By Jeb Wright
David Coverdale is best known for being that good looking guy with the great hair and the huge voice. He’s that larger than life vocalist with a scream like no other who took the band Whitesnake to the dazzling heights of commercial success. He is one of the most famous faces to represent 1980’s rock and roll on MTV. He even banged that babe rolling around on top of his car in the video for “Here I Go Again.” Hell, he married her and then quickly divorced her. Yes, indeed, that’s the David Coverdale we all know and love… there’s only one David Coverdale!
There was, once upon a time, and as hard as it is to believe, a David Coverdale who was not a fashionable, iconic rock star. Before Whitesnake, David Coverdale was just a kid trying to get in a rock band. Somehow, be it by fate, or accident, or cosmic rock guidance, he found one… or rather one found him! The fact that it was one of the most popular bands in the world at the time, Deep Purple, makes his story even more fascinating.
David was in the Mach III and IV lineups of the English hard rock band. He missed most of their ultra-classic tunes, but he eventually made his mark in his own Mach! “Burn” alone would put his name in the Encyclopedia of Rock, but David also added “Stormbringer,” “Soldier of Fortune” and “Mistreated” to his tenure in Purple… Not too shabby at all!
Now, a few decades down the road, we find Coverdale mixing his two musical pallets together to create something special. Whitesnake has recorded The Purple Album, which sees David’s current band pay homage to his Deep Purple days. Sure, the songs are different sounding; sometimes they rock harder, there is less organ and the vocal keys may have changed here and there to accommodate the weathering of time on one’s voice. It is still, however, a voice that is strong, vibrant and powerful.
In the interview below, Coverdale discusses The Purple Album, as well as his time with the band in colorful detail. We also get the inside scoop at how close, or not so close, he came recently in reuniting with Deep Purple. In fact, it was when that reality came to a screeching halt that this, The Purple Album, took shape. It was David’s current and beautiful wife Cindy, that suggested he move forward, with or without Purple and revisit the songs that started him down his legendary rock and roll path.
Jeb: I am a big fan of both Whitesnake and Deep Purple. I am a huge fan, and a buddy, with one of your former guitar players, Doug Aldrich.
David: Well, so am I! What people don’t seem to realize is that relationships are, in a group, very much like relationships in real life. You move away, or life’s decisions lead to bigger decisions, or whatever. The circumstance is that I treasure the precious years of everything that Doug and I did together. It is some of my favorite stuff in my forty years as a creative, writing, singing and performing musician. It was great stuff but, you know, we both felt it was time for a change. That, of course, opened up the door for the amazing Joel Hoekstra who came in and laid claim to all he saw.
Jeb: How did you snag Joel away from Night Ranger?
David: [laugher] It’s interesting… I first became aware of Joel when Night Ranger opened up for us in 2013 and he was kind of noticeable. I could hear him tuning up and I went, “He’s good.” There was no making of a mental note of “if anyone ever leaves…” sort of thing, though. Joel rang up Doug when he heard about him leaving the band and said, “Is it true you’re out? Is it cool if I get in touch with DC?” He was in place incredibly early, but we made the decision to keep it under wraps out of his respect for his colleagues at the time, as he was working through the summer with the Night Rangers. As a matter of fact, I think one of the shows we have coming up this summer is with Night Ranger, so that should be amusing!
Jeb: Let’s jump in and talk about The Purple Album. I am 48 years old, so I was introduced to Whitesnake when Slide It In came out in America. I, then, went back and discovered the earlier Whitesnake albums and I had no idea you had even been in Deep Purple until I later discovered those albums. When I saw the press release for this album, I just about shit. I could not believe Coverdale was going to revisit the Purple era.
David: What was fascinating for me was that Purple in Europe was the equivalent of Zeppelin over here; they were huge. Whenever I would go to Europe to do promo, invariable the first question was, “David, how was it with Deep Purple?” The interview would have an immediate transition. I am the least nostalgic person I know, as I am totally happy with who I am, where I am, and with what I’m doing now and what I plan to do tomorrow.
In America, it was really underreported when we had the success of Slide it In, then the fucking POW of the 1987 album. It was a shock to most people over here. When we first played “Burn” in 2004, which was at the bands request, this is prior to Facebook and Twitter, Whitesnake.com lit up with people going, “Oh my God, what is this song? Is this a new Whitesnake song?” I think a lot of these songs may be new to a lot of fans in the USA.
