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March 08, 2018

Underrated Series: John Paul Jones — The Forgotten Member of Led Zeppelin

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On the surface calling a member of one of the most successful groups in the history of music underrated would seem totally absurd. But John Paul Jones has lived in the shadows of Jimmy Page, Robert Planet and John Bonham ever since Led Zeppelin was formed. While that trio took most of the glory, it John Paul Jones who was a major factor in the group’s success.

It was the arrangements that Jones did of the music that often separated the super group from just another rock band. Jones has a whole career that the casual fan knows little or nothing about. He is a lot more than a bass player.

John Baldwin (for some unknown reason selected the surname of Jones for a stage name) was born into a very musical family. Both parents were professional musicians. They toured so often that young John had attend boarding schools as a youth.

He learned how to play piano from his father Joe who was not only a piano player, but arranger. John very much followed in his father’s footsteps. In fact the first gig John had was in his father’s band at age 14.

It was later that year that the bass became part of John’s life. He heard a song by Phil Upchurch called “I Can’t sit down” and fell in love with the bass line in the hit. He was also influenced by the jazz giant Charles Mingus who was an upright bass player and one of the all -time great arrangers.

Despite his limited experience on the bass, John was asked to join a rock band at age 15 and soon was also asked to play with a Jazz band where he played alongside of guitar great John McLaughlin. That led to being invited the very popular English band called The Shadows. During the two years he played with The Shadows they had a number one hit record in the UK. The song "Diamonds" featured a studio guitar player named Jimmy Page.

While with The Shadows, the John Paul Jones legend started to grow. The first music legend that asked him to arrange for him was Robert Stigwood. Stigwood would go on to be one of the major record company owners. His biggest success was “Saturday Night Fever”.

Prominent record producer Micky Most then asked John to work for him doing both arranging and/or playing on a host of records. The musicians he worked with showed his wide range. Among those were: The Rolling Stones (he did the string arrangement on “She’s a Rainbow”), The Everly Brothers, Tom Jones, Etta James, Marianne Faithful, The Supremes, Cat Stevens, Rod Stewart, Bo Diddley, and Donovan. John went on to work with George Martin and others to score and arrange numerous film and TV shows. The biggest one was the film “Mrs. Brown, you have a lovely Daughter”.

It was on the Donovan session of “Hurdy Gurdy Man” that the germ of playing in a band with Jimmy Page first started. Jimmy was hired to play guitar on the session.

When The Yardbirds broke up, Jimmy Page wanted to continue under a new name. The bass player for The Yardbirds, Chris Dreja, had no desire to continue so Jimmy asked Jones. The two had already played together on The Yardbirds’ album LITTLE GAMES. John joined Jimmy and along with Robert Plant and John Bonham they briefly became The New Yardbirds.

Once the name was changed to Led Zeppelin and the group started to record, John Paul not only contributed superb bass lines, but did the arrangements on most of the group’s best material. His wide range of musical interest helped move the Zeppelin from a great Rock band into some very new and interesting directions. Besides bass, John has played piano, clavinet, and mellotron. His abilities allowed the group to move into different worlds like funk, Jazz and Eastern as heard on one of the group’s true masterpieces “Kashmir”.

Since the breakup of Led Zeppelin, Jones has hardly “retired” from music. He continues to score and arrange for TV and film. In addition he has done a lot of studio work as both a musician and producer. His first solo LP called ZOOMA is somewhat avant garde and filled with musical directions. John went back to playing live with several artists and even played in a modern day super group called Them Crooked Vultures. The group featured Jones along with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters.

John Paul Jones summed up his life at present with a great quote. “Once I had all the time in the world and no money. Now I have the money, but no time.”


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