By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
About six years ago, Rolling Stone put out one of its most controversial “Best Of” list issues ever: “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” Not surprisingly, it struck a chord with music fans — an out-of-tune one. Jimi Hendrix garnered the top slot (of course), with Duane Allman, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Robert Johnson rounding out the top 5. Jimmy Page was No. 9. Keith Richards No. 10. Slash didn’t make the list at all. To this day, the RS site continues to get heated posts about the rankings, inclusions and omissions. Clearly, guitars and guitarists inspire passion like nothing else in music.
In It Might Get Loud, the compelling documentary tribute to the iconic instrument and the art of playing it, released Friday, producer Thomas Tull and director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) explore the inspirations, techniques and creative processes of three of the music world’s best-known living axmen, each chosen to represent different generations and sonic approaches: Page, the Edge and Jack White. As with the Rolling Stone list, the selection of this trio as definitive riffers of equal ranking (and they’ve said unequivocally that these three were their first choices) has been met with debate.
Of course, no one has dared to question the godliness of Led Zep’s illustrious lick king. But is the Edge (No. 27 on RS’s list) a player to be distinguished more for his style and effects than for substance and bona fide chops? Is White (No. 17) evolved enough as an artist, or still too governed by his influences (swampy blues, dirty garage and Zep themselves)? Does it matter? For the purposes of Loud, not really. Sure, one could imagine an entirely different trio telling their guitar tales, but there’s no denying the power of the individual journeys as captured here, nor the alchemy that they create when they come together onscreen — and in person.
Last month, during the movie’s L.A. Film Festival preview screening, Page, White and Guggenheim did a press conference for the film, followed by an intimate interview with L.A. Weekly, and we couldn’t help but be awed by the respectful rapport and the mojo that flowed from and between the musicians during both. Jokes were tossed back and forth, witticisms effortlessly uttered, and admiration showered all around.
“I’d met Jack before ... and obviously I was really aware of his work,” said Page during the press conference. “But what was going to be so fascinating about this was we were all self-taught guitarists, so we were going to have real interesting characteristics.” Page looked age-appropriate but still rock star–like in a leather jacket, his white locks pulled back in a ponytail. “I do really believe that all guitarists have a different character that comes through in what they do.”
In the film, White is the eccentric, enigmatic youngster, the kid who gets off on challenging himself and bleeds (literally) for his art. We see him crafting a homemade guitar in the movie’s opening, and narrating over images of himself as an 8-year-old throughout. He cracks about getting the elder guitarists to “show me all their tricks” before the climactic summit, in which he, the Edge and Page come together on a sound stage to jam.
The Edge, a quiet and somewhat intense fellow, probably reveals the most “tricks,” showing off the power of his effects-pedal daisy chain, and even sharing rough recordings of U2 tracks in their early stages, describing how each evolved. Though not as chatty as the other two, he utters some of the most profound words in the film, equating his guitar playing to his “voice,” and coining the film’s title before a solo strum session that does, indeed, get loud.
Still, the highlights are Led-heavy: Page at Headley Grange recalling the hallway where John Bonham’s drum track for “When the Levee Breaks” was recorded, at home sharing his LP collection and doing air guitar to a Link Wray 45, and playing “Whole Lotta Love” for the other two, who look like groupies, mouths agape as they absorb the priceless moment. Of the chill-inducing sound-stage meeting of guitars, which also included jams on “In My Time of Dying” and the Band’s “The Weight,” Page told us: “He [Guggenheim] set the scene. He wouldn’t let us talk to each other beforehand. We had no way of passing notes to each other. What if it all falls apart? Well, that was the beauty of what he wanted to get and he got it.”
Whether these three were the right virtuosos to unite for a film that essentially seeks to be a definitive celebration of the electric guitar is, of course, subjective, but Loud has enough fascinating and endearing recollections, archival footage and magic moments to satisfy fans of rock & roll, no matter who their faves are. But don’t expect anything too personal. Guggenheim said he specifically avoided the Behind the Music formula of struggle, success, excess, downfall and final redemption. Though muses and loves lost have always been catalysts for musical inspiration, there’s nothing in the film about these men’s personal lives, at least relationshipwise, unless, of course, you count the love affair with their instruments.
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