By Christopher Scapelliti
Led Zeppelin have long been an inspiration for many musicians, and countless guitarists over the past four decades have cited Jimmy Page as the reason they picked up the instrument in the first place.
But who inspired Jimmy Page?
Music writer Bob Boilen goes in search of the answer in his new book Your Song Changed My Life. The host of NPR’s All Things Considered, Boilen asked dozens of musicians—including David Byrne, Michael Stipe and St. Vincent—about the song that changed their lives, revealing some of the deep musical connections that inspired the work of these artists.
Page reveals to Boilen that his interest in guitar developed in the mid Fifties. In 1952, Page’s family moved from the London suburb of Heston to Epsom, Surrey, a few miles away. Just eight years old at the time, Page discovered a guitar left behind from the previous owners. He had no interest in playing it, but the guitar remained in the house for the next few years.
That was a good thing, because three years later, in 1955, Page heard the song that would inspire him to play the guitar and, in doing so, change his life. The song was Lonnie Donegan’s hit recording of the Lead Belly tune “Rock Island Line.” The Scottish-born Donegan played an amped-up folk-blues meld called “skiffle” that soon took Britain by storm. Rock and roll had yet to roll across the Atlantic, but British youths—including John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison—found a satisfying musical release in the strains of Donegan’s skiffle music.
Page heard Donegan’s song on the radio and owned a copy of the record. But he didn’t take an interest in learning the song on the guitar until he heard a fellow schoolmate named Rod Wyatt play it on his. Page told Wyatt he owned a guitar, and Wyatt said if Page would bring it to school, he’d show him how tune it up and play the song.
“And then [Rod] showed me how to tune it up…and then I started strumming away like not quite like—not quite like Lonnie Donegan, but I was having a go,” Page says.
He tells Boilen that Donegan’s unique take on the song and its musical form appealed to him.
“I wanted to have my own approach to what I did,” Page says. “I didn’t want to…do a carbon copy of B.B. King, but I really love the blues. The blues had so much effect on me and I just wanted to make my own contribution in my own way.”
He most certainly did. You can read more about this story at RollingStone.com.
Have a listen to the song that inspired Jimmy Page and, indirectly, changed the course of popular music.