1 ‘Led Zeppelin III’ Song Proved Jimmy Page’s Musical Skills Extended Beyond the Guitar

Jimmy Page earned his title as a guitar legend with his work in Led Zeppelin. He played incendiary solos, of course, but also created riffs that almost spoke to the listener, including some that took the audience out of their comfort zone. Yet Page wasn’t just a six-string wizard, and one song proved that his musical skills extended beyond the guitar.

Jimmy Page, whose proved his musical skills extended beyond the guitar, plays with Led Zeppelin in Los Angeles in 1970.
Jimmy Page on acoustic guitar | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Jimmy Page played bass in his first band before forming Led Zeppelin

The condensed story of Jimmy Page forming Led Zeppelin goes something like this: He got tired of being a session musician, joined the Yardbirds alongside his friend Jeff Beck, later became that band’s leading member, and formed Led Zeppelin from the ashes when the Yardbirds disbanded.

What’s missing from that timeline is that Page played bass when he first joined the Yardbirds. The previous bassist quit in a huff, Page stepped in, and that was all it took to join one of England’s notable bands of the 1960s.

Page eventually took over on guitar for the Yardbirds, then ascended to rock legend status in Led Zeppelin. He revisited the bass on a Led Zeppelin III song, and another track from that album proved Page’s musical skills extended to anything with strings.

Page displayed his musical skills playing banjo on ‘Gallows Pole’

Led Zeppelin multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones typically played anything that wasn’t a guitar while Page put on his six-string displays. However, that wasn’t the case on Led Zeppelin III, and it wasn’t just the bass he supplied on one song.

Page and Zep singer Robert Plant decamped to a Welsh country house to write several songs from the album. One of those was their version of “Gallows Pole,” a traditional tune with ancient roots. They based their take on the song on a 20th-century interpretation. When it came time to record it, Page proved his musical skills extended past the guitar by playing Jones’ banjo part on the song.

“I just picked it up and started moving my fingers around until the chords sounded right,” Page once said, per Centennial Media’s Legends of Music Spotlight: Led Zeppelin.

“Gallows Pole” is a unique track in the Led Zeppelin songbook. It was the only time the band had a banjo on one of their songs. Jones’ just happened to have a banjo, and Page just happened to pick it up and play it expertly, which isn’t easy. 

Standard guitar tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E. The standard banjo, with its shortened top string, has an open-G tuning of G-D-G-B-D. Page likely had played open-G tuning on his guitar before, but the fact he figured it out on a new instrument and put it on a recorded version proves his musical skills weren’t confined to just the guitar.

‘Gallows Pole’ is a secret shining moment for Page

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Page proved his musical talents on the banjo for the first and only time on “Gallows Pole.” Yet the song is one of his secret shining moments in Led Zeppelin.

In addition to his banjo work, Page played six- and 12-string guitars on the track. Though Led Zeppelin’s acoustic turn on III’s second side confused listeners used to an electric sonic assault, “Gallows Pole” is a fine example of the might the band wielded when they went “quiet.”

Fans didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time, but “Gallows Pole” became a signature song for Page and Plant. It rarely appeared in Zeppelin playlists, but it became a signature song on No Quarter, Page and Plant’s mid-1990s reunion project.

If anyone ever doubted Jimmy Page’s musical skills beyond the guitar, he proved them wrong on “Gallows Pole.”

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