Authors: Martin Popoff
in Great Britain in 2015 by Soundcheck Books LLP, 88 Northchurch Road, London,
Martin Popoff 2015
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has not been prepared, approved or licenced by the management, or past or
present members of Whitesnake or David Coverdale and is an unofficial book.
A CIP record
for this book is available from the British Library
Benn Linfield (
Those who know me, will know that the
web of intrigue that is the Deep Purple family has occupied much of my writing
time. I have somehow managed to hatch a book on Rainbow, one on Dio, two Sabs
and four on Deep Purple themselves. Perhaps after this, there’s only a Gillan
book to come (my second favourite band ever after Max Webster), to round off
the significant bits of the family tree. No, I will not be penning a Paice
Ashton Lord volume, neither a treatise on the jazz fusion of the preposterous
Ian Gillan Band, or a tiny tome on Elf (yes, readers periodically ask me for
But I digress. Whitesnake, ah yes. A joy
to pen, this has been for three main reasons: firstly, how comfortable it is to
talk to the players in this drama (Bernie Marsden being of particular note, a
man legend that I hopefully can class as something more than an acquaintance at
this point); secondly, Neil Murray plus some of the later actors such as John
Kalodner, the very funny Keith Olsen, an always gracious Rudy Sarzo; lastly,
but not leastly, David Coverdale himself – ever the charmer.
As well, I was propelled by the
facts of the case, the complicated tale as David evolved from Purple through
wobbly solo years to the Mk.1 version of the band (I’m really only going to use
two Mk.s!). Then it gets rich with detail and manoeuvre, with rock ‘n’ roll
business, musical chairs and stratospheric fame as David orchestrates his
(solo?) voyage across the bubbling sea toward his destiny as minor British
royalty uprooted to the West Coast.
Hence the title and subtitle of this
book, with so much meaning interred in those two words “sail away.” If I have
to spell it out once more: it’s about David leaving Britain, Brits and
Britishness for American shores, in turn transforming the band and brand into
an American monster, despite the United Nations of players represented in his
chimera-like and complex fiefdoms.
In any event, this was very much a
fulfilling detective job. Not so much for a huge divulging of the facts, which the
interested digger could ascertain for him or herself, but rather the organizing
of those facts and wafting from the tea leaves, much about human nature.
Essentially, however, the
fun of all this for me was the fact that I’ve grown up a variously frustrated,
non-plussed, hugely rewarded and connected-to-the-band Whitesnake fan. Said
lifelong abutment to the group and its catalogue begins with the
purchase as a new release of the Canuck [Canadian slang for Canada] version of the
, with the angry metalhead in me only liking it
mildly for the sips of angry metal on it.
same deal. Looked great, loved that regal band shot on the back, but a little too
jazzy and bluesy for a teenager waiting for the NWOBHM to happen.
Well, my exquisite blue pen rendering of that album cover on my social studies
notebook was the talk of the class! The gal looked sexier and the
snake, even more heavy metal, more martial and scowling.
Ready An’ Willing
began my education within, and appreciation for, how the blues can be added
ever so subtly to hard rock (Okay, not the first time... Zep, ZZ, Foghat,
Aerosmith), but an evolution in my thinking, let’s say, helped by David on a
Rock ‘n’ roll forward, and I was caught
up – just like everybody else – in celebrating Whitesnake 2.0, the
version successful in my part of the world due to
Slide It In
(the latter featuring that sledge of all snow tractors, “Still Of The Night.”)
And there you had it, all of a sudden it’s a life of rock fandom, with this
band as a significant part of the soundtrack.
Later, I got into the business of
interviewing the heroes of my hobby, and that’s when I got to talk to splendid
Dave – who immediately puts everybody he converses with at their ease – along
with the aforementioned others. The magic and pixie dust of Whitesnake was over
Slip Of The Tongue
, but still, there were solo albums, such as
; the live circuit and attendant live albums; then (to date,) two thick
and ferocious recent studio albums, which... well, it’s a long debate and I don’t
want to get into it here, but both
Good To Be Bad
fall into that category of debate revolving around “best albums of one’s
catalogue if you wipe the dates off the back and shuffle.”
