenever I was in town. I used to lead a normal life for a bit. Hang out with them at barbecues, smoke a little dope, and then join the star bit later on that night.

DM) It sounds like the idea of you being a star never came into the picture when you were at the barbecues hanging out.

JPJ) You're right. It did not come up at all. They were really good people. But I had to do that to keep my feet on the ground.

DM) What do you mean?

JPJ) Well, it's pretty crazy. It is a crazy lifestyle. I once read the Beatles did a whole tour of America and never left their hotel rooms. And I thought, "I can't see the point of traveling around the world and not seeing anything."

DM) And now here you are going to Central Park... (I point to the window overlooking Central Park.)

JPJ) Well, I haven't been to the park today because I'm only here for two days. But I know what Central Park's like. I always stay at this hotel because I get a great view of the park every morning. I walk all over New York. I drive all over California. I've been all over this country, but a lot of rock stars haven't.

DM) I find that great. I couldn't imagine traveling and being locked in a hotel room.

JPJ) Nor could I. I've actually been arrested for walking in Los Angeles. I didn't realize you're not supposed to walk anywhere. I got arrested for jay walking.

DM) What did they say when they found out who you were?

JPJ) They asked for my passport. I told them my passport was at a friend's house. They didn't like that and took me to jail. I had to pay about $25 to get myself out of jail.

DM) Was it all in the press after that?

JPJ) No, they didn't give a s---. If it was somebody else, maybe they would have, but a bass player... I remember they asked, "What do you do?"
"Musician," I answered.
"Who do you play with?"
"Led Zeppelin."
"Oh, we like country. Bye-bye." (Starts singing: "Your Cheating Heart)

DM) Could that be another career for you?

JPJ) Sure! (Laughing) I got the mandolin, no problem!

DM) Speaking before about anonymously walking around, I walked into the hotel, and said, "I'm here to meet John Paul Jones."
She responded, "Who?"
"...Of Led Zeppelin."
"Oh."

JPJ) I know... It's another era.

DM) Does it ever get upsetting that at one point, it went from the level of worship of the band to normality at times?

JPJ) No. You probably wouldn't have listened to that record. Perhaps, or perhaps not. The name helps. The name gets me press. The music I'm very proud of.

DM) Then there's another angle. Is it ever annoying having people come up to you saying, "How's Led Zeppelin? ... Led Zeppelin ... Led Zeppelin."

JPJ) That's fine, you know. Well, some people do, but then there's other people who will say, "I really like Led Zeppelin, and I really like what you're doing... And I like that, and I like this." So that's great; it's very gratifying.

DM) I found the most interesting thing about you was your personality. It's interesting you led the two lives successfully. You weren't an infamous rock star and weren't someone hiding in the corner either. You are really at the forefront of the music scene. The concept of finding you hanging out at the barbecue with your friends and family, I find amazing.

JPJ) Well, different people have different ways of handling life on the road. I don't want to complain about it, but there are lot of pressures. You go to town, and people want a good show. They don't care whether you did a good show last night, or you do a good show tomorrow night. They want to see a good show that night... and they deserve it. They worked hard for their money, and they put it down.
So you've got this pressure to perform. Now, it's a choice, but you still have to do it, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
It is a pressure, and you're in an unreal situation. You've got limos, you've got the police escorts screaming up through the town. Everyone makes a big deal that Led Zeppelin in town, and it's unreal.
Some people deal with in different ways. The way I dealt with it was trying to be like a little island of normality... a little oasis of normality for myself.

DM) But did that also pull away from the band, too... they're trying to do the rock star scene, and you're trying to do both?

JPJ) No, not at all, as I can do both things. I used to stay at home at night with Bonzo. I did more drugs than I care to remember. I just did it quietly. Nobody knew, which was great.

DM) Now musically, your work is top notch. I wonder if the press focuses more on the music you're doing, or are they focusing more on your image?

JPJ) Well then, I don't have that much of an image in a way. To a lot of people, my image tends to be from a musical point of view. "Led Zeppelin, Page and Plant... Led Zeppelin and John Paul Jones... Yeah, yeah, that guy is some bass player."
For people who do seem to know about me, they say I had a lot to do with the music. A lot of people say, "I always thought you had a lot to do with the music." (Laughs) Then they hear the record and go, "Oh you did have lot to do the music, didn't you?"
Again, it's nice, but it's not by design, you know. Somebody else said after the last Diamanda Galas, "Don't you think this is Led Zeppelin influenced?"
And I just said, "Don't you think Led Zeppelin has a John Paul Jones influence?" I was a quarter of that band.

 

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