John Paul Jones was born on January 3rd, 1946 and is best known as the bass and keyboard player and songwriter for Led Zeppelin. He is also a composer, arranger, record producer, and master of many instruments. His playlist includes bass guitar, six string guitar, keyboards, koto, steel guitar, mandolin, autoharp, violin, sitar, cello, ukulele and more. It was Jones who played the three over-dubbed recorder tracks on Led Zeppelin’s keynote song, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Jones began playing music as a member of his father’s dance band in 1960. The next year he formed his own band and then began to travel and perform professionally in 1962. He has left an indelible mark on rock and roll history since then. By the mid-1960s, Jones was working as director and arranger for several other groups, in addition to using his talents as a session keyboard player and bassist. In the 60s, he worked with the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, the Yardbirds, the Everly Brothers, the Supremes, and many more.
The iconic Jimmy Page handpicked Jones to form Led Zeppelin in 1968 with Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham. The keyboard-based compositions of Jones’ were a central focus of their music. From 1968 to 1980, John Paul Jones and Led Zeppelin created 9 albums, one movie, and went out on nearly 30 tours.
Jones is considered a highly influential musician, not just for bass and keyboards, but also his musical arrangements. Other bassists influenced by Jones include John Deacon (Queen), Geddy Lee (Rush), Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Gene Simmons (Kiss), and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana).
Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 after the untimely death of drummer John Bonham. Jones continued his musical career producing and arranging albums for other artists. He wrote songs and film scores, and built his own studio. In 1998, he recorded a solo album, Zooma.
Since going solo, John Paul Jones has collaborated with many artists such as Sir Paul McCartney and Brian Eno. He released Zooma in 1999, and his second album, The Thunderthief, in 2001. He has produced many artists and has recorded tracks with the Foo Fighters. Jones has also been known to jam at Bonnaroo, and he has participated in the Led Zeppelin reunion shows.
In 2009, Jones, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) joined forces as the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. They released a debut album that same year. They have toured and continued to produce albums since that time.
The list of Jones’ accolades is long. Chris Dreja, rhythm guitarist and bassist for The Yardbirds, called Jones, “The best bass player in Europe.” Jones consistently ranks among the best rock bassists in music magazines and other publications. He was named Best Bassist in Creem Magazine’s 1977 readers’ poll. Guitar Magazine ranked him third in the 2000 Bassist of the Millennium reader poll.
In 2010, Jones received the “Gold Badge Award” from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, a nod to his outstanding contributions to British music and entertainment. Later that year, the Marshall Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards gave Jones the “Outstanding Contribution Award.” In the US, President Obama honored the surviving members of Led Zeppelin at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.
Jones continues to tour, perform, compose and produce music to this day.
From a personal point of view John Paul Jones is the reason I got enthusiastic about the bass guitar in the first place. I heard ‘Led Zeppelin II‘ when I was (much) younger and the bass playing really got my attention – I hadn’t heard anything like it before. To this day I believe that the bass solo on ‘The Lemon Song‘ is one of the greatest performances committed to record, ever. That album inspired me to take up the bass, and Jones’ playing has been a constant source of inspiration and education since then.