Think of the great iconic rock singers of our era and immediately you fixate on David Coverdale. He brought blues, soul, and R&B to the juggernaut he called Whitesnake and a quick listen to his earlier recordings reveals strains of Rod Stewart, Paul Rodgers, and even Joe Cocker. As frontman for the Burn-era Deep Purple, he proved he was more than capable of filling the space vacated by Mr. Superlungs, Ian Gillan. Building on his reputation as a vocalist with immense power, range and emotion, Coverdale recorded a pair of solo albums White Snake and Northwinds and then pursued a career as the frontman for Whitesnake, a journey that has continued for over 33 years.
The singer from North Yorkshire, England recently recorded Forevermore, Whitesnake's 11th album and the second album featuring guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach. The 13 tracks range from the glorious bombast of "Love Will Set You Free" and the slinky slide rumble of the Led Zeppelin-tinged "Whipping Boy Blues" to the acoustic country vibe of "One Of These Days" and the B-3 balladry of "Fare Thee Well." Coverdale has produced yet another album that cuts across styles and proven once again that an old dog David will be 60 years old in September can still bite down hard.
UG: Let's connect some of the dots from your past before we get onto the new album. If Deep Purple could have held it together, would you have remained with them? Could you see yourself as being in Purple all these years later if that's how the dice had tumbled?
David Coverdale: Oh, god, I don't know; I don't play that hypothetical game. I don't do comparisons. It's there but for the grace of god. Thank god I went on my own journey. But I'm utterly grateful beyond words for the courage that those guys used giving me an opportunity cause the adventure continues. I wanted out very quickly; I wanted out soon as I saw the downward spiral and part of me felt responsible because I brought in the catalyst of that beginning.
It wasn't Tommy's responsibility or whatever but it was the match that lit the candle to set the explosions in motion. It's interesting that since Kevin Shirley did the remix of Come Taste the Band, there's been a lot of people coming on my website asking questions including the guy who seems to be administering the Purple catalog; a guy called Drew Thompson. He was asking me about some documentary that we'd made during the making of Come Taste the Band, which was actually a spoof. He thought it was a legitimate documentary because he was like Sherlock Holmes trying to find footage and stuff on Purple. You know, pursuing the scraping-the-barrel effect.
So you ultimately wanted out of Deep Purple?
I wanted to finish after what I felt was a very difficult American tour. I felt that if you took Purple in the state that it was into the UK, it would have just broken an awful lot of hearts. And I was talked into it by my friend, Rob Cooksey, who was at that time acting manager of Purple. That was an immense lesson for me that you don't in big business, you don't do friends favors of that magnitude. But I was absolutely worn out emotionally and physically by the entire experience. Then for me to turn around and see Jon Lord and Ian Paice, two founder members, playing with their fuckin' heads down instead of their usual proud and arrogant attitude, body language, was just too much for me. I didn't want to be part of the complete ripping of the Purple fabric.
Were there any songs you'd been writing with Purple towards the end that subsequently ended up on your White Snake or Northwinds solo albums?
Certainly the song Whitesnake that was utilized on my first solo record, had we made a fourth studio album? The romantic realist [says] it wouldn't have happened; it was done. It was absolutely done. But I did utilize some of the songs that we would have recorded with Purple on my first solo records. Whitesnake and Blindman were all song ideas which, because we didn't record again, there was no reason or opportunity to present them to my colleagues.
The White Snake and Northwinds records had a real quality about them.
Yeah, they're raw. What's been more interesting for me is there have been so many little nudges recently but fortunately all charming and suits me just fine. But somebody on my website who I've known way back when when I was a kid in the north of England, said, Oh, I was with Alan last night, this guitarist I would work with in the north of England way back when and pre-Purple of course. And he said, Do these titles ring a bell? And I'm looking at these titles going, No, no and I went, Oh, my god. These were songs I'd written when I'd worked with this band who were great players. When you use the expression local band,' it doesn't mean to say they were sub-par players. They guys were great players; they were very mature players. And great people. In fact, we were supposed to be opening for the Average White Band the night I auditioned for Deep Purple. And one of the band I don't think has forgiven me since then because his whole ambition was to blow up the Average White Band. So, Alan, this guitarist and I spoke for the first time in 40 years; it was astonishing. We reconnected wonderfully and he sent me over a reel-to-reel of some original songs of mine that the band were doing.
This was one of your earliest writing experiences?
These guys were so encouraging to me; I was 17 or something. They'd hear me just messing around and go, Oh, what's that? Let's try that. And when we'd play locally we'd say, This is a song by Steppenwolf or Moby Grape or whatever because you couldn't get away with original material in a local capacity. And funnily enough, we transferred the songs from very, very fragile analog reel-to-reel tapes to digital platform and they gave me their blessings to put three songs on the website over Christmas as a gift from Rivers Invitation to Whitesnake fans. And everybody was raving about it; it was really cool stuff.
You had done some writing before joining Deep Purple.
