Jimmy Page Discusses His New Solo Album, 'Outrider,' and More in 1988 Guitar World Interview, Part 1
Here's the first part of our interview with Jimmy Page from the October 1988 issue of Guitar World magazine. Stay tuned for part two later in the week. The original story, which started on page 42, ran with the headline, "Jimmy Page: Dawn of the Solo Era."
In his twenty-five-year career, the fiery B-bender has always aimed his guitar firepower from within the context of a group. For the first time this fall, he'll be comin' at you with a solo tour.
In this candid conversation, Page reflects with two GW correspondents on the role of the guitar in all this as his one true, abiding passion.
What does it take to reinflate a legend? If the legend in question is forty-four year-old Jimmy Page, the answer is twofold.
By choosing to launch a solo career after twenty-five years as a professional musician, Page was accepting the burden of proving 1) that his celebrated virtuosity was undiminished, and 2) that he could once again locate the source of the molten, mystic magnetism, the X factor that had lifted Led Zeppelin from the congested realm of mere competence to the ozone of transcendence.
One of the wealthiest figures in show biz, and a new daddy to boot, Page could have been perfectly justified in resting on his laurels, retiring to his estate in the Berkshire countryside and living out his days in baronial splendor, his reputation only slightly tarnished by his feeble final foray with The Firm.
That would have been the simpler course -- but it wasn't what Page had in mind. Did the guitarist feel he still had something to prove? You bet your B-bender he did.
In order to stage his return, Page first needed to make a record -- not the sort of task one normally chooses to undertake when one has a pregnant wife at home. No problem. Page's studio, the Sol, is right on the grounds of his estate; what's more, he was happy to take a non-obsessive approach to recording, working one day, kicking back the next.
Page's pre-production approach was just as casual; after having his initial set of demos for the album stolen, he chose not to prepare at all. Instead, he'd walk into the studio each workday with a willing heart and an open mind, simply picking up a guitar and jamming with whatever rhythm section happened to be in the room.
The rock and blues material on Page's first album was created in just this sort of devil-may-care fashion.
The music on Outrider sounds anything but casual, however. Its first side dominated by authoritative rockers , its second by blues-infected smokers, the album shows that Page remains one of rock's pre-eminent riffmeisters, rhythm players and pyrotechnicians.
And while the songs are less striking than the riffs that hold them together, that isn't the point here. Outrider is a showcase for the sounds of Jimmy Page, no more, no less.
You get three vocalists -- John Miles and his generic metallisms, Chris Farlow and his classic Brit -blues angst and solo artiste Bobby Plant on one track (the aptly titled "The Only One" ) -- with each supplying the lyrics to the tunes he sings.
Again, so what? Apart from Farlow, whose intensity matches that of Page, the vocalists merely take up a slot on the track sheet, along with the various overdubbed guitar parts.
They're present in order to prevent Outrider from being nothing more than stiff competition for Joe Satriani.
Further, leave the single-note runs to Yngwie Malmsteen -- Page is more interested in creating tone, texture and atmosphere with his chunky riffing. Indeed, the stuff he plays here is as thick as Arnold Schwarzenneger's torso, as shimmery as a mirage in Death Valley.
The chunky sounds and rhythmic interstices of the instrumental "Liquid Mercury" parallel the shapes and segments of modern art, while the banshee overdubbed guitars of "Wanna Make Love" swoop and soar like the Blue Angels. And lest we forget that Page's sensibility is rooted in electric blues, there's the sizzling extemporaneous "Prison Blues"; then there's the delicate "Blues Anthem," which is neither bluesy nor anthemic.
For the LP's crowning moment, Page has conjured up "Emerald Eyes," an exquisite watercolor wash of acoustic and electric guitars, made even more resonant by the subtle colorations of a Roland guitar synth.
Forget the muffed solo on "Stairway To Heaven" during the Led Zeppelin reunion portion of the Atlantic 40th Anniversary Concert -- it was probably merely a case of stage fright for the high-strung guitarist. Outrider offers undeniable proof that Jimmy Page hasn't forgotten how to play his instrument. The virtuosity found throughout the LP's nine tracks formidably perpetuates the purely musical side of Page's legendary status.
But what of the less tangible side of his legend? Is Page still willing to inhabit the territory of his mythic cachet? An introvert and a loner (the album could have just as accurately been titled Outsider), Page has a longstanding distaste for the peripheral stuff that accompanies stardom -- particularly the interviews.
But wanting to get his solo career off on the right foot , the veteran artist gritted his teeth and agreed to do whatever his label, Geffen Records, deemed necessary.
Thus, dutifully but grudgingly, he has entered rooms to face his inquisitors, their tape recorders capturing every halting attempt at openness, every pregnant pause, every hermetic "mmm." He has to do it, but he doesn't have to like it.
