John Richard Baldwin, better known by his stage name John Paul Jones, is an English multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, arranger and record producer. Best known as the bassist, keyboardist, and co-songwriter for the English rock band Led Zeppelin, Jones has since developed a solo career. A versatile musician, Jones also plays organ, guitar, koto, lap steel guitars, mandolin, autoharp, violin, ukulele, sitar, cello, continuum and recorder.
According to AllMusic, Jones “has left his mark on rock & roll music history as an innovative musician, arranger, and director.” Jones is part of the band Them Crooked Vultures with Josh Homme and Dave Grohl, in which he plays bass guitar, keyboards, and other instruments. In 2014, Jones ranked first on Paste magazine’s list of “20 Most Underrated Bass Guitarists.”
John Baldwin was born in Sidcup, Kent. He started playing piano at age six, learning from his father, Joe Baldwin, a pianist and arranger for big bands in the 1940s and 1950s, notably with Ambrose and his Orchestra. His mother was also in the music business which allowed the family to often perform together touring around England as a vaudeville comedy act. His influences ranged from the blues of Big Bill Broonzy, the jazz of Charles Mingus, to the classical piano of Sergei Rachmaninoff.
Because his parents often toured, Jones was sent to boarding school at a young age. He was a student at Christ’s College, Blackheath, London where he formally studied music. At the age of 14, Jones became choirmaster and organist at a local church and during that year, he also bought his first bass guitar, a Dallas Tuxedo solid body electric followed by multiple basses in which he part exchanged until he finally bought his 1962 Fender Jazz Bass which he used until 1976. The fluid playing of Chicago musician Phil Upchurch on his You Can’t Sit Down LP, which includes a memorable bass solo, is cited by Jones as being his inspiration to take up the instrument.
Jones joined his first band, The Deltas, at 15. He then played bass for jazz-rock London group, Jett Blacks, a collective that included guitarist John McLaughlin .Jones’ big break came in 1962 when he was hired by Jet Harris and Tony Meehan of the successful British group The Shadows for a two-year stint. Shortly before hiring Jones, Harris and Meehan had just had a Number 1 hit with “Diamonds” (a track on which Jones’ bandmate-to-be Jimmy Page had played.) Jones’ collaboration with the Shadows nearly prevented the future formation of Led Zeppelin, when the parties engaged in talks about the possibility of Jones replacing their bassist Brian Locking, who left the band in October 1963, but John Rostill was ultimately chosen to fill the position.
In 1964, on the recommendation of Meehan, Jones began studio session work with Decca Records. From then until 1968, he played on hundreds of recording sessions. He soon expanded his studio work by playing keyboards, arranging and undertaking general studio direction, resulting in his services coming under much demand. He worked with numerous artists including the Rolling Stones on Their Satanic Majesties Request (Jones’ string arrangement is heard on “She’s a Rainbow”); Herman’s Hermits; Donovan (on “Sunshine Superman,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” and “Mellow Yellow”); Jeff Beck; Françoise Hardy; Cat Stevens; Rod Stewart; Shirley Bassey; Lulu; and numerous others. As well as recording sessions with Dusty Springfield, Jones also played bass for her Talk of the Town series of performances. His arranging and playing on Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” resulted in producer Mickie Most using his services as choice arranger for many of his own projects, with Tom Jones, Nico, Wayne Fontana, the Walker Brothers, and many others. Such was the extent of Jones’ studio work – amounting to hundreds of sessions – that he said years later that “I can’t remember three-quarters of the sessions I was on.”
It was during his time as a session player that Jones adopted the stage name John Paul Jones. This name was suggested to him by a friend, Andrew Loog Oldham, who had seen a poster for the film John Paul Jones in France. He released his first solo recording as John Paul Jones, “Baja” (written by Lee Hazlewood and produced by Oldham) / “A Foggy Day in Vietnam”, as a single on Pye Records in April 1964.
Jones has stated that, as a session musician, he was completing two and three sessions a day, six and seven days a week. However, by 1968 he was quickly feeling burnt out due to the heavy workload: “I was arranging 50 or 60 things a month and it was starting to kill me.”
