Today is Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones’ birthday.
He was born today in 1946 in Sidcup, Kent. Born John Richard Baldwin, he changed his name during his session work days, at the suggestion of a friend who thought he needed something more “artistic”. The friend was Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham, who had recently seen a poster for the 1959 film John Paul Jones.
Both of Jones’ parents were musicians, his dad a pianist and arranger for big bands and his mother a singer and dancer. He learned to play the piano at an early age and soon began to take organ lessons and played at his church. By age 14 he had picked up the bass guitar. His father had initially wanted him to play the saxophone because, as John Paul explained, “He said I’d never starve”. He started a band in his boarding school and he and his father would perform as a duo during the holidays. He left school at age 17 and auditioned for Jet Harris and Tony Meehan, who were putting together a band. He got hired as their bass player and the band toured for about a year or so, playing a fusion-style music that bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago would play years later.
In 1964 Jones started doing session work, and for the next four years recorded for just about everyone from Donovan (arranger on Hurdy Gurdy Man and Mellow Yellow) to The Rolling Stones (arranger on She’s A Rainbow). He released his own single in April 1964, titled Baja. He made quite a name for himself and came to be highly desired by big producers of the time, such as Mickie Most. During a 1968 session for Donovan, he overheard Jimmy Page, another popular session musician at the time, talking about starting a new group. He called Page to inquire about the bass guitarist position, and Page agreed to add Jones to his new group. Jones would go on to have a significant contribution to Led Zeppelin’s nine albums and 26 tours, most notably on 1979’s In Through the Out Door, where he co-wrote all but one song.
After Led Zeppelin, Jones took the most low-key position of all the remaining members, focusing mainly on producing and arranging for such performers as Ben E. King (1986), The Mission (1987), Cinderella (1990), and Peter Gabriel and R.E.M. (1992). He rejoined Jimmy Page and Robert Plant at Live Aid on July 15, 1985 and on May 14, 1988 for Atlantic Records’ 40th Anniversary party. He continued to do various appearances and album production after this, and he played with Led Zeppelin again in the Dec 2007 tribute to Ahmet Ertegun. Jones continues to be active in various music projects to this day.