John-Paul Jones | Led Zeppelin

Perhaps most famously known as Led Zeppelin’s bass player, John Paul Jones is a man of many talents. A naturally gifted musician, he has not only created iconic bass lines that have become timeless classics, but he has also mastered instruments such as the electric organ, piano, harp, mandolin, sitar, cello, violin and many more.

Generally regarded as being the quiet one in the group, Jones still knew how to enjoy himself when out on the road. His reputation as being quite certainly hasn’t stood in the way of him making a name for himself. Often referred to as the best bass guitarist in Europe, he has also ranked 3rd as the ‘Bassist of the Millennium.

We’re going to take a look at John-Paul Jones and the journey that his musical expertise took him on. We’ll be looking at his early life, key moments and life after Zeppelin. If you want to know more about one of the world’s best bass players, then keep reading.

The early days of John-Paul Jones

Born on 3rd January 1946, Jones was given the name John Baldwin. There is perhaps a great deal to thank his father for in terms of early musical influence. That’s because Joe Baldwin was not only a pianist but also an arranger for bands that played during the 40s and 50s. Add to this the fact that Jones later attended Christ College and studied music, and it’s clear that he had a great foundation for what was to come.

Jones’ first gig was a little different to what he’s known and worshipped for today. At age 14 he became a choirmaster and church organist, playing to a crowd that demanded perfection. Interestingly, this was the same year that Jones bought his first bass guitar. His Dallas solid body electric would be his go-to instrument until 1962 when he upgraded to a Fender Jazz Bass.

With a solid musical upbringing, Jones was surrounded by influences that would be apparent down the line. He states that the likes of Big Bill Broonzy and Charles Mingus were hugely significant in terms of blues and jazz, but it was the sound of Phil Upchurch that inspired his bass playing.

Building up to the band

Led Zeppelin may be what Jones is most famed for but his first band experience came at the tender age of 15. His first big break would come in 1962 when he joined The Shadows for a two-year stint and there was a real possibility that he would become a permanent fixture. However, this was not to be.

It was in 1964 when Jones began to really develop his craft. As a session musician for Decca records, he appeared on hundreds of tracks. He remembers working on around 60 tracks a month and this almost led to him burning out completely.

During his time as a session player, Jones met Jimmy Page. With a desire to be part of a band again, he shared his vision with Page and, after the Yardbirds disbanded, Page and Jones joined forces.

The birth of Led Zeppelin

It wasn’t until October 1968 that the band would appear with its name, Led Zeppelin. Their first show took place at the University of Surrey and there followed a brief tour of Britain. During this debut year, the band completed four tours of the UK as well as four of the US. This meant that they were now known to a huge audience and their popularity continued to grow.

As the successes kept coming the band became more flamboyant but there were also stories of debauchery with them being banned from hotels around the world. This is perhaps the period where Jones developed his reputation as the quiet one, seemingly resisting getting involved on the same level as his bandmates.

Too much

For Jones, the constant touring and performing was getting too much. He now had a family to care and, and while not wanting to tear the band apart, he also didn’t want to destroy his family. This led to the band taking a short break in 1974. Ultimately, it wasn’t Jones that led to the band splitting up: it would be the death of band member Bonham that would trigger that.

On 18th October 1980, Bonham was found dead having choked on his own vomit following a usual, for him, drinking spree. At this point, the remaining members, Page, Plant and Jones decided that the time was right to bring Led Zeppelin to an end.

Life after Led Zeppelin

Of course, Zeppelin is where Jones found fame with his unique baselines and extraordinary talent. However, this band wasn’t the be-all and end-all when it comes to Jones’s accomplishments. As we’ve already seen, prior to Zeppelin, Jones had already established himself as one of the best bassists around. As a session player, he was in huge demand and that demand didn’t stop just because of Zeppelin.

With Zeppelin disbanded, Jones went on to collaborate with a number of artists such as:

  • E.M
  • Ben E. King
  • Foo Fighters
  • Lenny Kravitz
  • Paul McCartney

The top John Paul Jones bass lines

While Jones has produced numerous works both with and without Zeppelin, we feel that some of his very best performances came when he was part of the band. Here’s a look at the ones that stand out to us:

Good Times Bad Times

This is a song that is driven by a thunderous power. It is one where every member of the band is given the opportunity to showcase what they’re great at but, for us, it’s Jones that steals the show. You can hear his sheer brilliance at the end of each chorus.

The Lemon Song

Jones was a musical master but he never really had the chance to fully let rip in Zeppelin. Primarily this was because he needed to keep Page and Bonham grounded.  Lemon Song is perhaps the exception. Here Jones dominates and provides bass runs that no one else can even come close to.