Engaging in a monstrous mission to “butch-up” the last two decades plus of the Whitesnake catalogue, David Coverdale has spent the last few years retracing his history. Rediscovering and revamping, the head ‘Snake has been looking back, all the while planning for a retirement tour that will see him celebrate five decades in rock in 2022. “I’m very passionate about what I do, and this is a huge legacy”, he tells us as we sit down for a chat over Zoom. Revisiting ‘Restless Heart’ twenty-five years on, we talk to David about the changing times that brought about that "hybrid" release, his ambition to bring a “timeless” sound to his works, and why John Sykes won’t be making an appearance with him anytime soon. In the still of the night; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi David, how are you doing today?
Bluebirds fly out of every orifice! It doesn’t get better.
Welcome back to eonmusic. What have you been up to since we last spoke in October 2021?
Working five days a week, and resting two days at the weekend! My wife and I bought a beach house which I've discovered is the one place in the world where I can actually go and completely relax. I'm 24/7, as most of the people who work with me will tell you.
Work wise, you’ve been particularly busy of late, revisiting and reissuing of your catalogue.
I’m very passionate about what I do, and this is a huge legacy scenario we're working on together now. My co-producer Michael [McIntyre] has been with me almost thirty-five years; it's lasted two marriages, man! [laughing] So now we're just working on these.
We’re working on new songs through COVID, and we're working every day on revamping, revisiting of projects, and we have, next year a very special project for spring which I can't talk about - that's going to be a nice surprise for people to accompany the world farewell tour – and then, later in the year, this time in 2022 will be the box set of ‘Good to be Bad’ , which is shaping up beautifully. It's sounding amazing, and I’ll tell you what’s really leaping out to me, and I texted him the other day; Doug Aldridge, wow, what an electrifying guitarist! The work we're listening to, one of our co-produces has never heard Doug’s isolated guitar playing, and it's just extraordinary. He’s just a magician, an absolute magician.
You've touched on so much that I want to cover, but let’s start with ‘Good to Be Bad’; what an opening track you have on that album in ‘Best Years’.
They’re all pretty much diaries of experiences that were going on. I’m blessed to have amazing people around me, very positive, and it's taken decades to achieve where I’m at now with people who I trust in all avenues of my professional career. My private life is just amazing; COVID, my wife and I, our relationship, as deep and as profound as it was, became even more profound. You know, my best friend, just to be living together, and we're very fortunate we have a nice house with the gym or whatever and we have people delivering food for us, and it was amazing to not get fed up, you know, with your partner. So it really was a time for me to take stock of how blessed, and how fortunate that I am in my life. So once again, even though I wrote ‘Best Years’ in what, is that 2008? All these years later I can still say; “it's the best years of my life”. It really is, even at fuckin’ seventy!
You’ve been working extensively on revitalizing your catalogue and the latest release is ‘Restless Heart’; some people view albums as untouchable sacred cows, but you seem to relish the chance to reshape them.
Oh, completely, otherwise you wouldn’t have them in your hand. It was a very challenging record for us. Michael was with me, and my wife Cindy and I were pregnant with our son Jasper, so I wanted to be on location, so Michael, of course had the impossible task of renting somewhere. Donna Summer, god rest her soul, we rented her house on the south shore or Lake Tahoe, and Michael built an SSL studio there, and it was just technical issues after technical issues. But we fought through it, we got through it.
What do you remember about the making of ‘Restless Heart’, back in 1997?
I called Adrian [Vandenberg], who’s one of my dearest friends, and a fantastic collaborator, and said; “right, I’m going to do a solo album, are you doing anything? Do you want to fly over?”, and he did, and he lived with us for about six months. It was amazing, and another testament to how strong our friendship is; a great cook, great wine, a raconteur, a lovely man, superb guitarist, and you couldn’t ask for a better song writing partner. So, we were near the end of this thing, after doing the extravagant albums like ‘Slip of the Tongue’  and ‘Coverdale Page’ , I wanted it to be a bit more organic, strip it down a little bit.
