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Page 2: Classic Tracks: Led Zeppelin 'Kashmir'

Label: Swan Song • Producer: Jimmy Page By Tom Doyle
Published October 2019

The sessions having collapsed, Peter Grant suggested instead that Nevison record an album at Headley Grange with his latest signing to Zeppelin's Swan Song Records, ex-Free singer Paul Rodgers' new band. Unnamed at this point, they were soon to become Bad Company. "We did that first Bad Company album in 10 days," says Nevison. "It just happened. It was ready to go. They were rehearsed, it was perfect, it was beautiful. We then took it to Olympic Studios, added some background vocals and some horns and a couple of little minor things, then mixed it."

By which time, Led Zeppelin had resolved their differences and were ready in November 1973 to properly start the sessions for Physical Graffiti at Headley Grange. "All of the furniture was put into a storage area in the back of the house and locked up," Nevison recalls, "except for maybe a dining room table and a couple of chairs here and there and some beds. When you walked into the entryway it was a marble kind of rectangular room and the stairway went up around from ground floor to first floor and second floors, which were the bedrooms."

John Bonham's famously heavy-duty and ambient drum sound, created in the ground floor lobby area of Headley Grange — as best showcased perhaps on 'When The Levee Breaks' from IV — had been the result of engineer Andy Johns experimenting with placing two Beyerdynamic M160 microphones on the stairway to the first floor above the drummer's Ludwig kit, with its 26-inch bass drum.

"I set up the drums where they had set up the drums before," says Nevison. "I started setting up mics around the drums and Bonzo said, 'No, no mics by the drums.' I said, 'OK.' Then I still tried to sneak some, but he wasn't going for it. There were just two mics that I used on the stairway about, I guess, 20 feet from the drums. [Neumann] U87 FETs in a stereo pair, just about a foot from each other. That was my left and right drums.

A brochure showing the layout and equipment list of the Lane Mobile Studio.A brochure showing the layout and equipment list of the Lane Mobile Studio.

"Now, I mean, you could do that with somebody like Bonham who mixed himself. If you walk away from a drummer and you hear everything exactly the way you should — the kick drum, the snare, the hi-hat, the cymbals, the tom–toms — and they all sound mixed, well you can do that. If somebody has a weak foot, you can't. I thought that the drums in the entry hall were too boomy. I wouldn't have picked that for Bonham, but they already had something going with the previous recordings, so I just went with it."

In the LMS, Nevison used the built-in channel limiters in the Helios console, or a pair of Universal Audio 1176LN compressors. Reverb was provided by an AKG BX20 spring and tape delay by a Revox two-track. "I hung that on the wall of the LMS," Nevison says of the latter. "With the varispeed, you could speed it up and down to control the timing of the delay. So, I could get an Elvis kind of sound with that on Plant's vocal that he liked.

"Led Zeppelin weren't super-picky, like some bands are, about their sounds. From Jimmy Page I didn't really get, 'That's too bright or that's too this or that's too that.' But I was a decent engineer, so it worked out."

Generally, Nevison wasn't an engineer who would be constantly checking the meters, trusting his ears more than his eyes. "That was especially true with limiting," he says. "I think some engineers get scared when they see that meter move. I ignore the meters."


'Kashmir' originated from a late-night jam involving Jimmy Page and John Bonham. "It was just Bonzo and myself," Page remembered. "He started the drums, and I did the riff and the overdubs, which in fact got duplicated by an orchestra at the end, which brought it even more to life. It seemed so sort of ominous and had a particular quality to it. It's nice to go for an actual mood and know that you've pulled it off."

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Nevison has a very clear memory of the session: "I remember it especially because the roadies brought into the truck this Eventide [Clockworks PS 101 Instant] Phaser. I had heard about it, and up to then we only had tape phasing. I'd heard that it sounded really cool on cymbals. I had left and right drum tracks, so I took one side of the drums and I put it through the Eventide phaser. It came out on a third track and I recorded it, figuring we could erase it if they didn't like it. And they liked it.

"I was surprised that they kept it for the finished product. They didn't even redo it; they kept the one that I recorded. I can tell by where the phaser speed is on the cymbals at the end."

Less clear, however, is his memory of which guitar Jimmy Page used for the main riff of 'Kashmir', though it's likely that it was either his 1959 Gibson Les Paul 'Number One' or Danelectro 3021. For what Page called his 'electric trails' slide parts, he used an electric 12-string. "He had a bunch of guitars," says Nevison. "Sometimes it would be a 12-string, sometimes it would be two or three different six-strings. He played a lot of guitars. I was always using [Shure SM]57s mostly for guitar and I still do."

John Paul Jones, meanwhile, used his 1962 Fender Jazz Bass through his Acoustic 360 bass head and 361 cabinet. "I stashed people in different places," says Nevison. "I stashed Jimmy and Robert in the place where I'd had Bad Company's drums, in the dining room, and then I'd put the bass and the guitar amps in another room."

Ron Nevison in front of the LMS trailer's Helios console.Ron Nevison in front of the LMS trailer's Helios console.

Typically, though, when Page and the rest of the band came into the LMS to listen back to the rough takes, the guitarist wasn't interested in hearing his own parts. "Jimmy would just run over and pull the guitar down," says Nevison. "Not because he didn't want to hear his guitar. He wanted to hear what the drums were doing or something. Sometimes he didn't want to hear a mistake that he did. And sometimes Plant would ask me to bring the vocal down because he didn't want to hear any mistakes he made. They wanted me to make cassettes for them, so he could write additional lyrics."

