Jason Bonham: The Making of Jimmy Page’s ‘Outrider’ Album (1988)

SKF NOTE: Jason Bonham was kind enough to say yes to an interview back in 1988, published in Drums & Drumming magazine. Much of our interview was never published because of the magazine’s space constraints. But I think Jason’s recollections are well worth publishing. Here, for example, are Jason’s recollections of recording what was to be Jimmy Page’s Outrider album. Prior to my opening statement here, Jason and I were talking about his recording with his bands Virginia Wolf and Bonham.

I was at home in Oxford, Maryland and Jason was home in England for this phone interview.

Scott K Fish: The adventurism in drums, especially on records, has really diminished.

Jason Bonham: Oh yeah. Nowadays you’ve just got to play the drums, and you come out sounding like everybody else on the charts. You don’t sound like anything different. Then again, the radio programmers will play it because it doesn’t stand out. It fits in with everything else. Which is a pile of shit to me.

This thing that I did with Jimmy [Page] was great. I came in and said, “Here. Try these. I’ve got a couple of great [drum] samples.” I came up to Jimmy and said, “Listen to this snare drum.” And I will not disclose where I got it from, but I borrowed it properly from somebody who borrowed it off my dad, in the background anyway.

jason-bonham-06I’ll give you a clue. It was on the Robert Palmer album, played by Tony Thompson. It was a huge snare drum sound.

So, I said [to Jimmy Page], “Listen to this. We’ve got to use this sound for this one track.” So what we did, we got my snare drum sounding really shit hot as well. And it’s in this really live room, and we whacked this snare drum on top of it as well. It was huge. And it went really, really well.

With Jimmy,. the drum sound was different in each song, because he wanted that type of atmosphere every time we did something. Instead of, “It’s got to be perfect,” we didn’t care. It’s like, you can tell that it’s real drums, and you can tell when I slowly hit the drum lighter than the other one.

And I think that’s what a lot of the pop stuff misses today. There’s no feeling anymore.

On those blues tracks that we did you can hear it where we come down and then we go back up again. You can always tell by the power the drummer puts on the stroke. And then we go back to the light [playing] and the side [cross?] stick — and we build it up. And all of a sudden…. You can tell when you try to record the damn thing because the [volume meter] levels are going off at the right center. Then you come back down again and the level is right at the red.

To be [a recording] engineer you’ve got to be really on your toes.

The project with Jimmy Page is all finished. It started about 12 months ago. [No,] longer [ago] than that. We started at the end of October ‘86. I had gone on holiday with my girlfriend to a place. Jimmy was over there. We did a gig over there, and we played, and we were talking.

[Jimmy] said, “Listen, when I get back home I want to start recording a solo album. Would you be interested in playing the drums?”

I said, “Fantastic, yeah, I’d love to.”

So we got back home. A couple of weeks later [Jimmy] calls me up. I go down to see his manager. We worked out a deal. Then we started playing.

It was fantastic. The first week was just jamming, really. He’d play a riff and we’d play around it; work on it a little bit and see what else we could do with it.

Then we’d come out a week later. Jimmy would have listened to the tape and added a bit more to it. And then we’d start playing that. We virtually wrote all the material when we got together. It was like, he’d have an idea and we’d just play it to work it out, really.

And we were jamming Zeppelin songs. Occasionally I’d start Rock and Roll and then, “Okay. Hold it. HOLD IT! No, no. Get back to what we’re supposed to be doing.” And then we’d go back again.

SKF: So, in the beginning of this project it was just you and Jimmy Page?

JB: It was myself and Jimmy, yeah. Then he got a bass player in, now and again, and we’d try and put stuff down. Then eventually we did start going for it seriously. I think some of the best tracks were done earlier on when we just were jamming them, really. For playing-wise you couldn’t better it.

When we finally did it properly it was hard, I suppose, to compete with the original one.

But they sound amazing because it’s so free. It’s like, nobody told me what to do. No one was telling Jimmy what to do. And nobody was telling the bass player what to do. So it was like, “Okay. Let’s play. Let’s really go for it [and] show people that we’re really enjoying ourselves on the record.”

