The guitarist Jimmy Page is known as one of the most influential musicians of all time, especially for his work with Led Zeppelin, a band that he helped to form in 1968. But before playing with Robert Plant, John Bonham and John Paul Jones, he was one of the most respected session musicians in England and spent years playing with famous artists of the 60s and learning a lot from those sessions.
It’s not a coincidence that besides playing the guitar and co-writing many tracks, he also produced all the Led Zeppelin albums, since he learned a lot working years in the studio. He had the opportunity to meet many respected guitarists and one of them was Pete Townshend, who is the co-founder, guitarist and main songwriter of The Who. Page doesn’t often give his opinion on other guitarists but he already analyzed Townshend’s guitar playing once.
Jimmy Page’s opinion on Pete Townshend
When Led Zeppelin released their groundbreaking self-titled debut album in 1968, The Who already existed for six years and were one of the most successful bands that came out of England in that decade. They had three albums out and curiously, Page played lead guitar in the track “Bald Headed Woman” from their debut album “My Generation”, released in 1965. He also played in their hit “Can’t Explain”, but the version that he appears in was only released years later.
So Page had the chance to meet Townshend when both artists were still quite young. In an interview with Trouser Press in 1977, he was asked about The Who’s guitarist and said that although he had his limitations, he was good.
After being asked if he liked Townshend’s style, he said: “Oh, yeah. Lots of attack. Really good. He had his limitations, though. He was no Beck, but he was all right.” In the same conversation he analyzed Townshend, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. “It was just like a little clan really. Beck, myself, and Clapton were sort of “arch-buddies. Townshend was sort of on the periphery.”
“He came from another area of London. We were all in commuting distance from Richmond, which is where it was all going on. Townshend came from Ealing. Albert Lee was the only other guitarist really worth noting. He was like a white elephant. He was so good. Very much in the Nashville tradition. One thing I’ve noticed, though, is that all the good musicians who’ve stuck to it from those days have come through,” Jimmy Page said.
What Jimmy Page said about playing in The Who’s “Can’t Explain”
The Led Zeppelin guitarist shares a lot of his memories in his official Instagram page. He recalled in 2020 the experience of playing in “Can’t Explain”. He said that it was a privilege to be there.
“Although I had been contracted to play on this session I wasn’t really needed but I played on it somewhere in the background. What a privilege it was to be part of that pure adrenaline rush. Pete Townshend played a blinder, you can hear a few of my phrases on the B-side ‘Bald Headed Woman’ on the fuzzbox,” Jimmy Page said.
Curiously, although Pete Townshend achieved fame before Page, The Who’s guitarist saw the Led Zeppelin founder on stage before he even had a band when he was a teenager. He recalled that memory in an interview with Sound International in 1980.
“There was some nice stuff there. I don’t know what possessed me to actually start to play like that. I suppose it just must have been the influence of Hendrix. Because up to that point I just wasn’t interested in single-note work.”
“It seemed mad for me to even try to compete with the likes of Beck and Clapton and Jimmy Page. I first saw Jimmy Page when I was 14 or 15 and he was already in a professional band. He was one year older than me and he was in a professional band at 16. He was earning 30 pounds a week when I was just still in school,” Pete Townshend said.
Townshend was never a big fan of what Led Zeppelin did
Although there is a lot of respect between the two artists, Pete Townshend was never a big fan of what Led Zeppelin did. In an interview back in 1995 with Time (Transcribed by Rock and Roll Garage), he said that he didn’t like anything the Hard Rock band did.
“I haven’t liked a single thing that they’ve done. (Also) I hate the fact that we’re ever even slightly compared to them. I just never, ever liked them. It’s a real problem for me because as people I think they’re all really, really great guys.”
“Just never liked the band, you know. I’ve just got a problem block to them. Because they became so much bigger than The Who in so many ways in their chosen field. But I never liked,” Pete Townshend said.
He told Toronto Sun that The Who “sort of invented” Heavy Metal with their live album “Live At Leeds” (1970) and other bands copied them afterwards, one of them being Led Zeppelin.
“We sort of invented heavy metal with (our first live album) Live at Leeds (1970). We were copied by so many bands, principally by Led Zeppelin, you know heavy drums, heavy bass, heavy lead guitar and some of those bands, like Jimi Hendrix for example, did it far better than we did,” Pete Townshend said.