Forty years after the demise of Led Zeppelin, many continue to underestimate the contributions of John Paul Jones. That might be partly blamed on the “bass player” label he usually gets. Because, while he played bass, it was only a part of what he did in the band.
On the instrumental side of things, Jones’ keyboard and mandolin work on early Zep albums made it obvious he was much more than your average bassist. And from the opening track of Zep’s debut (“Good Times Bad Times“), you could see Jones had a great talent for songwriting (he wrote the riff).
But Zeppelin might never have truly taken flight without Jones’ masterful arranging. So when people describe him as the essential Zep member, you understand where they’re coming from. And you can see why he appears on virtually every Led Zeppelin song released during the band’s run (acoustic or otherwise).
John Paul Jones played on every Led Zeppelin track except ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper’ and possibly 1 other
If you’ve ever heard about Jimmy Page playing bass on “That’s the Way” from Led Zeppelin III (1970), you might guess that was a track on which Jones did not appear. But that wasn’t the case: Jones performed a mandolin part on the tune.
However, you won’t find Jones on the track that closed out the acoustic side of III: “Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.” On those spring ’70 sessions, Page played alone while Robert Plant sang. Plant and Page didn’t stop there, either. The duo tried out a few more blues songs that remained unreleased until 2014.
That’s the only track Zeppelin released as a band (i.e., prior to the death of John Bonham) we can say definitively did not feature Jones playing an instrument. However, sources suggest Jones also did not play mandolin on “The Battle of Evermore” from Led Zeppelin IV.
And while Jones would play guitar during performances of “The Battle of Evermore,” he didn’t play one at this session, either, according to Led Zeppelin All the Songs. Beyond that, the set of unreleased Zep songs released as Coda (1982) featured at least one that didn’t involve Jones.
Jones may not have played on ‘Walter’s Walk’ from ‘Coda’
By the time Zeppelin released Coda, band functions had ceased. But they had a contractual obligation to release material, so Page did what he could with leftover songs from the group’s recording days. The list included “Walter’s Walk,” first attempted in 1972.
According to multiple sources, Page recorded more material for this track prior to its release on Coda. And the change in bass tone from the rough mix to the final version leads one to believe Page added the bass part himself there.
Jones also didn’t participate in the Bonham drum showcase “Bonzo’s Montreux.” Page had visited Zep’s drummer (alone in Switzerland in “tax exile” at the time) and encouraged Bonham to record that track. And it wouldn’t have been released on a Zep album, if not for the circumstances of Coda.