By Jeb Wright
Whitenake began with David Coverdale and Micky Moody. To be honest, Micky was there before Whitesnake on Coverdale’s solo albums he released after leaving Deep Purple. It was Moody on the classic tunes “Here I Go Again” and “Fool For Your Loving” way before Coverdale and the USA version of Whitesnake made the songs massive hits.
Micky never got to enjoy that success, however, because after recording the European version of Slide It In, he was ousted from the band and replaced with American hot shot guitar player John Sykes. Coverdale became an MTV star and the rest is history.
Moody is now back with original Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray in a new band titled Snakecharmer. The band, with its obvious “Snake” reference makes sure everyone knows who these guys used to play with. The music is a throwback to the early Whitesnake of era with a bit of a mid 1980’s twist to it.
This is one damn fine album of pure classic hard rock. Moody proves he still has the same hard rock melodic powerful guitar style that he had over 35 years ago and the rest of the boys in the band slam out song after song of pure rock and roll.
In the interview that follows, Moody discusses forming the band, writing the music and even how he first met David Coverdale and formed Whitenake.
This is an interview with a true rock and roll charmer who just happens to play a mean guitar.
Jeb: Snakecharmer is a great band. Do you realize how damn good this stuff is?
Micky: [laughter] We think it’s good and we are very pleased that other people think it is good, as well. I have to say, this is the first time I have ever listened to an album where I’ve enjoyed every track. Most albums have one, or two, tracks that I might skip. Last week, I put the headphones on and listened to it properly and had to admit it is good. We are very, very pleased with it.
Jeb: Neil Murray is the other original Whitesnake member in Snakecharmer. How did this band come to be?
Micky: About three years ago, I was playing a gig in London, locally, in this blues type of club. I live in Richmond and back in the day, all of the bands like the Stones, and the Yardbirds played there, and it was quite historical, from a British blues point of view.
There is club here, now, that deals with guys from that era and they asked me to play a gig there one night with a guy called Pete French, who played with Cactus and Atomic Rooster back then. We put a band together for a one off, just for fun. We were playing kind of Jeff Beck type of things.
We had a break and I went to the bar, as we do, and who’s standing there but Neil Murray and his mate Doogie White. I said, “Hello Neil, I didn’t know you were coming. Did you pay to get in?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Oh, you should have told me you were coming and I could have put your name on the guest list. You’re an old chap; you didn’t need to pay to get in.”
We played together over the years since Whitesnake in The Moody Marsden Band, Company of Snakes and M3. We had not played together in maybe four, or five, years. We decided that we should get together and do some gigs.
He called me back, a couple of days later, and said that he had spoken with Laurie Wisefield, who he works with in We Will Rock You in London. Neil said that Harry James from Thunder would also love to do something. I was recommended a guy called Chris Ousey, who I had never met before. A friend of Neil’s, Michael Bramwell, played some keys. We went out and did a few fun gigs playing some Whitesnake, some Wishbone Ash and some Thunder. We called it The Monsters of British Rock.
Uriah Heep’s manager, Martin Darvill, said that we had a good lineup and that we should record something. We went into his studio and we put down the first two tracks that we wrote, which were “Turn of the Screw” and “Smoking Gun.” It took us a while to record the album because this is not one of those permanent things. We have to all try to make time to do it. Now that it is taking off a little bit, we are hoping to take a bit more time.
Jeb: Will there be a future for this band, or will you all be too busy?
Micky: I am pretty sure there will be a future for this band. I don’t do as much as some of the others. I do some TV music and I do some albums of guitar music. I am writing another book. Laurie and Neil are presently in We Will Rock You. They will let them do other things if they like. Adam Wakeman is off with Ozzy or Black Sabbath. Harry does Magnum and a couple of other bands. Chris has never really been on the road that much, as he is more of a studio singer and writer. If things take off, and the offers are reasonable, then we will do some work.
Jeb: Chris has a very versatile voice. I think of Paul Rodgers a bit. I think David Coverdale and a bit of Lou Gramm.
Micky: He has indeed. We had not met him. A friend of ours, who does our sound, who lives in Manchester, used to be in a band with him in the ‘80’s doing covers. He recommended him. I listened to him on YouTube and I thought he had a good voice.
He has done a lot of stuff for other guitar players who want vocals. I like his lyrics too. He is a quiet guy. He is not your average rock singer, as such. He is a very thoughtful guy and he writes intelligent lyrics, which I kind of like.
There have been a few small criticisms where we could do more like Coverdale did, where the lyrics were a bit naughty. Maybe we will get one of those going on. Chris really puts a lot of time and effort into what he does and I quite like it.
Jeb: How many more times can you work this Snake thing into a name of a band?
Micky: [Laughter] To be quiet honest, I was coming up with all kinds of names, as everybody else was. It is kind of hard to get away from it for Neil and myself.
I look at it this way: Neil and I are genetically connected to Whitesnake because we were there, from the beginning. I am proud of our stuff and I don’t want to pretend that I wasn’t a part of that. I can appreciate record companies and management wanting to keep that Snake thing going a little bit, without standing on somebody’s toes, so to speak—or somebody’s tail.
