‘Always something you can learn’: For Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, Duck Dunn and James Jamerson were huge

Largely self-taught, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones learned most of his early craft on the bass from listening to albums from the Stax and Motown legacy. Even today, he says other musicians have much to teach him.

“I had two, three lessons maybe,” he tells Elixir Strings. “But mainly I’ve done it by listening and playing to records. On bass guitar, my influences were probably (Booker T. and the MGs legend Donald) ‘Duck’ Dunn and (Motown stalwart) James Jamerson.”

The results, long before he rose to fame alongside Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, was a studio musician with a deft ear for recreating the unique American sounds found on some of R&B and pop music’s signature songs.

“In the sessions world,” Jones adds, “if you wanted your record to sound American, you would call me — because I was the one who would listen to all of that stuff, Motown and Stax and all of that sort of stuff. I could play it, and the arrangers couldn’t generally write those parts. So, I had the freedom of pretty much improvising through who sessions, which was great, you know?”

He also listened to jazz stars like Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro and Ray Brown, Jones says. “And I didn’t only listen to bass players; I tried to listen to absolutely everything,” he adds. “There’s always something you can learn.”

Jones would play on hundreds of sessions in the 1960s, primarily for Decca Records. Among his notable sides were Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”; he also wrote the string arrangement for the Rolling Stones’ “She’s A Rainbow,” and sat in with Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey, among many others. Along the way, he met fellow sessions ace Jimmy Page, and the seeds of Led Zeppelin were sown.

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