Interviews

Interview: Rock Legend David Coverdale of WHITESNAKE

I’ve been doing this writing lark for 9 years, but last night I got to achieve the numero uno on my interview bucket list. I was lucky to be afforded the opportunity to chat to the lead singer of my favourite rock band ever – Whitesnake.

Whitesnake were one of the first rock bands that I saw live way back on the 1984 “Slide It In” tour. So, finally last night I managed to chat – after many years of trying – to the Head Snake, Mr. David Coverdale himself! Dreams do come true!


ANTIHERO: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, first of all.

David Coverdale: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Hopefully, I can answer your questions.

ANTIHERO: I’ve been a huge fan since first seeing the band, way back on the “Slide It In” tour.

David Coverdale: Oh my God. You sound very young, Mark. How old are you, if you wouldn’t mind me asking?

ANTIHERO: I’m over 50.

David Coverdale: That’s my boy. That’s my boy. I’m so sick of dealing with children. Welcome to the over 60s club. And, where are you?

ANTIHERO: I’m actually in Manchester.

David Coverdale: Well give my best to Andy, the mayor. I’ve just been reading about what you poor bastards are having to deal with BoJo’s gang who couldn’t shoot straight.

ANTIHERO: Yeah. Terrible. How are you surviving yourself in these crazy times?

David Coverdale: Well, I don’t think it’s surviving. I think surviving is… We’re doing our best to flourish, I’ll be honest with you. I’m not a glass-half-full guy. These is the cards we’ve been dealt, and these are the cards we have to play the game with. It’s an enormous, indescribable challenge, as you can testify.

I’m supposed to be doing our sell-out farewell fucking tour, or at least my farewell tour. And it’s really heartbreaking on a global basis, and I so hope, my primary wish is for people to realise that wearing a fucking mask is not a political issue, it’s a health issue. And the sooner we all wear a fucking mask, God willing, the sooner we can all see each other again in social encounters, maybe even fucking hug, shake hands, kiss cheeks, lips. It’s not what we as a species are familiar with, this lack of physical intimacy, but it’s totally necessary.

The blessing in my life, I have my best friend, who’s my wife, and we are doing amazing. She’s creating the most fascinating food for over seven months now. One of our favourite things is just to go out to dinner with friends and interact, nice wine, conversation, and have people prepare food for you. But privately, thank God we’re healthy. Professionally, the amazing thing is we were steps ahead because we had a bunch of projects prepared and ready to go in support of our world tour, the Red, White, and Blues trilogy. So we actually do have… And the ability for me to interact on social media. Without social media right now, I think would be absolutely intolerable for a very large percentage of people. I think there’s a great deal of loneliness, Mark, in this lockdown scenario. People living in small homes with large families, I think must be the most challenging thing we’ve ever faced as a species.

ANTIHERO: Just touching on the Whitesnake Love Songs, I just wondered, did you have to rerecord any of the songs, or were they just merely edited and improved in the studio?

David Coverdale: No, I didn’t re-sing anything. In fact, all I did was turn my voice up. I’m notorious for flooding my voice down and putting it back in the mix   and this time, it was like, “Oh fuck it, better get the voice up there.” There’s a couple of songs where we embellished on Slip of the Tongue. Deeper the Love, we’ve added a phenomenal keyboard player. I know he doesn’t mind me saying he’s like the illegitimate son of Jon Lord. He’s brought an enormous Schumann, organic element to an almost keyboardless project, which is very different sounding for Whitesnake, as most people know.

So, we added Derek Sherinian on the Slip of the Tongue stuff and I’m thrilled we found some new licks that Steve Vai, wasn’t featured on the first mix. I have no idea why, that’s 30 odd years ago. We’ve got Adrian Vandenberg at last, featured minimally, unfortunately, because of time issues, but we’ve got him playing electric guitars on the verses, I think on Deeper the Love.

The tracks from an album you may be familiar with called Restless Heart, those are embellished with my amazing incendiary guitar player, Joel Hoekstra, that’s obviously featured maybe, and Vandenberg, the flying Dutchman. But what’s better than two flying Dutchmen? And also, once again, Derek Sherinian is playing keyboards on this. So it’s created a delicious hybrid for me from early sounding Whitesnake to closer to what people refer to as the America side of Whitesnake.