During his time as a session player, Jones often crossed paths with guitarist Jimmy Page, a fellow session veteran. In June 1966, Page joined The Yardbirds, and in 1967 Jones contributed to that band’s Little Games album. The following winter, during the sessions for Donovan’s The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Jones expressed to Page a desire to be part of any projects the guitarist might be planning. Later that year, The Yardbirds disbanded, leaving Page and bassist Chris Dreja to complete previously booked Yardbirds dates in Scandinavia. Before a new band could be assembled, Dreja left to take up photography. Jones, at the suggestion of his wife,[asked Page about the vacant position, and the guitarist eagerly invited Jones to collaborate. Page later explained:
I was working at the sessions for Donovan’s Hurdy Gurdy Man, and John Paul Jones was looking after the musical arrangements. During a break, he asked me if I could use a bass player in the new group I was forming. He had a proper music training, and he had quite brilliant ideas. I jumped at the chance of getting him.
Vocalist Robert Plant and drummer John Bonham joined the two to form a quartet. Initially dubbed the “New Yardbirds” for the Scandinavian dates, the band soon became known as Led Zeppelin.
Contribution to the band
Jones was responsible for the classic bass lines of the group, notably those in “Ramble On” and “The Lemon Song” (Led Zeppelin II), and shifting time signatures, such as those in “Black Dog” (Led Zeppelin IV). As half of Led Zeppelin’s rhythm section with drummer John Bonham, Jones shared an appreciation for funk and soul rhythmic grooves which strengthened and enhanced their musical affinity. In an interview he gave to Global Bass magazine, Jones remarked on this common musical interest:
Yeah, we were both huge Motown and Stax fans and general soul music fans, James Brown fan. Which is one of the reasons why I’ve always said that Zeppelin was one of the few bands to “swing”. We actually had a groove in those days. People used to come to our shows and dance, which was great. To see all the women dancing, it was really brilliant. You didn’t necessarily see that at a Black Sabbath show or whatever: So we were different in that way. We were a groovy band. We used all our black pop music influences as a key to the rock that went over the top.
After retiring his Fender Jazz Bass (which he had been using since his days with The Shadows in the early 1960s) from touring in 1975, Jones switched to using custom-designed Alembic basses[ while touring. However, he still preferred to use the Jazz Bass in the studio. Jones’ keyboard skills added an eclectic dimension that realised Led Zeppelin as more than just a hard rock band. Keyboard highlights include the delicate “The Rain Song” (Houses of the Holy) played on a Mellotron; the funky “Trampled Under Foot”, played on a Clavinet (Physical Graffiti); and the eastern scales of “Kashmir”, also played on a Mellotron (also on Physical Graffiti). In live performances, Jones’ keyboard showpiece was “No Quarter”, often lasting for up to half-an-hour and sometimes including snatches of “Amazing Grace”, Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez”, which had inspired Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, and variations of classical pieces by composers such as Rachmaninoff.
Jones’ diverse contributions to the group extended to the use of other instruments, including an unusual triple-necked acoustic instrument consisting of a six and a twelve string guitar, and a mandolin. Jones often used bass pedals to supplement the band’s sound while he was playing keyboards and mandolin. On the band’s 1977 tour of the United States, Jones would sing lead vocals on “The Battle of Evermore,” filling in for Sandy Denny, who had sung on the studio version.
While all members of Led Zeppelin had a reputation for off-stage excess (a label that has been claimed was exaggerated), Jones was widely seen as the most quiet and reserved member of the group. For his part, Jones has claimed that he had just as much fun on the road as his bandmates but was more discreet about it, stating “I did more drugs than I care to remember. I just did it quietly.”[ Benoit Gautier, an employee of Atlantic Records in France, echoed this impression, stating that “The wisest guy in Led Zeppelin was John Paul Jones. Why? He never got caught in an embarrassing situation.”