It was really interesting because when the management asked me if I could write, I could say reasonably confidently, Yes. Because these guys had encouraged me. I'd always been writing but I'd never really played it to anyone.
The writing on the White Snake and Northwinds records was really blues-based. They really sounded a lot like Joe Cocker and the Grease Band.
Inspired by Little Feat and The Allman Brothers; a big blueprint for Whitesnake was original Allman Brothers album [The Allman Brothers Band]. If you look back at it, it was Micky Moody on slide [who was like] Dickie Betts and Bernie Marsden on guitars. So for me, that was the most complete idea of having an orchestra within your [band]. If you listen to The Allman Brothers, they take the blues and contemporize it beautifully musically. And have this fantastic orchestral aspect when they'd go into Dreams and all those kinds of things just because of that lineup.
What was it like recording those first solo albums?
I think I was given $7,000 for the first one and $10,000 for the second one not sterling, dollars. I was calling a lot of favors. You can hear on the first record the different aesthetics of a lot of my tastes other than classical music. But Northwinds I still feel was very much the blueprint for what early Whitesnake became.
And yet those early Whitesnake albums don't sound anything like the music on Northwinds.
No, the elements of the songs. Like Keep On Giving Me Love and Queen of Hearts and stuff like that. Listen to Blindman and Time On My Side on the first solo album and it was crystallizing those songs. It's like turning around to a designer like Georgio Armani and saying, OK, give us the suit that you favor and that is the cut that is utilized and you don't fuck with the cut. So for me, [it was taking] the elements after the experience of writing or tailoring music to suit an identity such as Deep Purple. For me underneath this creative umbrella, I wanted to learn from every aspect good and bad that I'd had with this extraordinary high-octave experience of three years with Deep Purple; one of the biggest bands in history.
What were those elements you wanted to bring to Whitesnake?
What are the elements? I sat down absolutely clearly and thought, I want to include hard rock, rhythm and blues, soul music, and Motown. Believe me, there's Motown inflections on every fucking Whitesnake album out there including the new one. And humor, baby. I've got a white snake, mama/You wanna shake it, mama? It's all fuckin' tongue in cheek and a bit of this and a bit of that. The bedrock and foundation of Whitesnake has always been the same just the clothes have changed. And certainly some of the fuckin' hairstyles.
On the Whitesnake website you wrote, I hadn't really determined if I would pursue the concept of two guitarists. You talked earlier about fashioning the band after The Allman Brothers and yet those first solo records only had one guitar player on them.
Bernie came in as I was forming the actual group to promote the second record. I wanted very much to promote Micky Moody as a guitar star. He was one of my heroes in the local capacity in the north of England but that was me; Micky didn't want it. He enjoyed the overground aspect as Whitesnake started to get better but it's not in some people's character to want to amplify who they are. And I think he was quite content, which is not a word I've used until recently, where he was and who he was, which ultimately became a significant cause for separation.
You've worked with some amazing guitar duos in your career starting with Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden. Describe what Micky and Bernie brought to those early Whitesnake records.
Well, Bernie kind of hustled his way in. We all suffer from selective memory. But the good news is Bernie and I are speaking and we're friends again after several years in the wilderness. I'd gone to see Micky Moody; he was session guitaring for a great singer called Frankie Miller and I was also very taken with Frankie's bass player, Chrissie Stewart who I think worked with Steve Miller on this side of the pond [in the U.S.]. I bumped into Bernie who I'd met through Paice Ashton Lord and of course we had an immediate dialog because Bernie said, Oh, I heard that they flew you over to see if you could salvage the second PAL album. I said, Yeah, some good ideas there but they didn't want to strip it down and start it again. Besides we couldn't call it CLAP [Coverdale Lord Ashton Paice]. And then Bernie was saying to me, You know, what are you doing over here? I said, I've just come to see Micky and we're gonna start putting a band together.
Was that going to be Whitesnake?
At that time I was thinking it was gonna be The David Coverdale Band or whatever. So he said, Oh, I could pop over? And I said, Well, I want to focus on Micky. And Bernie is very, very clever; an excellent guitarist.
Great guitar player.
Yeah, he's a super guitarist and that little hussle of, Well, I'll come in and of course it was fuckin' irresistible. It was an immediate decision, Yeah, this could be really good. They sounded really good together. This was at the height of punk in London, which resonated more primarily in London, and there was really no support for a dinosaur at 26- or 27-years old from one of the super bands. Paul Carrack came to audition for keys; it was amazing some of the people who were turning up cause at that time there wasn't a lot of work for what you'd look at as very capable musicians. A lot of the bass players came down; they looked amazing; smelled of Vaseline; had a bass around their fuckin' ankles and they were totally wizard on the E string but no grooves or anything. It was all that punk attitude. And I was sitting there somewhat despairing and Bernie said, This friend of mine lives in the immediate area. If he isn't busy I'm sure he'd come down and help us out.
