Today (January 3) is John Paul Jones’ 69th birthday. He has been a professional musician for over 50 years, with 12 of those most famously in Led Zeppelin. If all that you listen to is his Zeppelin, you are sorely missing out on a musical maestro. Each song that he has performed on, every song that he has arranged for, every song that he has produced is pure genius. There is no way to narrow down a lifetime of virtuosity into a short, however, I present here my personal selection of tracks, in no particular order, that John Paul Jones has been a part of that shines brightly.
A Foggy Day In Vietnam
Most every young studio musician dreams of that one day when they can record their own music. 18 year old Jones recorded this nearly instrumental number in 1964 for Pye Records. Jones played some excellent honky tonk upright piano on this track. It is very reminiscent of songs later in his career, like Hot Dog and Darlene & his 1977 piano solos during No Quarter.
This song starts out with a killer riff, heavy 4-string bass and layers guitar over that. Then it changes into a signature John Paul Jones walking bass run in the pre-chorus. The second half of the pre-chorus has some funky clavinet work. All that plus Jones contributing some backup vocals and mini improv bass solos when performed live.
Jones has never been afraid to stray from traditional rock and roll. This has never been held more true than with the album The Sporting Life with avant-garde singer Diamanda Galás. To most ears, her vocals sound unintelligible, however, Skótoseme (Greek for “kill me”) has some tasty bass work on a Manson 8-string bass, wired in stereo and drums by Pete Thomas, Elvis Costello’s drummer, who later played on Jones’ first solo album in 1999, Zooma.
The Lemon Song
The Lemon Song features exemplary bass runs that many budding bass guitarists have often tried to imitate (including yours truly). Recorded virtually live in Mystic Studios in 1969, Jones is definitely pulling from his roots to pull this song off.
Dazed And Confused
The second that you hear the haunting, descending bass line, you can instantly tell that it’s John Paul Jones in Dazed And Confused from Led Zeppelin. In the first few albums, you can tell that Jones and Jimmy Page were experimenting with different studio tricks and the tone of the bass is a bit muted, lacking some natural echo that you hear in most other tracks. It adds to the overall psychedelic loneliness that creeps over you.
When this song was played live and it stretched to over 30 minutes in length, not once could you tell that Jones was straining to keep up with the guitar or drums. He was perfectly locked within the groove.
Stairway To Heaven
Some may look at Stairway To Heaven and think that it’s a Page track. How untrue? Jones was all over the place on this song. In addition to Fender Rhodes keyboard action that fills in against the beautiful Page guitar work and unreal bass guitar runs, there is no other song that better rocks out on a quartet of bass recorders, all played by Jones. You simply cannot get any more badass than that.
Tidal (Guitar Wars version)
Riding high from the underground success of two solo albums and supporting tours, Jones accepted the invitation to appear at Guitar Wars 2003 in Tokyo, Japan. The JPJ Orchestra was in full force with Nuno Bettencourt on guitar, Jones on 10-string Manson bass, Roger King on keyboards, Mike Szuter who came in later on the track on bass guitar & Paul Mastelotto on drums.
Jones was definitely feeling his oats, switching on some effects and taking on a freaking impressive outro bass guitar solo.
The Song Remains The Same (live version)
While Jimmy Page is busy weaving his guitar magic, John Paul Jones, with assistance from the drums, lays down a heavy foundation. Not satisfied with playing root notes to maintain the beat, Jones is all over the fretboard, finding a way to play some solo-sounding rhythm work.
No Quarter (live version)
John Paul Jones was so much more than a bass guitarist and this track exemplifies this. Originally, in 1970, No Quarter had a faster tempo and patched together several different contrasting parts. When it was time to record No Quarter in the studio in early 1972, it was slowed down and the whole song was dropped a semi-tone in pitch to add to the mysteriousness of the song.
This song was premiered on the second leg of the 1973 Summer US tour up until Led Zeppelin’s last date in 1980. It showcased John Paul Jones’ abilities on the keyboards, with lengthy piano solos added in the middle of the song.
Ice Fishing At Night
Some electronica starts this song off and then a simple piano passage begins. If you thought that John Paul Jones was only an instrumentalist, you were wrong. Jones adds in a very tender set of lyrics that has the aural mysticism of a classic oil painting. The piano continues into a solo passage that has a second piano part overdubbed. This is truly a non-traditional John Paul Jones-sounding masterpiece.
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