Why Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones Had to Wear a Wig for ‘The Song Remains the Same’

In the ’70s, Led Zeppelin fans quickly learned that the albums only told part of the band’s story. To get the full Zep impact, you had to see the group work its magic live. At one of these shows, you might witness “Dazed and Confused” or “Whole Lotta Love” morph into something completely different from the LP version.

In brief, a live album made perfect sense for Zeppelin in the early ’70s. But somewhere along the line that idea got tied to a film production. Eventually, this years-long project became The Song Remains the Same (1976), a movie that mixed ’73 concert footage and documentary clips with fantasy sequences featuring the band members and manager Peter Grant.

Given the length of time involved — and the nature of live concert footage — the film crew faced major challenges with continuity. And as the project wore on the changing appearance of Zeppelin band members became an issue. As bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones once recalled, he had to wear a wig at one point to hold the film together.

John Paul Jones had a number of adventures shooting Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Song Remains the Same’

John Paul Jones with short hair on stage
Keyboardist and bass player John Paul Jones of ‘Led Zeppelin’ performs onstage circa 1975. | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Whenever you read about the making of The Song Remains the Same, you get a sense of the messiness surrounding the production. The band members themselves (including Jimmy Page) had issues with the film, and Grant described it as “the most expensive home movie ever made.”

For Jones, who portrayed a shadowy horseman of the night during the performance of “No Quarter,” the wardrobe became an issue during the band’s ’73 dates at Madison Square Garden. In Hammer of the Gods, Stephen Davis reported Jones wouldn’t keep wearing the same shirt to maintain continuity.

Looking back on those days in 2007, Jones told Mojo he originally had an idea for keeping his involvement to a minimum. “I’ll use footage from [Disney’s] Dr. Syn, so all you have to do is film me walking through the door!” Jones recalled thinking. But producers couldn’t secure the rights to Dr. Syn.

At that point, Jones had to star in his own section of The Song Remains the Same. “It turned into the Horse of the Year Show,” Jones told Mojo. “I had to rent a horse and a cape. There must be some hilarious outtakes.” There was also the issue of his hair.

Jones had to wear a ‘stupid’ wig after cutting his hair before a ‘Song Remains the Same’ re-shoot

Led Zeppelin in 1972
Led Zeppelin in 1973 | P Y Tang/South China Morning Post via Getty Images

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After he had his cape and horse, Jones ran into the sort of trouble you’d expect when working with a live animal. “[In one scene] I had to ride up to a house and look through the window and ride on,” Jones told Mojo in ’07. “First, I shot straight past it. The second time, I couldn’t get the horse to move at all.”

While Jones thought wearing the same shirt on stage for three nights was a drag, he realized he had bigger problems with his hair. That issue came up when he learned he had to do re-shoots of some of his scenes. By that time, he’d cut his hair much shorter than he’d worn it during the scenes shot in ’73.

“The film crew asked if there was anything I needed,” Jones recalled. “Yes, six inches of hair! I’d cut it all off, so I had to wear this stupid wig. Years later it’s come back to haunt me.” If you’ve seen the film lately, you know what Jones was talking about.

During the onstage sequences and shots of Jones in his home, the Zep multi-instrumentalist has his typical shoulder-length, rock-star hair. But in the scenes of Jones playing a church organ, he sports a rather ridiculous blonde wig. Looking back, you might argue Jones would’ve been fine playing the organ with his own hair. But that’s Hollywood, baby.