In an interview, Jones explained that fame with Led Zeppelin was not something that he ever became preoccupied with:
Not really; I’d done it all before … I would like to think that I wasn’t too stupid either. I tried to stay out of the drift of the rock star’s path, mainly because I needed my sanity and freedom on the road. So generally, I used to check out of the hotel, and then get out on the street. I’d go walking … I’m not as recognisable as Plant and Page. Plus, I used to change my appearance all the time just to make sure I wasn’t as recognisable … Generally, I’m pretty quickly into the shadows … I once read the Beatles did a whole tour of America and never left their hotel rooms. And I thought, “I can’t see the point of travelling around the world and not seeing anything.”
However, following exhausting tours and extended periods of time away from his family, by late 1973 Jones was beginning to show signs of disillusionment. He considered quitting Led Zeppelin to spend more time with his family, and possibly to take up the position of choirmaster of Winchester Cathedral, but was talked into returning by the band’s manager, Peter Grant. Jones later explained his reservations:
I didn’t want to harm the group, but I didn’t want my family to fall apart either. We toured a huge amount in those early days. We were all very tired and under pressure and it just came to a head. When I first joined the band, I didn’t think it would go on for that long, two or three years perhaps, and then I’d carry on with my career as a musician and doing movie music.
It is rumored that the Led Zeppelin song “Royal Orleans”, from their album Presence, is about an experience Jones once had on tour in the United States. The song is about a person who mistakenly takes a drag queen up to his hotel room, who then falls asleep with a joint of marijuana in hand, lighting the room on fire. “Royal Orleans” was the name of a hotel where the members of Led Zeppelin would stay when they visited New Orleans, because not as many people asked for autographs there. In an interview he gave to Mojo magazine in 2007, Jones clarified the reliability of this rumour, stating:
The transvestites were actually friends of Richard Cole’s; normal friendly people and we were all at some bar. That I mistook a transvestite for a girl is rubbish; that happened in another country to somebody else… Anyway ‘Stephanie’ ended up in my room and we rolled a joint or two and I fell asleep and set fire to the hotel room, as you do, ha ha, and when I woke up it was full of firemen!
Other work during time with the band
Jones’ involvement with Led Zeppelin did not put a halt to his session work. In 1969 he returned to the studio to play bass guitar on The Family Dogg’s A Way of Life album, in 1970 and keyboards for guitarist Peter Green on his solo album The End of the Game. Jones was Madeline Bell’s first choice to produce and arrange her 1974 album Comin’ Atcha. He has also played keyboards on many Roy Harper albums, and contributed to Wings’ Rockestra, Back to the Egg along with Zeppelin’s drummer John Bonham.
After Led Zeppelin
Since Led Zeppelin dissolved in 1980 with the death of John Bonham, Jones has collaborated with a number of artists, including Diamanda Galás, R.E.M., Jars of Clay, Heart, Ben E. King, Peter Gabriel, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Cinderella, The Mission, La Fura dels Baus, The Harp Consort, Brian Eno, the Butthole Surfers and Uncle Earl.
He appeared on sessions and videos for Paul McCartney and was involved in the soundtrack of the film Give My Regards to Broad Street. In 1985, Jones was asked by director Michael Winner to provide the soundtrack for the film, Scream for Help, with Jimmy Page appearing on two tracks. Jones provides vocals for two of the songs. He recorded and toured with singer Diamanda Galás on her 1994 album, The Sporting Life(co-credited to John Paul Jones). Jones set up his own recording studio called Sunday School, as well being involved in his daughter’s (Jacinda Jones) singing career.
In 1985, Jones joined the other former members of Led Zeppelin for the Live Aid concert with both Phil Collins and Tony Thompson filling in on drums. The former members again re-formed for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary concert on 14 May 1988. Page, Plant and Jones, as well as John Bonham’s son Jason, closed the event. In 1992, Jones arranged the orchestration on the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People.
In 1995, the band Heart released a live acoustic album called The Road Home which was produced by Jones, and on which he also played several instruments. Also in 1995, Andrew Lawrence-King’s Harp Consort released a set of three Spanish language songs in 17th-century style of Jones’s own composition, accompanied by baroque instruments including harps, chitarrone, guitars, lirone, viola da gamba and percussion (this 10-minute CD, titled Amores Pasados, was coupled with The Harp Consort’s debut record, Luz y Norte).
