TBT Interview: Whitesnake's David Coverdale
With the news that Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale has changed his mind about retiring in 2017 we decided that for this week's TBT article we would revisit Morley's 2011 interview with the famed singer.
2011 interview conducted by antiMusic's Morley Seaver: You can't keep a good man down, goes the old saying. That's perfectly accurate in the case of Whitesnake's David Coverdale. The legendary vocalist ran into throat problems during 2009's Good to Be Bad tour with Judas Priest forcing the band to shut it down prematurely. Fortunately David's problems were serious but not career-ending so 2011 finds Whitesnake happy and healthy and ready to bite with their new record Forevermore.
To these ears, this collection is David's most complete piece of work since the '87 record. OK, I'll say it. This may be the best record yet. No, there's no "Still of the Night" on here. What there is, however, are 13 tracks of the inimitable rock that we've come to expect from Mr. Coverdale and company but they're all of very high quality. The rockers (like the first single "Love Will Set You Free") have enough torque to fight a small war and the ballads are simply beautiful. The parameters of Whitesnake are slowly opening as witnessed by "One of These Days", (something that you may be hearing on Nashville radio by other artists in the near future) and the fantastic "Fare Thee Well". The title track is a towering piece of work that starts off with just acoustic guitar, voice and a gorgeous melody eventually working itself up into a "Kashmir"-like bit of power that absolutely shimmers. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
The band has reshuffled the deck slightly recently. Complementing long-time guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach are now drummer Brian Tichy, bassist Michael Devin and keyboardist Brian Ruedy. Casual listeners would not know the difference, however. With Coverdale in place, this will always sound like Whitesnake.
I had the thrill of a life-time recently when I had the opportunity to speak with David about the new record. As expected, he was both engaged and engaging, not mention truly gracious. His pride in the new record was obvious and even a month and half of phone interviews had not dampened his enthusiasm.
antiMusic: The new album is just absolutely smoking, David and I would have to put it up there as your most complete record, on par with the '87 record, if not more so.
David: You know it's interesting, Morley. I don't do the comparisons. I'll leave that up to you guys. But I get people who are weeping when they discuss the title track or "Fare Thee Well". The songs are seemingly connecting as deeply as '87 did, in that consciousness. On the business side, I just got the information that in Europe, we've got 37 per cent more pre-orders than Britney Spears' last record so there's hope for civilization yet. But I don't know why…it's capturing some mystical ingredients. I know with Doug Aldrich and I, the Whitesnake muse was upon us and I'm thrilled with what we've achieved and what the musicians have brought to the songs. That was no question. But something else is definitely buzzing around here. And I'm open to receiving because it's just overwhelmingly positive.
antiMusic: What was the process like for putting this record together? You had kind of a premature start to things considering the tour was cancelled….
David: Well no….honestly, we weren't planning on doing a new studio record. The plan was to mix the 1990 Donington show, with Vai and Vandenberg and Rudy Sarzo and Aldridge. Some Greatest Hits Live, another video that we did in 08. There were a lot of these back burner projects that we wanted to finish off. So I could just focus now….as I'm getting up there. I'm celebrating 60 this year. I'll be on stage with 30,000 Brazilians I think.
But there was no plan for a studio record. At the end of 09….we had great success, which you probably know, with Good to Be Bad. And there were a lot of independent record companies who were very interested. And initially it was very easy for me to say no. But the owner of Frontiers Records, an Italian independent was absolutely relentless in his pursuit and I found him to be an intoxicating character, which is rare as orchids in the music business.
So I said, "Well OK, before I make any commitment here, let me see what my partner Mr. Doug Aldrich has. Because Doug is like me. We just write naturally. It's not necessarily writing for a project…you just pick up an instrument and something magical happens. So I drove down from Tahoe to LA for a couple of days with Doug to trade ideas and see what we had. And in two hours we had written "One of These Days". We finished off an earlier song of ours called "Whipping Boy Blues". And made a very healthy start on "All Out of Luck". So within two days, I was going "Well this is strong enough of a foundation for me to make a commitment." So we added a new album to the 2010 agenda and I'm delighted we did because I'm still enjoying it now when I'm working out in a morning.
antiMusic: "Love Will Set You Free" is the first single and is among one of the best all-time Whitesnake rockers. How did that song develop?
