He's buying a stairlift to heaven

NO LONGER the whip-wielding, groupie-terrorising, potions and powders-imbibing, Aleister Crowley-worshipping guitar god, Jimmy Page chose to reveal this week that he doesn't have a whole lotta love for music pirates when he made an appearance in a Glasgow courtroom. The man who founded Led Zeppelin in 1968 was the star witness in an alleged bootleg music trial.

Once a baby-faced axe-wielder of plutonium-level pomp rock, now a neatly coiffed, doughy-faced 63-year-old, Page took the stand for the ongoing case of a trader allegedly caught with thousands of counterfeit CDs and DVDs, to testify that the bootlegged material included 385 digital discs of unauthorised Led Zeppelin material.

"What is unacceptable with this passing off is when somebody is trying to make a huge profit and is making it look official when it's substandard quality. It's clearly wrong," Page told the court, obviously forgetting that some of us remember that awful Led Zep appearance at Live Aid.

Jimmy Page has spent most of his life in the spotlight as one of rock's premier guitar heroes. Largely self-taught since he first picked up the guitar when he was 12, he made his first TV appearance at 14 on Huw Wheldon's teenage talent show All Your Own in a skiffle band. From there he progressed to guitar god, via the influential 1960s blues-rock band the Yardbirds, before becoming one-quarter of the legendary 1970s supergroup Led Zeppelin, where Page's buzz-saw chords on 'Whole Lotta Love' introduced millions of teenage boys to the pleasures of playing air guitar.

Almost immediately, they dominated rock's stage with big riffs and bigger hair, becoming famous and notorious for mucus-clearing vocals that made dogs wince streets away, borrowed-and-never-returned blues lyrics, Celtic modalities and Middle Eastern drones, a reputation for wild destructive hotel parties, unheard-of profit percentages and an uncompromisingly long song, the eight-minute 'Stairway To Heaven', the definitive prog-rock anthem. The song was Page's pride, but his stage rival Robert Plant once casually referred to it as "that wedding song".

"Every band should end their show with 'Stairway To Heaven'," Plant once said. "In fact, The Who do a very nice version of it." Even after 30 years, it seems there is a competitive edge to the Plant/Page partnership. After all, before Led Zeppelin, it was Page, a former member of the Yardbirds and a much-sought-after session guitarist, who was the star; after Led Zeppelin, it was Plant who had the more productive solo career.

Together with drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones, Led Zep gave rock not a bad name, but a worse name. They were louder than Deep Purple, hairier than the Rolling Stones and demolished more hotel rooms than The Who.

It was The Who's Keith Moon who gave the band their name in 1968 - predicting they would go down like a lead zeppelin. Instead they became the biggest act of all.

The band's saga through the 1970s is certainly the stuff of pulp, and the group's reluctance to be interviewed allowed rumours to circulate unhindered. Components of their mystique included the wordless album covers, the no-singles policy, the groupies, narcotics, the scary manager, and months without electricity in Morocco and the Welsh mountains.

Page himself was said to be a bondage fan, a heroin addict and a Satanist, who had sold the band's souls to become the biggest gods in rock's pantheon. It was a memorable time for everyone, except the participants. Page admits he doesn't remember all of what happened, on stage or off, during the 12-year whirl that began when he was 24 years old. Several years ago, when he took stock of the Zeppelin holdings, what shocked him was how little film was available to support what he did recall about the band's shows. Ironically, when it came to releasing the live Led Zeppelin DVD in 2003, bootlegged footage filmed by fans helped plug the gaps in the band's concert performances.

Offstage, Page appears to have been a curious mixture of hedonism and headmaster, especially when it came to his infamous affair with American teenager Lori Maddox, who was 15 when they first met and became his girlfriend whenever Page was in LA. She says he called her every day, even when he was in England, where he lived with long-time girlfriend Charlotte Martin, the mother of his daughter Scarlet.

Page would never let Maddox touch a drug, and he was so furious when he caught her smoking a cigarette that he made her smoke an entire pack so she'd never do it again.

The band's story ended in September 1980 when drummer John Bonham died at Page's Windsor home after drinking 40 measures of vodka.

"We couldn't have carried on without John," said Page. "We had been working as such an integral, combined unit for so long that to get somebody in to learn those areas of improvisation just wouldn't have been honest to any of us, and certainly not to his name." Since then, the surviving members have steadfastly refused the lucrative temptation to tour as Led Zeppelin, although they used the name for one-off appearances at Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary concert in 1988 and Live Aid in 1985, when Phil Collins, of all people, played drums and earned Page's undying ire.

"Robert told me Phil Collins wanted to play with us," recalled Page. "I told him that was all right if he knows the numbers. But at the end of the day, he didn't know anything. We played 'Whole Lotta Love', and he was just there bashing away cluelessly and grinning. I thought that was really a joke."

Inaccessibility and thrawn awkwardness are just two of the elements that suggest Page's Led Zeppelin has a position in music history that is much like the Himalayas: monolithic, stuck in one place, and yet dominating everything else in the scenery.

Yet there may be signs of a seismic shift this year, with the persistent rumour that Led Zeppelin could be about to re-inflate, and that Page, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant have lined up Jason Bonham to take his dad's place for a get-together before the end of the year, and there could be a tour. This news may cheer the faithful, but if rock history has taught us anything, it's that not reuniting is often a far better idea than getting back together only to disappoint the fans.

This week's court case suggests Page is mindful of the group's legacy. Then again, since he allowed Cadillac to use 'Rock 'n' Roll' to flog its motors a few years ago, maybe it's simply a case of preserving the band from tasteless exploitation by anyone other than the band.

You've been Googled

An occult enthusiast, Page became so obsessed with Aleister 'The Great Beast 666' Crowley, right, that he bought the "magick" man's Boleskine House, by Loch Ness, in 1970. The single-storey building contains no stairways: to heaven or otherwise.

While touring as Plant and Page, one of the duties of his record label publicist was to wear his new shoes to break them in and to buy hip new records for him.

In 2005, Page received an OBE for his work with poor Brazilian children. He joined forces with the British charity, Task Brazil, and set up a safe house, which has supported more than 300 children.

"If you listened to what we were playing, what would you have done after that sort of adrenaline rush? Gone to have a swim, or home to your slippers and a cup of cocoa? It certainly didn't occur to me to do that. It did occur to me to enjoy myself and have a damn good time. And I did."

During a flight to Portland, Oregon, Page locked himself in the bathroom for a cigarette. The alarm went off and the police were waiting to detain him when the plane landed.