From the engineer's viewpoint, one aspect that made Led Zeppelin so special was that Bonham was creating drum parts that directly followed Page's riffs. "Bonham played the riff, is what he did," he stresses. "He didn't play in time with Jimmy's guitar, he played Jimmy's riff. So, they were tight just because he played the riff. He listened to what Jimmy was doing and played that. And that was one of the unique things about Led Zeppelin. But the thing is... he could do it."

Over time though, Led Zeppelin's nocturnal, cocaine-imbibing ways began to wear on Nevison. "Well, yeah," he laughs. "Y'know, we'd get started in the afternoon and then somewhere around six or seven o'clock at night, one of the guys would say, 'Hey, where's Charlie? When's Charlie coming?' And I'd come to find the band's mood totally changed after Charlie arrived.

"Sometimes Charlie would have the habit of keeping you up all night. So, a couple of times, they came in to my little room up on the second floor and woke me up: 'C'mon Ronnie, let's do it!' And that would ruin the next day. So, I had a chat with Peter Grant about that. He said, 'Well, lock it up and go back to London, mate. That's all you have to do.'

"I would drive back there and take the key to the LMS with me and come back in the morning and open it up. They knew they were being bad boys. But they wanted to create the atmosphere that would be right to do what they wanted to do. That's why they weren't in a [conventional] studio. I appreciated what was going on here, so don't get me wrong. I just wanted it to happen realistically."

In the end, with the beginning of the sessions for Physical Graffiti having been delayed, and with his duties to engineer the soundtrack of the Tommy film for the Who looming, Ron Nevison faced a difficult choice.

"Yeah, it wasn't just another album," he says of the Tommy soundtrack. "This was a whole year-long project that was happening in January [1974]. If Physical Graffiti had started when it was supposed to start, we would've gotten a lot of the work done.

"So, it was a real dilemma for me. No one had ever quit Led Zeppelin before. I told them and I remember they weren't too happy with me. In fact, Bonham grabbed the phone: 'Ronnie, you fucking c***! How can you do this to us?' It was a tough position for me to be in. Because if I'd have called up the Who, they would've found somebody else and probably went with them."


The sessions for Physical Graffiti continued, without Nevison, at Olympic Studios in London in February 1974, with the late Keith Harwood brought in as engineer. Prior to this, Peter Grant had played the work-in-progress 'Kashmir' to representatives of Swan Song Records' mother label, Atlantic Records, in Paris, with the incredible conclusion being that all considered it to be, in the manager's words, "a dirge".

But, then, at Olympic, John Paul Jones brought to life the orchestral and Mellotron MkII parts that Jimmy Page was imagining could complement his riff on 'Kashmir'. "I had thought of the riff in orchestral terms, with cellos doing it, and this cascading brass, for the different colours of the orchestra," Page later told The Guardian newspaper. "I didn't know it would work, but I knew it ought to theoretically."

Zeppelin road manager Richard Coles was dispatched to Southall in West London to try to find a Pakistani orchestra to handle the Eastern-flavoured shifts in the arrangement. In the end, though, a more traditional orchestra — never credited — supplied the strings and brass on 'Kashmir'. "Jonesy put it all together," Grant remembered, "and the final result was exactly what was needed."

Meanwhile, Robert Plant's vocal was enhanced with another Eventide product, a prototype of the H910 Harmonizer. "Eventide Clockworks gave me innovative bits of electronics and I just played with them," recalled Zeppelin soundman Benji Lefevre in Barney Hoskyns' 2012 book Trampled Under Foot: The Power & Excess Of Led Zeppelin. "Robert's voice would become a chorus of 10 voices, because I would feed things back into themselves. And then we had this harmoniser with an actual keyboard so I could make his voice sing chords. It was fantastic fun."

For the excommunicated Ron Nevison, hearing the final mix of 'Kashmir' was a revelation. "I thought that those strings were incredible, and they even used my phaser [on the drums]," he says. "It was great hearing it. I have to say it's one of the only things I didn't see 'til the end."

He was less happy, however, to see that Led Zeppelin had taken a dig at him in the credits of Physical Graffiti for 'The Rover', with the words: "Guitar lost courtesy of Nevison. Salvaged by the grace of Harwood."

"'The Rover' wasn't a song that I did at Headley Grange," he stresses. "So, they got that wrong. They never brought tapes from any other sessions to LMS for me to play. The only thing that I can think of was [that someone said], 'I didn't erase that, must have been Nevison..." It doesn't even say 'erase', it says 'saved', so that means it wasn't erased. So, it was distortion or something wrong with the guitar, cause if it was erased, it wouldn't have been saved. Whatever happened, I don't know anything about it."

Ron Nevison today.Ron Nevison today.Photo: Mark St John

That gripe aside, Ron Nevison is clearly proud of the work that he did in helping to make 'Kashmir' become a classic track. "It's a mood track," he says. "It surprises me because it's so long, but it's got a great riff too. I hear this riff at football games and sporting events. It's just become that kind of thing."

For Robert Plant, 'Kashmir' represented everything that was great about Led Zeppelin. "It's so right," he later enthused. "There's nothing overblown, no vocal hysterics."

Ultimately, even if he was just a lowly paid engineer at the time, Ron Nevison's work with Led Zeppelin (and the Who) was to make his name in the future as a producer for the likes of Heart, Jefferson Starship and Kiss. "Because I wasn't a royalty artist for those three bands, the Who, Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, I made virtually nothing on those," he says. "I probably made £50 a week working on those records. However, having done those set my career up for life."