Seriously, there are about ten of these
“heritage acts” who have blessed us with these very cogent modern-day records
when no one cares and no one is listening and the ship has sailed a long time
ago. Whitesnake is certainly one of those ten, thanks in large part to Doug
Aldrich, who helped Ronnie James Dio make his best late period album as well.
But alas, as you will read, moving ahead
through this celebration of the Whitesnake universe, this book will not be fighting
that battle at length. There is simply not enough word count assigned to the
project to do so. Looking at it another way, there was exactly enough word
count to do justice to the labyrinthine story of the classic years, namely up
Slip Of The Tongue
, that record’s spent aftermath, and the
death of hair metal. This is the story with the highest stakes with respect to the
business of the band, the most intense dramatic struggle, the
hue and cry of motivation and manipulation, and so this forms the
meat of the book. To be sure, the completist in me can’t resist presenting the
facts of the post-1980s period of drift, but, alas, that telling is perfunctory
and fleeting, as you will see, relegated to the “epilogue” ghetto.
And there you go. My mission here is to
put Whitesnake into the rock history books, in detail, and I guess until
someone does something more (including a book directly from David one day, one
hopes), it’s mission accomplished, to a great extent. In any event, I hope you
gain a new appreciation for the band, dislodged some of these records from your
shelves and rocked the blues one more time. At this end, man, I certainly got
to listen to a ton of great music once again, which had, for a spell, just
joined the thousands of other LPs and CDs lining the ol’ mancave office.
Until next time (er, that Gillan book,
wot?!), Saints & Sinners all, here’s trouble, Come An’ Get It.
Pimply, pudgy, bespectacled, not much of
a dresser (despite his job selling pants – that’s trousers to you Brits) and
still weeks away from his 22nd birthday... this is the legend of a
less-than-unassuming David Coverdale on the verge of crashing his way into the
ranks of rock titans Deep Purple.
It’s the summer of 1973, and Purple is on
the ropes, in serious danger of disintegration. In a direct confrontation with
chaos, the responsibility to lead the band forward falls upon a nobody from the
North, notwithstanding the menacing presence of the Man In Black himself –
Ritchie Blackmore – checking passports at every border post looking for proof
of blues authenticity.
To be sure, our present tale is
Whitesnake, but would Whitesnake have been given half as much truck had
Coverdale not pushed forward with his folly already a
I think not. In that light, some scene-setting becomes necessary.
David Coverdale, (born 22 September 1951
in Saltburn-by-the-Sea (pop. 10,000), in the county of Redcar & Cleveland,
England) had been little more than a pub singer before answering a
ad seeking aspirers to the throne vacated by top rock yowler Ian
Gillan. And pub is the operative word here — Dave had been known to lift a few
bevvies around Redcar. In fact, his parents, of Irish heritage, had owned a pub
(mum has also been described as a school dinner lady and dad, a steelworker),
making the habit of quaffing a foaming brew an easy one to acquire. As well, Coverdale
has asserted that he’d been singing in North Yorkshire “working men’s clubs”
since the age of 11, having cut his teeth singing Tommy Steele medleys at home
from the age of 5.
“The main thing about the
working class is the determination to get the fuck out,” David told the
. “My mother and father gave me full support within the
background of the Satanic mills. Nobody could put on any airs or graces — it
was two up and two down and an outside toilet. But I didn’t drown myself out. A
lot of people are satisfied to sit and watch the new James Bond film. Hollywood
has got a lot to answer for as well. Most of the people who make money spend the
rest of their lives trying to hold onto it and don’t enjoy it.”