Neil Murray; he was fuckin' fantastic. I'm walking through the rehearsal room one day and he was a very, very conservative young man and it didn't occur to me to invite him into the band. I started whistling a song from Weather Report, Joe Zawinul's A Remark You Made as I was making a cup of tea and Neil started accompanying me perfectly. And I turned around and really noticed him from that little moment. And I said, Do you want to give this a crack? He said, I thought you'd never ask.
What about the next guitar tandem: Steve Vai and Adrian Vandenberg? They were certainly different than the Marsden/Moody duo.
Totally. I wanted to make that transition and I don't think the earlier Whitesnake could have afforded to do that. I think we explored all of those avenues that we could. A huge muse to me was Hendrix and continues to be; how he took the blues and electrified it and even in his most goofy freakout cosmic stuff, I could still feel soul music coming out of him; blues music done in a different way but that's fine. My thing is I fucking worship and adore Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac but I've never ever had the feeling that I wanted to be in a traditional 12-bar blues band. Never.
It was listening to Jimi Hendrix that pushed you into experimenting with different kinds of music and wanting to explore working with different musicians?
Hendrix was an immense catalyst for me and I knew I needed to go further than I'd achieved. At the end of '81, I think I was quoted as saying, Whitesnake was cruising on gold status and I was hungry for platinum. And it was time for a change and my agent and friend, Rod McSween, asked me if I'd seen this guy from Tygers of Pan Tang called John Sykes. And he'd done some work with Lizzy on Lizzy's final kind of last legs sadly. And I arranged to take Phil [Lynott] out with me as a special guest on some big festivals I was doing in Europe to check out Sykes. I saw the potential of Sykes; he wasn't there yet at that time but I saw the potential. I brought him over to try out on the Slide It In record but Martin Birch, Cozy Powell and the people I was working with didn't get him at all. But I kept the seed there.
Is this when you got onto Adrian Vandenberg and Steve Vai?
I was talking with Michael Schenker and Adrian Vandenberg about that time. Ultimately all good things come around: Adrian was having a minor hit at that time with Burning Heart in the States and said it was the most difficult decision he'd had to make. But I completely supported his decision to take Vandenberg as far as he could. It's your own fuckin' thing; you've got to do it. But we stayed in touch for years. I was in touch with him through the making of the '87 record [Whitesnake] in what must have been '86 or '85 maybe while Sykes were unraveling as a partnership. So I flew him over to do the '87 thing which we ultimately brought Vivian [Campbell] in if you remember.
When I had people submit ideas for the follow-up album to '87, Vivian put in some songs and it's as if he never ever listened to Whitesnake or worked with them. They had no Whitesnake elements in them at all and that time I believe it was his wife or soon to be ex-wife who actually went behind my back to speak to the record company to say that I wasn't being fair with Vivian. Which was nonsense; I loved Vivian. But she had some interesting energy about her so ultimately it led to the demise and Vivian being asked to leave.
You'll see very soon actually that we're releasing this summer, Live at Donington: 1990 and on the bonus features on the DVD there's gonna be a little documentary feature which starts with Adrian and I writing the songs in a rental house in Lake Tahoe. It takes you on the journey through pre-production with Tommy [Aldridge] and Rudy [Sarzo]. Vivian was actually involved in that first week and then it's just going through Bruce Fairbairn [producer] coming down al the way through to the last show at the Budokan on the Slip of the Tongue World Tour.
Is Steve Vai on the DVD?
There's only a snippet of Steve because he came in at the end and we were working in different studios. You probably realize as is documented on the record, all of these fucking great rock and roll songs that Adrian and I wrote, Adrian ultimately didn't end up playing on them on the record because of nerve injury in his wrist. And we waited for three months for him to get better and it was no better so I escalated my approach to Steve Vai who I had seen in that super little movie about Robert Johnson, Crossroads.
That's really the first time you became aware of Steve's playing?
Yeah; I didn't connect with him in Zappa. I haven't listened to Zappa since Hot Rats. And I had no idea who Alcatrazz was. So that was the first time and I'm going, Jesus Christ and I'm watching his fingers because obviously Ralph Macchio was miming to Ry Cooder's stuff. But Vai you could see was playing. In fact only recently they made those tracks available and I'm delighted to have them in my iPod. But I sat there and thought, Jesus Christ. I wanted to recruit Vai while I was working with Sykes and Sykes didn't want to fuckin' know. And I went, Ah, OK. It wasn't worth the battle; you pick your battles. And I think Vai went onto David Lee Roth.
So I hadn't forgotten that; I always put em in a mental rolodex. I spoke to Adrian and I said, I'm gonna talk to Vai and Steve and I connected immediately. He's an astonishing musician.