Zooma, his debut solo album, was released in September 1999 on Robert Fripp’s DGM label and followed up in 2001 by The Thunderthief. Both albums were accompanied by tours, in which he played with Nick Beggs (Chapman Stick) and Terl Bryant (drums).
In 2004, he toured as part of the group Mutual Admiration Society, along with Glen Phillips (the front man for the band Toad the Wet Sprocket) and the members of the band Nickel Creek.
Jones plays on two tracks on Foo Fighters’ album In Your Honor. He plays mandolin on “Another Round” and piano on “Miracle”, both of which are on the acoustic disc. The band’s frontman Dave Grohl (a big Led Zeppelin fan) has described Jones’ guest appearance as the “second greatest thing to happen to me in my life”.
He has also branched out as a record producer, having produced such albums as The Mission’s album Children, The Datsuns’ second album Outta Sight, Outta Mind (2004) and Uncle Earl’s Waterloo, Tennessee album of Old-time music, released in March 2007 on Rounder Records.
In May 2007, he accompanied Robyn Hitchcock and Ruby Wright in performing the song “Gigolo Aunt” at a tribute for Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett in London, which he did on mandolin.
He played at Bonnaroo 2007 in a collaboration with Ben Harper and The Roots’ drummer Questlove as part of the festival’s all-star Super-Jam, which is the festival’s annual tradition of bringing together famous, world-class musicians to jam on stage for a few hours. Jones appeared and played mandolin with Gillian Welch during the festival during the song “Look at Miss Ohio” and a cover of the Johnny Cash song “Jackson”. He also appeared during the set of Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals where they played a cover of “Dazed and Confused”. Jones then closed Gov’t Mule’s first set, playing part of “Moby Dick” and then “Livin Lovin Maid” on bass, then proceeded to play keyboards on the songs “Since I’ve Been Loving You” and “No Quarter”. Jones also performed on mandolin with the all-female bluegrass group Uncle Earl, whose album he had produced in 2007.
Mandolin-slinging Jones jammed on Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” with Winnipeg’s energetic Duhks at April 2007’s MerleFest in North Carolina.
Jones played in the Led Zeppelin reunion show at London’s O2 Arena on 10 December 2007 with the other remaining members of Led Zeppelin as part of a tribute to Ahmet Ertegun.
In 2008, Jones produced Nickel Creek singer-fiddler Sara Watkins’ debut solo album.] As previously mentioned, Jones toured with Watkins, Glen Phillips, and the rest of Nickel Creek in late 2004 in a collaboration entitled Mutual Admiration Society.
On 10 February 2008, Jones appeared with the Foo Fighters on the Grammy Awards conducting the orchestral part to the song “The Pretender”. On 7 June 2008, Jones and Jimmy Page appeared with the Foo Fighters to close out the band’s concert at Wembley Stadium. Jones performed with Sonic Youth and Takehisa Kosugi, providing the stage music for Merce Cunningham’s Nearly 90, which ran 16–19 April 2009 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In February and March 2011 he appeared in the onstage band in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera Anna Nicole, about the Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London.
In August 2011, he appeared at Reading and Leeds Festivals to play alongside Seasick Steve.
On 16 September 2012, Jones appeared at the Sunflower Jam charity concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, performing alongside guitarist Brian May of Queen, drummer Ian Paice of Deep Purple, and vocalists Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper.
In November 2012, Jones toured the UK with the Norwegian avant-garde/improvisational band Supersilent.
On 6 December 2012, Jones performed on bass, guitar and mandolin with Robyn Hitchcock as ‘Biscotti’ at Cecil Sharp House, London.
On 30 April 2013, Jones appeared live on the BBC TV Show Later… with Jools Holland, playing bass for Seasick Steve on Down on the Farm from Seasick Steve’s new album Hubcap Music album
On 1 May 2013, Jones appeared with Seasick Steve at a concert at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. Introduced by Seasick Steve as a member “of the best rock band ever”, Jones played bass, mandolin, and steel guitar, and provided vocals.
On Saturday 29 June 2013, Jones played guitar whilst appearing with Rokia Traore, who opened the Pyramid Stage that morning at Glastonbury 2013.