The album was originally billed as ‘David Coverdale & Whitesnake’.
It was supposed to be a David Coverdale solo album after I’d worked with Coverdale Page, and the guys at EMI promoted the idea of this working under my own name, which I’ve got to say, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about. I like being in a band, I like being in Whitesnake! Obviously, there’s going to be elements of Whitesnake because I’m the principle writer for the band, but the circumstances, the new executives came in from EMI, and at least showed me the respect of flying over to Reno and sitting down to listen to the album. I bought a case of Puligny-Montrachet so we’re all quaffing that, and then they asked if they could have a word with me, and I thought; “aye aye, what’s this?!” They said; “we want this to be a Whitesnake album”, and I’m going; “but it isn’t – not as it is!” , and they said; “well, contractually, we can demand that, and we’d rather you were in agreement”. So I said; “fine”.
So you didn’t think it would work as a Whitesnake album?
I felt the songs were really strong, but if it was a Whitesnake album I wouldn’t have used girls on it [female backing singers], I wouldn’t have done ‘Stay With Me Baby’ [Lorraine Ellison cover], and ‘Don’t Fade Away’ very likely would not [have appeared on it]. I sat with Adrian and Michael going; “well, we can turn the guitars up a bit, we can turn the drums up a bit”, but I always felt it wasn’t doing it good service. And then the mastering was tough, and even more different executives came in, and it was just a really challenging record, so revisiting it was just an utter pleasure for me.
You’ve employed Derek Sherinian for the 25th Anniversary version, as well as current ‘Snake guitar player Joel Hoekstra.
I’ve missed Jon Lord for many years, god rest his soul, so Derek Sherinian, who literally has just been voted top keyboard player of the 21st century – and well deserved; the guy’s a monster! – to me, and this is a compliment, he’s like the illegitimate son of Jon Lord. I mean, there’s magic there, there’s no question. So he came, and we put this on, and we went; “wow, this is fantastic!”, and then Michael and I both agreed we needed to beef the guitars up. Adrian’s way busy with stuff, and Joel was working with Cher in Vegas, and he took a week off and he called us and said; “can I come up and hang at the studio?” and, of course, we love him dearly, so; “yeah, come on in, bring your Les Paul; we’re going to put you to work!” He's an extraordinary player, as I call him, the incendiary! He doubled all the rhythm guitars without stepping on Adrian’s toes in any way, shape or form. It’s an incredibly respectful performance, and we sat there and went; “now it’s a Whitesnake record”.
That’s apparent on the title track in particular, which now opens the album.
Yeah, and there’s a bunch of stuff on there. There’s two songs that the original ideas were for Coverdale Page II, which is ‘Take Me Back Again’, and ‘Woman Trouble Blues’. I never had the opportunity to play them to Jimmy. I remember we sent him the album way back, and I said; “these two songs were ideas for us to do”, and he went; “oh man, they’re great!” But Adrian does us proud, and he helped me finish the songs, and some of my favorite solos of Adrian’s are on this record, particularly those two, and ‘Your Precious Love’; amazing.
The lead single from the album was ‘Too Many Tears’, which has a feel and sound that harkens back to your earlier days.
Well, it’s interesting, when people say; “what comes first; music or lyrics or whatever?”, there’s never a routine aspect, something will just occur. I’d had the chorus for quite some time; “there’s been too many tears falling / too many hearts breaking in two”, and I love the blues. It’s very interesting because when I say this is very much a hybrid album of early Whitesnake going into the more electric style that I wanted to pursue, this could easily be on ‘Trouble’ , it could easily be on ‘Ready an' Willing’  without a shadow of a doubt. So there’s a thread of all my songs that continues through, regardless of the personalities that I work with; the necessary Whitesnake elements are blues, rock, soul, hooks and melody catches. I don’t want to just do twelve-bar blues, I want stuff that you can not only identify with from your life’s experiences, but you can also sing the choruses.
It's quite an introspective song.
