Tuesday, January 18, 2005

B. Fingers

On this day in 1975, as Led Zeppelin began its 10th tour of North America, fans began witnessing a whole slew of improvements to the band's live act, both musically and visually. But kept under wraps, bandages most likely, was an injury to a crucial finger on Jimmy Page's left hand.

Having taken all of 1974 off from the concert scene to focus on its full-length feature film, Led Zeppelin had blasted straight into the new year with a pair of warm-up dates in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and Brussels, Belgium. But despite being so used to live audiences all around the world, setting foot onstage for the first time each tour never got easier for Robert Plant.

"I was really nervous before the first gig," Plant admitted to Lisa Robinson in an interview appearing in the New Musical Express dated Feb. 1. "We're always so nervous. I don't know why. I think it's because we're so self-critical. As we walked up to the stage that night, Jimmy turned to me and said, 'This is really déjà vu, you know? We have been here before,' as the heart went into the mouth. Of course, if Jimmy gets sick or anything goes wrong with him, it affects me too."

Certainly, one such obstacle affected Plant's state of mind as he and his bandmates took the stage for the first American gig of the 1975 tour. Just before leaving England for the tour, Page had jammed his ring finger, and the guitarist's injury cast doubts as to whether Led Zeppelin would embark on its tour in North America as planned.

So much was at stake, much more than ever before. Transporting the band for parts of the tour would be The Starship, a rented Boeing 720B jet that was complete with a number of amenities. John Paul Jones's ever-growing onstage arsenal of keyboard instruments now included a Steinway grand piano, an electric Rhodes piano, a Mellotron and a Clavinet. John Bonham's drum set was now to be laid on a rostrum for each concert. A better-than-ever electrical rig was rented from the Dallas-based company Showco. The setup included a number of large video screens, 70,000 watts of sound, and a large neon sign with the band's name. Lasers were going to be used during the portion of "Dazed and Confused" in which Page played his guitar with a violin bow.

Easily factoring into the group's decision was the fact that tens of thousands of tickets had already been sold for each of many of the 36 concerts the band went on to play in 24 locations in the United States and Canada that year. When Page's injury took place, the tour was only a few short days away, with a Jan. 18 kickoff at the Minneapolis Sports Center. All the implications a last-minute postponement bore helped the band to make its decision about whether the show would go on.

"We almost canceled the tour, but we couldn't, as we'd sold all the tickets, and a postponement would have meant chaos," said Page, who decided that touring would present a personal challenge: It meant he would either play through the pain or quickly learn to alter both his playing technique as well as the concert set lists.

It was to Lisa Robinson that Page first publicly explained how his finger had been pinched in London. "It happened when I was on a train in England, on my way to rehearsal," he said. "I was at the front of the train, planning to rush off and grab a taxi, when the train stopped abruptly. I must have grabbed at something, and the finger got caught in the hinge of the door. I was just totally numb -- numb with shock. I just looked at it and said, 'Oh no.'"

Page knew it meant disaster. "I mean, it's the most important finger for a guitarist: third finger, left hand, the wedding ring finger," he continued. "It's the one that does all the leverage and most of the work, and it really came as a blow because I just couldn't play with it [that finger]."

Agreeing to go on tour as planned, Page basically forced himself to find a way to play without using his affected finger. "I'm having to develop a three-finger style," he said. "I'm starting to master a three-fingered technique ... so that whenever there's another accident, which I'm bound to have at the beginning of an important tour, I'll be ready for it."

The three-finger technique somewhat limited his playing. "I can't play any blues at all, can't bend notes either," Page said. "We've had to cut 'Dazed and Confused' from the set and substitute 'How Many More Times,' which we haven't played in four years."

The switch from one song from Led Zeppelin's first album to another allowed Page to use the violin bow for the laser sequence. He said, "I'm still doing the violin bow routine, but we've had to alter even that, and I can't do it as well as I'd like to. I can tell it's not as good as it usually is, but the audiences don't seem to notice."

Onstage in the final days before the release of Led Zeppelin's sixth studio album, Page shared the spotlight with his capable bandmates. Their set lists now included new band compositions that were soon to be released on the double LP Physical Graffiti, including "Kashmir," "Sick Again," "Trampled Underfoot," "In My Time of Dying" and "The Wanton Song."

With these new songs making their North American debut, fans could experience the progression in the group's songwriting. "We're really playing well now," Robert Plant commented to Lisa Robinson. "We're quite mature, you know. We can play stuff like 'Black Dog' -- which is the Zeppelin that comes out of our ears, but we can also alter the mood with things like 'Kashmir' or 'The Song Remains the Same' or 'No Quarter,' where the mood changes so beautifully. In a big auditorium, that's fabulous to take the mood and change the whole thing."

About the title of today's newsletter: Those who've followed John Paul Jones' solo career will recognize "B. Fingers," the title of an instrumental track on his 1999 album, Zooma. According to Jones, the "B" stands for "Broken."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Users agree to avoid posting profanity and defamatory comments.