How Jack White Compared Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page to American Blues Masters
Jack White has always had a fondness for the blues. On the White Stripes’ 1999 debut, White made that immediately clear with covers of Son House and Robert Johnson songs. But White was never a blues purist, something he shared in common with Jimmy Page, a major influence on his career.
Anyone who’s seen the documentary It Might Get Loud (2008) knows that White reveres Page and his Led Zeppelin work. In interviews over the years, White has pointed to Page and the Zep’s handling of the blues idiom as a reason for that.
“At a time when everyone thought the blues had been taken to its highest, hardest-hitting point, it turned out to not be the case,” White said in the 2014 Page biography Light and Shade. “Page came along with Led Zeppelin and turned it up 10 more notches.”
White didn’t just see Page and Zeppelin as offering up a modern spin on the blues, though; he considered Page to be in league with Son House and other masters of the form.
Jack White compared the intensity of Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin’s blues to that of Blind Willie Johnson
In his fine work with the White Stripes (and as a solo artist), White has insisted on stripping down the music — something that stood out when he emerged with his band in the late ’90s. To White, overproduction (i.e., excessive studio manipulation) reduces the power of a performance.
White loved the way Zeppelin managed that aspect of recording, right from the band’s 1969 debut. “What was interesting about Led Zeppelin was how well they were able to update and capture the essence of the scary part of the blues,” White said in Light and Shade.
White thought that connected the Zep to the music’s masters. “A great Zeppelin track is every bit as intense and spontaneous as a Blind Willie Johnson recording,” he said.
Page has said that his approach to the blues involves above all capturing a mood. He’s also spoke about how hard it can be to play something original in a blues. That’s why he considered “Since I’ve Been Loving You” the toughest track to record on Led Zeppelin III (1970).
White also compared Page’s Zeppelin guitar work to that of Robert Johnson
If White hadn’t flattered Page enough by comparing him to Blind Willie Johnson, the White Stripes guitarist took it to another level with a comparison to the legendary Robert Johnson. White pointed to a live performance of “Dazed and Confused” as his point of reference.
“Right before the second verse, Jimmy starts making a bunch of abrasive noise,” White said in Light and Shade. “And that is so much like a 100% amped-up version of Robert Johnson.” White thought both musicians were making the most of the tools available to them in their eras.
In White’s final estimation, Zeppelin’s achievement came in taking the blues to a level that was only suggested by the early masters. “As an adult, what impresses me is that Led Zeppelin is the ultimate expression of the power of the blues,” White said.