A New Page for an Ex-Zeppeliner

Paging all Led Zeppelin fans, air-guitar players and Aleister Crowley scholars--Jimmy Page is coming back.

After 20 years with Atlantic Records, the reclusive rock guitar hero has just signed with Geffen Records, which will release his first solo album sometime this spring. Since Led Zeppelin broke up in 1980, Page has been missing in action, except for a sound-track project ("Death Wish II") and a critically lambasted, mid-'80s tour of duty in the short-lived supergroup, the Firm.

And there's even better news--you can also expect a mid-summer U.S. tour by the newly-formed Jimmy Page Band, which will feature Page and drummer Jason Bonham (son of the late Zeppelin drummer John Bonham).

"We couldn't be more excited," said Geffen A&R; exec John Kalodner who, along with label founder David Geffen, played a key role in the Page signing coup. "After all, this guy is the most famous guitar player in the world."

Kalodner said Page's attorney invited Geffen and him to meet Page and hear a batch of his new songs in London last November. Soon after, they agreed on a long-term contract.

Much has been written about Page's unusual behavior and past drug usage, but Kalodner said the guitarist appeared in excellent condition. "We wouldn't have signed him if he wasn't in good shape; he looked fine and was totally coherent."

But how will Page go over in an era where the metal landscape is ruled by the likes of Whitesnake and Bon Jovi?

"I'm determined that he's not going to turn out to be a horrible caricature of himself like Mick Jagger has become," said Kalodner, whose recent revival projects have included Whitesnake, Aerosmith and Cher. "And Jimmy feels the same way--he doesn't want to come across as all bull and no substance. He wants to create the excitement, but without the hype."

Page may still record one or two more songs before the album--still untitled--is completely finished. "The first side is real up-tempo rock 'n' roll, with most of the vocals by John Miles, though (ex-Zeppelin partner) Robert Plant sings on one song," Kalodner said. "The second side is more bluesy-- real blues--with a pair of instrumentals and several songs with Chris Farlowe handling the vocals."

A big worry--was Page's reputation damaged by his lackluster tenure with the Firm?

"I completely agree that the Firm was a misbegotten idea; it wasn't a very flattering image for the world's best guitarist," Kalodner said. "And I think Jimmy felt the same way. He didn't seem to enjoy the experience.

"But his fans are still there--maybe more than ever. When I went to see Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Universal Amphitheatre recently, at least 30% of the audience was wearing Jimmy Page T-shirts. I think kids are more intrigued by him than ever."

One key question remains unanswered. Why didn't Atlantic Records, Page's home for two decades, try harder to keep him? Is it possible Page felt taken for granted at the label? An Atlantic spokeswoman said the label had no comment.

Kalodner seemed equally puzzled. "I figured that if (Atlantic chairman) Ahmet Ehrtegun really got into it, he might've blown us out of the water. But it didn't happen--and I certainly didn't ask Page about it. We're just happy we got him."

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