Stage Presence Personified

Kicking back at my friend Davyo’s pad, and I found a showing of Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains the Same” on VH1 Classic. I remember when that movie would tour around to movie theaters… almost like the band themselves, and people would turn out wearing ‘Zeppelin shirts and geared up like they were going to the concert.

I was about 11 or 12 years old when my friends Kirk and Erik turned me on to a this little band from England. They came over and got me to turn down my KISS records long enough to check out a song called “Stairway to Heaven.” I was an odd combination of tastes as a kid. I loved ABBA, and still do… along with Captain and Tenille, Elton John, and The Carpenters… but my walls were covered with KISS. Every inch…

My musical inspiration to pick up the guitar was Charo, along with Roy Clark (from my grandmother’s addiction to Hee Haw)… but I stood in front of the mirror pretending to be Gene Simmons… that is, when I wasn’t pretending to be George Reeve’s character of Superman (with the towel hanging low off my neck…). It might be strange to admit all that, but if changing my name four times in my life didn’t make you realize I’m a bit out of my tree, nothing will.

So it would be my friends from Chelsea Circle who gave me a well-needed shot of cool by walking over with their Sony boombox, and while hanging out in my garage, Erik dug in his pockets and pulled out one of the numerous cassettes he kept his jacket stocked with.

“Check out this song…” he said, as he pressed play… and I was immediately drawn in from the first note. As a kid taking classical guitar lessons, “Stairway to Heaven” was something I wanted to learn how to play immediately… but then it builds, and turns from a beautiful acoustic guitar piece to the most amazing guitar solo I have ever heard. The music I had a passion for playing followed the same path as I heard it for the first time.

It was a couple years later that I tagged along with Kirk, Erik, Mary, Leonard, Ricky, and a few other neighborhood kids to a showing of The Song Remains the Same. It was always shown at midnight, and it was like Led Zeppelin coming to town. I like to think I was invited, but still being a bit of a nerd (I never changed…), they probably just couldn’t get rid of me… and my dad allowed me to go.

‘Zeppelin was a new thing to me because they weren’t a common act to see on TV at the time. They were never on Sugarman’s Midnight Special, as far as I know, and seemed to shun that kind of exposure… or just didn’t get it. I also listened mostly to the “Top 40” radio at the time, KENO 1230, I think it was, on your AM dial. I only had an AM radio, so I was stuck with a couple music stations and lots of talk. If they played any ‘Zeppelin, it wasn’t until later years, and probably All of my Love, if anything.

I was a Zep fanatic by then. The KISS pictures and posters gradually gave way to pictures of Jimmy Page. I was fascinated by the stage presence of Page that the still shots were able to convey, so I was pretty amazed to see him “live,” and in-motion. Even the scene of him walking down the stairs from the plane fascinated me (which the video I posted begins with), clearing his throat as he steps onto the tarmac and cooly walks to the limo, followed by Robert Plant and tour manager, Richard Cole.

You follow them on the ride to Madison Square Garden in a police motorcade… like foreign dignitaries, or the President himself… as Page’s acoustic “Bron-Y-Aur” plays. I remember how I felt when the first song started, with John Bonham bashing out the opening drums of “Rock and Roll,” and the lights went on to reveal the band from behind the stage. I was completely lost in watching him move around the stage in his wizard outfit and dragon embroidered clothing, with his Les Paul slung much lower than I could ever play one (and I’ve tried)… and from that point on, I had to have a Les Paul. Period.

His technique during live performance is an often debated subject, but musical perfection was not what Led Zeppelin was ever about. They never played anything like it was on record, and even recorded performances, including the epic “Stairway” solo, were mostly improvised. If he made mistakes or didn’t play as clean as some others do, it didn’t matter… it was still brilliant.

Being a ‘Zeppelin die-hard is almost a brothership. Very few people I’ve met can tell you the running order of most, if not all Zep albums. I would have trouble remembering now, but was once one of those, along with Kirk and Erik. I still keep in touch with them when I can, and last time I talked to Erik… we remenisced about old times, with events punctuated by what Led Zeppelin song we tied that memory to.

My friend, Dave Hornbeck, can play just about every ‘Zeppelin song… very well. I could never resist handing him a slide whenever he picked up a guitar when we worked together at Sam Ash. I’ve never heard anybody play Jimmy Page-style slide like that… except Jimmy Page. Being a professional musician, Dave’s talent, of course, goes way beyond just playing Led Zeppelin, but it was much more than I ever learned.

So I found a video on YouTube which shows a pretty nice chunk of the movie, including the scenes I described, and shows the opening sequences of the concert that I had so much anticipation for. I say to this day, there has never been another person who looks cooler playing guitar than Jimmy Page, and no image ever had as profound an effect on me.

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