I actually came up with the name Snakecharmer, as we were trying to keep the Snake thing going. I was quite happy to call it something else, but the business people think, “Why throw all that away. You put all of that work into the early Whitesnake band, so why not hint at it?” Business is business.
A lot of the early influence of the early Whitesnake came from Neil and me. We didn’t say that we were going to get together and purposely write songs that sound like early Whitesnake; we didn’t do that at all. When we get together this is what comes out. This music is all from the heart.
Jeb: Is all of the material on the album new?
Micky: It is all brand new material. We wrote it all in the last year.
Jeb: Let’s talk about some of the songs. “My Angel” would have been a huge smash if this song had come out in 1985.
Micky: I don’t know what to say about that, really! I like all of the songs on the album. Chris writes all of the lyrics and the rest of us would make little demos in our home studios and send them to Chris. He would listen to them and put lyrics and melody lines on them.
The music all came from the heart and soul. We didn’t say, “Let’s write a song that sounds like ‘Here I Go Again’ and another that sounds like ‘Fool for your Loving.’” We just wrote music and that is what came out.
Jeb: “Accident Prone” is a rocking track.
Micky: Laurie wrote that with Chris. It is a great song; it is the most commercial one on the album. He is a great guitar player and I am really pleased to be playing with him.
Jeb: “To the Rescue” has that bluesy thing going on.
Micky: It is a slow shuffle. It is very lazy. We rehearsed it the last couple of days. We have our launch on Saturday and we are going to do that in the set. We are doing nine of the songs in the set.
Those kinds of songs just come natural. It is not really phenomenally musical; it just has a good feel about it. Chris puts a nice vocal on those tracks. Chris is not a renowned hard rock singer; he comes from AOR. It is quite a nice mixture. Prior to him doing solo stuff, he would do Whitesnake and Foreigner in cover bands, so he is familiar. He is younger than myself, so he was not around in the late ‘60’s when we were listening to The Jeff Beck Group, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and early Led Zeppelin. He didn’t come from that early British rock that we did, as he came along a bit later, but it fits.
Jeb: “Falling Leaves” is a good example of that mixture. It has that AOR sound, but you guys still have that British rock style too.
Micky: It is a power ballad and we needed one on the album. Laurie had the idea and it fit. We only recorded 12 songs and that is all we’ve ever recorded. It was one of those magical things where all of the tracks seemed to fit.
Jeb: I can really hear classic Whitesnake in “Smoking Gun.”
Micky: That is the first song I wrote with Chris. We recorded two songs, early on. I kicked the ball off with coming up with “Smoking Gun” and then an idea for “Turn of the Screw.”
I think the “Smoking Gun” does fit into the old Whitesnake vibe. Again, I wasn’t trying to do that, but I always loved that tempo. It just hits me. Stephen Stills did that kind of stuff in the early ‘70’s. I think that influenced Whitesnake.
Jeb: “Turn of the Screw” is the best overall rock song on the album.
Micky: That was the second song we wrote and it was straight down the line. “Falling Leaves” is a lovely power ballad, but let’s not loose rock and roll. That is a great classic rock song.
Jeb: You have been able to be creative over the years. Some people burn out but not you. Why do you still have that gift where others do not?
Micky: Maybe it is because I never learned to do anything else [laughter]. Some people grow out of it and go into production, or meet a rich chick, or make lots of money and buy property, or whatever. I have always played guitar.
I think about music all of the time and I have that passion to keep on playing. I haven’t been playing live as much recently, but I keep picking up the guitar every time I pass by it. I still get excited about it. Either that or I am just really boring [laughter]. I just love guitar playing and I’ve done it since I was a kid.
Jeb: Looking back, how did you first come to join Whitesnake?
Micky: I come from an area in England, in the Northeast, which is a very working class area where people do steel work. It is very much like Pittsburgh, actually. I am from a place called Middlesbrough. I went to school with this guy named Paul Rodgers. We were in class for four, or five, years in high school—we don’t call it that, as we call it secondary school. I grew up with Paul. We were from the same town and were in the same classroom. We put a band together when we were fourteen years old.
Jeb: Was that The Roadrunners?
Micky: That was the Roadrunners. We then had The Wallflowers. We went to London and Paul Kossoff was working in the music shop and we all became friends. I went back to Middlesbrough to learn some classical guitar and Paul formed a band with Paul Kossoff and the rest is history.
When I went back to my hometown in 1968 there was a young guy who was a student who was called David Coverdale. We come from the same town. We would be in a coffee bar and David would be sitting there, as he was coming from art school. I got talking to David and he was in a local band. I was in the top local band called Tramline that was very much influenced by the West Coast thing. I got to know David then. I moved off to London and a few years later, I heard that he joined Deep Purple.
He was going to Malibu to live and he found out where all of his old mates were. We actually had a big sendoff for him back in 1974 where we got drunk and stoned and did all of that stuff we did in the ‘70’s.
I heard nothing from him for a long time, when he called and said he was living in Germany. He said that he wanted to do a solo album and he wanted to know if I would come help him do that.
