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The famous Led Zeppelin riff composed by John Paul Jones


The famous Led Zeppelin riff composed by John Paul Jones

Led Zeppelin is one of the most successful bands of all time with an estimated amount of 200 to 300 million records sold worldwide. All the four members of the band were equally important for the success of their sound but when you think about guitar riffs, Jimmy Page is certainly the one that comes to your mind.


However, the bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones was the one who wrote one of the most famous riffs from the band. The title of the song was inspired by a black Labrador Retriever that the band used to see wandering the Headley Grange studio area.

The famous Led Zeppelin riff composed by John Paul Jones

Page is always the first one to point out in interviews that it was his bandmate who wrote that riff. He did that in an interview with Rolling Stone back in 2012, after being asked about the one from the song “Black Dog”. “That’s one I didn’t come up with. John Paul Jones had that riff. It was not easy to play. The drums had to play 4/4 through it. But ‘Black Dog’ is more than a riff. You have the call-and-response of the vocal and riff, then the bridge and other parts to move the song along.”

“This is the thing. There’s a riff. What are you going to do with it? That’s where you shape things. The opening of “No Quarter” (on 1973’s Houses of the Holy) that was a keyboard thing. But mainly the song was coming from the guitar. ‘Heartbreaker’ is one where John was involved in the writing as well. The opening is guitar-led, then John’s (bass) pattern becomes the verse,” Jimmy Page said.

John Paul Jones wrote the “Black Dog” riff on a train

As the bassist told Bass Player magazine, his dad, who was also a musician, taught him how to write musical notation and he wrote that riff on the back of a train ticket once. “I wrote Black Dog on a train. My Dad taught me how to write musical notation without using manuscript paper. Just with numbers and note values. I wrote that riff on the back of a train ticket. (I was) coming back from a rehearsal at Jimmy Page’s house,” John Paul Jones said.

Jones, Page and Robert Plant are credited as the songwriters of the track that was featured on their fourth album released in 1971. As a single, the song peaked at number 15 on the United States Hot 100.

He explained better his idea about the riff in a conversation with Classic Rock, saying: “It was originally all in 3/16 time. But no one could keep up with that”. It was the particularly the drummer John Bonham who struggled with the different rhythms the song had. “I told Bonzo he had to keep playing four-to-the-bar all the way through Black Dog,” Jones said. “If you go through enough 5/8s it arrives back on the beat,” John Paul Jones said.

According to Jimmy Page, the main secret of a great Led Zeppelin riff is being “quite hypnotic”, because it will be played multiple times. So it’s something that you can feel instinctively right.

I'm a Brazilian journalist who always loved Classic Rock and Heavy Metal music. That passion inspired me to create Rock and Roll Garage over 6 years ago. Music has always been a part of my life, helping me through tough times and being a support to celebrate the good ones. When I became a journalist, I knew I wanted to write about my passions. After graduating in journalism from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, I pursued a postgraduate degree in digital communication at the same institution. The studies and experience in the field helped me improve the website and always bring the best of classic rock to the world! MTB: 0021377/MG

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