A lot of the journalists I am talking to about this album are very aware of “Burn” or “Mistreated,” but not so familiar with “Lady Double Dealer,” which is more obscure. I am fascinated. The response, so far, has been extraordinarily positive, which is really neither here nor there, as this is something that I wanted to do. I’ve worked hard enough at my forty years as a working musician to be able to afford to do whatever the fuck I want, really.
Jeb: I have heard this project started out with one of my heroes, Jon Lord, and a request he made when he got cancer. Is that true?
David: It was a tragedy.
Jeb: How close did a Deep Purple and David Coverdale reunion come to being a reality?
David: Glenn Hughes and I are very close and Glenn’s been after me to do some sort of a Purple reunion for some time. To be honest, and I mean no disrespect to my former colleagues, but it was never something that was interesting enough to stop me from doing what I love, which is Whitesnake.
I certainly loved working with Deep Purple and it was the beginning of my journey. I am forever grateful to those guys for having the courage to give me the opportunity, but it was not something I was wanting to do. I am totally happy to create new stuff working as Whitesnake.
A representative of Jon’s called me just after he’d been diagnosed with cancer, to give me that information, which was chilling enough. He said, “Jon said, on his recovery, would you be up for doing some kind of Deep Purple reunion, whether it was Mach III, or whatever?” I said, “Absolutely, I will be there for you.” As we know, sadly, Jon passed away. This opened up an opportunity to reach out, after thirty years of acrimony, with somebody that I truly respected, as a musician, which is Ritchie Blackmore. One reason was to express and commiserate the loss of Jon.
Regardless of whatever, those guys basically formed Deep Purple and were incredibly influential to me. I’ve been able to tell everyone else I worked with how much I appreciated the opportunity, and still do to this day, other than Ritchie. Ritchie doesn’t really bother reading rock mags and stuff like that. When I’ve said these things before, he doesn’t see them. It was important for me to reach out to him for those reasons, with no other agenda whatsoever.
Jeb: When was this happening?
David: This was in 2012, and we communicated into 2013, and then he asked me if I’d speak to his manager to which, of course, I said, “Absolutely.” She came on and said, “Can you keep a secret?” I said “Of course not, I’m a fucking singer.” She said, “Would you be interested in doing something with Ritchie? My first thought was like Blackmore Coverdale like I did with Jimmy in Coverdale Page. That would be a very exciting musical premise because he introduced me to his first songs that he did on the first Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow album. They were initially songs he was proposing for Deep Purple.
I love the early Rainbow stuff. Rainbow Rising, are you kidding me? When Cozy Powell came on board? That was fantastic. The idea of being able to do Purple, Rainbow and Whitesnake was interesting, but then she said, “Ritchie is curious, who would you go for, Roger [Glover] or Glenn?” I said “I really appreciate the musicality of Roger, and he produced two of my solo albums, but Glenn is my soul brother.” I recommended Keith Emerson as the keyboard player. He was a fan of Purple and Jon and Keith had a very healthy musical rivalry. Keith is a breathtakingly gifted musician. Nobody had spoken to Keith, as this was just a discussion.
It was during the talks for this that I started digging into our original work. I was going, “I hope he’s into a fresh coat of paint on some of these songs.” I was a fucking kid then. It was the first time I had written for an album. I can hear naivety all over the place. I started working on bits and pieces. I thought my arrangement of “Sail Away” could have been a nice transition for what he is doing with his Blackmore’s Night and we could tie it in with that thing and maybe even do something with Candice on that song. Once Carol, his manager and I, started talking about their vision for touring and stuff it just did not resonate and I wrote her a very, very respectful email withdrawing from whatever that project could have gone forward with.
It was literally sitting down with my wife, Cindy, and just saying, “What a pity. I’ve done all this work.” Actually, that is typical of me to move forward with things. Pagey [Jimmy Page] would go, “Fuck man, you’re so prepared.” I would go, “I can’t help it.” Cindy goes, “Why don’t you do this as a Whitesnake project?” I was like, “Why not?” I sounded out my colleagues, and Doug was still onboard at that time, and the response from everyone was a resounding ‘yes’.
