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Mixes of the Holy, Sound & Vision Apr. 2004

by Ken Richardson

Jimmy Page made an appearance at the International Surround Conference-actually, not the real Jimmy Page but an amazing simulation, Kevin Shirley, who engineered the stereo and multichannel mixes for Led Zeppelin's DVD and both the CD and DVD-Audio versions of How the West Was Won, was at the recent Beverly Hills event to share anecdotes on how the mixes were done. But he didn't just talk- he also inhabited Page by impersonating the guitarist's squeezed, clipped accent to a T.

"At the studio we used" Shirley said, "Jimmy would often be upstairs, because he sort of deplored the idea of repairing the Zeppelin stuff. But sometimes, it would have to be done. He'd come down every third day and say, ""What're you doin'? "Bonzo missed a drumbeat there.' "Ooooo...maybe he meant that. Lemme hear it.' So I'd play it. 'Now lemme hear how it was.' Pause. 'All right, I'm going upstairs to smoke.'"

"We're Gonna Groove" had a specific problem: "Apparently, Jimmy forgot to adjust a pedal, so when he started a solo, this little plinky plinky sound came out. So I said, 'What amplifier did you use?' 'I can't tell you that.' 'Why not?' 'It's a secret.' Now this is from 1970, and I was like, 'All right.' And he said, 'I know you'll tell everybody, won'tchu?' He's an intriguing guy. As it was, he did have amps hidden in other cases so nobody would know what he was using."

Some of the tapes had been stored in the tower of Page's "Tower House." Talk about intrguing: "It's a fascinating house," Shirley said. "There are ceramics of minotaurs on the floor, carvings of gargoyles on the walls." After the tapes were baked, Shirley transferred them to Pro Tools.

"I'm such a huge Zeppelin fan that the first time I saw these tapes, it was like looking at the Holy Grail. And transferring them, I nearly shat myself."

Other fixes had to be done. "Jimmy broke a string in his solo on 'Stairway to Heaven.' If you look at the video, when he gets to that wonderful little fanfare at the end of the solo, he plays it down an octave. But it's such a signature part of the song-what can you do? So we fixed it with another take. You see him playing down an octave, but you hear it normal, It would have spoiled the package if you didn't have that fanfare sound right.

"The idea was to finesse things, because being an entertainment package, it should be enjoyed without all the hiccups. A lot of people might take exception to that, but I felt it was important. This is a celebration of Zeppelin's music.

As for the actual mixes, "we did all the stereo ones first-which frustrated Jimmy, because he was dying to hear the surround mixes." For those, Shirley varied Robert Plant's vocals among the channels. "There's always a ton of leak all over his vocals, so I went through each and every vocal track and cleaned around the words. That's what I put in the left and right front. But in the center, I put his absolutely raw vocal mike-you can hear his foot-steps, his hands moving, his lips smacking. As a fan, I find that stuff really interesting.

"Jimmy was enthusiastic about surround sound. He was very interested in presenting Zeppelin in a new light." Does this mean we'll get the studio catalog in surround? "No I don't think he's interested in that. It may happen in the future, but it's so much work for these guys to do. They've all got families now. And the internal workings of the band are more complex than the Space Shuttle."

At the end, Shirley impersonated Plant, too, recalling when the singer attended the theatrical premiere of the DVD. "He came up to me afterward and very generously said, 'Lovely job you did...It's not like you were polishing a turd, though.'"
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This Month in
Led Zeppelin History

March 17, 1969 - A four-song performance is filmed for TV Byen in Denmark (aired on May 19, 1969)
March 21, 1969 - Zeppelin’s debut TV appearance on "How It Is"
March 25, 1969 - Filming session for the Supershow
March xx, 1970 - The band turns down many TV offers worth large sums
March 05, 1971 - Led Zeppelin started a 12-date "Thank You" tour for British fans, appearing at the clubs from their early days and charging the same admission prices as in 1968. The first show was at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland where they played songs from their upcoming fourth album, including the first public performances of Black Dog, Stairway To Heaven, Going To California and Rock And Roll.
March 12, 1972 - Page and Plant rehearse some songs with the Bombay Orchestra
March 25, 1973 - Led Zeppelin finally release Houses of the Holy after production issues with the album cover
March 28, 1973 - Led Zeppelin released Houses Of The Holy in the UK. The album title was a dedication by the band to their fans who appeared at venues they dubbed "houses of the holy". Houses Of The Holy has now been certified 11 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 11 million copies.
March xx, 1974 - The band decide to release a double album due to the amount of left over studio material
March 29, 1975 - Led Zeppelin saw all six of their albums in the US Top 100 chart in the same week, alongside their latest album Physical Graffiti at No.1. Physical Graffiti has now been certified 16 times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for US sales in excess of 16 million copies.
March 15, 1975 - Tickets for the Earls Court shows sellout within four hours
March xx, 1976 - Jimmy speaks with reporters mentioning the new album due out called Presence
March 31, 1976 - Presence is released
March 28, 1977 - Zeppelin arrive in Dallas, Texas to rehearse before opening the eleventh tour of the US
March xx, 1978 - Robert and John spend some time hanging around the Midlands
March 26, 1979 - Robert takes lead vocal at a Bad Company gig in Birmingham
March 04, 1980 - John Bonham makes a TV appearance on "Alright Now" with Bill Connolly
March 26, 2006 - Readers of Total Guitar magazine voted the guitar solo by Jimmy Page in Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven as the greatest guitar solo of all time. The 1971 track was voted ahead of tracks by Van Halen, Queen, Jimi Hendrix and The Eagles. On the 20th anniversary of the original release of the song, it was announced via US radio sources that the song had logged up an estimated 2,874,000 radio plays - back to back, that would run for 44 years solid.
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