And I think when people see and hear what we're bringing out this summer [on the DVD], they're gonna revisit that time period because it is a high-octane, dangerous band. Yes, a lot of original elements of Whitesnake aren't in evidence but if you wanna see the height of musicality and glam of that time period, look no further, darling. I was told 85,000 but officially there's 72,500 people at Donington and it's a fuckin' amazing experience. Adrian recently visited my home a couple of weeks ago and I said, Sit down. I've got a beautiful theater in my home and I told my wife to sit down and said, Check it out and I put it on. First off, Adrian fuckin' threw a huge glass of red wine in the air all over my fuckin' white couch when this started; typical Dutch. And I actually got inspired to go back and start writing songs again and my wife was absolutely blown away because she'd never seen this. Everybody's firing on all six; the audience are with us; it's fuckin' great and I'm so pleased that's coming out.
Is there a difference working with American versus English guitar players? Do songs get written around the different guitar styles?
You've got to remember that these people just don't manifest into Whitesnake; I want them there. I go out and a lot of people don't even know I've researched them. Some people I've never even spoken to but dug into their backgrounds who they were; if they had any nasty habits before even speaking to them. But everybody I've brought into the band, I felt could help me go further, Whitesnake go further and all of those things. There aren't passengers; there hasn't been any passengers. The only time that Whitesnake hasn't been Whitesnake? Was after I'd worked with Jimmy Page and in three years I'd only done five or six shows and I was hungry to go out and I put a band together called The Dog's Bollocks just to do clubs and stuff in Europe. It had Tony Franklin, no, Rudy came in, Denny Carmassi, Adrian and Warren DeMartini. It was for fun and right at that time Geffen and EMI released Whitesnake's Greatest Hits, which went to number one on both sides of the Atlantic and I got fuckin' hammered into doing a Whitesnake tour, which wasn't a Whitesnake tour.
Denny Carmassi and Warren DeMartini weren't really meant to be part of the fabric of Whitesnake?
These guys I didn't pick for that kind of lineup. But that's the only time and obviously we did not document any of those from that time period. But Sykes was brought in because I felt working with him we could fire and gasoline it so significantly, which we did.
You had the monster Whitesnake record.
Totally and still is by the way. I had an accounts meeting the other day and we were looking at the revenue stream for North America and it's fuckin' unbelievable. Everybody's complaining about lack of royalties and I'm going, Not too fuckin' shabby.
You finally ran into problems between Steve Vai and Adrian Vandenberg, right?
I never wanted Adrian to be as competitive as ultimately he became with Steve Vai. I wanted him more as that melodic classic style, those structured solos like he did with Vandenberg. When the singer stops telling the story, the guitar continues the narrative. That was one of the lessons that I learned from Purple: songs at times were excuses for displays of technical virtuosity, which had nothing to do with the fuckin' song. I mean nothing.
There are a lot of Deep Purple bootlegs out there and they did tend to be a bit self-indulgent at times in concert.
For a writer, that ultimately becomes difficult and frustrating. I'd finish some songs in concert with Purple and forgot what the fuck it was we started with. But you will hear live [on the upcoming DVD] these astonishing virtuoso players: Tommy Aldridge, like a multi-limbed Indian god; Adrian flying around the fretboard with his spider fingers; and Vai, of course, is from another planet. Steve is an astonishing musician and we're kind of email pals now. But it's astonishing: the solos; the features; it's all there. It's definitely missing the more pure aspects of Whitesnake but fuck it, I wouldn't change it for the world.
That's the second time you've mentioned that this lineup of the band were lacking some of the characteristics of earlier Whitesnake bands. What are those missing elements?
All the straightforward stuff: the original version of Fool For Your Loving, which was meat and potatoes. The original version was actually a demo, which we cleaned up for B.B. King at the time B.B. was working with The Crusaders.
Yeah, but if you think of it, listen to B.B. [Coverdale sings the melody] Fool for your loving no more brrring [mimics a B.B. King single-note lick], Fool for your loving no more. And the bass pops like that Crusaders thing [sings funky bass line]; just lighten it up.
It was pretty brilliant to resurrect the song from the Ready An' Willing album.
That was [John] Kalodner [A&R man from Geffen Records]. I rarely go back; there's obviously a ton of fuckin' things I'd love to revisit and redo but not while I'm receiving such positive signals for new music as I have on Good To Be Bad and now Forevermore. There's no reason to it; there was no reason to go, Oh, my god, we need a song. Let's get the dust off one of the old ones. You can do that on a live record.
You mentioned working with Jimmy Page earlier. Can you comment on the Coverdale-Page album? There were some excellent songs on that album.
Yeah. Jimmy's m.o. and I when we met together was just let's get the best out of each other at this time in our lives and that's all. It's the only time that I've sat, no, I take that back: Ritchie Blackmore. Those guys were the only two that I sat down consciously -instead of documenting my personal experience in a lyric where I wanted to encapsulate my partner's experience. For instance, a song on Coverdale-Page, Take Me For a Little While. That is about friends we've loved and lost and that's totally about Jimmy's and my experiences. And I would run the lyrics by him and say, Do you identify with this? That was unusual.
