It’s been 20 years since Jimmy Page and David Coverdale joined forces, for an album eventually released in 1993 as Coverdale/Page. It was not the most inventive of band names, but a fascinating alliance of two hard rock legends nonetheless.
In some ways, the union of Coverdale and Page was unsurprising, as U.K. hard rockers of the ’70s partner-swapped to a massive level. Coverdale had famously been in Deep Purple, whose Ritchie Blackmore later left to form Rainbow. That band’s original singer, Ronnie James Dio, later left to replace Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath. Coverdale’s predecessor in Purple, Ian Gillan, then replaced Dio in Sabbath. Drummer Tommy Aldridge, meanwhile, had worked in both Coverdale’s Whitesnake and Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz band.
Post-Led Zeppelin, Page had worked with Free/Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers in The Firm, whose bassist Tony Franklin went on to join Blue Murder with John Sykes who was Coverdale’s ex-guitarist in Whitesnake. And so the band-hopping went on.
Coverdale said at the time “it was destiny” that he hooked up with Jimmy Page, but some might say it was almost inevitable.
Coverdale’s commercial currency was riding high at the turn of the ’90s. Whitesnake’s 1987 album had been a global smash. Page hadn’t done much of note beyond The Firm, but he was still Jimmy Page.
The initial writing for the Coverdale/Page album was sketched by the duo on a $50 Radio Shack cassette recorder and tapes of drum tracks. But it soon got more serious. Coverdale and Page recruited a seasoned band to back them: bassists Ricky Philips (ex-The Babys and Bad English) and Jorge Casas, ex-Montrose and Heart drummer Denny Carmassi, plus keyboard player Lester Mendel. Recording took place in Vancouver, Miami, London’s Abbey Road Studios and Nevada. If this was, as some at the time sneered, a half-hearted project, there was certainly much money and dedication involved: it took two years to be released, in 1993.
In fact, even a cursory listen shows that Page gave this album his all. It remains a Jimmy Page album that slipped under the radar.
Page’s guitar work was invigorating, from the sprightly 12-string acoustic motifs of “Shake My Tree” to the Zep-esque riffing of “Waiting on You,” “Hot Tonight, ”and “Pride and Joy.” There were quite a few slower, blues-rock tracks that were equally as strong (“Take Me For a Little While” and the “Kashmir”-like “Over Now”) and the whole was formidable. The production is smooth and definitely of its time, but this was undoubtedly Page’s most significant work since Led Zeppelin disbanded in the wake of John Bonham’s death.
The key riff for "Shake My Tree" was something Page had written with at the time of the sessions for Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door but discarded because no-one, apparently, apart John Bonham could get to grips with it. It was even passed up by Paul Rodgers when he and Page were in The Firm. "Pride and Joy" was originally conceived by Coverdale as a Dr. John style blues song called "Barbados Boogie." “And then, of course,” Coverdale laughed, “ he [Page] had to put in this enormous gutter, digusting, churning, malevolent riff [on top]."
On Coverdale/Page, Jimmy played harmonica for the first time since on his solo single “She Just Satisfies” in 1965. He plays a dulcimer on “Pride and Joy,” something he hadn't done on record since “That’s the Way” on Led Zeppelin III. He also used a Gibson Les Paul fitted with a Transperformance system, Steinberg’s automated tuning system that was a precursor to Gibson’s own Robot Tuning technology.
All said, Coverdale/Page was a landmark album for both. David Coverdale had disbanded his last lineup of Whitesnake. Jimmy Page had tunes he wanted to record. So what went wrong? Certianly not critical reaction. Rolling Stone said, “it may not be the second coming of Led Zeppelin, but it’s close enough that only the most curmudgeonly would deny the band its due... Coverdale’s bluesy howl has never been put to better use than against Page’s guitar.” The U.K.’s Q magazine went further saying, “Excellent... this album screams classic from start to finish.”
Despite alt-rock dominating the charts and radio at the time, Coverdale/Page initially sold strongly, peaking at #5 in the U.S. (going platinum), with “Pride and Joy” and “Shake My Tree” earning considerable radio airplay. Yet despite its early flush of success, the album soon sank from sight, and a proposed tour of U.S. arenas was axed. Coverdale/Page did play a series of shows in Japan during December ’93, but with a set list that included classics from Whitesnake (“Still of the Night,” “Here I Go Again”) and Led Zeppelin (“Rock and Roll,” “Kashmir” and “Black Dog”). But maybe this was part of the problem: did many want Coverdale to sing Zep classics, or to see Page as the Whitesnake man’s hired guitarist?
VH1’s Greg Prato even suggested that Page had collaborated with Coverdale simply to irk Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, who up to that point had been reluctant to reunite with the guitarist. If so, it certainly worked. Plant and Coverdale even managed to exchange veiled insults via the music press while they were promoting their own work.
A shame, as there was more Coverdale/Page in the can. In the words of Coverdale, “There's a song called ‘Saccharine’ that is going to make you [expletive]. The riff is absolutely obscene, as are the lyrics.”
Another unreleased track was a mix of “Shake My Tree” with a “wild assortment of crunch guitars,” according to Coverdale. It’s now doubtful any will see the light of day. Even back in 2003, Coverdale told Bravewords.com, “EMI have recently been making overtures to me about putting a special edition together after they heard there were several unreleased tracks, but time and resource is the problem...
“We’ve been archiving lots of tapes, cassettes and videos at home recently and we have discovered a ton of the demos Jimmy and I made which could be very interesting for some people to hear. We also filmed a lot of our writing and recording sessions... so I feel we could put a terrific ‘special’ together that would be a treat to have, but in reality JP and I have never discussed re-issuing or making another Coverdale/Page album.”
In the end, Coverdale re-formed Whitesnake and Robert Plant returned to Page in 1994 for the No Quarter: Unledded album and, in 1998, the masterful Walking Into Clarksdale.
Whether or not the Coverdale/Page album is either’s best work, it remains a fascinating detour for both. Underrated? Overrated? You tell us.