Doug and my wife were the only people, at that time, that I was sharing the news that I was talking with Ritchie, communicating with him, during the Year of the Snake Tour. I think something must have been going on for Doug as he was really encouraging me to do it [laughter]. Go figure! Doug would have been onboard, of course, but we just couldn’t get together, Jeb. It was just impossible to give it the kind of time.
This project has been hugely respected by all my colleagues. There was nothing flippant or throw away, you know. It was really, as I was mixing the project with Michael McIntyre and Reb Beach that I started feeling that this was coming full circle for me. It was a feeling of completion. This is how I started, what an appropriate way to go back out. The other fucking thing is, quite honestly, as Glenn and I have discussed for decades, the people that were running the Purple organization never ever thought of putting out a Best of Mach III and IV. We never understood it, fucking whatever, so this is my best of and everything is done with love and respect.
Jeb: The cool thing about these songs is that they don’t sound like Whitesnake. They sound like Purple, but they sound like Whitesnake!
David: [laughter] Well, it is Whitesnake doing Purple, but we’ve added Snakey bits. Reb and I wrote a new piece. One of the things we did when we performed “Burn” back in the day with Whitesnake… I was always uncomfortable because Purple was predominantly two soloists, which was Jon and Ritchie. Whitesnake has three. When we started this I presented my dorky chords to Doug. I gave my dorky stuff, once Doug had gone his way, I gave this stuff to Reb and he said, “Oh I get it. Do you mind if I fuck around with this?” I said, “No, just keep it in a ‘70s time capsule. I don’t want it just popping out like it’s something goofy.” So, Reb takes the primary solo and then Joel comes in with a second one. I didn’t go, “Oh no, what have we done?” It worked for me and that is what’s important. Of course, it is just going to sound like it has always been there and that was the intent.
“Sail Away” is obviously very different. Joel did beautiful layers on “Solider of Fortune.” He put on beautiful sensitive playing. A lot of the vocal I did live with him on his basic guitar track. He’s an extremely musical and very gifted man. We added the harmonica thing to “You Fool No One.” I wrote a piece called “Itchy Fingers” which, of course, Reb and Joel took to an astonishing twin-guitar dual battle to die for. That, I think is going to be leading into Tommy’s drum solo on the forthcoming drum solo.
Jeb: I want to talk about the song “Holy Man.”
David: Fascinatingly enough, I had most of the music before I actually joined Purple. I was too nervous to present it to the band. When Ritchie and I first sat down for him to play me demos, slowly but surely, me presenting him with some ideas of mine, as you could imagine it was extremely intimidating. He is totally open to my ideas and, of course, took them to amazing fucking heights being the breathtaking musician that he is.
Both of us were big fans of Traffic. You know when you have talks about what bands you like… Ritchie was always like, “Do you like Jethro Tull?” He has always loved harnessing folk music. If you think of “Soldier of Fortune,” which the rest of the band didn’t buy off on at all. It was the only time I saw Ritchie really—well, no I saw him angry actually a couple of times. We actually cut a demo after they passed on doing “Soldier of Fortune” to show him the vision of what we had. To this day it is one of the biggest classics of that time period, you know, Glenn’s and mines Mach III association.
Ritchie walked out of the studio with me and said, “That’s the last time I ever fucking do that. If they don’t trust that I don’t know what I’m doing then fuck them.” I think that was one of the seeds that led to him saying, “Fuck it, I’m moving on.” Trust is an immense issue when you’re working with a band, certainly when it comes to a vision.
I remember some of my early colleagues accusing me of bringing in a Black Sabbath type song when I brought in “Crying in the Rain.” It was shocking to me. I was like, “How in the fuck do you see that as a Black Sabbath song? Don’t think you’re going to be playing that taking a piss.” Of course, it speaks for itself; it’s a huge blues rock epic. Where were we? I lost track?
Jeb: I asked about “Holy Man,” but we never got around to talking about it!
David: Oh, yes! “Holy Man” was like my “No Face, No Name, and No Number.” I don’t know if you know that one. It is a beautiful Stevie Winwood song from the Traffic days.
