Jimmy Page isn’t only one of the greatest guitarists ever because of his connection to Led Zeppelin. The talented guitarist has also played with The Yardbirds, a classic blues rock band, and formed The Firm, one of rock’s greatest supergroups. With contributions to songs by everyone from The Kinks and The Who to Petula Clark and Shirley Bassey, he is also among the session guitarists of the early 1960s with the most recordings.
Page first took a break from traveling to enroll in painting classes at Sutton Art College after becoming unwell while on the road with Neil Christian and the Crusaders as a teenager. Page continued to play on occasion, most notably during the open jam sessions that often took place at London’s Marquee Club. Following one of these jam sessions, Page was asked to perform on Jet Harris and Tony Meehan’s song “Diamonds.” That song’s UK number-one status signaled the beginning of Page’s tenure as a session guitarist.
But by the middle of the 1960s, Page was becoming sick of his job. Playing other people’s music restricted him, and this was beginning to have an impact on his mental state. As a more mature adult, Page had started to lament having creative control over his songs and thought that life on the road could be more enduring. Despite having previously declined The Yardbirds’ invitation to take up Eric Clapton’s guitar duties when he departed the band in 1964, one session prompted Page to thoroughly reevaluate his chosen field of endeavor.
“The crunch came this one day I went into this session,” Page recalled in the documentary It Might Get Loud. “I saw this big ream of paper in front of me. I started to get very uncomfortable. There was no run-through: they counted you in, and off you went. It literally was Muzak. I’m not creating anything. I’m interpreting whatever it is that’s written down now, and I’m even doing Muzak sessions. Tearing my hair out.”
Nobody knows for sure which particular session Page decided to end. The guitarist claims that since he participated in so many sessions over the years, he is unable to recollect the majority of them. Whatever the ultimate outcome, Page found out about a new opening in The Yardbirds only a few weeks after he made the decision to stop working as a session musician. Page volunteered to fill in for the band’s bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, who quit to pursue a career as a record producer. It was the route that eventually resulted in Page founding Led Zeppelin.
See Page and The Yardbirds perform “Shape of Things” below.