“I discovered that I could express myself
much more with serious immediacy by singing,” mused David back in 1988,
, contrasting his chosen profession versus the
visual arts. “Rather than people looking at a painting and saying, ‘It’s nice,
what are you trying to say?’ I could express myself very simply and quickly and
people knew what I was talking about. I like that. I can’t remember this, but
my mother assures me that I could sing the entire Top Ten in those days.”
Coverdale’s first real band, Vintage 67, opened
for business in 1966. David had been bitten by the music bug, most viciously by
the Kinks, but also from the Pretty Things and the Yardbirds, though hardest by
Hendrix. Then came Denver Mule (‘67/’68) and The Skyliners (‘68/’69), followed
by The Government (‘69/’70), who had actually supported Purple back in August 1969
at a gig in Sheffield. It is said that Jon Lord took David’s phone number down
in case the then new boy Ian Gillan didn’t pan out as vocalist. All the
while, Dave was gathering a wage at the Purple Loon boutique and making his way
through arts courses in teaching and graphic design in darkest Middlesbrough,
where he first made the acquaintance of future Whitesnake mate Micky Moody.
that he’d packed in college because, “I found I
could use my body and voice for self-expression, to communicate with people
right on the spot, even with a silly song.”
Back on the music track, leading up to
his ascendance through Purple, David was crooning for the likes of Harvest
(which got as far as Denmark), River’s Intention and finally The Fabulosa Brothers.
At one point, he had been offered the chance to sing with respected progsters
The Alan Bown (A.K.A. The Alan Bown Set and Alan Bown). “A friend of mine who
knew them told me they were interested in me and wanted to know if I’d sign up.
I thought he was kidding and jokingly told him, ‘Fuck off.’ Unfortunately he
took me literally.” Robert Palmer, Mel Collins and Jess Roden all passed
through the ranks of Mr. Bown’s esteemed band, so you can see why Coverdale
felt he had made a bit of a
Lesson learnt! After having sent in a
cassette and subsequently put through the Purple paces in August of 1973, to
everyone’s surprise, Coverdale landed this slightly bigger gig. More surprisingly,
David had to be persuaded to apply for it by a buddy, and what his audition
tape contained was a drunken rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talking,”
about which Jon Lord said David barely followed the tune.
“Purple’s office asked me to send a
photograph of myself which I thought was a bit daft,” recalled David, speaking about
his hiring to
in 1977: “I wondered why they
would judge a person’s talent by his looks. The photo I sent down I had to
borrow from my mother. It was one of me in my Boy Scouts uniform.
“Then they asked for a tape of my voice
and the only tape I had was one of me singing at a party when I was drunk. I
thought I’d had it, but I was invited down to London for an audition and I got the
gig. I guess what attracted them was the tone of my voice rather
than what I was singing. I was just a local yokel, you know, local boy makes
good and all that stuff. I’d never even been in a recording studio before we
went in and cut
. Now I’m a local hero in Saltburn. They gave me the
keys to the town; they also asked me for £25,000 to restore an old bridge but I
had to turn them down.”
David muses: “I remember being so keen. Remember,
was the first record I ever made. I knew Deep Purple was big in
England, but I had no idea of the global aspect of it, so it was mind-blowing
when I got that job. And the band was very supportive and still, to this day, I
applaud their courage in taking a risk. No question, I was completely unknown.
Obviously they thought I had something, God bless them.
“But the circumstance is, what a brave
thing to do for a band of that size. But Ritchie and I did most of the
writing on there. In those days, they split everything five ways which was their
agreement, which Ritchie changed after
. There’s a certain laziness.
If you don’t have to work you don’t contribute as much, and there
was evidence of that. So he changed that dynamic on
Purple weren’t very happy about that at all; the old guard. But anyway, what
Ritchie said went. I wrote at least six versions of the song ‘Burn,’ I was so
One of those sets was a blues thing David
had called “The Road,” but, amusingly, he figured he’d better keep Ritchie
happy, so he came up with the “sci-fi poem” that proved to be the
keeper. The blues would have to wait.
