In the autumn of 1990, David Coverdale and Jimmy Page had both reached a crossroads in their professional lives. Coverdale had decided to put Whitesnake on hold after the gruelling Liquor & Poker world tour, while Robert Plant had left Page at a loose end after (temporarily) backing out of a proposed Led Zeppelin reunion. However, while both musicians were reviewing their respective situations, events conspired to bring them together to make the one-off collaborative album, Coverdale • Page.
The backstory: “The synchronicity was rather special”
According to most reports, the man credited with getting the ball rolling by formally introducing the duo and brokering their high-profile collaboration is Geffen Records’ A&R executive John Kalodner. However, Coverdale recalls the chain of events that brought them together slightly differently.
“The synchronicity was rather special,” the singer told Classic Rock magazine in 2016. “I’d spoken to a mutual acquaintance of JP and mine, my friend and agent, Rod MacSween, that I was taking some time off to recover from three or four years non-stop work. Around the same time, Jimmy was telling Rod he wanted to get back to work and could he recommend any singers he could check out, and Rod told him I was putting the Snake on hold for a while. That was all the energy that was needed.”
Despite their distinguished CVs, Coverdale and Page had only met in passing prior to this time. Yet their first business-related meeting, at New York City’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, in the spring of 1991, went extremely well. Both men agreed to a collaboration in principle, though they first needed to be sure they could write music together. An encouraging initial session at Coverdale’s Lake Tahoe residence resulted in the song Absolution Blues, with further writing sessions in Barbados producing a mound of material.
Page was also thrilled over Coverdale’s enthusiastic response to a memorable, swerving riff he’d first presented to Led Zeppelin during sessions for the group’s In Through The Out Door album sessions. “No one except [drummer John Bonham] really seemed to understand what to do with it, so I filed it away,” the guitarist later recalled. “I decided to pull it back out, and David grasped it instantly.”
Between them, Coverdale and Page transformed Page’s initial motif into the stomping Shake My Tree, one of a number of tracks the pair worked on in Barbados with drummer Denny Carmassi and bassist Ricky Phillips. This rhythm section – augmented with keyboardist Lester Mendez – would join Coverdale and Page for the album sessions proper.
The recording: “Jimmy was very gracious and supportive”
Work on the Coverdale • Page album began at Little Mountain Sound Studios, in Vancouver, Canada, where all the rhythm tracks were laid down. The sessions then moved to Criteria Studios, in Miami, Florida, where Coverdale recorded his vocals and Page concentrated on overdubs. With additional recordings taking place at Abbey Road Studios, in London, and at Coverdale’s home studio, in Nevada, the sessions spread across much of 1991 and 1992 – though personal issues also contributed to the lengthy timeframe.
“The album took a lot longer than we’d hoped, but, personally, I treasure every aspect,” Coverdale told Classic Rock. “The hardest part for me was losing my mam during the recording, but Jimmy was very gracious and supportive and we put the work on hold so I could be with her.”
The release: “It screams classic from start to finish”
Nevertheless, when Coverdale • Page was finally released, on 15 March 1993, it was been worth the wait. The album opened in style with the beefy, bluesy grind of the Presence-esque Shake My Tree and oozed reserves of confidence on widescreen rockers such as Waiting On You and the pile-driving Feeling Hot. It wasn’t all brawn, either, for the tracklist also made space for the soaring, optimistic pop song Take A Look At Yourself, the sassy Pride And Joy and the semi-acoustic Easy Does It: a cautionary tale of celebrity life and its effects on a relationship (“You said you needed love to warm you in the night/So you gave yourself to strangers who left you crying at first light”) which could have sat comfortably on Led Zeppelin III.
Elsewhere, the dark, insistent Over Now was clearly personal for Coverdale, its acidic lyric (“You talked to me of virtue and sang a song so sweet/But all I know is I could smell the perfume of deceit”) relating directly to the recent collapse of his marriage to Whitesnake video star Tawny Kitaen. However, even that emotional performance was overshadowed by Coverdale’s impassioned delivery on the wracked, Free-esque balled Don’t Leave Me This Way and the closing Whisper A Prayer For The Dying: an epic Gulf War commentary which Classic Rock boldly proclaimed “existed in a glorious place where Stairway To Heaven met Kashmir”.
Despite their illustrious pasts, the reviews greeting Coverdale • Page agreed that the record was more than capable of standing on its own reputation. Record Collector declared the record was Page’s best since Led Zeppelin folded, and Q magazine dubbed it “excellent” before suggesting that “it screams classic from start to finish”. The duo’s broad fanbases duly came out in support, with the album going Top 10 in both the UK and the US, and racking up platinum sales in both the US and Canada.
The legacy: “I wanted to show the world I was still alive and kicking”
However, things came unstuck when thoughts turned to taking Coverdale • Page out on the road. A series of successful shows went ahead in Japan in December 1993, but the rest of the world was denied the chance to see the duo tread the boards in support of their album. Despite the commercial success of Coverdale • Page, it’s been alleged that concert promoters at the time were sceptical about staging a traditional hard-rock tour at the very height of grunge, but Coverdale never believed that was the real reason the tour failed to materialise.
“The whole arrangement for the Coverdale • Page project was to go directly to the theatres, to the stage,” the singer elaborated in an interview with US publication Jam. “and nothing, not even a whisper, came from Jimmy’s manager when the album was released. It was one of the singularly most frustrating periods of my professional career.”
Regardless, Coverdale and Page did complete several songs for a mooted second album, but the project was never finished. Instead, the long-awaited reunion between Page and Robert Plant eventually came to pass for the UnLedded MTV project and subsequent No Quarter live album, and with Page duly occupied by this adventure, Coverdale began work on a mooted solo project which – over time – morphed into Whitesnake’s ninth album, Restless Heart. There were never any hard feelings, though, and both men recall their sojourn as Coverdale • Page with fondness to this day.
“If I got a call from him, asking if I’d work with him on a solo album or anything, I’d be there in a heartbeat,” Coverdale later asserted. “I think the world of the guy and I wish him well in every aspect of his life.”
“There was no BS in any respect or in how we executed [that record],” Page himself reflected. “I wanted to show the world I was still alive and kicking, and in that regard it was a total success.”
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