The ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ Track That Featured a Jimmy Page ‘Guitar Army’
In 1977, as Led Zeppelin toured the U.S. in support of Presence (1976), Guitar World’s Steve Rosen asked Zep guitarist-composer-producer Jimmy Page if he considered his playing on Led Zeppelin IV his best to date. Page didn’t hesitate.
“Without a doubt,” he told Guitar World. “As far as consistency and the quality of playing on a whole album.” However, Page wouldn’t weigh in on what he considered his best solo to that point. In fact, he didn’t think it mattered as much as his other efforts with Led Zeppelin.
“My vocation is more in composition, really, than in anything else,” he said. Having just recorded “Achilles Last Stand” for Presence, Page had the music to back up his words. Following the triumphs of “Ten Years Gone” and “Kashmir” on Physical Graffiti (1975), Page’s ideas had continued to flow.
But he also traced his remarkable songwriting and arranging run back to the band’s mammoth fourth album. Along with the definitive Zep track “Stairway to Heaven,” Page pointed to his amassing of a small “guitar army” on “Four Sticks.”
Jimmy Page played a number of 6- and 12-string guitar parts on ‘Four Sticks’
Speaking with Guitar World, Page described his efforts in orchestrating multiple guitar parts for his grander compositions. “Building up harmonies, orchestrating the guitar like an army – a guitar army – I think that’s where it’s at, really, for me,” he said.
Page spoke of “Stairway” being one of the first on which he fully realized that goal. However, he pointed to tracks on which he came close. And he cited the middle section of “Four Sticks” as one of his “milestones” along the way.
Indeed, listeners get bombarded with a number of six- and 12-string guitars starting at 1:02. While a good deal of IV was recorded at a mobile studio outside an English estate (Headley Grange), Page took these added guitar parts (i.e., overdubs) back into Island studios in London.
If you asked him how many guitar parts he put into “Four Sticks,” he might answer the same way he did when a journalist asked about “Achilles Last Stand.” Whether it was five, six, or more guitars (some claim double digits), Page probably couldn’t recall exactly. But we can assume it was a small army.
Led Zeppelin mostly avoided playing ‘Four Sticks’ live
After a song like “Four Sticks” goes on record, Page and his bandmates would have to decide whether they could adapt it for live shows. To handle “Stairway to Heaven” live, Page acquired his famous double-neck Gibson (part six-strong, part 12-string).
But for Page to lead a guitar army on stage by himself, he needed to do some adapting. On the 1977 tour, managing a live version of “Achilles Last Stand” proved to be quite the challenge for the legendary guitarist. In the case of “Four Sticks,” Led Zeppelin generally avoided trying.
According to available set lists, the full Zep lineup only performed the song once before a paying audience. Page wasn’t the only one who would have had a hard time adapting the song for a stage performance. John Bonham, who used two drum sticks in each hand on the recording (hence the song title), also would have had a big task ahead of him with “Four Sticks.”