David: Well you know, Doug and I have a marriage of ideas which work. Unlike most of the American musicians I have the pleasure of working with, he's entirely familiar with the early years of Whitesnake. So he knows all the necessary ingredients / elements that are necessary to make a complete Whitesnake song; hard rock, rhythm & blues, soul, melody, tongue in cheek, twinkle in the eye…you know, all of those kinds of things. So there's never any conflict when we sit down. I think there's one song out of the 30 or whatever we've written together in the four or five years that is still on the backburner. Everything else we've just finished and it's worked beautifully.
You know we sit down in the conventional sense and have a musical conversation and trade off with two acoustic guitars. And then we also embrace a lot of the modern technology, emailing little ideas for each other and then video conferencing because we do live 600 miles from each other. It's a great relationship and astonishing friendship and that translates into a very healthy working relationship as you can hear.
antiMusic: In case anybody forgot, Whitesnake and more importantly, you, have a long relationship with the blues. "Steal Your Heart Away" reminds fans of this fact, right off the bat although it's blues with a bit of a kick up the rear end.
David: Well, it would strike you, Morley, with your familiarity with my work. But with "Good to Be Bad" and even moreso with the new record…you can take some of these songs and imagine "Steal Your Heart Away" on Trouble or Lovehunter. "Dogs in the Street" from Slip of the Tongue. "I Need You (Shine a Light) on Slide It In. And this is without any kind of effort. This is why I think my hardcore audience is so happy with Good to Be Bad and Forevermore. Because it's still embracing all those elements that drew them to Whitesnake in the first place. So the bonus is, for us composers and musicians, these are songs that we actually want to play. This is not trying to kiss somebody's ass and say, "like me". This is stuff we like and put it out and God willing other people embrace it.
antiMusic: I have a number of favorites on this record but one of my top picks would be "Fare Thee Well". I get a real Rod Stewart / Faces feel from this one. David, this is just a beautiful song.
David: Well, the Faces were a big influence as well. The bands that….apart from the Purple rock stuff that came in…I loved the fun that The Faces brought to shows. I was in a really serious band with Deep Purple. I mean, we had a great sense of humor but that didn't really translate to performance. But Whitesnake has that element of tongue in cheek, tickle the ribs…but yes The Faces is definitely part of the blueprint as was, if you look back to the very first Allman Brothers Band. That was intensely influential. Jeff Beck's band with Truth and Beckola. They were very inspirational and influential to the structure of Whitesnake.
antiMusic: What were you thinking about when you did the lyrics for "Fare Thee Well"?
David: Well, that to me is like an extension of the song "We Wish You Well" from Lovehunter. Which was a thank you to the audience that we play and continue to this day as we leave the stage. It's a genuine and sincere message to the audience, "We're with you. Just take this experience in your pocket and let it accompany you and hopefully strengthen your journey." A lot of people tend to have an extraordinary emotional experience at a Whitesnake show and then leave to go back to hum-drum daily activities. And I hope that the music can resonate in people's lives. Certainly now you have things like interactive websites and whatever. But "Fare Thee Well" is a continuation of "We Wish You Well" and I see us playing that song in concert and having a good-old sing-along with the Whitesnake choir.
antiMusic: The title track is without doubt, for me, the absolute jewel on this record. It could have gone the "Soldier of Fortune" or "Blindman" route. But you chose to lead it away from the acoustic framework and built into something more epic, as it were.
David: Well it's very interesting Morley because when we started work on that, it just led to the big epic aspect. We do have an alternate arrangement which is just acoustic guitars and vocals --- a very intimate thing. It's one of those Whitesnake reflective, looking back over the years and thanking God that we're still here. I mean, there's people following my work and supporting me, for instance like yourself, since Purple days. That's astonishing in an industry which is not known for loyalty. So to be able to say "Forevermore", it's not just a Whitesnake tattoo. It is a reflection on a love that can last forever potentially. It's a love song to you guys and to my relationship with my incredible wife.
antiMusic: I don't think the band as a whole sounds any better than on "Tell Me How". Maybe it's just the mix but to these ears you hit a real sweet spot with that cut.
