Most musicians start out trying to sound like their heroes. Who hasn’t said to themselves (consciously or not), this if I buy this pedal, if I use this amp, if I wear this shirt, I will play like my hero, sound like my hero, become like my hero.
Akio Sakurai has taken this sort of thing to extremely extreme extreme. As chronicled in the excellent “Mr. Jimmy,” Sakurai has devoted his life to mastering the look and sound of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
To wit: here is a scene of him and his amp engineer replacing a vintage transistor and adjusting the gain to make the amp sound more like ‘73 Page. Here, the embroiderer charged with making sure all of the details on the various stage costumes are correct. Here is the guy hand-winding pickups for Sakurai, tweaking the magnets just so.
After Page shows up at one of Mr. Jimmy’s Zep reenactment concerts, Sakurai decided to try his luck in America. As you might imagine, American Zep tribute acts aren’t exactly interested in reenacting precise “Whole Lotta Love” solos from various eras. (This isn’t to say they are bad, but they’re not Sakurai. For him to play this music, as the movie notes, “in a lackluster way...would be inexcusable.” Lackluster means different things to different musicians; the gulf between Jimmy and his peers is vast.)
Directed with charm, sympathy and admiration by Peter Michael Dowd and soundtracked (smartly) not with Zeppelin but with the blues and early rock Page was trying to rip off when he first started out, “Mr. Jimmy” is about precision for its own sake (see also “Jiro Dreams of Sushi). It’s an absolute must for electric guitarists of all sorts — it’s refreshing to be reminded that rock music is, as much as anything else, about the manipulation of electricity— and beyond-a-much for Zep nerds.
As one friend of Sakurai puts it, “Of course he can’t become (Page). The fact that he keeps pursuing something that doesn’t have an answer-- I respect that” So will you.
“Mr Jimmy” screens again 8 p.m March 11 at Alamo South Lamar B; 5:30 p.m. March 14 at Alamo Ritz 1.