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Led Zeppelin Superfan and Documentary Subject Picks Jimmy Page’s Best Live Licks

"Mr. Jimmy" is the story of Akio Sakurai, who spent 30 years recreating the band's performances note-for-note in small Tokyo clubs.

Jimmy-Page
Photo courtesy of Peter Michael Dowd

Akio Sakurai grew up idolizing Led Zeppelin in his small hometown in Japan and would eventually move to Tokyo and become “Mr. Jimmy,” adopting the guitar chops and persona of guitar virtuoso Jimmy Page. For the better part of three decades, he recreated vintage Zeppelin concerts note-for-note in small Tokyo clubs, until the “real” Jimmy Page stopped by one night, and Akio’s life changed forever. That story is the subject of a new documentary called “Mr. Jimmy,” which debuted at SXSW this week. Variety caught up with the Tokyoite who offered his top 5 favorite Zeppelin songs.

“Stairway to Heaven”
(BBC Sessions Live Version)
April 1, 1971, Paris Theatre, London

This early version moves me deeply. Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin capture the spiritual atmosphere of the studio version live on stage. It’s remarkably faithful to the brilliant recorded version (still not released at this point), at the same time it points towards a future horizon of further expansion and live magic.

“Stairway to Heaven”
(“The Song Remains the Same” Soundtrack Live Version)
Madison Square Garden, July 1973

Jimmy Page has inspired me with so many of his solos, in so many different ways. This might be one of his greatest ever. As the song builds, Jimmy Page pushes the song to another level, and John Bonham responds with his own push, and then John Paul Jones does the same, and their passion brings Jimmy Page to yet another level. This sort of “musical circle” of improvisation is what sets Led Zeppelin apart from all other bands. They weren’t afraid of the danger of improvisation, they lived for it.

“Rock and Roll”
(“The Song Remains the Same” Soundtrack Live Version)
Madison Square Garden, July 1973

This was the first live album of Led Zeppelin and it shocked the world from the first notes of the first song, “Rock and Roll.” Everyone bought a Les Paul after hearing Mr. Page’s guitar magic, because they wanted to be Jimmy Page as I did. There have been many amazing versions, of this song, but to this day the MSG might be the most powerful.

“The Song Remains the Same”
(“The Song Remains the Same” Soundtrack Live Version)
Madison Square Garden, July 1973

Pure magic. The four members are synchronized perfectly. The energy of that moment in time, the summer of ’73 and the lyrics match wonderfully. “California sunlight / Sweet Calcutta rain / Honolulu, starbright…” For five years, Led Zeppelin was traveling the world, playing their music on a different stage every night. No matter what part of the world they were in, they gave the audiences energy and the audiences gave it right back. That’s the power of music.

“The Rain Song”
(“The Song Remains the Same” Soundtrack Live Version)
Madison Square Garden, July 1973

This is the ultimate version of “The Rain Song.” Mr. Page’s beautiful, shimmering guitar solo shook me deeply. From his fingers, something divine emerges — that echoplex magic tone that no one can imitate. The transition from the percussive “The Song Remains the Same” to the ethereal “The Rain Song” is akin to a classical composer transitioning from one movement to the next. The musical range of Mr. Page is unmatched in rock and roll. Just from these two songs you can feel his vision — it’s a full 360 degrees of music.