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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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October xx, 1968 - Led Zeppelin is recorded
October 19, 1968 - Final performance as the New Yardbirds
October 31, 1969 - Led Zeppelin II is released in the US
October 17, 1969 - Bonham is thrilled to play Carnegie Hall where Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa have performed
October 23, 1970 - Led Zeppelin III is released in the US
October xx, 1970 - The press lash out at the band over the Led Zeppelin III acoustic content
October xx, 1971 - Page and Plant venture around Thailand and India after the Japan tour
October 18, 1972 - Zeppelin rehearse at the Rainbow Theater for a UK tour
October xx, 1973 - Each member performs an individual film sequence for their concept film
October 31, 1974 - Swan Song hosts a party for the launch of its UK division
October xx, 1975 - Led Zeppelin decide not to tour and concentrate on recording new material
October 20, 1976 - The Song Remains The Same premieres at New York’s Cinema One
October xx, 1977 - Jimmy starts assembling a Led Zeppelin live album from recordings as far back as 1969
October xx, 1978 - Jones and Bonham record with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios
October xx, 1978 - Rehearsals for In Through The Out Door in London
October xx, 1979 - All nine Led Zeppelin albums enter the Billboards Top 200 -- no other band has ever achieved this
October 10, 1980 - A private funeral is held for John Bonham at Rushock church in Worcestershire
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