And it really was a fantastic atmosphere. When he goes really quiet you can actually hear people breathing. Most records are missing out on that nowadays.

But, it’s like a compilation, I suppose, of Jimmy’s versatility. That “A” side is like a 1988 Jimmy Page today, on his own without the influence of Paul Rodgers — or whatever. And kicking out some really good rock type material.

And I don’t think Jimmy would mind me saying, but Robert Plant sang on the track — and Robert’s actually on the album as well, which will be great for America. Because over there they’re going to go, “Madonna’s over.” Because it’s a real Zeppelin type of song. It’s like a Rock and Roll drum part, and there is Jimmy giving loads of guitar parts. Robert’s really going for it all the time.

So it’s going to be like home from home for them.

John Miles sings three tracks on the “A” side. [SKF NOTE: John Miles sings two tracks on the “A” side of the CD release.] He was with the keyboard player with Tina Turner at the moment. He’s got an amazing, really high voice. It’s a great voice. He’s from up north in Newcastle in England.

And we’ve done two great tracks from there. One is called Wasting My Time. Another is Wanna Make Love.

Then there’s an instrumental which is like a 1988 instrumental for Jimmy — which is amazing. There’s like 15 different guitars on it doing different things. I listened back to that track today. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. I just couldn’t believe it. I did this one drum fill and I went, “How the fuck did I do that?” [It was] one of those really off-time things that really worked. You try to do it again and you can’t do it.

SKF: Will any of the original track from when you and Jimmy were first together survive on the album?

JB: The instrumental track. I was just playing a drum beat, just when I got there, like a shuffle-type thing, but doing pumps with the bass drum, and straight on the bell of the cymbal. I was really going for it. And, Jimmy, all of a sudden just started playing along.

In the end he just kept the drum part and put loads of guitars on it. And the bass player came down — and it was fantastic.

SKF: You mentioned a tour.

JB: I think it will be in the summer. We start rehearsing now. As far as dates go it looks like the end of June, July, August. So that will be something to look forward to.

SKF: Who do you think will be in the touring band?

JB: I don’t know, really. Hopefully the people who worked hard on the album. Obviously, Robert [Plant] is going to be doing his own thing. Robert’s new single just came out over here [England] and it’s quite good. It’s called Heaven Knows. It’s quite a modern song, actually, but Jimmy plays on it. And I think you can tell that when you hear the solo on the album.

There are two tracks on Robert’s [Now and Zen] album that Jimmy actually plays on.

SKF: What drum kit were you using on the Jimmy Page project?

JB: Well, I should say Tama, but I was using a Ludwig. It’s funny that I haven’t recorded with a Tama kit yet. My last endorsement kit with Ludwig was a Chrome-O-Wood, and I used that on the album, but I used an old Green Sparkle bass drum.

Put it this way: Jimmy wanted me to use the old classic Ludwig kit because my dad did. It was a kit he had that he said my father gave to him. Because it was the classic old green bass drum. The Green Sparkle 26”x14.” He toured that in 1971, I think. That was one of the first kits [John Bonham] ever used from Ludwig.

Yeah, because the first kit [my father] had was a maple… no! The second kit [my father] had was a maple shell. The first kit he had was this Green Sparkle — which is quite funny. But it was a great bass drum. It sounded really good, and it was used on In Through The Out Door, because the guy who worked on this album with Jimmy was the engineer on In Through The Out Door of Led Zeppelin: Leif Mases. It was fantastic working with him because he was telling me some of the things my dad did.

There’s a great story. You must print this. It’s fantastic.

They had this huge, huge rubber plant in the Abba studios in Stockholm, and they set my dad’s drum kit up in the corner next to it in this big stone room. My dad came in, he played for 15 minutes.

The next day the plant was dead.

They tried to revive this plant for weeks while they were there, and it just died instantly. It was so loud. And [my dad] was using the famous steel drums, like stainless steel shells. Stainless steel bass drum, stainless steel shells.It was just totally awesome loudness.

And this plant, this poor thing, just next day was keeled over in the corner of the room.

I thought it was quite amusing.

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