While editing the early chapters of a forthcoming biography of Jimmy Page this week, three of which are devoted to his work as a session player between 1963 and 1966, my attention was drawn to the guitar playing on ‘My Baby Left Me’ by Dave Berry and ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ by First Gear, just two examples of the casual brilliance Jimmy brought to records that weren’t even hits. Guitar playing like this certainly hadn’t appeared on records by The Beatles or Rolling Stones up to this point.
Of ‘My Baby Left Me’, author Martin Power writes: “Alongside the likes of drummer Bobby Graham, bassist Alan Niven and, on occasion, legendary big band trombonist Don Lusher, Jimmy Page and Big Jim Sullivan helped form the crack team that Dave Berry had dreamed of. By the autumn of 1963, some of them had also cut Berry’s own favourite of all his studio recordings, a sterling cover of Elvis’ ‘My Baby Left Me’. ‘Yep, that’s the one I’d like to be known for,’ he said ‘Nothing like the Arthur Crudup original, nothing like Elvis, just our own version of the song. Jimmy Page on lead guitar, Alan Niven on slap bass – there were actually two basses on that, you know. But yes, a good song. I’m happy with that and really glad Jimmy was on it.’ Page was actually all over it. Providing a master class in snappy riffs and clattering chords throughout the verse and chorus before letting fly with a quite superb solo, Jimmy took Berry’s already spirited reading of ‘My Baby Left Me’ to another level. ‘I remember the great solo that Jimmy did on that session,’ Sullivan later recalled. ‘It’s one of the best constructed rock solos on record.’”
Here’s a link to listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqL71rZjb2s
Of ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’, Martin writes: “Page’s performance on First Gear’s ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ must surely rank as one of the finer guitar solos of the sixties. Signed to Pye records and managed/produced by Shel Talmy, First Gear were at the time tipped for big things, their North eastern cocktail of Elvis-style rock’n’roll and Mersey-approved beat pop as gritty, energetic and potentially promising as Van Morrison’s Them. With Talmy at the helm, the band entered the studio in the autumn of 1964 to record a single version of Ernie K-Doe’s ‘A Certain Girl’. In itself no slouch, ‘A Certain Girl’ motored along nicely on the back of lead singer Dave Walton’s behind-the-beat falsetto, some pleasing female backing vocals and Jimmy’s countrified string bends.
“But it was when First Gear and Page ran through the B-side, a cover of Little Willie John’s ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ that Shel Talmy’s interest was truly peaked. ‘Jimmy was about 18, 19 at the time, with bushy black hair, and very quiet,’ Dave Wilton recalled to the BBC. ‘But then he did this off the cuff, lightning guitar break on ‘Leave My Kitten…’. Well, Shel came racing down from the control room and said, ‘What did just you do to get that!’ So, he (told) Jimmy he was going to take it again. First take, Jimmy played it note-for-note perfectly.’ The resultant solo really was a thing of beauty. All twists, turns and racing speed pick work, Page’s contribution to ‘… Alone’ distilled all he had learnt from James Burton, Scotty Moore and Buddy Guy into just 23 seconds. Yet, there was also something else that was utterly distinctive and unique. At the start of his solo intrusion, Page’s guitar actually sounded like it was riding a wave of electricity. No distinct notes per se, more a wash of undulating sound. Quite unlike anything else Jimmy (or anybody else) had recorded up to that point, it was the first real pointer of where Page’s muse would take him in later years.”