Take Five: John Paul Jones

Though best known as Led Zeppelin’s bassist/keyboardist, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer John Paul Jones had a flourishing career as a session musician and arranger in the years before joining forces with Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham. Jones (born John Baldwin) participated in thousands of recording sessions in the 1960s. His credits include recordings by Herman’s Hermits, Françoise Hardy, Tom Jones and many others; he even released a solo instrumental single (“Baja” b/w “A Foggy Day in Vietnam”) in 1964. Here are five among many high points from JPJ’s pre-Led Zeppelin days.

The Rolling Stones – “She’s a Rainbow” (1967)
Three years after working with Rolling Stones producer Andrew Loog Oldham on “Baja,” Jones provided the memorable string arrangement for the Stones’ “She’s a Rainbow,” a standout track on the oft-maligned Their Satanic Majesties Request album. Released as a single in the U.S., “She’s a Rainbow” reached #25 on the charts. But in the decades since, the group has rarely played it live.

Cat Stevens – “The First Cut is the Deepest” (1967)
Cat Stevens (born Steven Georgiou and today known as Yusuf Islam) is best-known as a folk musician, but one of his early compositions would go on to become a smash hit for no less than seven other artists (including Rod Stewart and Sheryl Crow) in the pop world. On Stevens’ original recording, in-demand session guitarist Big Jim Sullivan played alongside Stevens and – according to many sources – John Paul Jones on bass.

The Yardbirds – “No Excess Baggage” (1967)
The Yardbirds famously went through four lead guitarists during their 1963-1968 run: Top Topham, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. The group’s final studio album, Little Games, featured a four-man lineup, nominally with Christ Dreja on bass. John Paul Jones handled arranging duties for much of the album, string parts, and he also played bass guitar on four of the record’s ten tracks, including this underrated rave-up.

Donovan – “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (1968)
Session notes for mid 1960s pop recordings in England aren’t always definitive, so there remains some contention regarding who-played-on-what. For example, popular lore holds that Jimmy Page played guitar on this Donovan track. But John Paul Jones – who handled the song’s arrangement and played bass on the recording, and as such would be in a position to know – says that Page didn’t. In latter-day interviews, Jones has suggested that Allan Holdsworth or Alan Parker handled guitar duties on the song. (The future Led Zeppelin guitarist likely did play on another track off the LP, “Sunshine Superman.”)

Biddu – “Look Out Here I Come” (1968)
Though his name is all but unknown outside of India, British-Indian vocalist Biddu Appaiah has sold millions of records worldwide. Much of his work is in a disco (or proto-disco) style, but this 1968 single leans subtly in a psychedelic direction. The lineup of musicians on the track is stunning: guitarists John McLaughlin and bassist John Paul Jones are confirmed to have played on the track; Jimmy Page and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins may have also taken part. And Tony Visconti produced the session.