During November 2013, Jones joined a seven-day tour of the Southeast US, playing mandolin with the Dave Rawlings Machine. The Atlanta show (21 November 2013) included a rendition Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California.” Jones also toured with the Dave Rawlings Machine in autumn 2014.
On 5 and 6 September 2015, Jones, along with Queen drummer Roger Taylor, joined Foo Fighters on stage in Milton Keynes to perform a cover of Queen’s “Under Pressure,” with Taylor Hawkins and Dave Grohl singing.
Them Crooked Vultures
Jones’ most recent own project is a supergroup with Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme named Them Crooked Vultures. The trio played their first show together on 9 August 2009 at the Metro in Chicago, and their first album was released on 17 November 2009.
Jones is widely considered to be a highly influential and important bassist, keyboardist, and arranger in the history of rock music.[ Many notable rock bassists have been influenced by Jones, including John Deacon of Queen, Geddy Lee of Rush, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gene Simmons of Kiss, and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana. Chris Dreja, the rhythm guitarist and bassist of The Yardbirds, has described him as “the best bass player in Europe” Music publications and magazines have ranked Jones among the best rock bassists of all time. He was named the best bassist on Creem Magazine’s 1977 Reader Poll. In 2000, Guitar magazine ranked him third in the “Bassist of the Millennium” readers’ poll.
In October 2010, Jones was awarded a “Gold Badge Award” by The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors for his outstanding contribution to Britain’s music and entertainment industry. On 10 November 2010, he was honoured with the “Outstanding Contribution Award” at the Marshall Classic Rock Roll of Honour Awards
John married his wife, Maureen, in 1967, and they have been together ever since, currently residing in West London] They have three daughters: Tamara, Jacinda and Kiera. According to The Sunday Times Rich List Jones’ net worth was £40 million as of 2009.
- 1962 Fender Jazz Bass (used in studio and live performances)
- 1952 Fender Precision Bass with the finish removed (used to play “Black Dog” and other songs live from 1971–1975)
- Fretless Fender Precision Bass
- Gibson EB-1 (seen on the inner wheel of Led Zeppelin III)
- Fender Bass V
- Alembic Bruce Becvar 8 string Triple Omega
- Alembic Series II 4 string
- Manson E-35 4 String Bass
- Manson E-30 4 String Bass (Single Pickup)
- Manson 8 String Bass
- Manson 10 String Bass
- Manson 12 String Bass
- Manson Bass Mandolin
- Acoustic Control Corporation 360 Bass Amp
- SWR SM 900 Bass Amp
- SWR Goliath III Cabinet
- SWR Son of Bertha Cabinet
- SWR Big Ben Cabinet
Jones owns many mandolins made by Andy Manson, including a triple neck mandolin, octave mandolin, octave mandola, and mando cello. His main mandolin is a Manson F style mandolin. He also owns Gibson F-5 Lloyd Loar #75317 dated February 18, 1924, which reputedly cost $250,000. (#75316 is owned by Chris Thile and #75615 was Lloyd Loar’s personal mandolin.)
- Hammond organs
- Hohner Clavinet
- Hohner Electra-Piano
- Fender Rhodes
- Steinway piano
- Yamaha CP-80 piano
- Yamaha GX-1 Synthesizer
- Symbolic Sound Kyma system
- Korg Trinity synthesiser
- Korg M3 synthesiser (used with Them Crooked Vultures)
- Korg X50 used at Led Zeppelin 2007 reunion concert
- EMS VCS 3 Synthesizer
- Moog Taurus Bass Pedals
- Moog Minimoog Model D
- Moog 15 Modular Synthesizer
- Korg Kaossilator
- Korg Oasys
- Solo albums
- Scream for Help (1985) – film soundtrack
- The Sporting Life (1994) with Diamanda Galás
- Zooma (1999)
- The Thunderthief (2001)
- With Them Crooked Vultures
- Them Crooked Vultures (2009)
- With Seasick Steve
- You Can’t Teach an Old Dog New Tricks (2011)
- Hubcap Music (2013)
- The Song Remains the Same (1976)
- Give My Regards to Broad Street (1984)
- Scream for Help (1984) – composer
- The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb (1993) – composer
- Risk (1994) – composer
- Celebration Day (2012)