"I wanted out of Deep Purple soon as I saw the downward spiral and part of me felt responsible because I brought in the catalyst of that beginning."
You did the same thing with Ritchie Blackmore?
With Blackmore, wanting to be his disciple of course in those early days, I wrote the only two sci-fi song lyrics that I've ever done in order to please him: Burn and Stormbringer. You know the version that I actually preferred of Burn was called The Road and it was much more a bluesy lyric.
Moving ahead to the Restless Heart record, which was originally intended as a solo ablum. Is there a difference between what you do as a solo artist versus what you do in Whitesnake?
Well, yeah, for instance Is This Love was written primarily for Tina Turner regardless of what anybody else says. When I was living in London or Munich, I'd go on writing holidays. I'd take my daughter and wife at the time and we'd rent a villa in Portugal or some obscure hotel in British Honduras for a month and I'd correlate all little bits and pieces of ideas I'd had over the last six months or whatever. And focus on making them into songs and molding them. EMI heard that I was going to the south of France to start working on what would ultimately become the '87 record; this was in '85. And Tina was looking for songs as a follow-up to Private Dancer and all of that stuff and she was doing amazing business. So I was working on that and Sykes came out and started jamming with me doing those ding ding ding [sings the guitar harmonics of the song's chorus] but all the chords and stuff were written. And John Kalodner heard the demo and said, You've got to keep this; you have to keep this.
Is This Love isn't really a typical Whitesnake song at all.
I was really uncomfortable cause I was still recognized more of a rock singer. If you listen to certain exemplary tracks that are all related to each other through Whitesnake's catalog, you have Here I Go Again which starts off quiet and then the band blows in; you have Love Ain't No Stranger starts off quiet and the band blow in; Now You're Gone starts off quiet. And I'm thinking, Oh, Christ, I better bring the band in. I'm floating on this lyrical theme and something will slap me and go, Jesus, you've got to finish this off in a rock sense. Is This Love is the first complete ballad other than Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City [Lovehunter] from the very beginning that I had. And I had to be talked into doing that thankfully. Thank you, guys.
You talked about Whitesnake's Greatest Hits album earlier and how well it did. If you look at songs like Is This Love, Still of the Night, Here I Go Again and Fool For Your Loving, do you think those songs define who you are as a writer and an artist?
To a certain extent, yes, at particular times in my life. They're like diaries. I'm in such a blissful and incredibly strong relationship, that a couple years ago I was having to dig back in the past, which I don't like to do; I can't even reverse good in my car. But I would be digging back in the past for some negative female experience if the song I was working on was calling for something like that. And I stopped doing that during the Restless Heart record. Restless Heart was a dark time for me; it was time for David to make a big transition and I came out of that period and got into meditation in a big way and one steppingstone led to another in terms of my spiritual journey and a devout change of life. Or whatever you want to call it. But yeah, that's documenting David going down a bit if you look at it. There's a sadness even about the love songs on there like Your Precious Love, which is done in a kind of resigned way.
It's interesting that you mentioned Restless Heart. That's a very dark album, which is really interesting for me to revisit. I've actually just bought the rights back to a bunch of records from EMI while they were sleeping because I want to tie-in and remix my other solo album, Into the Light, which I adore. And get Restless Heart back to where it was supposed to be. That's a brother and sister record and remix them and see what comes out.
You also began producing your own albums with the Restless Heart record.
To be honest I've always been in there; the only thing I've never learned is knob twiddling. I know what something should sound like. I've always been involved with the production. The engineers that I wanted to work with had management who insisted on those engineers being given production credit. The first actual producer I worked with was Keith Olsen who was a musician as well as an overseer who looked at the big picture. And that was a fascinating experience for me but still, I've co-produced all along; I just didn't put the title on there. Basically I run Whitesnake and like it or fuckin' leave it, mate.
Whitesnake was retired for a while and then you brought it back in 2003. What happened?
One of the reasons I retired was I didn't recognize the music industry anymore; it had changed entirely. I had no dialog for many years with Universal/Geffen and only kind of reactivated a relationship with them when I revamped Whitesnake back in '03. I now get on terrific with the execs there but it's still a relatively faceless corporate entity. When I put Whitesnake together again in '03, I told all the musicians, We'll work together and tour four months out of the year very naively of course. We'll just go out and tour and everyone was into that and I had no intentions of making a new record. I thought I'd be able to explore and really go deep into my back catalog with songs I've never had an opportunity to visit before. But it's interesting because I would only tour every three years so my older songs maintained a freshness for me. But touring annually? They get old pretty fuckin' quick. And I thought, Well, if they're feeling like that to me, they've got to be feeling like that to my hardcore audience. So all of a sudden all of these synchronistic elements came together and I was approached by an independent company in Germany called SPV. These guys were fans of music, which I hadn't met for a long time in the music business. All of these elements came together to turn around and go, OK, well let's give it a go and came up with Good To Be Bad, which at the time I was quoted saying, If this is my last studio record then I'm really fucking happy with it. And of course I can say exactly the same now about this other one [Forevermore].