It was very, very funny. I played the idea to Jon and he added that beautiful synthesizer passage that’s on the original. I didn’t use that on this version. That was Jon’s contribution to the song. Glenn wrote the lyrics for the chorus. I wrote all the rest of the stuff. It was very funny because Jon Lord and Ian Paice said, “Oh David, there is no way Ritchie is going to play that guitar riff on the chorus.” I went, “Oh. Why? I think it’s cool.” They just laughed. Ritchie played it without hesitation. I sat with him while he did the beautiful slide playing using an Eveready battery, or something. He would just use anything at hand. He is an extraordinary gifted melodic musician.
Ritchie and Lordy were made for each other totally, without a doubt. They just got the best out of shit. Let me give you a quick story. Jon was just amazing in helping me get over nerves and intimidation and stuff every step of the way. I had no idea about global success. I just knew Purple were big in England. I’d seem them on Top of the Pops. I had no idea, as one of the managers said, “Every second of every minute somebody, somewhere in the world is buying a fucking Deep Purple record.” It is quite hard to get your head around that at the time.
Jon was amazing with me. Everyone had gone to the pub and Jon and I were at Clearwell Castle just jamming, the two of us drinking and chatting and getting to know each other, the beautiful man that he is, was and continues in my heart to be. He was telling me how challenging it was for him. Originally, in Mach I, Jon was the primary writer. It was more pop with a little more classical stuff. When Ian and Roger joined their first project was the Concerto for Group and Orchestra. As they were going around touring the promoters would be going, “Hey, where’s the fucking orchestra?” It really pissed Ritchie off. He said, “If we don’t do a rock record then I’m out of here.” That is when they did one of my favorite rock record Deep Purple In Rock. I thought it was amazing. I don’t think it resonated so much in the US, but in Europe it was huge.
Jon said to me how difficult it was for him to play riffs on the organ and to sell a new song idea by playing a riff. He said Ritchie could just plug his Strat in and turn up the Marshall and play a really simple riff and the way he plays it must made everyone go YEAH. I said, “Don’t compete. What about chords? Some of my favorite songs are like keyboard orientated stuff. ‘Give Me Some Lovin’ has no guitar riffs in it.” Jon said, “What about this?” He played me what became “Might Just Take Your Life.” I said, “I think that’s fucking amazing.” The feeling I got from that was the Marvin Gaye song “Heard It through the Grapevine.” That was the blueprint for me to write that melody way. That was a huge step for Jon. Whenever I had a dorky chord sequence I’d give it to Jon and whenever I had a guitar riff or something I’d give it to Ritchie.
Jeb: You said earlier this album is like going full circle. You were very young in Deep Purple. Have you spent any time from this reflecting on what it was you learned from Deep Purple that you took with you to Whitesnake, and also what you didn’t want to take with you to Whitesnake?
David: Yeah, yeah but I’m saving that for my book How White was My Snake? Yeah, it was such an extraordinary and extreme circumstance for this Cinderella aspect of coming out of nowhere, not driving like rain, unfortunately! I got this opportunity and was literally, no pun intended, being thrown in the deep end. Thank God I swam, but it was with the help of those guys. The five ego maniacs fighting for a spotlight came later. Jon taught me grace, charm and to look further than just a C chord. He taught me to look for a C minor, or a C minor seventh, that kind of thing. Ritchie taught me to watch what tempos get people out of their seats over and start dancing on the dance floor. Not that Deep Purple was a particular dance group, but rather what tempos, what kind of drum patterns, for instance, resonated with people. That was a very simple thing, but it was advice that was worth millions.
Jeb: You had to grow up fast.
David: Oh totally. I meet 21 one year’s olds now and go, “How in the fuck are you going to do this?” These guys nurtured me. They took good care of me and that’s why my gratitude is eternal to them. That is the primary reason that I wanted to tell Ritchie Blackmore this to his face. A couple of months ago, I got a call from Carole asking if I’d contribute… keep your fingers crossed, I think Ritchie is going to do an electric project. I hope so. I said, “Have him send me a couple of riffs and I’ll put something together; it’s what I do.” So far, I haven’t received anything, but we shall see.
Jeb: How much of this album will be played live on the upcoming tour? I bet Reb wants to play the entire album!
