John Paul Jones’ Train Journey Composition: Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’

John Paul Jones' Train Journey Composition: Led Zeppelin's 'Black Dog'

Last Updated on July 8, 2023 by Fumipets

The Inspirational Journey of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’: Composed on a Train by John Paul Jones


The inception of a Timeless Classic

As a founding member and bassist of the iconic rock band, Led Zeppelin, John Paul Jones often found himself in the backdrop of the towering talents of guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, and drummer John Bonham. However, his music-writing acumen came to the forefront when he conceived the timeless classic, ‘Black Dog’, on a mundane train journey.

The alluring track was written using a unique technique taught by his father, allowing Jones to transcribe musical notation using only numbers and note values. “[My dad] taught me how to write musical notation without using manuscript paper – just with numbers and note values – and I wrote that riff on the back of a train ticket coming back from a rehearsal at Jimmy Page’s house,” Jones revealed to Bass Player in 2008.

Delving into the Musical Complexity

Similar to their early work, ‘Good Times, Bad Times’, ‘Black Dog’ encapsulates the rhythmic synergy that gave Led Zeppelin their matchless groove. The original composition was in 3/16 time, but its complex structure was tough for the band to keep up with. Bonham, in particular, grappled with the song’s oscillating rhythms. Jones solved this by instructing Bonham to persistently play four-to-the-bar, leading to the song’s distinctive rhythm.

Jones drew inspiration from diverse sources while creating ‘Black Dog’. The vocal call-and-response element, borrowed from Fleetwood Mac’s 1969 hit ‘Oh Well’, blended seamlessly with the irresistible riff of a Muddy Waters song that caught Jones’s attention.

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Unique Guitar-Bass Partnership in ‘Black Dog’

One of Jones’s significant contributions to Led Zeppelin was his knack for doubling guitar riffs on the bass, providing a fuller sound. He applied this technique in ‘Black Dog’, carving out spaces in the soundstage for Page’s guitar to shine. “You’ve got to look at the whole picture,” Jones mused while explaining his approach.

Though Jones had a preference for playing fingerstyle, he found that the song sounded better when he used a pick. It offered a different phrasing, and a more metallic, guitar-like sound, bringing a distinctive dimension to ‘Black Dog’.

Instrument of Choice

Until the mid-70s, Jones wielded a 1961 Fender Jazz Bass, which occasionally makes an appearance even today. However, after retiring this instrument from touring in 1975, Jones shifted his allegiance to Manson instruments.

Led Zeppelin’s timeless classic, ‘Black Dog’, serves as a testament to John Paul Jones’s songwriting prowess and his remarkable adaptability. His fusion of blues elements, vocal interplay, and unique guitar-bass interaction continues to inspire musicians worldwide.

Experience the magic of Led Zeppelin’s music by buying or streaming ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ here.



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