In those four or five years from roughly 1998 until 2003 when Whitesnake was retired, had you become aware of any of the music from that period? Were you aware of any change in hard rock music and did that interest you at all?
I would keep an eye and an ear on stuff. I really enjoyed Stone Temple Pilots and Temple of the Dog; there were certain things that I liked and others just didn't connect with me at all. But that's not important because none of that dictates who I am or what I do.
That's what I was getting at.
I've been involved with the fashion cycles of music and continued with H.M.S. Whitesnake through whatever condition the fashion ocean was. Waxing my surfboard between waves. To me it's neither here nor there. We went through five years of Lilith Fair and some beautiful stuff. Thank you Alanis Morissette, which was beautiful, but there was the huge example that I'd seen firsthand with Geffen when Whitesnake hit it big: Everything and anything that looked, smelled or sounded like Whitesnake was signed. You know? That's what over-saturates and kills the golden goose. You saw this astonishing artist, Alanis Morissette, then for three to five years we had nothing but armpit hair and stuff. Some of it was beautiful, strung out like crystals in the moonlight, but others were just signed because it was fashion; trying to scrape a little bit more of that time. And it kills it. So my thing is I just back off; there's no sitting in a dark room licking my wounds. I get on with my fucking life and then I get the feeling, Oh, it's time to come out and play again. You know?
You co-produced Forevermore with Doug Aldrich and Michael McIntyre.
I've worked with Michael McIntyre, my co-producer, for many years 25 I think but I sat down with Doug and said, These are the elements that I like to work within. And we've never had a problem. Doug, through working with a British singer [Kal Swan] years ago in a band called Lion, he was introduced to early Whitesnake. He's the first American musician I've worked with who knew the background of Whitesnake before Slide It In.
You worked with Doug Aldrich for the first time on the previous album, Good To Be Bad. What was that like working with Doug initially?
Doug and I pretty much did the Good To Be Bad album. He's a very proficient ProTools engineer as is Michael and we would layer songs and we would basically just send those songs out for the guys to learn and put their parts on. Whereas the new album was more of a band process, which I think you can hear. But none of it was done in the traditional sense of all musicians; I haven't done an album like that since early Whitesnake. Where everybody is in the studio recording at one time. Everybody over-fucking-dubs their work, you know? And that's how it was. This time we have the unmitigated pleasure of a beautiful new voice with [bassist] Michael Devin and Reb [Beach] I brought in to sing because live I'd go, Fuck, he's got a great voice. He's a very, very modest guy and I brought him in and the blend between him and Devin has given us the best Whitesnake vocal sound I've ever had.
You obviously have a great chemistry with Doug Aldrich.
A lot of our songs are marriages; he'll come in with half an idea and I'll go, You know what? What about this? My extraordinary partner, Doug Aldrich, we have now an almost telepathic sense musically. We're very good friends in a social capacity; our wives get on great. We would write at times fucking iChatting on the phone go figure. And it made sense. And passed demos back to each other courtesy of the Internet when we didn't have the physical capability of actually being in the same room. But we'd sit chatting or watch a fucking western and then pick up guitars. Our conversation would turn to a musical exchange so we'd be having a musical conversation. Here, what about this? It's so effortless with Doug and I and a lot of other experiences that I've had have been like going to the dentist for a fucking root canal or several root canals. This isn't; this is an absolute pleasure, an unmitigated pleasure to sit down and create music with Doug.
On Forevermore, there are some not-so-obvious Whitesnake songs and those are the really interesting tracks. Steal Your Heart Away leans more to the bluesy side of the rock spectrum.
I'm still determining if that's a caveman song; I'm still trying to work out if it's Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal. It's something that could have come off the early Whitesnake records.
This is not a premeditated thing. Doug and I discovered basically through reviewers and people posting on my website when we released Good To Be Bad, we'd apparently just embraced all of the chapters of Whitesnake in one album. And I said, Maybe we should call it The Hopefully Greatest Hits II or something. But then I would listen to it with that perspective and go, You know what? That song could have been on blah and that song could have been on blah without any conscious effort of trying to emulate that. On the new album there are two songs on there, I'm going, Fuck, they could have come off Stormbringer. Now we've finished it and are sitting back and listening to it without that horrible focus that you do when you're recording and mixing.
What is your routine for doing a vocal? You're producing the session, you've written the song and the melodies
Don't forget I'm involved in the music too; I get cut a bit short on that. I'm a fucking guitar god, mate.
I know. You play guitar on the Coverdale-Page video of the song Pride and Joy.
I have a great deal of input there. For instance, on one of Whitesnake's big riffs, I came in with the basic riff, which I still have on demos and played the riff to Sykes. It was Still of the Night and then he took it further; that's what songwriting does. If I come in with dorky chords like Slide it In, I don't want people playing it as ham fisted as I do. I want my guitarist to take it and slide it in. But yeah, do I have an input on the actual music? Yes, of course, I do.
