Flashback: Jimmy Page Plays an Instrumental ‘Stairway’ in 1988
Jimmy Page kept himself pretty busy in the Eighties. In addition to co-founding the short-lived supergroup XYZ, he composed the soundtrack to Death Wish II, launched the Firm with Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers, reunited with Led Zeppelin for a couple high-profile one-offs, and guest-starred with everyone from Roy Harper to the Rolling Stones. Late in the decade, he also made time to record his debut solo album, Outrider, still the only non-soundtrack LP he’s issued on his own to date. (David Fricke’s two-star Rolling Stone review dubbed the album “a whole lotta muddle.”)
A few months after the album’s release in June 1988, Page headed out on the road for an extensive U.S. tour, followed by a handful of U.K. dates. On his mid-Eighties tours with the Firm, Page avoided the Zeppelin repertoire almost entirely, but this time, he was in a more nostalgic mood. Set lists on the Outrider tour — where he was joined by drummer Jason Bonham, bassist Durban Laverde and singer-keyboardist John Miles, all of whom had appeared on the album — played like a survey of his career to date, including songs by the Firm, the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, in addition to new originals. At the conclusion of the show, he no doubt made many fans’ nights when he performed an instrumental version of “Stairway to Heaven,” which he’d debuted at the A.R.M.S. benefit shows in 1983.
Here you can watch a complete version of the tune from an Arizona show in ’88. Fans cheer and hoist lighters as Page fingerpicks the song’s intro on the six-string portion of his signature double-neck guitar. He then switches to 12-string and begins strumming the verse, with the rhythm section joining him a few minutes later, mirroring the original arrangement. When the bridge riff hits, Page goes full rock god and hoists his guitar vertically, smiling and milking the song’s drama. His epic solo, backed by pummeling double-kick drums from Bonham at the climax, shows that he hadn’t lost any of his signature flair in the eight years since the original Zeppelin’s final show. In the song’s concluding breakdown, he invites the audience to sing along, punctuating his riffs with triumphant fist pumps.
“People will see in the show that I’m not avoiding Zeppelin,” he told the Los Angeles Times prior to the Outrider tour. “That’s part of my heritage. I’m proud of it.”
Page has said several times in recent years, including a 2015 RS interview, that a new solo album or tour are in the works but so far neither have materialized. After that 1988 run, he’s rarely revisited “Stairway” onstage. He and Plant performed an acoustic version on Japanese TV in 1994, and then the reunited Zeppelin performed it at their massive O2 Arena gig in 2007.
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