John Paul Jones, born John Richard Baldwin, turns 71 today. We know him best as the bassist for Led Zeppelin but he’s been a session musician on several tracks and albums and he plays many instruments other than the bass guitar!
Here are some things you may not know about John Paul Jones, courtesy of Rolling Stone:
1. The Name Change: From John Richard to John Paul Jones
One of the major trends among popular artists in England in the early 1960s was to change one’s name to something a little bit more eye-grabbing. Thus, Richard Starkey became Ringo Starr and Alan Caldwell became Rory Storm. In 1964, John Baldwin entered the studio with Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to cut his first single, “Baja,” a song penned by country/pop singer Lee Hazlewood. The song itself is a pretty nondescript instrumental propelled by woody-sounding guitar, but the session’s implications were enormous. Going to market, Oldham was convinced his young charge’s birth name just wasn’t going to cut it, and thus rechristened him John Paul Jones. As Jones remembered, Oldham got the name from a “movie poster for John Paul Jones the American.” The rest is history.
2. John Paul Jones and Keith Moon Are Responsible For Led Zeppelin’s Band Name
Since he recorded with Jeff Beck on different occasions, naturally, he was invited in for a session called Beck’s Bolero:
While still an official member of the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck decided to test the waters of a solo career and entered IBC Studios in London on May 16th, 1966, to cut his first single. His friend and bandmate Jimmy Page served as the producer that day — though Mickie Most ended up with the credit — while also playing 12-string backing guitar. For the rhythm section, Page enlisted the best in the business: Keith Moon of the Who on drums and John Paul Jones on bass. The resulting song, “Beck’s Bolero,” is one of the most exhilarating instrumentals in rock history, but as good as the song was, the very existence of the session proved to have far larger implications than anyone could have realized. At some point while in the studio, someone suggested that the players assembled should form a band. Moon was said to have quipped, “That would go over like a lead balloon,” an offhand comment sparked the genesis of Led Zeppelin.
3. He’s Behind the String Arrangement for Rolling Stones She’s a Rainbow:
There aren’t too many bright spots on the Stones’ 1967 foray into psychedelia, Their Satanic Majesties Request, but “She’s a Rainbow” is unquestionably the brightest — thanks in large part to John Paul Jones. Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the track is one of the most adventurous and touching in the entire Stones catalog, highlighted by a tender solo piano section from frequent collaborator Nicky Hopkins. Jones was brought in by Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to arrange the avant-garde string section that acts as the song’s coda.
4. He Created the Signature Riff to Black Dog, not Jimmy Page!
Jimmy Page is widely renowned as one of the greatest riff-smiths in rock history, a fact that often overshadows some of the more impressive musical contributions of his Zeppelin bandmates. Case in point: It was Jones, not Page, who came up with the unique 5/4 riff for one of Led Zeppelin’s most recognizable songs, “Black Dog.” As Jones told Cameron Crowe in the liner notes to the Led Zeppelin box set Light and Shade, “I wanted to try an electric blues with a rolling bass part. But it couldn’t be too simple. I wanted it to turn back on itself. I showed it to the guys, and we fell into it. We struggled with the turn-around, until [John] Bonham figured out that you just four-time as if there’s no turn-around. That was the secret.”
5. He Produced the Butthole Surfers’ 1993 album, Independent Worm Saloon.
Of all the bands in the world that you’d imagine a former Seventies-rock giant collaborating with, the Butthole Surfers would probably be very low on the list. Nevertheless, when it came time for the freaky Texas rockers to record their sixth record and first with a major label, Independent Worm Saloon, they reached out Jones, who surprisingly agreed. As Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes remembered of those sessions, “We spent so much money on that record! We basically spent a fortune to hang out with some guy from Led Zeppelin!”
6. He Worked on the orchestral arrangements for R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People
If Automatic for the People isn’t R.E.M.’s best record, then at the very least it’s their most popular, with more than 18 million copies sold. While the Georgia alt-rockers were clearly hitting their stride by this point and writing some of their best material in years, it was a stroke of genius to bring in Jones to help put together some of the orchestral arrangements on the album. As Jones recalled, “They sent me the demos of their songs, and we went into a studio in Atlanta, with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. They were great songs, something you can really get your teeth into as an arranger. And I’ve been good friends with them ever since.”
7. He Played on the Foo Fighters’ 2005 album, In Your Honor.
Dave Grohl is a vocal Led Zeppelin fan — the first tattoo he ever got was of John Bonham’s interconnected-circles symbol that appears on the band’s fourth album — so when it came time to record the Foo Fighters’ 2005 album, In Your Honor, the singer/drummer/guitarist threw up a Hail Mary and put in a phone call to Jones to see if he’d be interested in coming into the studio to add a bit of instrumentation. Ever the game collaborator, Jones agreed and played mandolin on the song “Another Round” and piano on “Miracle.” Jones would collaborate with Grohl once again four years later along with Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme in the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.