But I think it’s a beautifully balanced record. My record company, who’ve been really supportive of this idea, feel that this is not just like a hits record, it’s like a standalone album. And for me, Mark, they’re teasers into a taste of things to come. Particularly now, in a very, very challenging economic time, even before that, I said to the record company, “We can’t just keep foisting expensive box sets on people.” So I said, “We’ve got all of these potential box sets over the next five years, let’s give them a taste of things to come by accommodating price,” which are these teaser albums, the Red, White and Blues album, The Rock Album, Love Songs and The Blues Album. And it seems to be going really, really well, which is a delight for me because obviously, everybody’s watching Netflix, but when your eyes get tired, stick your fucking headphones on or go for a drive and stick this in. You’re never alone with a Whitesnake album.

ANTIHERO: One thing that the compilation includes is three previously unreleased outtakes. I just wondered, as a fan, what else hidden and unreleased gems are hidden in those Whitesnake vaults?

David Coverdale: There’s not a lot. Until I got my own studio, I couldn’t really wait to get the fuck out of the studio. I’m very much more a live performer guy than a studio guy. But since we built a Hook City, my co-producer Michael McIntyre and I, this is something that it’s like every day. Normally when I come off the road, years ago, I would just take that as a break, go on holiday or whatever, recharge batteries. But now, after getting over jet lag, I’ll be straight in the studio. My home is like 10 minutes from my studio house. So, Michael McIntyre and I have just been working on… Another thing we’ve been doing is, because I can’t obviously go on tour with my band, we were sitting going, “How can we remain interactive with people?”

So, for the last couple of months, we’ve been working on the idea of a radio show or a podcast, and that’s coming together really fun. We’re still tweaking elements of The Blues Album, which is due for February, I think, ’21. Then in May, June, we have the first of the new box sets, which is The Restless Heart. So, we’re just going over tweaking the mixes of that before we send it off to New York to be mastered.

We’re really busy through this time. I was talking to a manager of a very well-known band and they’re celebrating a huge anniversary, and their idea of celebrating was to go on a world tour, which of course, that was stopped. And they have absolutely nothing, other than pulling their hair out to be able to celebrate this substantial occasion. But the music so important to us, Mark. I’m very excited to see Bri. I’ve known about Brian being back with Angus, thank God, for a long time and I was thrilled about it. Broke my heart when they separated because it’s a beautiful, beautiful band, AC/DC, and I’m excited about their record coming out, give you some new stuff to work out too.

So, people are still generating work for their bands. It’s hugely important for me. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’m very interactive with fans on my social media, and it’s just expanding. Even during this challenging time, it’s getting bigger and bigger. People are coming in for a good laugh or a bit of philosophy here and there, and Whitesnake info.

ANTIHERO: The trilogy pays homage to what I see as the second era of the Snakes. Just wondered if you have any plans to maybe honour the pre ’87 and earlier Whitesnake period?

David Coverdale: I’d love to, but I have nothing to do with it, nor do any of the people who created it. Those albums belong to the estate of our former managers. I don’t even know if they still have the tapes. I can’t do anything, Mark. It’s not mine.

As I wrote down songs and recorded those songs, we did six albums in three years, which is one of the reasons a lot of people think that that early Whitesnake was together longer than it was. It was only for three years. I think three years is my thing, apparently. But no, I may rerecord Walking in the Shadow of the Blues, Lovehunter, Hit and Run, some of those earlier ones, so I can actually mix them with a 21st-century perspective because Bernie Marsden and I have spoken about it. There’s nothing we can do. We have no dialogue with the people who were responsible for the Deep Purple catalogue, or the early Whitesnake stuff.

It’s very sad, but I did what I could, which was remastering with people I respected for the Box of Snakes. And I actually felt like that’s it. Bernie will come up and jam with me. We offered Micky Moody, but he felt too much water had gone under the bridge. But I still maintain a dialogue with Neil and Bernie and Steve Vai, all these guys. But the circumstance is I just forget that catalogue because it’s a sore point with me. I get that a lot, obviously, people going, “Well, where’s so and so?”

This trilogy aren’t hits. I’m using the big hits to introduce some more obscure songs, which I feel are as strong. I think “All I Want All I Need” is as strong for me as “Is This Love?” I wrote both the fucking things. Easier Said Than Done, I think is a really strong song. I’m specifically a songwriter if I didn’t think the songs were worthwhile… My record company said, “I love that you put our biggest hit,” which is Here I Go Again, I think seventh or something on the rock album, “not opening the record.” It’s just part of a fine collection of songs.

ANTIHERO: The reason I asked about that early era of Whitesnake is obviously, albums like Slide It In, Saints and Sinners, Ready and Willing, that was my first introduction to the band, so I was asking in an era of anniversaries and remembering…

David Coverdale: I’ve never even asked, Mark, so don’t even bother asking me. I don’t even know if they are aware of anniversary issues. I can only truly be responsible… I divorced my manager and took over all things Whitesnake, bright and beautiful, which began with the Slide It In record, and that’s the only time. So that’s what, 35 years ago now? 36 years.  

