John Paul Jones bought his first mandolin in April 1970 in Evansville, Indiana, while Led Zeppelin was on their spring 1970 US tour. Times, they were a-changing and rock music was evolving from the late 1960s psychedelic, hippie-drenched rock into softer, folk-style music. American bands like The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash and The Band & British bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle (of which guitarists Bert Jansch and John Renbourn were amongst Jimmy Page’s early influences) emerging into the mainstream.
Taking a break after 20 solid months on the road with Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page escaped to Bron-Yr-Aur, the small derelict cottage in South Snowdonia, Wales, in May 1970, with acoustic guitars. Emerging a month later, John Paul Jones and John Bonham joined Page and Plant at Headley Grange, East Hampshire, England to record the tracks Immigrant Song, Friends, Celebration Day, Since I’ve Been Loving You and Gallows Pole for Led Zeppelin III. The likely scenario is that John Paul Jones had brought his newly acquired mandolin to Headley Grange in late May 1970 and while the electric tracks were being recorded, Jimmy brought his acoustic compositions to the rest of the band for future development and John Paul added another level of aural texture to Jimmy’s acoustic guitar work.
Additional recording was done in June 1970 for Out on the Tiles at Olympic Studios, Barnes, London, England and the acoustic tracks, including the B-side Hey Hey What Can I Do, were recorded in July 1970 at Island Studios, Notting Hill, London, England. Gallows Pole was remixed at Electric Lady Studios in August 1970 by Eddie Kramer, who amongst other things, cut 11 seconds of outro fuzz guitar solo out of the final track.
Led Zeppelin was eager to present these songs to their fans. They had previewed electric tracks, such as Since I’ve Been Loving You, as early as January 1970, but the acoustic tracks were not given live premieres until June 1970, most likely at Reykjavik’s Laugardalshöll Sports Arena on the 22nd.
It is unclear who played the mandolin in the studio for Led Zeppelin III. Some tracks double up alongside the bass guitar line, such as in Gallows Pole. Page had borrowed a Vega banjo that belonged to John Paul Jones for use on Gallows Pole, so it is possible that he continued the borrowing with John Paul Jones’ mandolin for the track. In other songs, the mandolin follows the acoustic guitar, such as in That’s The Way and Tangerine. Tangerine was a Page composition, originally named Knowing That I’m Losing You, which was recorded in April 1968 with The Yardbirds, so it’s likely that if Page already had all the different parts recorded two years previously, he could easily have re-recorded all of the instrumental parts easier than however long it may have taken to teach John Paul Jones various parts. In Hey Hey What Can I Do, the mandolin is a full-fledged solo instrument at the end. Listening to that outro mandolin solo conjures up visuals of John Paul Jones flatpicking the hell out of the mandolin, quite similar to how Jimmy Page played the breakdown passage in live version of Bron-Y-Aur Stomp from the 1975 and 1977 tours. Page said in a 1977 interview for Trouser Press that for the track The Battle of Evermore that in December 1970 (well after Led Zeppelin III was recorded), he "picked up John Paul Jones' mandolin, having never played a mandolin before, and just wrote up the chords and the whole thing in one sitting."
Starting on June 22, 1970, John Paul Jones played the mandolin for That's The Way on stage, while Jimmy Page played the acoustic guitar. Paired with That's The Way was the solo Page piece Bron-Yr-Aur, which lasted in Zeppelin's live set list for only eight shows because the audience was getting too loud, restless and Jimmy Page couldn't hear himself play over the noise. That's The Way was performed on the 1970 Summer US Tour, Back to the Clubs tour in spring 1971, warmup dates for the 1971 US Tour, the 1971 US Tour, the 1971 Japanese Tour, 1972 Australia Tour, the 1972 US Tour, the Spring 1973 European tour (in which a few seconds of it was played inside Bron-Y-Aur Stomp) and the 1975 Earls Court dates. Going To California premiered on the first night of the Return to the Clubs tour, March 5, 1971, again with Jones on mandolin and Page on acoustic guitar. Going To California was played on the Back to the Clubs tour in spring 1971, Warmup dates for the 1971 US Tour, the 1971 US Tour, the 1971 Japanese Tour, 1972 Australia Tour, the 1972 US Tour, the 1975 Earls Court dates and the 1977 US Tour.