In order to get the most out of Page, Guitar World assigned not one but two journalists -- English writer Max Kay and yours truly -- to squeeze the very last drop of blood from the stone. Kay met with Page in the London offices of his accountant -- finding him "depressingly normal" -- while this reporter visited with the guitarist at the tail end of an apparently arduous week of interviews in his Beverly Hills hotel room.
During our conversation, Page lit a succession of Marlboro Light 100's while doing his best to be cordial and cooperative.
Tall and somewhat ungainly, he looked and behaved more like a long-haired English bureaucrat than a guitar hero, and 'his responses were peppered with pauses, nervous laughter and mumbled codas. The one aspect of the man that seemed in keeping with his reputation was a surliness that lurked ominously just below the surface of his demeanor – a sort of Loch Ness Monster of latent hostility.
Page expressed his displeasure with questions he considered too obvious or just plain dumb by answering curtly, as if his patience were being stretched to the breaking point; but in the next exchange, he'd seem as ingenuous as TV's Mr. Rogers.
Engage, disengage -- that's the way it went throughout. But so what if he's less articulate than his guitar hero peers? As a guitarist, Page is as important as anyone who's ever plugged in, and, as he is wont to carp, "The music speaks for itself, doesn't it?"
The truth is, he has gone through with the myriad inconveniences of this solo gambit primarily in order to do what he enjoys more than anything else in life – play his music onstage.
When he tours North America in the fall, concertgoers will likely be seeing and hearing a revitalized Jimmy Page -- a guy who, for all his mystique, really just wants to play his guitar. If that weren't the foremost thing on his mind, I seriously doubt that he would have put up with the time and effort he put in to produce what follows.
-- Bud Scoppa
GUITAR WORLD: You're going back home today, so this is the last thing on your slate. I'll imagine you're feeling up about that.
Yeah, you can bet that. It's all right when you're playing and working, but this is the microscope week, where you go under the microscope.
What I hear on your solo album is a very familiar sound -- a sound that you've been making for some time now ...
For about twenty-five years.
Your approach and your equipment have undergone numerous changes over those twenty-five years, and you've used a variety of instruments and still do. And yet the sound remains the same, if you will -- it has a palpable consistency. What is it that you do that is so distinct that it supersedes the technology you employ?
Well, I'm not trying to be flippant here, but I just play the guitar, don't I? That is my characteristic and it's my identity as you hear it. I suppose as far as this album goes, in a way it's almost like a back-to-basics album. And with the guitar, as you've heard, I've limited the guitar effects as such, and in fact the "effects" are the layering -- the textures of the things. That was the basic idea of it.
That means, then, that you use a variety of guitars for their specific tonalities, as opposed to a variety of effects.
Guitars and amps as well.
On "Wasting My Time," for example, you use the Telecaster B-bender, Strats for the main body of the song, the Danelectro for the solo and a number of amps, too. Obviously a great deal of thought went into it. But the finished track sounds like a burst of spontaneous rock 'n' roll. In this case, the methodology is employed to create the feeling of spontaneity.
First of all, let's start from the basics. That actually was the first riff I came up with in the studio. It wasn't put on the album as the first track because it was the first riff -- it's just coincidental. It's just like anyone else's writing, I suppose: You work out the sequence that it's gonna be, and after that, it's just how the main guitars ... And quite honestly, I tried a lot of different ideas, especially over that first solo -- many, many different ideas. I'd go in and try one sort of patented, so to speak, riff, give it a rest for a day and then come back and try it the next day. And then I selected what appeared to be the best of everything at the end of the day. So consequently, there's a hell of a lot of overdubs that obviously don't get heard.
It's a process of trial and error, then.
It's a sketchbook at that point in time, yeah. I was just fortunate to have the facilities to do that, I suppose, and the time. There was a hell of a lot of options. I used two twenty-four-tracks.
Which gives you forty-six in all to work with, right [The process of syncing requires each machine to forfeit a track for time-code purposes.]?
Yeah, yeah. But then again, when you start doing that, then the drums usually go across quite a few tracks, you know [laughs].
How did you employ the second twenty-four?
Well, the other twenty-four-track was synced up to try all these different ideas. And then, when the selection was made, it was just bumped over to the main one.
At certain moments during playbacks, you must've had Page's Guitar Army in there, with all those optional parts going at once.
It was. You've gotta be brutal about the final selection, so to speak.
It might be a blast to make a record that way -- with twenty or thirty guitar parts going at once.
If you're that tight as a player, yeah [laughs]!
Let's document how "Wasting My Time" came together from the beginning stages.
The bass, drums and guitar were in the studio together, and we just started jamming some things, and that was one of the first things that came out. That's the way I did it on this, anyway -- working on the tracks Initially with them, and then orchestrating them once they'd gone.