He came to my show that I was playing a few days later in Munich. I was playing with a band called Snafu at the time. We had a drink and a month later, I was staying with him for a while. I thought he only wanted me to play on a couple of tracks. He wanted to get away from the hard rock. He had such a fantastic voice that he wanted to do ballads, soulful stuff and acoustic stuff.
I ended up doing two albums with him. The first one was White Snake and the second was Northwinds. He left Deep Purple and he said that he wanted to put a band together and that he wanted me to help him put it together, which I did. I was the first ever Snake back in ’77. I helped put Whitesnake together.
At first, it was called ‘David Coverdale’s Whitesnake’ but he didn’t want that. He wanted it just to be called ‘Whitesnake’. I was the one who said that we should have two guitar players. I wasn’t into hard rock, I was playing Little Feat and the Allman Brother and that kind of stuff, which is really my cup of tea.
We got Bernie Marsden in the band. I’d known him for a few years and he’d been playing with Paice, Ashton, & Lord; it was all a bit incestuous. That is basically how I got to know David and how I came to help him put Whitesnake together.
Jeb: Whitesnake became David’s band. In the early days, however, it was a total band effort.
Micky: It was. We would all do solo spots and we would hang out together. We would have a lot of fun and we were all mates. It was like being in school again. It was the best camaraderie I have ever experienced in my entire musical life. Of course, we never made much money. Bands don’t, unless they sell lots of records. We never cracked the States and we never even came there. Unless you crack the States you don’t make much money. In those days, the records companies had money to put in the bands.
Jeb: To me, Ready & Willing was a very important album and was very influential.
Micky: That is probably my favorite Whitesnake album, to be honest. The following album, Come an’ Get It was more commercial. The Ready & Willing album was my kind of album. I loved the song I wrote with David called “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More Today” with the acoustic guitar thing. We did a blues called “Love Man” and we did “Fool for Your Lovin’.” For me, I felt the most comfortable with that album, more so than I did with all of the other Whitesnake albums. There is really something special about that album.
Jeb: Talk about Slide It In. Why did it have to happen where two versions were made and why did it have to fall apart after that?
Micky: In a nutshell, there were business problems and money issues—the usual things that sort of creep into a band. The first band had broken up at the end of ’81. David wanted to try something different, so he got away from the old management company.
I left the band at the end of ’81 because it wasn’t really fun anymore and we weren’t generating the kind of money we wanted too. I won’t go into that, but in ’82, I was doing a few gigs with Bernie and David asked me if I wanted to come back and finish off Saints & Sinners.
By then, he had gotten in with Mel Galley because of the Glenn Hughes connection with Trapeze. He wanted to put the band back together with him, Cozy Powell and myself.
To be quite honest, there was no magic there, in that particular band. We recorded Slide It In in Munich and it was kind of clinical to me and it was not the same sort of band that Whitesnake had been.
At the end of the year, I left the band after the end of a European tour in the fall of ’83. I really didn’t have a particularly good time. You would have to ask David the rest of it.
Geffen was interested in bringing him to the States and creating a new Whitesnake. They ended up taking a lot of Mel Galley and me off it and putting on John Sykes. I was gone by then, so I really can’t tell you anything further.
Jeb: I just feel that the band should have broke with Neil and you in the band, you did deserve the success.
Micky: A lot of people feel that way. You’d have to ask David on that point. It wasn’t the same, let’s put it that way. That band in 1983 was not the Whitesnake that I knew and loved.
Jeb: Did you once get to play with Duane Eddy?
Micky: I did. He was an influence on me when I started playing guitar in 1963, when I was a kid. I used to love “(Dance with the) Guitar Man” and all of that; I used to love that shit.
In 1987, there was a TV program to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. I was in the house band and Duane came on and played “Love Me Tender” and I got to back him. He was a very quiet and deep sort of guy. I did shake his hand and tell him he was an influence on me.
Jeb: You also played with Eric Clapton.
Micky: I played live with him in a charity situation. I have never been in his band. I played a charity show with him two years ago and he was great. It was a thrill for me, as I have loved him since the Yardbirds.
Jeb: When you look back at your era of Whitesnake do you understand why there are so many rock nerds like me that want to tell you how great that music was?
Micky: [laughter] I love it! You can tell me as much as you want. I am proud of it, very much so. Sometimes people say that I shouldn’t do this, or that, as I have nothing to do with Whitesnake, but I tell them that I was there before Whitesnake! I go back a long, long way with David.
Jeb: Last one: On Snakecharmer there is a song called “Stand Up.” Are you worried Mick Jones of Foreigner is going to think he wrote that song?
Micky: To be quite honest, we have had that comparison quite a few times. That music was written by Harry James. It is a backing track that Harry sent it to Chris and we did it. It is as simple as that. Harry may need to worry about that [laughter].
Jeb: I would love to see you in USA playing gigs.
Micky: It depends how it goes. We have some festivals that we would like to do. Everyone has a lot of commitments, but if it starts to do okay, then we would all love to tour. We would love to go out and play our own music.