Jimmy Page reflected on the experience of being a session musician before he found greater success and listed the recording of a James Bond theme song as one of his favorite moments.
He was the guitarist for John Barry’s orchestra when they tracked “Goldfinger” with singer Shirley Bassey. The session took place in the iconic Abbey Road Studio One in London in August 1964.
“The full orchestra sounded absolutely amazing, but then Shirley Bassey arrived,” Page told GQ in a recent interview. “She arrived with a friend, was very quiet and then was asked to come out and sing. And it took her just one take. And at the end of the tape, she collapsed on the floor … she just held this one note and she basically ran out of breath and collapsed. You know how dramatic she is usually, what with all the stuff she does with her hands, but this was even more dramatic – and I was in the front row of the musicians, so I really had a good view of all of this.”
He also recalled being brought in by the Who to record a second guitar track alongside Pete Townshend for “I Can’t Explain.” “Pete plays lead and, by God, does he play the lead on ‘I Can’t Explain,'” he said. “Again, this only took a couple of takes, but you can imagine what the energy was like in that room, being in an enclosed space playing along with the Who. I wasn’t really needed or necessary, but it’s okay to talk about those things now because Pete’s fine with it. And he knows he played absolutely magnificently.”
Page noted that in the ‘60s, session musicians kept their work “pretty quiet.” “You didn’t go around talking about it,” he said. “I would get the recording date, turn up and I literally wouldn’t know who was going to come in the door. Sometimes I would recognize the person, but more often than not I had no idea. It wasn’t your business. You were contracted to do what you did and that’s all.”
He described it as a “weird” and “tough” way to earn a living. “If you were a young session musician and you mucked it up or made a mistake, so you’ve got to do another take … that means 15 minutes’ overtime for everybody in the studio,” Page explained. “You probably wouldn’t be asked back. But I didn’t think about the pressure at the time, I didn’t even consider it. I found it really exhilarating to do these sessions and bring something to the party. Some guys couldn’t hack it. Maybe their nerves got the better of them, but I always treated it as fun.”