So, everything since then, that’s all I can be attentive to in this aspect. I have no tie, Mark, with these. It’s so sad. It was a huge part of my life, Deep Purple, and early Whitesnake. It was immense, but you’ve got to move on.

ANTIHERO: I also watched your YouTube, your unboxing videos. You mentioned those sets, which as a long-standing fan, I bought every one. You actually show genuine delight when you open those boxes.

David Coverdale: Well, they are because before, I think most of the time, that package had just fucking arrived about half an hour before that, while the film team was setting up. It’s down to the wire. We’re fully expecting anytime now, “Oh my God, we’ve got to do an unboxing for Love Song.” We’ve got so much going on and such a huge plan, that we forget shit, that I don’t have any products. So when I get to open it and go, “Oh fuck.” I’ve approved all of the stuff that’s been emailed to me, but to see the actual physical stuff, to see the vinyl, to feel the embossing on The Rock Album, it’s just kick-ass fun. 

Did you catch the YouTube 30th anniversary of Live at Donnington?

ANTIHERO: I did. I think there were some problems though with Adrian’s connection.

David Coverdale: Oh man, we put the band back together, for God’s sake because Tommy and I still work together. My God, that’s the first time that everyone’s been on the same page, as it were, for 30 fucking years. Amazing.

ANTIHERO: I was actually at that Donnington show, so it was nice to see that reunion, albeit online.

David Coverdale: Even the Adrian stuff was hilarious.

ANTIHERO: Leading on from those box sets, are you a collector of vinyl, special editions, things like that, yourself?

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David Coverdale: I’ve lost two very significant collections of vinyl with two previous divorces. So basically, all my stuff now is on hard drives. There’s a lot of stuff I can’t get on iTunes, so I’ve copied obscure CDs, very old blues, field recordings. I’ve got a three-terabyte drive, over 300, and something thousand pieces of music I can travel with. Classical music, soul music, African music. When I’m in different countries, I play music from that country. Portugal, Spain. I love flamenco, I love the blues, of course. And each country has its own version of the blues. In Portugal to have something called Fado, F-A-D-O.

All of these things, I’ve put in a blender and sooner or later, they manifest in some way shape or form in my music, or the arranging or actual instrumental ideas. Honest to God, I don’t have the room. I’m selling a house up at the lake, which has an enormous CD and DVD library. And we said, “Whoever buys the house can have the fucking lot.” We don’t have space for it. It’s all on drives now, unfortunately.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned there earlier, some of the former people that you work with, Steve Vai, Adrian Vandenberg, Tommy Aldridge. I also read a piece online before, where you mentioned as you get older, you like to try and rebuild bridges, relationships with people from your past. I just wondered after if there had been any connection or contact with Ritchie Blackmore?

David Coverdale: Yeah. In 2012, we lost Jon Lord. An immense loss on many levels. But Ritchie and I had been in a kind of feud or whatever, 30 years, not being very pleasant about each other. And I felt that was an opportunity to bury the hatchet, as it were because Ritchie and Jon Lord were my professors at the university of Deep Purple. Jon was such an incredibly beautiful Renaissance man, and Ritchie was very musically focused, an extraordinarily gifted musician. Both of them took me under their respective wings and I’ll never forget that. So, when Whitesnake and Rainbow became this conflicted jealousy trying to outgun each other, it was silly when you look back at it, but we all need distractions, I suppose.

But I reached out to Ritchie, through his wife, Candice, after we’d lost Jon, to offer my sincere condolences, and I wished him well and complimented him on doing the kind of music that he wants to do and sticking to it. One of the first things we discovered when I’d go to his house in Camberley in Surrey was our love of folk music, modal English folk music, which of course, you can translate into Bach’s style of music, where it’s modal, you can sing one note and the chords change underneath. It’s a very British thing. And we connected on Traffic, that we loved. He loved Jethro Tull and I loved the early stuff where there was a lot of Bach aspects to Ian Anderson’s composing.

So, we reconnected very positively. We email each other regularly on anniversaries because he’s like me. I only know it’s the 40 something anniversary of California Jam because people tell me on social media. So, then I’ll send him that, and I’ll go, “Oh, thank you. Oh my God. Can you remember that?” It’s very savoury, very healthy and I wish him well. I’m really pleased he’s playing some rock again when he has the opportunity. So yeah, we have reconnected in a positive way, which is really cool. And I’m still very close friends with Jimmy Page. We speak and text quite regularly.

