25 Years Ago: Jimmy Page’s ‘Outrider’ Album Released
Jimmy Page was a band player before he started Led Zeppelin, and he returned to the group ranks after Zeppelin’s breakup in 1980, starting the Firm with former Bad Company singer Paul Rodgers. But by the late ’80s, he was ready to step out on his own.
The result was Page’s first proper solo release, 1988′s ‘Outrider,’ which found one of rock’s most respected guitarists working with a cast of characters that included former Firm bassist Tony Franklin, Zeppelin drummer John Bonham‘s son Jason, and vocalists John Miles and Chris Farlowe — as well as Led Zep singer Robert Plant, who contributed vocals to one song, ‘The Only One.’
If that description makes ‘Outrider’ sound like a bit of a hodgepodge, there’s good reason. Although Page was initially rumored to be recording an ambitious double-album set whose songs would be grouped according to genre, those plans had to be scaled back after he was forced to start from scratch partway through the demoing process.
“I remember looking around for some demos and sort of wondering where all my tapes were,” he later explained to Brad Tolinski, author of ‘Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page.’ “There was so much going on around my house and in my life at that time, I just figured they’d turn up somewhere. Well, they did turn up — as bootlegs! Someone who was pretending to be a friend stole the tapes.”
That setback put a completely different spin on the ‘Outrider’ recording process — although as Page went on to admit to Tolinski, he might not have made it a double LP anyway. “Because I was shaping ‘Outrider’ as I went along, I put more work into it than any other album I’ve ever worked on,” he claimed. “Consequently, I didn’t fancy doing a double — it would have been a masochistic task.”
Fortunately, Page had the luxury of working within a fairly sophisticated home studio system, which allowed him to build the tracks as he went along without racking up astronomical bills. “There weren’t any demos…Everything was basically made up in the studio, you see,” he explained during an interview with Guitar World. “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.”
He ended up with a nine-song set comprised of eight originals and a cover of Leon Russell’s ‘Hummingbird,’ with three instrumentals mixed in among the six vocal numbers. Focused on the arrangements, which included a ton of guitar overdubs, Page left responsibility for the lyrics to his singers. As he put it to Guitar World, “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.”
Although ‘Outrider’ cracked the Top 30 on both sides of the Atlantic, it wasn’t the sort of critical or commercial success he’d enjoyed with Led Zeppelin — and his former band’s legacy shadowed the new album in more ways than one. As Page later admitted to Tolinski, “When I went to the U.S. to do publicity for the ‘Outrider’ album, all I heard was ‘Robert said this’ and ‘Robert said that.’ It was really bothersome. I continually had to say, ‘Aren’t we supposed to be talking about ‘Outrider’?”
On the other hand, as he told Guitar World, “I started a solo career prob’ly pretty late in the day, possibly.” At the time, he expressed hope that ‘Outrider’ was just “the first projected element” of an ongoing series of solo records, saying, “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.”
As fans know, things didn’t exactly turn out that way; in fact, Page wouldn’t resurface with a new album until 1993, when he returned with the short-lived David Coverdale duo project Coverdale/Page before reuniting with Plant for a pair of recordings in the ’90s. These days, Page’s musical ambitions have taken a back seat to his duties as the Zeppelin archivist, but once the band’s next round of reissues is out of the way, who knows? One of these days, maybe we’ll get to hear a proper follow-up to ‘Outrider.’