Getting back to the actual routine of recording a vocal, what is that process?
I warm up but we cut demos with the incredible facility of Pro Tools. Both of us know drum programming, Doug is great, and we both have a fantastic feel for every instrument in a rock orchestra. We layer this stuff and then I put an immediate vocal on and I'm blessed with this capacity to be able to jam and thank you angels for feeding me hooklines because a lot of em come up straightaway. One Of These Days we wrote like in a couple of hours. I finessed it, the lyrics came to me immediately; that was the first song we wrote for the new album.
One Of These Days is another not-so-obvious Whitesnake song. With the acoustic guitars and strings, it has an almost country feel.
What til you hear the Unplugged version; it's like Whitesnake-meets-Crosby, Stills & Nash. It's beautiful. We have a bunch of acoustic versions of the softer sides: Forevermore, Fare Thee Well, Easier Said Than Done and One Of These Days, which is to die for. Great summer mixes probably.
And I basically finessed the lyric later. It just came effortlessly. We sat there and looked at each other because I didn't want to make a commitment to a record company to do a new record if Doug and I were coming up with flatulent music. So, while I was talking to these companies, I was actually sitting down with Doug and then it was screamingly obvious that the confidence we had from the way Good To Be Bad had been received commercially and critically was very much in evidence. Then I was comfortable to commit to a studio record.
"A big blueprint for Whitesnake was original Allman Brothers album The Allman Brothers Band."
Everybody knows that David Coverdale can rock on songs like Love Will Set You Free, the first single from Forevermore. But these other Unplugged songs that you mentioned reveal this other side of your character, a vulnerable side. And you even sound different when you're singing these types of ballads.
I've always worn my heart on my sleeve. I met my wife six weeks after the Donington show and she really hadn't seen me perform until Japan when I was there with Pagey in '93. And then of course she would see more shows until we were blessed with our son. I'm such a private person and she said, It's incredible how you're so willing to you're your heart in the company of strangers when you're on stage. There's no question at all that people can see that you're feeling everything you're doing and they're identifying the aspects of their lives that resonate with your lyrics. And I'm feeling more and more confident in being able to do that and of course I came to terms years ago that I never sat down consciously to write a love song but I ended up writing fuckin' love songs. I go, Well if this is what I'm gonna do let me just keep at it and finesse it and get better and better at it.
On the other side, Love Will Set You Free has the big guitar guitar riff and is pretty heavy.
That's one of the songs I think that Glenn [Hughes] and I could have done back in the day. If you listen to the 16th notes that Doug is playing on the guitar and just imagine Stevie Wonder doing that song with the clavinet instead of guitar. It's the story about meeting my wife because I was divorcing the video girl at that time [Tawny Kitaen] and it was really, really ugly stuff and I was wearing a lot of fucking armor and resistance. And Cindi [wife] really did liberate me; her patience with me, her genuineness as a human being and as a beautiful soul just helped liberate me. Her love helped set me free.
You said at the start of our conversation that you fashioned Whitesnake on The Allman Brothers and obviously a huge part of their sound was the keyboard. You've always used keyboard players along the way from Jon Lord to Don Airey and now you use Timothy Drury in an auxiliary capacity. You can hear synth strings on Easier Said Than Done and B-3 on Fare Thee Well.
Well, Jon Lord had basically brought that [keyboards] into it. I was going to have Whitesnake more as a Thin Lizzy thing at the very beginning: two guitars and bass. Because that Hammond organ is fucking expensive to ship around when you're starting fresh. We'd actually done the keyboards on the Trouble album with Pete Solley who used to be in Procol Harum. Jon said he'd like to come out and play and I went, Fuck it so we replaced all of Solley's keyboards with Jon's. And of course it's impossible not to have a keyboard-sounding band because Jon Lord's left hand on the low end of the organ was one of the defining sounds for the Deep Purple identity.
Whipping Boy Blues has a kind of swamp, Zep feel to it.
Oh, I don't know. I like sticking it up people's asses. It's so funny for me because you guys [writers] can do all the comparisons you want; it's just not interesting to me. These are the kind of songs I like to do and that's a fun song, my wife loves it, and that's good for me. I do certain styles of music that I like. If you go back, a significantly bigger influence on me was The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart: the Truth and Cosa Nostra Beck-Ola albums. And I know those were immensely influential on Jimmy, too, through our many talks. But that was definitely much bigger; it was all that harnessing of the blues. Initially from the north of England, we weren't that taken with the very early Zeppelin stuff because we knew where some of those songs had come from.
You know? And we were very much purists in those days. We all knew that You Need Love was a Willie Dixon song done by Muddy Waters and Bring It On Home was Sonny Boy Williamson. So to see other people's names on there was weird.
You can really hear those Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart elements in your music.
Rod in those days was just barking like a motherfucker.
Jumping back again for a moment, Say You Love Me from the Northwinds has a real Beck and Stewart thing about it. And you even have Tony Newman on drums.