David: Yeah, it's very funny actually Morley --- I think you'll resonate with this. Glenn Hughes called me up after he heard "Love Will Set You Free" and he said, "Man, I think we could have done that on Stormbringer." And I said "Wait until you hear "Tell Me How". That fusion of soul and rock and funk….yes I agree. I think it's a real band track. But you know "Love Will Set You Free"….are you kidding? From the drums to the top melodies. I think we've got all the necessary ingredients for a very tasty cake on this one.
antiMusic: "One of these Days" is kind of a surprise and actually an utter delight. You've done radio-friendly I guess you could say songs before but none have had as much of a universal appeal as this one.
David: Well, that was the first one that Doug and I wrote and we literally got it down in a couple of hours. That was on our first writing session and initially I thought well this will be cool to do a totally unplugged song. Because Doug and I have introduced that into live shows where Doug and I play some very stripped down pieces for the audience. So it's a great experience to go from the noisy, head-banging, fist-pumping screaming crowd to you can hear a pin drop kind of thing. That's an element that we want to explore even more with Whitesnake. But with that it was Tichy saying, "No, no, no. I want to play on this." (laughs) And he goes a great job on it. And it's so interesting that you bring that up because I think it's an organic, innate feeling to want music to be memorable which is called hooks. And that isn't something that requires significant effort on my part when I finish off the lyrics and the melodies. That's what comes out. So the Whitesnake muse is upon us. And for a hard rock band, we've had incredible commercial success with singles. Because I've always, always considered Whitesnake an album band like late '60s, early '70s style. So it's literally been bonuses.
But I think my publisher wants to send that to Nashville. You could hear "Hear I Go Again" done that way. A very popular country artist, Lee Hazelwood, had asked my permission to do it and I said, "Totally. Go do it." If a song has any substance, you should be able to dress it or undress it or rearrange it any way you want.
antiMusic: Doug has made a point to mention in a lot of interviews that you don't get enough credit for your actual musicality in terms of the melody end of things. He has said that often you'll haul out the guitar and both of you will jam on melodies until something appears. Do you feel that you sometimes get overshadowed for your musical contributions since you're so well known as a vocalist and lyricist?
David: You know, sometimes you're sitting in a cab and somebody goes, "Oh you're just the singer." (sarcastically) "Yeah, I'm just the singer." No believe, me, I get my rewards. I wouldn't worry about it. But I appreciate Doug's generosity in that department since it saves me from having to turn around and say "Yes, I am involved with the music."
You know, if you look at Whitesnake from the beginning, there's a bloodline. It's a family tree --- the music. And all the ingredients and elements that we've talked about, the hard rock, rhythm & blues and soul ---- I mean I'm a huge Motown '60s fan. And whenever I'm coming into a writing phase, I invariably stick that stuff on. It's very inspirational for me. I mean, there's Motown all over Whitesnake --- not lifts obviously, but inspiration. And yes, I'm a domestic guitar god (laughs) but I defer beautifully to my six-string gods. Doug and Reb have both connected and bonded incredibly. I've spent years being a referee for my guitarists --- not Doug and Reb, but before them. They get on great and they must be doing something right, man. We're celebrating eight years together.
antiMusic: You have a new record. Black Country Communion has a new record in a few months. Any chance we might be seeing the two Soul Brothers joining forces on the road in the near future?
David: It's so interesting because when we were talking a couple of months ago, I said to my European agent, "Why don't we do arenas with Glenn's band and it will be a great package." And I was looking at Thin Lizzy as well. And both bands went down. I thought that would have been a fantastic song package. A couple of years ago we did a co-headlining thing together with Def Leppard, mostly in the U.K. We kept the ticket price reasonable and just did phenomenal business. And it was just an amazing 3½ - 4 hours for the audience because people knew all the songs. And I think the audience were more exhausted leaving that show than at either a Def Leppard or a Whitesnake show. Nowadays, with the economy being so tough, the more value you can give people on the ticket, the better it is.
antiMusic: That may be but I would just be as happy with an evening with Whitesnake.