ANTIHERO: What still drives and motivates you? Do you still have hopes and dreams, ambitions?

David Coverdale: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Not only do we have an arrangement with Warner Bros for the next five years, but I also have new projects that I’m working on, which obviously, but I’d also rather not say. The focus is on other things right now.

If indeed we can come together as a community and get rid of this fucking coronavirus and it’s safe for my musicians, my crew and I, and my audience to actually go out and play, that would be my dream. I’m coming up to 50 years in this business and I’ve been supported incredibly, and still have some of the people who accompanied me on my journey from Deep Purple. I’ve got to be able to go out and do my appreciation and gratitude tour. I was hoping I could do it at 69, I’d already designed the fucking T-shirt. I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

I’m holding the faith. I keep getting asked by Live Nation to do something in the spring. Sammy wants to do something the Autumn, Sammy Hagar. And I just don’t see, Mark. I wish I had a crystal ball, but I don’t see us being out of the… Woods is too nice an expression. Out of the shitshow that’s going on. But I hope so. I’m doing my best to stay in shape physically. I can’t sing particularly at this moment in time because I’m recovering from hernia surgery and I can’t project my voice, as you know, the big rock voice. I have to gently ease into that, and I don’t think I’ll be able to be doing anything, recording powerful voices at least, till December or January.

But I do have a bunch of new ideas for projects, which I’m always excited about. And fucking, I’m in the middle of doing Christmas songs. I don’t know about this Christmas.

ANTIHERO: You seem to be obviously keeping yourself busy with music and stuff. I just wondered, do you have any interests and hobbies outside of music, or is music just everything to you still?

David Coverdale: Everything. It’s oxygen. When I have free time, I’ll spend that with my wife. My son’s coming up from Los Angeles soon, I hope, for the American holiday of Thanksgiving and Halloween and stuff. I always feel better when he’s home, but of course, he’s 24, so he digs the shit out of… Well, not that LA is what it was at the moment, but he’s being very sensible and staying safe.

My hobbies, really, I’m a movie buff. I’m a fully paid-up member of the BAFTA. You know, the British Academy of Film and TV Arts?

I get to vote on that. I get movies sent to me. I love to read. I’m an inveterate reader to switch off. Basically, manage Whitesnake with the aid of an amazing lawyer and a business management company. I haven’t had a manager for many years. So basically, I work directly with the powers that be now, the record company, and at my publishing company. We have an amazing team of people.

All the ships are pointing in the right direction for the first time that I can remember. I’ve got a global deal. We had amazing success last year with our tour and with the Flesh and Blood album. So people are aware that Whitesnake’s still making relevant rock and roll, or still writing Whitesnake music, which is valid and strong and powerful. We took three or four songs on Flesh and Blood and they meshed perfectly with the usual Whitesnake hits in concert. A great band of brothers, and it’s heartbreaking that we can’t be working together. Everybody’s isolated. Joel’s in New York, Reb is in Pittsburgh, Tommy Aldridge, Santa Barbara. I think Michael Devin’s either in Boston or Los Angeles, the last we spoke. And of course, Michele Luppi is in Italy, which is just having another terrible surge.

ANTIHERO: You mentioned there you like to read in your spare time. I like to read myself, mostly musicians’ autobiographies. I just wondered if you had ever any plans to do an official David Coverdale: autobiography?

David Coverdale: Well, I will be. Yes. It’s called How White Was my Snake? I’ve still got too much to do before… I don’t want to be doing a fresh printing in 2025 or whatever. So, when I finish, when I hang up. You see, when I phoned round to tell you that I want to do my farewell tour, that’s a farewell to being Tarzan on fucking stage. I’ve always written very challenging songs, which challenged me, not only vocally, but challenged me physically to perform those songs because that’s why, for instance, with hernias, I couldn’t sing properly without being in great pain because I sing from the diaphragm, I use the whole body.

So that’s not me saying goodbye to music, but I will hopefully be able to go out and see people in smaller, more intimate venues, like an evening with David Coverdale, to tell stories and play unplugged versions and whatever, and interact with. I always see myself in Ronnie Scott’s, for Christ’s sake, for a couple of nights, somewhere in Newcastle. A nice place where you can have a glass of wine. But no fried food, please.

I did the chicken and chips circuit with the local lads.

ANTIHERO: I was going to say, actually suggest those types of unplugged type things.

David Coverdale: Yeah.

ANTIHERO: Something similar to what you did many years ago with, I think Adrian Vandenberg, you did some unplugged stuff?