Did you have any song ideas before going into the studio to begin the album?
On this record I didn't; usually I do. There weren't any demos.
Having your own studio makes demos somewhat superfluous, I suppose.
In a way it does. So consequently, everything was basically made up in the studio, you see.
That approach would seem to presuppose the notion that when you walk out of the studio, you stop thinking about It. Can you separate your life from your work?
It's difficult, 'cause if you're working on something, you get -- I do, anyway – a hundred percent committed to it.
So the fact that you're not carrying a cassette recorder around with you doesn’t preclude the possibility of taking mental notes.
Obviously, there's mental notes taken all the time. I have, like, a chart thing, where I write out notes on the track line-up and stuff. Put a tick on what's good, you know. But that's the way that I did that, because at that point in time, that’s how it was done. But normally, I'd have things worked out considerably beforehand. I just thought I'd be more reckless on this one, really.
Prior to beginning work on this album, did you undergo a period of mental preparation and work with the guitar, or did you Just say, "Okay, now it's time to play guitar again"?
No, it's not that I wasn't practicing in between -- of course I was. But I didn't do any writing preparation beforehand.
Do you get rusty when you don't play for a while?
I think so [laughs]. Yeah, sure.
Haven't you had periods in your life when you haven't picked up a guitar for months on end?
No, there was only one period [following the death of John Bonham], and I think that’s quite an understandable period , too.
Generally, then, your modus operandi is to have an ax around.
There's always one in the room I'm in, so to speak.
Electric or acoustic?
It's more homey, I s'pose.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, you can't really set up a hundred-watt stack and blast -- the neighbors get pissed off. I've always had that problem, actually [laughs]. So usually I work 'em out on acoustic.
Was there a germ of a concept that generated this album? I imagine it was more of a creative move than a business decision.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I started a solo career prob'ly pretty late in the day, possibly. Y'know, this album was like the first projected element of that, and I feel that that's the best way to do it, is the way that it was done . And then, each album that I do is gonna be different, hopefully. So this was just like ... it gave a taste of the different guitar styles that I do. One thing I should've done, maybe, was a fingerstyle. But there we are.
There 's a knock at the door, and Page opens it. A bellman hands the guitarist a bag with a Burger King logo -- an incongruous sight in the ritzy Four Seasons Hotel. Page brings his burgers and fries back to the table.
Well, yeah, but we'll continue.
Burger King? How unpretentious.
Keep it off the record [laughs]!
I'm not promising anything. Go ahead and eat.
Nahhh, let 's carry on, I can't think about that.
If you insist. You originally conceived Outrider as a double album, then realized it would be too draining and time-consuming. When did you decide you had a finished album?
When I finished mixing it, really.
But you recorded a lot more basic tracks than you wound up using. What led you to choose the particular tracks that you did?
As I said before, it gives a spectrum of the playing -- what I do, from rock 'n' roll to acoustic and blues.
You said before that you began your solo career late in the game.
Late in the day, I said, not "game." Late in the day.
I stand corrected. At any rate, from this vantage point, do you see your career as a continuous evolutionary process or as a distinct series of stages –- the session years, the Yardbirds, establishing Zeppelin, latter-day Zeppelin --
The Firm, etcetera, etcetera.
Right. Are they separate pieces, or is it all this organic thing?
Yeah , possibly [laughs].
Yeah what? The latter?
The latter, yeah. It's all part and parcel, isn't it? Every album that I've attempted, I suppose, has been different -- it's bound to be.
But it's all connected by your artistry, from the spontaneity of Led Zeppelin to the layering of Outrider.
From the first Zeppelin album, there's obviously still that [layering] there; it's just that there's been more facilities available through the years. The first album was done on eight-track, then going to sixteen and all the rest of it.
Although there have been great technological leaps, though , you're still using the same vintage guitars, amps and effects you've always used.
Well, apart from the guitar synth, 'cause I've been using that. It doesn't track very well on the low strings, the lower down you go. The pitch-to-voltage thing is a bit suspect on them. But I suppose that's the difficulty of trying to make something new. I haven't tried, for instance, the new Casio one. The SynthAxe looked rather ...
You've tried one?
Well, I had a look at it [laughs]. But I mean, the development of [the guitar synth] now, with the MIDI system, is pretty good.
Have you tried a Bradshaw rig?
No, no. I've heard of them, though -- since I've been here, actually. What is that, then?
It's this compendium of effects, all MIDI'd to a pedalboard and housed in a single stack. Eddie Van Halen has one, although he claims to hardly ever use it. In fact, he claims to hardly ever use any effects; he's sort of a purist like you are-if you 'll accept that characterization.
Yeah. Well, he's got an incredible technique.
And like you, he's got a studio in his home -- right next to it, anyway. When you're in that sort of situation, do you have to impose a kind of discipline on yourself -- a way to incorporate your work into the context of your home life?
