Born John Baldwin on January 3rd, 1946, at Sidcup, Kent. With a father who was pianist and arranger for big bands like the Ambrose Orchestra, and a mother who was a singer and dancer, it is hard to imagine how John Paul Jones could have avoided getting involved with show business.
As a youngster, he learnt the basics of piano playing at the family's home in Eltham. Then he started taking organ lessons, and was soon playing at his local church.
While attending Christ College boarding school in Blackheath, he turned to the bass. "I couldn't even play a six-string acoustic guitar when I started", he says. "I was just fascinated by bass work generally. I used to turn up the bass on my records and listen to the runs, and in time I just picked it up."
At school he formed a group which played American Air Force bases, and in the holidays he joined his father in a duo that played various social funtions, and even did a residency on the Isle of Wight.
When he left school, he continued this sort of work for a few months, until the day he attended an audtion for ex-Shadows Jet Harris and Tony Meehan in early 1963.
Tony Meehan remembers: "We had a single called "Diamonds" at Number 1 at the time and we were putting together a band. John Paul heard about it and showed up. He was just about out of school, very young and a bit nervous. Despite the nerves he was a good musician and he knew his shit. He was cocky too in a certain way, and I liked that. So we hired him.
He toured with us for a year or 18 months until the band broke up. I was doing some freelance production work for Decca records at the time, and he played on a lot of sessions. I liked to use the guys from the band - they knew their shit and it supplemented their incomes. They were making about 40 pounds per week in the band, which was good bread in those days. Add that to the session income and TV fees... all told, it was a good gig for them."
Jones continued playing sessions when the Harris/Meehan band split up, and between 1964 and 1968 recorded for just about everyone from Lulu to The Rolling Stones. In April 1964 he released his own single on Pye, comprising two instrumentals called "A Foggy Day In Vietnam" and "Baja", and before long he had graduated from ordinary sessionman to musical director.
"I discovered that musical arranging and general studio direction were much better than just sitting there and being told what to do. I'd been doing some sessions with Donovan. The first thing I really did with him was "Sunshine Superman". I happened to be on the session as a bass player and I ended up doing the arrangements. The arranger they'd picked for the session really didn't know about anything. I got the rhythm section together and we went from there."
He became musical director for Mickie Most which, among many another tasks, involved working with The Yardbirds on several songs for the "Little Games" album. This renewed his acquaintance with Jimmy Page, who he had met on numerous sessions in the past.
By the summer of 1968, John Paul Jones was highly respected by fellow musicians though completely unknown to the public, and presumably he was making a good living. But this isn't the be all and end all, even for a married man with two young daughters, and he was on the lookout for a new challenge. He very nearly joined Terry Reid's new band, but then he heard that Jimmy Page was putting a new group together.
Page recalls: "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. Now John Paul Jones is unquestionably an incredible arranger and musician - he didn't need me for a job. It was just that he felt the need to express himself and he thought we might be able to do it together. He had a proper musical training and he had quite brilliant ideas. I jumped at the chance of getting him."