Critical to the hue and dimension of
David’s hiring would be the recent arrival into the Purple ranks of a bass
player who also sang quite well, thank you very much; a gent by the
name of Glenn Hughes. Coverdale recalls: “One of the ridiculous things was that
Glenn was such a talented singer, but Ritchie wasn’t such a big fan of Glenn’s
voice. He liked my voice. He said, “You have a great man’s voice,” which was a
pretty nice compliment. And he didn’t exactly get the same vibe from Glenn.
There is no question that Glenn is extraordinary. Technically he can sing me
into the ground, but I can connect deeper emotionally.
“But what happened is that prior to me
getting the job, he really felt that he was going to be the lead singer and
bass player and that really is not what Ritchie was after. So once they
got the ‘man’s voice’ in... And Glenn and I have talked about this; it was
ridiculous that I would sing a line, he would sing a line, I would sing a line,
he would sing a line, I would sing a chorus, he would sing a chorus. It was
just all over the place. One of the perfect examples was the song ‘You Fool No
One,’ where we sing it together, or ‘You Keep On Moving,’ and then
we’ll each take a break on something else, you know, another sequence of the
song. But for anybody wanting to get their hooks into a song, to have this
confusion of different voices coming in left right and center is more a
distraction than a hook.”
Having two purposeful singers in the
band wasn’t an insurmountable problem, but it was a challenge and a
contributing factor to the eventual happenstance that is Whitesnake. But for
now, it was a beautiful thing watching the creative tension between David and
Glenn, not to mention between David and Glenn versus the trunk of the
band, namely Ian Paice, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore.
And there were no confidence issues with
Coverdale, notes Hughes. “No, David never really suffered from that. David,
when he first came into the band, he was a little green, but he developed. We
saw, right in front of us, him developing his own style back then.
Which took him to Whitesnake. I mean, he became pretty strong, at the
end of the
tour and into
. We weren’t the
new boys anymore. He’s a strong character.”
Hughes believes that: “There were no
struggles with David in terms of getting him to lose some weight, pop in some
contact lenses... Well, I think he wanted that for himself. I mean, David, from
the get-go, was very professional. Obviously he hadn’t worked in this genre
before, ever. So you just need the blueprint of how to do it. I’d been on the
road for three or four years with Trapeze, and David and I had been, and were, the
very best of friends.
“You know, people ask me were there
problems and this and that? I think if you interviewed David he would say there’s
never really been any problems with him and me. My singing didn’t deter him
from his goal, and his singing didn’t deter me from mine. We were a great team.
We were the greatest vocal duo in rock. And I think we still are, when you look
back, the only two singers that were really dominant in that role.”
“When they asked me to join, I said no,”
recalls Hughes. “I did not want to be just a bass player. I just wanted to be the
singing bass player from Trapeze, where my heritage was started. And that’s
what I am today. I’m the singing bass player/lead singer. But I did think that the Coverdale/Hughes connection, with me being the secondary singer, if you will... I’ve never
had a problem in that role, because I always think I’m going to be a student of
the voice until the day I die. I think that anybody who thinks that they
are the finished article is bullshitting. So I think what Coverdale and Hughes
had to offer has never been reproduced by anybody.”
Coverdale can thank Blackmore for his big
break, says Hughes. “Yeah, first of all, he wanted Gillan out, and Gillan left.
Definitely he wanted out. Because Gillan was crazy back then; I think he just
wanted to be away from the business. And Roger Glover was let go in order for
me to come in. Bruce Payne [Purple’s manager] wasn’t involved in that. Ritchie
did everything. Ritchie ran that thing with an iron-clad fist.”
Were the guys worried or, at least,
hesitant about David’s abilities? “There was no problem with his voice, but he
was very green in the fact that he had never done any arena shows. He had never
been on a stage bigger than a club stage. I think the first gig we did with
David was maybe in Denmark: 10,000 people. So he jumped in with both feet.
David Coverdale is a charismatic guy, even before he was famous. He was perfect
for the role.”