How to Interview a Rock Legend, Starring Jimmy Page

/Photo ©Ross Halfin
/Photo ©Ross Halfin

Editor's Note: Brad Tolinski has been the editor-in-chief of Guitar World, the world's bestselling magazine for musicians, for more than two decades. He has interviewed and profiled most of popular music's greatest guitarists, including Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Eddie Van Halen, Jack White, and Jeff Beck. Here, as his new book Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page hits shelves, Tolinski talks about the experience of interviewing a rock and roll legend.

I had my first conversation with guitar icon Jimmy Page in the spring of 1993. As editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine, I assigned myself the job of interviewing him for a story on his recent, and controversial, collaboration with Whitesnake's David Coverdale. But my real interest was far more personal. As a child of the '70s, I grew up with Page's work with the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin deeply embedded in my DNA. I had always admired his innovations as a guitarist, composer and arranger. As a producer, I believe, he ranked up there with true innovators like Phil Spector and George Martin.

As a journalist, I always wondered why nobody ever asked him about that stuff, and I imagine Jimmy wondered the same thing. This is what I wanted to read and wanted to write.

Page's prickly reputation with journalists was, of course, well known to me, so I prepared myself for a potentially difficult time. I won't say we got on like two bustles in a hedgerow, but I could tell he enjoyed the fact that I was able to converse about his music in a relatively sophisticated and technically knowledgeable way. A couple of hours into our first interview we hit a small speed bump when he began to humorously feign exhaustion at the perhaps too forensic nature of my questioning. Undeterred, I pushed onward and, miraculously, he hung in there for another hour with absolutely no hint of rock legend attitude. You could sense that he was happy just to have a serious discussion about his music - not just Led Zeppelin but also his partnership with Coverdale, which had occupied him for more than a year.

Which brings me to the purpose of my new book, Light & Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page. In many ways, this work is a natural extension of that first encounter. It is my belief that Page and many of his rock and roll peers, like Keith Richards, Peter Townshend, and others too numerous to mention, are overappreciated for their eccentricities and antics and underappreciated for their actual contributions to music, art and culture.

More often than not, our greatest rockers are reduced to a cartoon or a cheap punchline. Page is the mad occultist who sold his soul to the devil, Richards is the drug-addled reprobate with nine lives and Townshend a jumping, windmilling ball of sexual confusion.

While I'm the first to laugh and shake my head at a good rock and roll tale, there needs to be some balance. The same serious musical analysis given to groundbreaking jazz and blues artists such as Muddy Waters and Miles Davis - visionaries who also bridged the gap between artistic and commercial success - should be rendered to our classic rock contemporaries. The music of Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and many others has clearly stood the test of time and continues to intrigue generations of music fans who were born years after they were formed, so what makes it tick?

Light & Shade is a serious attempt to answer that question. It is not a tell-all biography in the traditional sense, but rather (I hope) an enlightening and definitive look at the musical life of a rock genius, told in his own words. In the music documentary "It Might Get Loud," Jimmy briefly touches on what the term "light and shade" means to him: "Dynamics ... whisper to thunder; sounds that invite you in and intoxicate." Think of this book as an expansion of those basic ideas, and a rare opportunity to actually hear a master artist explain his music.