Did you learn how to do that while making this album, or have you used your home studio in the past?
Yes, I've worked in this studio before, but there's accommodation so I was also living there as well. In the house I was in beforehand, I had a studio actually in the house. In fact, we did some of the Zeppelin stuff on In Through The Out Door there. It's a handy thing have, to say the least. But of course, you have to employ a discipline to keep things in balance.
Some artists who have home studios get obsessive about it -- to the degree they resent the fact that they have to leave in order to go on tour. Are you susceptible to that tendency?
Well, no, that's the very thing I want to do. I really love playing live – it’s such a gas. That's why I'll be on the road in the fall.
Prior to beginning work on Outrider, did you have specific musicians in mind or was it a process of trial and error?
Trial and error. Jason [Bonham] was involved from the kickoff, and he played really well. With some of the songs, [the players] took some time sort of learning them. I guess what seems to be easy to me, 'cause I suppose you play the way you think, or whatever ... it wasn't always easy for the other guys to grasp some of the ideas immediately. But then, once they got the thing of it, it was all right. Tony Franklin was involved to begin with on it, with Jason as well, but in fact we re-did some of the bass parts that he did -- in fact , most of them, really.
Was it a rhythmic inconsistency?
Yeah, a bit.
Well, you do have your own distinct sense of time. In fact, one of the elements that made Led Zeppelin so exciting was the tension generated by the juxtaposition of your sense of time with Bonham's -- the big ringing chord right on the heels of the snare hit, for instance. And on Outrider, you're generating a similar sort of rhythmic tension with his son.
With Jason -- he was in Air Ace and Virginia Wolfe prior to this -- from what he told me, with Virginia Wolfe, when it came to the recordings and such, he was actually just working with the time codes. But with this, he had a chance to ... well, explore his drumming, I suppose.
You didn't use click tracks, did you?
I did have to use a click track on "Liquid Mercury" -- 'cause that was a difficult one for them to remember.
At what point did you plug in the vocalists and lyrics?
John Miles was the first vocalist to come in, and I had the tracks actually done when he came in. So it was quite easy, really, to hear it, to gauge the feel of what everything was about. And then we just discussed the lyrical content and such. And away we went. 'Cause I don't sing, so I think if a guy's doing the lyrics, he's gonna sing them with more conviction than if he's doing yours, so to speak. That was the concept there, anyway, with two rock 'n' roll tracks and rock 'n' roll lyrics. Whereas you 've got the other end of the scale, where Chris Farlow just made up the lyrics as he went along on the blues, just as I'll make it up when I'm playing, at the same time. That's totally spontaneous, and it's great.
One of the more unorthodox aspects of your process was the fact that -- on the rock tracks, at least -- the vocals are part of the overlay rather than part of the nucleus of the song. In your work, the guitar is the primary element, and everything else is subordinate to it. Which leads me to what may sound like a semantic question: Do you see yourself as a composer who works primarily with guitars, or are you a guitarist whose parts become compositions?
Again, it's both, isn't it? It's both. Because it just depends on the way that the thing is put together in the first place. Obviously, if I've worked out a number before, that is composition -- then that is it. The fact was that I did have some demos that were gonna be the backbone of the album; I'd written quite a bit of stuff, actually -- in tunings, etc., etc. And in fact, they were at a house I wasn't living at the time –- I had a "domestic" situation. And when I went back there, that, along with quite a few other things -- Zeppelin tapes, etc., etc. – had disappeared. So consequently, rather than just tear my hair out over it, I just went in and started doin' it that way. Now I've located [the missing Zeppelin tapes] via bootleg -- I've seen 'em on bootleg lists.
Somebody must've lifted them with the intent of cashing in.
Musical rape, yeah.
You must be getting used to that by now.
It doesn't get any better, does it?
What were the demos like?
It was totally different to this stuff. There were two tapes, actually, that had a lot of stuff -- it was like a compilation of stuff -- I don't know if they're ever gonna re-surface. And if they do, well, they'll be heard anyway, won't they, so ... Those especially -- and I have in the past as well, employed a lot of tunings -- and then I'll
work around those tunings.
On other guitars?
They were all on acoustic, anyway. They were tunes, they were songs, you know, as such -- I mean, they didn't have lyrics to them, but they were ...
So this record might otherwise have turned out to be a Bert Jansch-style solo acoustic album.
A fabulous guitarist. He did some amazing instrumental work on his solo albums.
Y'know, you and I are the same age, so I feel I have some insight into what must've inspired you to start playing rock 'n' roll. I mean, we were both twelve and hitting puberty when Elvis came along.
Well, all of that, especially living in England. I mean, over here, you were lucky to have been around then. Just the whole energy of that rock 'n' roll explosion at that point was fantastic, wasn't it? And it still is.