David: Well, you know the circumstance now in the States, the promoters dictate who goes out. It doesn't matter how successful you are, they say what the package is. In the U.K., I call my friends at Classic Rock and ask who won Best New Band. And that's who we take out and have done that for the last few U.K. tours. So you give an opportunity to the new lions to play in good-sized venues.
antiMusic: What can you tell us about the Live at Donnington DVD due out this summer? What was special about this show that merited highlighting?
David: Well, I've got to tell you, I'm not a nostalgic person. But this really caused me to reassess that period of the band. It was Steve Vai, Adrian Vandenberg, Rudy Sarzo and Tommy Aldridge and we played to over a million people on that Slip of the Tongue world tour. And recently I did a re-mastering for that album and I was going "Man, this is a lot better than I remember." It was a very different chapter for Whitesnake. It was firing on all cylinders all the time. And when people see this video, they're going to be reassessing that time too because it is truly incendiary. It's a fury band --- just relentless. It's not hard rock and rhythm and blues….it's interesting, it's more like Purple with five ego-maniacs fighting for the spotlight. But it's absolutely relentless in its performance. The solos are amazing from all soloists. It will stand up for itself.
Basically, it's been the most requested project on whitesnake.com. We actively interact with 200,000 people on the website and they are very, very confident in what they want from myself and the band. A few years back, I went on there and said "Ok, now I've put Whitesnake back together and you've all been asking for stuff. What do you want from Whitesnake now." And the top three things that were voted on were a new studio record which we delivered with Good to be Bad; an in-concert DVD which we delivered with Live in the Still of the Night; and an in-concert live greatest hits which we delivered with Live in the Shadow of the Blues. And I went "Fine. Now I can just get back to performing live." Well then, next thing you know was the Donington DVD. I had mentioned in a couple of interviews that I had the only footage and it's certainly not high-def but it's definitely viewable. We spent a lot of money remastering the video quality. And we did a stereo mix and a 5.1 mix. Morley, I tell you it kicks ass. It really does.
Morley, is there anything you want to close up with, my brother because I have to move on?
antiMusic: Before you go, I have to something about Purple. You went from B band status to the big leagues in one shot. Everybody knows about your first gig with Purple but to back up a bit, how intimidating was it to initially present your songs to Ritchie Blackmore?
David: Well, I must doff my cap and salute the local musicians I worked with in a band called River's Invitation and The Fabulosa Brothers, particularly a guy called Alan Fearnley. He heard me just messing around on an acoustic guitar one day at rehearsal as we were setting up and asked "What's that?" And I just said it was an idea that I had been working on. And they actively encouraged me. Great musicians. And we actually featured three of the songs on Whitesnake.com over Christmas with the guys' permission, to great fanfare. But these guys encouraged me to introduce my songs in that way. So when I auditioned for Purple and met with the manager afterwards and was asked, "Do you write?", I could confidently…well relatively confidently say "Yes". So when Ritchie and I sat down, yes of course it was intimidating. But it just unfolded very naturally. I have a gift, I guess and that's I write naturally. It's not something that I'm doing to enhance my income or lifestyle. It's just something that I do as an expressionist. It's just how I express a lot of my feelings. Even the fun stuff.
As you know, the blues are a huge inspiration to me but they weren't all songs to cut your wrists by. I mean you listen to Muddy Waters singing about cross-eyed cats and stuff. These guys celebrated life when they had the opportunity. They refused to accept that it was down all the time. Blues is another term for personal expression for me. And I still tie that in.
Look at Hendrix. Those elements that Hendrix introduced in his incredible extra-terrestrial way were incredibly influential on me. He tied in soul, rock, big riffs, great melodies…those first three records were the equivalent of Sgt. Pepper to me.
antiMusic: Well David, this has been an absolute pleasure.
David: Thank you Morley, I thank you for being so informed.
antiMusic: Thank you so much. I wish you all the best with Forevermore. It's terrific.
David: God bless you. Thank you so much.
Morley and antiMusic thank David for taking the time to speak with us.