When Led Zeppelin was at the height of its fame, Rolling Stone guitarist Keith Richards couldn’t help noticing how many guitar parts Jimmy Page handled on his own at a Zep concert. After the show, Richards made an observation.
“You ought to get another guitarist,” Page recalled Richards saying in a 1977 Trouser Press interview. “You’re rapidly becoming known as the most overworked guitarist in the business.” Page found that line funny, but he never did get another guitarist to play behind him.
Led Zeppelin almost always kept to its quartet in the studio as well. When you hear mandolin (“The Battle of Evermore”), flute (“Stairway to Heaven“), harmonica (“You Shook Me”), and marimbas (“Fool in the Rain”) on various tracks, you’re hearing a member of the Zep.
That’s how talented the four members of the band were. Outside of a few orchestral parts, you’ll only hear outside musicians perform on a handful of Zeppelin songs.
Led Zeppelin had ‘6th Rolling Stone’ Ian Stewart play piano on 2 tracks released on Zep studio albums
When Led Zeppelin went to record its masterpiece fourth album (1971’s IV, or The Four Symbols) in the countryside, the band used the Rolling Stones mobile recording studio. Ian Stewart, who played piano on so many Stones records, drove the vehicle out to Zep’s location.
While there, the band had Stewart sit in on one of its most rousing numbers, “Rock and Roll.” Though multi-instrumentalist John Paul Jones would typically handle piano duties, Stewart’s mastery of rock keyboard served as a perfect complement to the band’s work on the track.
While they were playing, Zeppelin and Stewart also dug into the romp that became “Boogie with Stu.” That number, which featured Robert Plant singing some lyrics from Richie Valens’ “Ooh My Head,” sat unused for several years.
But when the band decided to make Physical Graffiti (1975) a double album, “Boogie with Stu” turned up on the second side of the second LP. So Stewart became the only outside musician to play on two Led Zeppelin tracks.
Jimmy Page also had a tabla player come in for ‘Black Mountain Side’ on the debut Led Zeppelin album
While Led Zeppelin quickly became known for its heaviness, the band didn’t skimp on acoustic moments on its debut album. “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” the second track, features Page playing unplugged in both “light” and “shade” mode.
On side 2’s “Black Mountain Side,” Page has a full acoustic guitar showcase. The other members of Zep sit out that track, but Page had a tabla player named Viram Jasani accompany him. And to my knowledge that just about does it for guest musicians on Zep tracks.
The Zep also hired orchestras on a few occasions. That list included the sessions for Led Zeppelin III (1970). To get the haunting, Eastern sound on “Friends,” the band turned to string players who worked with a score by Jones (an accomplished arranger).
To get the massive sound on “Kashmir,” the band also had to hire strong and brass players. But though you might think “The Rain Song” sounds like it has string players, that was Jones again — this time, working on a Mellotron.
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