Led Zeppelin has a legendary reputation for excess, and their musical legacy gave rise to hard rock and heavy metal. So, it’s a little unexpected to see a member of such a renowned hard rock group referred to as the “quiet one.” But that’s exactly how some people view bassist John Paul Jones:
“I don't have that much of an image in a way…it's nice, but it's not by design, you know."
Singer Robert Plant is known for his Dionysian appetite for sex, drugs and The Lord of the Rings (“Ramble On” name checks Gollum, Mordor, and references Sauron. Let that sink in). Jimmy Page is known for his masterful guitar work, carefully crafting Zeppelin’s sound and having an odd affinity for the occult. John Bonham is known for his drinking exploits and is frequently cited as one of rock’s greatest drummers. What is John Paul Jones known for? Keeping a low profile?
Of course Jones view things differently: "I did more drugs than I care to remember. I just did it quietly.” He elaborated further in a 2000 interview with Dominick Miserandino at CelebrityCafe.com: “I'd done it all before....I would like to think that I wasn't too stupid either. I tried to stay out of the drift of the rock star's path, mainly because I needed my sanity and freedom on the road.”
In fact, Jones was so good at laying low that he was passed over for the Page & Plant tour in the mid-nineties, which led to his thanking Page and Plant “…for finally remembering my phone number” at their 1995 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The guy is not just an incredible bassist either; he also rocks out the mandolin, cello, sitar, guitar, and piano. Without him, we wouldn’t have the signature keyboard on “The Rain Song” and “Trampled Under Foot” or the abrupt time change in “Black Dog” or the memorable bass lines in “The Lemon Song.” The eastern sound of “Kashmir”? JPJ, baby.
After Led Zeppelin broke up following John Bonham’s untimely death in 1980, John Paul Jones never stopped working. Seriously. He’s worked with pretty much everyone: Brian Eno, Heart, Paul McCartney, Butthole Surfers, Foo Fighters. He’s scored films for The Song Remains The Same and Give My Regards To Broad Street and produced acts such as The Datsuns and Uncle Earl.
Jones has also toured with the Mutual Admiration Society, which consisted of members of Nickel Creek and led by Toad the Wet Sprocket’s Glen Phillips (who was recently featured in our Songwriting 101 series). He even arranged REM’s seminal album Automatic For The People and released a solo album, Zooma, in 1999.
In 2009, he joined up with the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme to form the hard rock super group Them Crooked Vultures. Grohl was so elated that a legend like JPJ had joined their group:
“Within the first couple of minutes of playing, I knew it. I just knew this is going to be good. We had already found one of those moments where we were like, ‘This is perfect.’”
He may lack the charisma and the ability to hitch himself to talented female bluegrass singers like Robert Plant, or the acclaim of every fifteen-year-old learning guitar like Jimmy Page, or the unrivaled ability to destroy hotel rooms like John Bonham, but for more than forty years John Paul Jones has left an indelible mark on our culture.
(Elford Alley has had plays produced and read across the United States and his sketch comedy featured in several shows in Chicago. His articles have appeared in cracked.com. He currently resides in Dallas with his wife and daughter.)