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Jimmy Page unguarded in Light and Shade'

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As editor-in-chief for Guitar World magazine since 1989, Brad Tolinski has had the opportunity to interview most of his heroes to discuss music, life and how the two intersect.

His most significant interview subject has been one of rock's most notoriously private legends, Jimmy Page, Led Zeppelin's guitar wizard, producer and co-writer of most of the band's catalog.

Significant not only because Page has agreed to be interviewed by Tolinski more than a dozen times, but also for the fact that he has revealed more in those conversations than with perhaps any other journalist.

The cream of those conversations has been compiled in a new book called 'Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page' (Crown). Tolinski says that part of the secret of getting Page to open up lies within the questions themselves.

'It's a really unique experience interviewing Jimmy,' Tolinski told me earlier this month. 'He holds your toes to the fire. Unlike Eric Clapton or Ed Van Halen who tend to prefer keeping the conversation casual, Jimmy really likes questions that are well thought out and specific. He makes you think harder, but his answers tend to be rich and detailed. That's really the opposite of what tends to go on in journalism these days.'

Tolinski says that Page does not like 'open-ended' questions or questions that border on the sensational. 'As long as you're talking music and are talking about it in a relatively sophisticated fashion, he'll respond, but he doesn't get much of that, unfortunately,' he told me.

While putting the book together, Tolinski listened again to Page's entire recorded oeuvre, including his early work as a session guitarist on recordings for The Who, The Kinks, Van Morrison, Donovan and dozens more. 'I had a really good time doing that,' Toninski told me. 'One thing that I was really struck with was the high quality of his work after Zeppelin. I think it's underrated. The Firm's first record (1985) is great. 'Walking to Clarksdale' (1998) the Page/Plant collaboration - was also very good.'

As a musician, journalist and industry insider, Tolinski knows that musical plagiarism is a practice that began long before the era of digital sampling. I asked him how he felt about Led Zeppelin's occasional tendency of 'borrowing' the work of others, reshaping it and claiming it as their own.

For example, Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love' would not exist as we know it if Willie Dixon hadn't written 'You Need Love.'

The introduction to 'Stairway to Heaven' is strikingly similar to that of 'Taurus' by Spirit, a band for whom Zeppelin opened on their first U.S. tour.

'Dazed and Confused' was originally by folk singer James Holmes, who performed the song during an opening stint for Page's band The Yardbirds at the Village Theater in New York in 1967. In 2010, Holmes sued Page for copyright infringement. The two settled out of court earlier this year.

Musical pilfering is a subject that Tolinski has discussed with Page.

'It's in the book,' he said. 'Jimmy maintains that if you listen to the Zeppelin guitar parts and the arrangements, they really have nothing to do with the original, and he sort of jokingly said, It's just that Robert sort of forgot to change the words around.''

'It's only shocking to you in the context of the music business today,' Tolinski continued. 'If you transported yourself back to the mid to late '60s, this kind of thing went on all the time. British rockers would borrow heavily from the blues, and even blues players among themselves would borrow songs and change them around, maybe put in a few different words and call them their own.'

Led Zeppelin fans lined up last week to purchase 'Celebration Day,' the audio/video chronicle of the group's only full reunion concert recorded at London's O2 arena on Dec. 10, 2007. Tolinski was in the audience that evening and gives high marks to the band's performance. Prior to our conversation, he had seen the film three times, once with Page.

'It's really great,' Tolisnki said. 'I would say that Jimmy's playing is more focused than it was on The Song Remains the Same'' (Led Zeppelin's 1976 concert movie filmed in 1973). 'I was blown away when I saw the original London O2 Arena show, and it was great to see the movie because you can really hear what everyone was playing and see what they were doing. It's very impressive and it does make you want them to reunite.'

Does Tolinski see that happening? 'I don't think it's likely. Jimmy and Robert get along great when they're together, but they just have a difference of opinion over a very big matter. Plant doesn't mind revisiting the past, but I don't think he wants to live there for a year. I also think he has a hard time dealing with people's expectations about Led Zeppelin. But as for reuniting, I know that Jimmy wouldn't mind at all. Never say never.'

Mike Dow can be heard each morning on WABK -104.3 FM. Soon, he will also be heard on Big 104 104.7 and 107.7 The Biggest Hits of the '60s, '70s and '80s.

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