This is a very deep, reflective song, and of course, it was probably tied in to my previous marriage, you know, the way things had unfolded there, so there’s a sadness. I never listened to the album for many years, but right now, the cool thing is, with the remix and the remastering by Scott Hull in New York, it’s my most played CD in the car. And we’re working on all this stuff all the time, but it really flows beautifully; the new running order we’ve put together makes more sense.
You mentioned your previous marriage, which was to Tawny Kitaen who passed away earlier this year; it must have been a strange place to be, working on that album when you heard the news.
Oh yeah, and you must remember, there had been no communication, other than rather unpleasant, I’m sad to say, from her side. But it’s fine for me to be quiet. The difference between me and country and westerners is I don’t name names in my songs, but I can always tell who they’re about. It was an awful shock. I sent my immediate condolences to her family. I never met her children. We had no direct dialogue for thirty years, if not more. So, it’s fascinating. It was very distressing, and I know, with me being so active on social media, these are iconic things; Tawny doing summersaults on my Jag and the video director’s Jag [referencing the ‘Here I Go Again’ promo clip] is like one of the biggest rock and roll MTV moments you can imagine; it’s enormous! So it was, I think, a great loss to a lot of people who adored her, and I just honour her memory. All I did that day was play the videos, you know, the happier days; the videos we worked together on.
But I’ll be honest with you, with my wife Cindy, it started with the Coverdale Page record; ‘Take A Look at Yourself’ was the first song I wrote for my wife Cindy. I said; “oh my god, I’ve never had a hit with a positive song!” [laughing]. The thing is, they’re all celebrations of my love for my wife, and that’s an enormous thing for me, when you know and feel that this is your life’s partner. Immense. So that helps you over any kind of emotional shock or surprise.
Back to the ‘Restless Heart’ album, and around that period you released your most stripped back album, the fantastic ‘Starkers in Tokyo’ .
Michael and I were doing a world tour of promotion, and we picked up Adrian in Amsterdam, I think, and suddenly we got a request from Poland, from national radio; “would you come and do a performance”, and it’s impossible to get Whitesnake together at a short space of time, so we talked about; “well, if they can supply an acoustic guitar, what do you think, Adrian?” And he went; “yeah, sure!” So the Soviets had just left, just bailed and given Poland back its independence, and I said; “well let’s do songs which have some relevance to the Polish people”, so ‘Sailing Ships’ is a song of optimism, and you’re the ones who hold the keys to your destiny, spread your wings and fly, so we played that; ‘Too Many Tears’, because after seventy years of occupation, you would imagine there’s been some tears, some serious weeping going on; and of course, the very uplifting ‘Here I Go Again’ on my own, so that went over beautifully, and we felt very good and ended up drinking Starka all night with the Polish record company; it was great!
So how did that lead to the album that was recorded in Japan?
Then, everybody wanted us to do it, and I said; “hey, we’re not fucking Simon and Garfunkel!”, you know?! But quite honestly, most of the writing we do is on acoustic guitars or pianos; it’s very rare we’re crunching guitars in front of each other! It’s like, conversations; I’ll have my acoustic, he’ll have his, and I’ll go; “oh yeah!”, and I can’t play that inversion, but he’s brilliant, he’s got that… So, our manager at the time, a beautiful man, the best manager I’ve ever had, Howard Kaufmann who’s another one who’s sadly passed away, we’d just made a big deal with Toshiba in Japan, and they said; “we want the whole concert from David!”, and we’re going; “no! no no no!”, and it’s similar to Capitol Records, the Toshiba EMI building in Tokyo, with the studio in the top, so Howard’s going; “oh, give them a favour. They’re going to double the promotional things, this that and the other”, so Adrian and I are going; “okay, so what are we going to do?!”
It turned out so beautifully.