David: All of the band want to do the whole thing. I am like, “Oh come on, and we still need to retain the Whitesnake identity.” There will be a significant amount. It is impossible not to, as the response has been so positive. That is one of the reasons that I am working out like a crazy man. I have to build up the stamina for this. A Whitesnake show is challenging enough, but throw on these fucking songs that I wrote back over forty years ago. “Mistreated” oh great! I get to sing that! [Laughter]
It is a great thing to re-present these songs in my life which, depending how well I do, in terms of the physical challenges of the forthcoming world tour… the interest has been so significant that the tour may go into 2016. I have to stay in peak physical condition.
Jeb: Before I go I want to ask you about Tommy Bolin. I have heard that you were very instrumental in Tommy joining Deep Purple. Is that true?
David: Yeah, there were three names on my list of proposed musicians. The first one was Jeff Beck. I am the biggest Jeff Beck fan in the world to this day. I didn’t know him as well as Jon and Ian, and they both said, “Oh my God, after the challenges of Ritchie…” Jeff was horrid about showing up in the early days with the Yardbirds if there was something fun on TV. They felt that would be like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
The second name I had was Rory Gallagher, who I love. Certainly he could have done proud, but he had a beautiful career as we all know, God rest his soul. They couldn’t see that. Then I said Tommy Bolin. They said, “Who?” I said, “I don’t know what kind of image this guy has. I’ve only heard him on Alphonse Mouzon Mind Transplant album and on Billy Cobham’s Spectrum album.
Paicey [Ian Paice] was, of course, a big Billy Cobham fan and he says, “Do you have anything of his?” I went back to my hotel room and came down with compilation cassette that I’d made and presented this stuff and they said, “Fuck, he’s great.” The word went out but we couldn’t find him for, I don’t know, over a month or six weeks. We found him living about two or three miles from me in Malibu. His image, as we know, was breathtaking.
I must own up that once I was at a party with Bonzo [John Bonham] and Tommy and Spectrum was on the fucking record player. I went “Oh I love this lick of yours” and Tommy goes, “Oh, that’s Jan [Hammer].” I went, “Oh sorry.” Then I was going, “Oh, but listen to this one, Tommy. I really love this one.” Tommy goes, “That’s also Jan, David.” I was like, “Oh for fucks sake.”
By that time he was in the band, and I loved him dearly of course, I was very challenged by how he treated himself, sadly. He was a beautiful and fragile soul. I never considered him a replacement, like I don’t consider Joel as a replacement for Doug. Joel is just a new guitar player for Whitesnake, who is extraordinarily gifted. I don’t look for replacements. Ritchie was so iconic it was, I think, very challenging for Tommy to hear in concert, “Where’s Ritchie?” That is completely understandable.
Jeb: Almost the last one: I am glad you didn’t call this project Purple Snake!
David: [Laughter] Oh really! Actually that is one of the guys on our creative team’s moniker. He goes by purple snake!
Jeb: Was there any temptation to use Glenn Hughes on this album?
David: I love and adore Glenn Hughes. People have asked me why I didn’t use Glenn on this. The answer is that this is Whitesnake. This is not like a David Coverdale album where I have different people playing on each track. This is a Whitesnake album. The last time I checked Glenn isn’t in Whitesnake. So it wasn’t a consideration.
Oh, to finish up that “Holy Man” thing. I wrote the verses about Glenn. I am not sure he was even aware of it, but he surely is now. I actually started to play that in a lower key. None of this record, by the way, is to be compared, as far as I’m concerned, or to even consider to be competitive with the originals. The original are Deep Purple and they are fucking great. These are our versions of those songs.
Jeb: Last one: I heard you’re a pretty damn good guitar player. Why don’t you ever show that off onstage?
David: Because I’m a domestic guitar player. Years ago I gave up the idea…. my original dream was to be a singer/guitar player like Peter Green. I saw Hendrix when I was 15 years old and I said, “I think I’ll concentrate on being a singer.”
I’m very happy with my modest collection of chords that I’ve given to such fantastic talents as Joel Hoekstra and Reb Beach to take to new places. It’s like when I gave the basic idea of “Still of the Night” to John Sykes to take to another fucking level. I gave the basic idea of “Mistreated” to Ritchie and he took to a cosmic fucking level way beyond my ability as a guitar player. I’m very competent in my own way, but it’s an instrument I choose to use for expression and composition.
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