Gallows Pole made two appearances, both in 1971, on May 3 in Copenhagen and November 16, in Ipswich, England. Both performance were played with Jimmy Page on his Gibson Les Paul and John Paul Jones on Fender Bass. Both performances sounded relatively unrehearsed, with John Bonham coming in on drums at random places in the song and John Paul Jones doing nothing more than noodling on the bass guitar. Seemingly, the band felt dissatisfied with their performance, and Gallows Pole was no longer attempted by Led Zeppelin, other than Robert Plant singing some lines during medley encores.
Two more acoustic numbers debuted on the 1971 Japanese Tour, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp and Tangerine. Bron-Y-Aur Stomp was played with Jimmy Page on acoustic guitar and John Paul Jones on fretless Hohner or Fender bass guitar on the 1971-1973 Tours and an Arco upright bass for the 1975 Earls Court Tour and the 1977 US Tour. Tangerine was performed as a single solo piece by Jimmy Page on acoustic guitar, with Robert Plant on vocals through the 1972 US Tour and when it was revived for the 1975 Earls Court Tour, Jimmy Page strapped on the Gibson Double Neck guitar, playing the entire song on the 12-string neck, including a slide guitar solo John Paul Jones played bass guitar, John Bonham played the Vistalite drumkit and all of three of them provided backup vocals during the chorus, accompanying Robert Plant's lead vocals to create a four-part harmony.
Over the next four years, John Paul Jones used four other mandolins, a Framus Strato-Melodie on from September to December 1971, an unknown electric mandolin on the 1972 Australia Tour, a Fender Electric Mandolin on the 1972 US Tour and a Harmony H-35 Electric Mandolin on the 1975 Earls Court Tour.
The Battle of Evermore was recorded at Headley Grange, East Hampshire, England in December 1970-January 1971 with Sandy Denny on guest vocals. It was only ever performed live by Led Zeppelin on the 1977 US Tour, with John Paul Jones on backup vocals. On the first leg of the 1977 US Tour, Jones used an acoustic 12-string Ovation guitar for The Battle of Evermore, while Jimmy Page used a 1920 Gibson A2 Mandolin.
Enter Hugh Manson. He built his first guitar for his older brother Andy who couldn't afford to buy a guitar so that he could play in the subways. His parents lived near John Paul Jones and his family in Crowborough, East Sussex, England and his mother mentioned to him in the mid-1970s that there was a musician living up the road and told him to see if there was any work that could be done. After some minor repair work, his brother Andy Manson was given tickets to a Led Zeppelin concert (Earls Court?). Andy attended and noticed that all in the span of one song that John Paul Jones used a 6-string, a 12-string and a mandolin (what song is this? I think Andy meant that he played all of those instruments in the span of one night's performance). Andy went back to his luthier shop and built a triple necked instrument and presented it to John Paul Jones in 1975. The Triple Neck was returned to Andy Manson in 1977 for some additional inlay work and Jones began using it live with Led Zeppelin on the 2nd and 3rd legs of the 1977 US Tour, as well as the 2nd warmup gig for the 1979 Knebworth shows, and the first Knebworth show on August 4, 1979, while playing Moog Taurus bass pedals. Problems with the Triple Neck Guitar prevented him from using it for the 2nd Knebworth show a week later.
After Led Zeppelin couldn't continue after the death of drummer John Bonham in 1980, John Paul Jones resumed the quiet life as producer and arranger, guesting on occasional tracks for other artists. He joined the band Heart in August 1994 for a series of shows at Seattle Washington's Backstage Theatre. He played mandolin, piano and arranged string parts and conducted the orchestra on some tracks. In October 1999, John Paul Jones embarked upon a six month tour supporting his first solo album, Zooma. Along with drummer Terl Bryant and Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs, they performed songs from Zooma as well as songs from his time in Led Zeppelin, all instrumental. He used an Hugh Manson-built electric bass mandolin for the tender The Smile of your Shadow as well as the Manson Triple Neck, which was used on a live-only track dubbed The Triple Neck Song. Jones used the Symbolic Sound Kyma system to record, in real-time, layers of melody, building up to a half dozen acoustic parts. On the second leg of the tour, Jones used a his trusty Manson 8-string mandolin on That's The Way/Going To California, which he called "dinosaur rock".