I think we’ve got some of our rehearsal tapes in the ‘Unzipped’ package. What was really interesting for me is, as I sat, it’s in my head when I’m writing a song which I know is going to be a rock song, I can hear what I want Tommy Aldridge to do, I hear Reb Beach, and that kind of stuff; it’s a vision that I can maintain in my head while I’m playing these dorky chords. If it’s a good quality song, you should strip it down, bare-ass naked, and it should be able to stand up, which is the ‘Starkers’ album – bollock naked in Tokyo, without the benefit of huge thunderous drums and big guitars.
What so you remember about the ‘Starkers in Tokyo’ show?
It was a specially invited audience by Toshiba, and some very good friends of mine; Masa Ito and Kō Sakai from Burrn! Magazine – these guys I’ve known since Purple days. And then I said; “okay, I have to have final approval of this, because this is something I’ve never done before”, and we just had a blast. It was fantastic, and we mixed it the next day, I think, and that was the quickest project I’ve ever done! There you go!
It got an international release, a few years later.
EMI, outside of Japan had no idea what to do with it, no idea! It was a very, very popular. It’s a beautiful moment. When Vivian [Campbell], god bless him, was working with me, I gave him the basic ideas for ‘The Deeper The Love’ and ‘Sailing Ships’, and got nothing back and I went; “oh, fuck it”; gave it to Adrian, and within 24 hours I had two working demos, and I went; “you’re on!”, and we moved forward. Anybody who writes with me will tell you; I’m very focused, very zoned. I don’t want it to be like root canals; let’s get on with this! If it’s meant to be, it’ll unfold organically.
The album that followed ‘Restless Heart’ was ‘Into the Light’, your solo release from 2000; will it get a revamp under the Whitesnake banner?
I think we’re doing that as a Whitesnake one too. We’re toughening them up. I love that record, and you can still here, there are certain songs, I wanted to sing more. After all the Tarzan years and stuff, I wanted to, you know? Once I got more involved with social media, I would hear directly from the fans; “oh, we love your low voice, we love your mid-range”, and all that kind of stuff. And of course, I was pooping myself; I’d written ‘Is This Love’ for Tina Turner, and [David] Geffen heard it and went; “oh, no, no, no! We’re keeping that!”, which I’m glad we did; it’s still a very personal theme in there, and it’s a huge hit. Anyway, I’ve got side-tracked, ‘Into the Light’; we’re doing the same kind of butching-up that we did on ‘Restless Heart’.
What’s it been like for you, personally revisiting your catalogue?
How does it feel with distance when you start hearing these things? I’m an onwards and forwards kind of guy; once I’ve done it, signed off on it, I’m off, mate! So just brings back memories, and thankfully, most of them are positive, which is the greatest thing. But this is trying to make these songs timeless, as opposed to time capsules; that’s what all this is about because we’ve always used the best equipment, but you listen to the ‘Slide it in’ original, and, incidentally, as you said, a lot of people regard these as sacred icons, we always keep the original intact; we just remaster them, and then we present the new version; the same house of Whitesnake with some different furniture and a painting here and there.
What can you tell us about the farewell tour you have planned?
We have this farewell tour, and when I say that I'm retiring, I’m retiring from touring at this level. It's so huge and it takes months and months and months to set up. I was hoping actually, to retire at 69 which is absolutely the best age for the lead singer of Whitesnake to step down. It’s not going to stop me. You know, seventy sucks, but there you go! I have to do this tour of appreciation and gratitude so I can achieve completion. I’m coming up to fifty years of people supporting my work; it's just extraordinary, it's a magical life and as the song ‘Don't Fade Away’ says; “all in all, it's been a rocky road”, but we’ve still got the passion to move forward.
You must be looking forward to the dates.
Because we have no idea how covid was going to go god willing, people will work together as a community. I want my audience to feel safe, and I want my crew, my band to feel safe to come out and do these shows. I don’t want to do a video going; “thank you so much for supporting me for fifty years”, you know?!, I want to be there, and it’s going to be so emotional to do these shows. Anyway, when this was signed, sealed, delivered, we said; “I don’t think we can just put a box set out, it’s my farewell tour”, so we’ve worked on a very special project to accompany the tour. It’s not a box, but it’s a really great project.
