THE UNION OF WHITESNAKE: THE DAVID COVERDALE INTERVIEW
David Coverdale: Powerhouse rock singer. Demanding band leader. Cocksman. These are the facts once, now, and always, each evident immediately in his band Whitesnake’s shocking 11th record, Forevermore. But there is more to Coverdale. He lives in a really tall house in Lake Tahoe that, at the time of our chat, was partially snowbound. He is aggressively friendly. He swears magnificently. Oh, and the dude has paired with Blackmore, Sykes, Vandenberg, Vai, and Page. That’s an Ozzy-sized resume and David Lee Roth-league results. So you get that it’s both fun and stressful to gain entry into CoverdaleLand for a few minutes. Still, it was all laughs as Coverdale entertained my inquiries into the muscular songwriting of Forevermore, the bombast of Slip of the Tongue (as captured live in this summer’s Live At Donington 1990 DVD-CD set), his voice health, and the “snakes” of Whitesnake axemen.
Anso DF: By now, I’m sure you’ve been told that Forevermore slams.
David Coverdale: Thanks, doll. I appreciate that. People think because I’ve been doing this for so long … Y’know, Doug Aldrich, our co-producer Michael McIntyre, and myself deal with independent songs and individual musicians coming in to do their parts. Then we sit down at the end and listen to the sum total, and our perspective is different than someone like yourself, who suddenly gets it in the mail, sits down, and hears it. You haven’t gone through this, that, and the other to get there. For me, to hear people’s opinions — certainly when they’re positive [laughs] — it’s extraordinarily rewarding. So fucking go right ahead, baby. [laughs]
The performances and the songs really gel. That moment you mentioned — when the three of you first listened to the completed album — did you stand back and say “Yep, nailed it!”?
Well, we would shake hands a lot. We call ourselves Los Bros Brutalos because we’re very hard on each other to get the best out of each other. But we’re the first ones to say, “Man, that is kickass!” I remember singing a lyric to “Love and Treat Me Right” — “I’ll be your monkey man/I’ll be your dog” — and Doug just jumped up, going “Yesss!” And I had to re-record the fuckin’ thing because he shouted while I was singing it. [laughs]
But that kind of inspiration is fantastic. Doug Aldrich is an extraordinary partner for me. Not only do we have great friendship, but that’s transitioned into a songwriting partnership. We second-guess each other; we kind of read each other’s minds. The big bonus for me is that, unlike many of the American musicians I’m blessed with, Doug is familiar with the very early albums of Whitesnake. So he knew all these elements that I started off with — the hard rock, rhythm and blues, soul — and loved that stuff.
So there’s never been any kind of conflict of musical direction. And if you listen to Forevermore, it embraces naturally pretty much the three decades that Whitesnake has been in existence, without any premeditation whatsoever. You can take “Steal Your Heart Away” and put it on the Trouble or the Lovehunter album; you could take “Dogs In The Street” and put it on Slip of the Tongue. You can even take two of these fuckin’ songs and put ‘em on Stormbringer; about “Love Will Set You Free,” Glenn Hughes said to me “That could be on Stormbringer.” I said, “Wait ‘til you hear ‘Tell Me How’!” The bonus for is that they don’t sound old; they’re just the songs. That’s what we focus on. We work on songs. And Doug … Most guitarists I’ve worked with tend to savor big-riff songs where they can, y’know, show how big their particular penis is.
Whereas Doug is confident with his penis, so he’s very happy to [focus on the songs]. I think why Whitesnake has survived over three decades is that we focus on songs. There’ve been occasional forays into image during the MTV years which everyone was guilty of, as the Stones were in the “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” phase. But the circumstance is that you’d never compromise the substance of the music, it just distracted a little while. That’s the bonus that I think we have now. We have songs that people want to hear in concert. They’re not retreads, y’know?
I’m glad you brought up specific songs. I’d like to bring one up —
“I Need You (Shine A Light)” surprised me. It’s the brightest, most major key song I’ve ever heard from David Coverdale.
Wow, really. All of Whitesnake’s songs have a bloodline. That’s what’s amazing that I have this partner in Doug Aldrich, his embrace of all the necessary elements and ingredients of Whitesnake. For me, that song could’ve been on Slide It In.
It’s got this big, Stones-y verse and a Motown chorus. [laughs]
It’s a lovely jam.
Cool. It’s so fascinating to me that people I’m speaking to all have different favorites. It started off when I began doing press, when people had only heard “Love Will Set You Free.” Everyone was saying “Oh my god, I can’t wait to hear the album if this is a taste of what it’s like.”
I’m interested in the different combinations of musicians in Whitesnake. Is it accurate to say that you’ve had to devote a lot of effort to building and re-building band chemistry with each line-up over the years?
If you’re passionate about something, the effort is negligible. I’ve always acknowledged that Whitesnake is bigger than the sum parts. Quite honestly, [it’s about] how can these musicians help me take Whitesnake even further. Push the boundaries. That’s once again another indication of Los Bros Brutalos: We push each other.