In 2001, Jones, Bryant and Beggs went back on the road, opening for King Crimson, in support of Jones' second solo album The Thunderthief and introduced another round of new songs, including Freedom Song in which Jones played a ukulele, Hoediddle where he used an Manson electric four-string mandolin and Steel Away, where he started off on a mandolin and switched to pedal steel guitar.
John Paul Jones played the mandolin for a couple of Mines Advisory Group gigs in 2002 (January 27 and April 12), both with vocalist/guitarist Julie Felix. The January 27 gig also included Terl Bryant and Nick Beggs with some songs from their normal live set. The April 12 gig was more intimate, at a Borders Bookshop, with a question/answer session, accompanied by an autograph session.
John Paul Jones joined Robyn Hitchcock for his 50th birthday celebration at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, England on March 2, 2003, playing mandolin on some Hitchcock songs as well as piano on Ice Fishing At Night. That August, he traveled to Japan and performed at Guitar Wars with Nuno Bettencourt, Steve Hackett and Paul Gilbert, playing the mandolin on Steel Away and Going To California.
2004 was the start of a new era for John Paul Jones, with Jones beginning to attend bluegrass festivals. On May 1 and 2, 2004, he attended Merlefest in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, taking part in the Midnight Jam on mandolin and playing acoustic bass guitar with the Sam Cowan Band. He met Chris Thile and Sara Watkins and they made plans to do a small US Tour in July and August, under the name of the Mutual Admiration Society. On October 29, 2004, Jones made his first of two annual appearances at the Festival Mandolines de Lunel, playing a borrowed double bass (complete with solo!) with Mike Marshall and Hamilton de Holanda.
John Paul Jones made many appearances in 2005 with Robyn Hitchcock, first at a Médicins Sans Frontières benefit concert on February 18 in which he played the mandolin. On June 24, he played mandolin and mandocello at Patti Smith’s Meltdown Festival. Later that year, on September 9, he rejoined fellow Mutual Admiration Society members for an encore performance of Sara Watkins’ song Anthony. Jones closed out 2005 with another appearance at the Festival Mandolines de Lunel, this year giving a solo improvisational performance on Triple Neck Mandolin and Symbolic Sign Kyma.
In 2006, Jones continued to play the Manson 8-string mandolin perform with Robyn Hitchcock, as well as joining Uncle Earl, whom he would end up also producing their 2007 album, Waterloo, Tennessee. He also rejoined Glen Phillips, from the Mutual Admiration Society on stage in June. He also performed at the Wintergrass Festival in Tacoma, Washington with Mike Marshall and Hamilton de Hollanda. Jones also went back to school in 2006, attending the Sore Fingers Summer School for old-time and bluegrass music.
In 2007, Jones returned to performing at festivals, including Merlefest, Bonnaroo, Down On The Farm and End Of The Road, playing the Manson 8-string mandolin. He also joined Robyn Hitchcock and Uncle Earl at various European venues and benefit concerts.
He continued to play the mandolin with Robyn Hitchcock and Sara & Sean Watkins through most of 2008, ending the year playing a three-day stint, full of all-star jams at Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam.
In 2009, although most of the year was spent plugged in with Dave Grohl and Josh Homme, in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, Jones performed twice with the Manson 8-string mandolin, both at the Largo in West Hollywood, California.
In the first half of 2010, Jones was still on tour with Them Crooked Vultures. Beginning on April 14, 2010 at the Club Nokia in Losa Angeles, California, Jones played the violin on the live-only tune You Can’t Possibly Begin To Imagine. Jones made some one off appearances in the second half of the year, performing with the Rokia Traoré Band, as well as Fatoumata Diawara at the Africa Express: A Festa Dos Mundos in Galicia, Spain in August, the Dave Rawlings Machine in September and Sara & Sean Watkins in November.
In 2011 and 2012, Jones joined blues musician Seasick Steve at various festivals, playing the Manson 8-string mandolin and banjo.
Although, John Paul Jones is most commonly known for his 12 years in Led Zeppelin, playing electric bass guitars and keyboards at deafening volumes, he most certainly should not be forgotten for his lifetime of acoustics.
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