David Coverdale: Correct. I did, yeah. I was very, very reluctant to do that, and then we totally loved it. It was really interesting to be able to tell stories and see that the songs were strong enough. All the stuff I write is pretty much on acoustic guitar and piano. So I write songs, but in my head, I can hear how powerful the drums can be, how powerful the guitars can be. It’s all vision. But that’s definitely part of the future. Definitely. In fact, Michael and I were talking about an Unzipped two. That did so extraordinarily well.

It’s really cool. At the end of this 50-year career, it’s amazing that we have a team and a record company and everybody in place, who’s totally supportive. A lot of the music is new to our new friends at Warners, So it’s very exciting. We sent them the plastic copy of The Blues Album and they were just freaking out and that’s not even released until February next year.

This trilogy is a lot of fun for me, and it’s the stuff that Michael McIntyre, my co-producer, and I have been talking about for fucking years, how do we get a sonic identity that we can put together? Always, since Philips first came out with a cassette, I think it was, and Sony came out with a portable recording machine, I’ve been making mixtapes. And I’ve always been able to hear the difference between the technology of the ’40s, the technology of the ’50s, the technology of the ’60s, et cetera. And I’ve been through four fucking decades, five decades of this, different musicians, different producers, different technology.

So, we haven’t lost the character of the performances or the songs, we’ve just brought them up to date. Like the ’87 album, I trusted the production team I was involved with, they knew FM radio and MTV significantly more than I did. So a lot of the time, I was being led by the hand, but afterward, I’d be going, “Wow, those fucking keyboards are way too tinkly. There’s two much echo on the snare on ‘Is This Love?'” And some of the Sykes’ amazing solos with such flurries of notes, too much echo spoiled the content of the solo, but now you can hear them perfectly.

I sent Joe Elliot a copy of The Rock Album before it came out, and he went, “Oh my God, is that a new fucking solo on Still of the Night?”

And I said, “No, you can hear it now.” So that’s the primary thing, and that’s been our last three, four years, we’ve been remixing in order for this scenario. And it’s paying off. This is my legacy. This is what I’m leaving for my fans and my family.

ANTIHERO: Looking back with all these anniversary releases, how do you view your own musical legacy?

David Coverdale: I don’t actually. I don’t really reflect on it. Let me see. I’m very proud of what I’ve done. The amazing thing is the astonishing, positive energy that we have on our social media about certain songs, it’s extraordinarily humbling to hear Is This Love? or something like that was a song that people got married to. Or a friend of mine who I worked with, I heard him talking to my wife and we’d remixed the Restless Heart album, and the song Don’t Fade Away, he’s going, “Oh my God, this is one of my top 10 songs I want to be played at my funeral,” which I thought, “how big a compliment is that?”

A lot of this music for 50 years has been the backdrop of a lot of people’s lives all over the world, and it’s extraordinarily humbling. But I look at myself as a singer-songwriter and hopefully very professional. Even when I’ve made bad deals, I’ve still honoured them. I’ve never reneged on a deal, and seemingly all my chickens are coming home to roost right now. It’s quite amazing.

For such a challenging time, I swear to God, we’re still being creative and trying to think outside whatever box people put things in, because when people say they want to return to normalcy, I don’t think it’s ever going to be the same. I think it’s very, very different, and hopefully better, God willing. God willing we have leadership that we can believe in and trust in, that doesn’t deceive and lie to us, and can be working as adults, proper adults, so we can take care of our children and give them a world worthy of them and not leave the shithole mess that we’ve found ourselves in.

ANTIHERO: I think also, as a fan, that times like this really make you appreciate much more the importance of live music to many people’s lives.

David Coverdale: Oh God, yeah. Well, it’s very tribal too. You go to a show, you might be going with a bunch of mates or whatever, you’re potentially going to meet some new friends because everybody’s in that arena or that theatre because they like that particular music. So there’s a common denominator there. You might meet your future husband, your future wife. It’s just musicians ending up having banter. I’ve run out of times that people have told me that they’ve formed a band from some of my shows out in Norway or fucking Denmark. It’s quite amazing.

But the live thing, it’s a tribal thing of people coming together. It’s not who we are as a species to be isolated, but there’s a situation that’s been created, which necessitates that in order for us to survive as a fucking species. Really, you look at the challenges our grandfather’s, great-grandfather’s, or whatever faced, we’ve got fucking Netflix and Disney Plus, for Christ’s sake, and Whitesnake have been putting music out.

I’ve got to go, Mark. I’ve got to go, my darling. Sorry about the confusion at the beginning and thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. And as everywhere, stay safe, to you and yours.

ANTIHERO: No problem. And you, David.

David Coverdale: All right, son. You take care now. God bless.

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Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time.

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