People who support Whitesnake expect us to be fucking awesome. It’s our job to deliver that. If [members] have a personal agenda which is potentially compromising to that, then they’re no longer serving Whitesnake’s purpose, y’know. So, there have been changes. One of my theories is that it’s like snakes in nature, we have to shed our skin ever so often. It’s only if somebody’s potentially not seeing the big picture. I mean, I don’t see myself as difficult to work with at all, because I work with myself every fuckin’ day. [laughs]
I just don’t like unnecessary distraction. I want to focus on where I’m going and what I’m doing. You want to come with me? Let’s fuckin’ go. It’s like being in a motorcycle gang all riding into the desert at the same time. If you have somebody waffling around in the back, it’s like “What the hell’s going on back there?” You’re not looking where you’re going.
And then, a crash.
You’ve got to have your focus.
The boundaries of Whitesnake, as you put it, were definitely pushed by Steve Vai on the Slip Of The Tongue album. I’m fascinated by that period.
If you like that time, you’re gonna fuckin’ love the DVD that’s coming out this year.
I want to talk about that!
I had the only film of that show. I hadn’t seen it for years; it’d been in storage. Once I’d fulfilled the Whitesnake.com orders of the day, which was to deliver an in-concert DVD, a live greatest hits, and a new studio record, I thought “I can get a break now. They can cut me some slack.” But no, no, no, no. I’d mentioned in interviews that I had footage from Donnington in 1990. The Monsters of Rock. And I tell ya, it’s incendiary.
It’s the next best thing to’ve been there. It’s the most flamboyant … It’s definitely the most electrifying chapter of Whitesnake on a flamboyant scale. You’re looking at Steve, Adrian Vandenberg, Rudy Sarzo, Tommy Aldridge — everybody’s in the fucking zone, firing on all cylinders. It’s astonishing. And the audience is breathtaking to see. It made me reappraise that chapter; I think it a lot of people will, too. It is, quite honestly, on fire. It’s a fiery show.
Adrian Vandenberg came over for NAMM this year; as usual, he came up for a week with us afterwards. I surprised him with it, put him down in my theater, and cranked it up. He threw a glass of wine in the air. He couldn’t believe it. He said it was absolutely inspiring for him to go back. I think we may be very blessed in the fact that Adrian may be preparing to make some new music, which I would love after he’s done many years of painting.
That partnership, plus Vai’s pyrotechnics, yielded some indisputably incredible songs.
It’s so interesting you say that, because I can’t help at times but compare [pauses] my relationship with Adrian to my relationship with Doug. It’s effortless. It’s absolutely effortless when we’re together. We go from being friends, the conversation sitting down with a glass of wine, will inevitably move over to acoustic guitars, a piano, whatever — and the conversation will continue on a musical level. Of course, Adrian and I maintain a fantastic friendship. It’s really, really exciting to be able to re-assess, and, as my wife said, it’s incredible that there’s this document from that time. We played to over a million people on the Liquor and Poker World Tour —
— and it was astonishing. As many distractions … I was pretty worn out by the end of that tour, and I needed to take a break, [and] I did, which ultimately led to working with Jimmy Page for three years. Yeah, an incendiary band. I think it’ll blow your socks off.
When you listen to Slip Of The Tongue, don’t you think, “Man, that is a shitload of guitar playing?”
Well, I’ve messed around with it a little bit. I don’t know if you’ve heard the anniversary reissue?
I did some remastering stuff or whatever to get some more balls. And I love that remaster, the special edition copy. And Vai … I call him The Paganini of Rock. Y’know, The Seven-String Sorcerer. I can’t help but come up with nicknames for people. He is an astonishing, breathtaking musician. A couple months ago I was tread-milling and I put the TV on in my gym. I just caught the beginning of [Vai concert DVD] Where The Wild Things Are, highlights of it on the Palladia channel, and it was just great to see him playing perfect with these two violinists he had in his band at that time. It was a treat for me.
I saw that tour. It was intimidating.
When you see these guys, they’re all playing flat out, competitively. Sometimes it’s like, “Gimme a — One at a time, please!” [laughs] But just for that event, the musical magnificence that is manifested in a rock show is astonishing. [laughs] It is seriously cool.
It’s 2011 and this year brings your 60th birthday. To what extent is voice health on your mind? There were some issues for you in 2009 —
Yeah, I think that was courtesy of the internet. It became bigger news than it really was. It was the equivalent of spraining your angle. The voice is a very fragile instrument, and we’d had a succession of shows … You know yourself, being in the business, that they’re opening venues that were never meant to house rock concerts. You’re playing in dusty places where behind your dressing room, there are shitloads of cattle. You breathe in desert air with dust. And I got a blister on my cord. And I’m very aggressive with my voice, as you know.
It was literally the first time the first time something like that had happened to me. There was no medication, no surgery necessary. It was six weeks’ rest period. I saw my ENT, Joe Sugerman, in Beverly Hills and he signed me off. You can hear on the new record, my voice is barking as well as ever. Just three weeks ago, the examining specialist from the show in Denver … he flew into Lake Tahoe, because we’d developed quite a friendship, to check me out for insurance. Everything was 110%.
Yeah, tell me about it!
Whitesnake’s slamming 11th record Forevermore is out tomorrow on Frontiers Records.