The prelude to Led Zeppelin

By Sergio Ariza

Little Games is not a great album but it certainly is an important record for electric guitar lovers thanks to its two absolute heroes, Jimmy Page and his Fender ‘Dragon’ Telecaster from 1959.

This is the 4th and last record by the Yardbirds, and the first where Jimmy Page takes over lead guitar after Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck, what is considered something like the Holy Trinity of British guitarists. The funny thing about this case is that Clapton recommended him when he decided to leave in 1965, but Page was making very good money as a session guitarist and passed the offer to his friend Jeff Beck, who would be the one that shone brightly for the band on songs like Shape of Things and Heart of Soul, and records such as Roger the Engineer. In June 1966, after the departure of bassman Paul Samwell-Smith, Page decided it was time to give up the recording session work. At first he played bass but quickly switched to guitar and shared the spot for some months with Beck, but Beck had his mind set on his solo career and left the group in November of that year.  

Page began to leave his mark on the band, especially on stage, with the first version of Dazed and Confused and the instrumental White Summer. He also started to play the guitar with the bow of a cello, something he kept doing with Zeppelin as well. His main instrument was a 59’ Fender Telecaster given to him by Beck in appreciation for his Yardbird recommendation. In February 1967, in the middle of psychedelica, he stuck 8 circular mirrors on the body of the guitar. Shortly after he would take them off and hand paint the guitar with green, yellow, and red bits. The Fender Dragon was born. It would be this guitar that he used for the Little Games sessions. 

But the record company didn’t wager on the Yardbird’s new sound and wanted to provide it a major commercial launch by bringing in producer Mickie Most to give the record that pop sound. The recording took just a few days but none of the band members were happy with the outcome, so the record was released only in the U.S. where it had scant commercial success. 

Even so, the  record had its good moments, the title song unleashes a great psychedelic solo by Page (with John Paul Jones on bass), Drinking Muddy Water, a tribute to the legendary bluesman, sees Page on the slide and together with Smile On Me, another blues/rock number with a great solo, portending the sound of legendary Zeppelin, but to be clear, Keith Relf is no Robert Plant. At the start of Tinker Tailor you can hear reminiscences of The Song Remains the Same, but the rest of the song isn’t of the same calibre. The track most comparable to the mythic band is the instrumental acoustic White Summer, a recreation of She Moved Through the Fair by Davey Graham, that Page would still play  at the first gigs of his next band and clearly became the precedent to Black Mountain Side

It wasn’t a glorious farewell for the Yardbirds but still has significant historic value, as an excellent document on how Page was molding the sound that would take rock by storm in less than 2 years.