Tony, bless his heart. And Alan Spenner and I think we've lost him sadly. The first band that I wanted to go for was the Grease Band once Joe [Cocker] had let them go and embraced Mad Dogs and Leon Russell. They were dying for a singer and I would talk to Alan, god bless him, and I can't remember clearly but I think I'd actually written a letter to their management [from] reading a name on one of the records. And I never got a response. He said, Oh fuck, David, we would have loved to have had you. I wouldn't change a thing but I loved the fuckin' Grease Band. But I mean for me just to burst on the scene with Burn, that'll do nicely, thank you.
And we end the album with Forevermore, the 7:26 epic track with acoustic guitars and synth flutes and everything. How did this track evolve?
A tip of the hat to Doug. We'd achieved all the songs I wanted to do and then it was up to me to finesse them as the melody guy, the lyricist, et cetera. I've been in a situation before where the creative juices have been flowing so significantly that I've ended up with 20 or more songs to actually write. So from that experience, which was very, very overwhelming, I went, Fuck it, I've got to have a finishing post. And I'd achieved that with the songs on Forevermore and Doug said, Oh, I've got one more song and I said, Don't be fuckin' greedy, Doug. Look what we have. We were doing demos downstairs in my home studio and I went upstairs and I was just getting a cup of tea and I thought, That's not fuckin' fair. And I said, Alright, we'll do it. He started to play those opening chords and I think originally it was in a minor key and I said, Fuck it, try it in major because it screams minor but it's in a major.
And it just unfolded immediately and I defer to my brother, Douglas. He came in with that idea and then I picked it up and ran with the fucker because it's a beauty. Before that the album was going to be called Guilty Pleasures from one of the lyrics in Love Will Set You Free and then I thought, Oh, I'll keep that for a best of. Who the fuck's gonna turn around and say, Whitesnake are my favorite band? Ooh, ooh, that's uncool!
You mentioned earlier that you have an all-acoustic version of Forevermore?
We have a mouth-watering, delicious, short version of just acoustic guitars and harmonies without going into the big explosive orchestral sequence. I love it. I was talking to somebody yesterday, a young journalist who said, Why is it so long? I said, Because you're not taking the journey with it. Listen to it again and let it take you on a journey. If it feels too long then you're not invested in it; it's not engaged you. You've got to take a journey with it or wait until you're in the mood for it. There's plenty of other snappy fuckin' foot-tapping, hip-shaking funky doo-dahs on there.
Where will that edited acoustic version be available?
The short and sweet version I think is coming out on a special edition probably at the same time [as the album]. It's just really beautiful stuff. Unlike The Stones but closer to The Who, a lot of my songs are really physically demanding to perform and right now I'm in incredible shape. When I saw myself in the Live at Donington: 1990, I said, Fuck it, I better get back into pristine shape. I've seen more fat on a fuckin' French fry. And of course I'm 60 years old in September so I want to work this for at least another three years. God knows how long physically I'll be able to manage Still Of the Night without compromise and that's what I'm not interested in. However, it doesn't stop me doing intimate venues and telling my stories and singing acoustic versions of certain songs cause I've done a little bit of that. And just adored the energy and the intimate experience of being close with people; close enough just to talk. You saw Beck at Ronnie Scott's and that type of thing [referring to the Performing This WeekLive at Ronnie Scott's DVD]. That kind of venue where I could actually interact and not the big Tarzan rock star but an evening with David Coverdale. So that's gonna be an interesting transition if indeed that's how the future unfolds.
Will a Whitesnake audience accept David Coverdale as an acoustic artist? Is there a line stylistically you can't cross as this famous hard rock singer?
Well, I don't know; it's nothing to do with them. I have to please myself first. One of the feelings that I have with the relationship with the hardcore of Whitesnake fans, we have a website that gets 100,000 to 200,000 hits a day all over the world. I've never betrayed them. I've let them down now and again, which is human; that happens. But I've pissed and made up. There are things that I wanna do and thankfully I have a core audience that goes there and sticks with me. I mean the response we had from a 90-second sound bite, in two days we had over 600,000 hits and the website was filled with, Oh, my god, I can't wait for the album. This is amazing. So it feels fantastic, it really does. The song Forevermore incidentally is about a love that crosses all barriers and indeed lifetimes; it's an eternal love. It's a message not only to my beloved wife to the fans who I love and who are helping me keep the flame of Whitesnake still burning bright all of these years later.
And for you personally you still have that fire burning inside of you?
Totally. A big compliment for me was my musicians were recently all in my village to shoot videos and interviews and photo shoots and I put em all in a rental house to either kill each other or bond and thank god they bonded. I don't even want to know what went on there but apparently we needed two cleaning crews to go in after em. It came back to me that they are in awe of how motivated I still am and to come from your colleagues is pretty happening.
Interview by Steven Rosen
"The bedrock and foundation of Whitesnake has always been the same just the clothes have changed."