What are the chances even as a one-off, of seeing you and John Sykes on stage together before the curtain comes down; is there any unfinished business there?
Not for me. I admire John, I wish him well in everything, but it was interesting that we were so successful in writing together, so successful, but as people we weren’t. There was a constant rub. A mutual friend put us together in, I think it was ’02 or something like that, and we talked and stuff for a long time and it was lovely, but the more and more I spoke with him I thought; “I feel the same as it was thirty-odd years ago, and the last thing I want to do is make a commitment, and then be calling my wife from Tokyo saying; “what the fuck did I agree to this for?” I’m sorry to disappoint you, but the other thing, Sean Connery; ‘never say never’, but there’s nothing right now at this moment in time. When we lost Jon Lord, I reached out to a lot of people – including Richie [Blackmore], god bless him – to bury whatever potential hatchet, and I put out feelers, and it wasn’t particularly positively received, so what I can tell you is I wish everyone well who I’ve worked with, because they all brought something amazing to the party.
Before we conclude, can you put to bed the recent headline that Whitesnake could continue without David Coverdale?!
Well, no, no! The circumstance is that the music’s going to continue, and I’m still going to be doing projects, very likely with these guys. I’m just not going to tour. I haven’t even spoken to the band at depth. We have a daily text thread with each other which is mostly amusing themes. Really, I don’t know. See, I work with Foreigner, my good friends, if they’re coming over [for the 2022 European tour]; if Mick Jones isn’t on there, there isn’t an original member there, but the audience loves them. Why? Because they love the music, and the music is played respectfully. I don’t know. These are questions I’ll talk to the band. They might go; “fuck you, DC!”, you never know! I’m truly excited because we have some new flavours to bring out, which I think is going to be an amazing addition to an already kick-ass cake!
You’re talking about the addition of your new keyboard player, aren’t you?
You must have heard my Croatian superstar Dino Jelusick; we heard this guy with his local band opening for us in 2019, and I went; “who the fuck is THAT?!” Very rarely you say that, and Joel said; “oh, I know him. We worked together in Trans-Siberian Orchestra”, and I said; “Is he a nice guy?! That guy’s a fucking ‘snake!” And of course there wasn’t time for me to reach out to him in that time, and we were in lockdown for over a year, so as soon as it looked like we were going to be doing this farewell tour, I called the band, particularly [keyboardist] Michele [Luppi], who I adore, and he’s a great keyboard player, and I said; “it’s no reflection on you”.
What do you think Dino will bring to the Whitesnake sound?
I’ve always looked at Whitesnake as an orchestra as opposed to a band. A lot of my songs are symphonic songs with four or five different scenarios; ‘Forevermore’; epic! ‘Mistreated; epic! ‘Sailing Ships’; epic! ‘Crying in the Rain’; epic! 'Still of the Night'; epic! These are all, not the run of the mill, three minute tracks, these are chest-beating motherfuckers, so to have it be even more epic and the big Whitesnake choruses even more epic, to me, it’s just too exciting a concept to pass on.
The tour kicks off, right here in Ireland in May 2022.
Dublin, baby! Dublin’s fair city! It’s where me nana’s from! I’ll be down O’Connell street. I do it every time I’m in Dublin. I’ve got a beautiful black and white picture of my mam and my nana, headscarves and all, purses, walking down O’Connell Street, and of course, you’ve got Phil [Lynott] there at the bottom, which is adorable and well deserved.
Finally, and you’ve touched on this already, but will there be another album from Whitesnake?
I hope so, yeah! It just hasn’t been safe to bring the guys in. One of my studio team is a cancer survivor, so his immune system isn’t as strong as we would hope, so we’ve been exercising the strictest health protocols at Hook City. Hopefully next year I can get them in early, before we start rehearsing. I’ve got a couple of tunes I want to get these guys working on for later in the year. Of course, they’re the greatest bunch of guys. I love them dearly, so yes, there will be new music, without a doubt.
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