He may have a new brand new "mixtape" on the horizon, but in being granted a rare audience with David Coverdale, there is clearly much to discuss. Celebrating almost five decades as a professional recording artist, the head 'Snake has worked with some of the finest musicians of a generation; from Ritchie Blackmore to Jimmy Page; Steve Vai to John Sykes. In Part One of our EXCLUSIVE chat, we talk about his journey with those great players, the new 'Love Songs' collection, his expansive plans to remix and reissue Whitesnake's later works, and his pride and joy in Coverdale Page. Good to be bad; Eamon O’Neill.
Hi David, what are you up to today?
I'm currently down in the beautiful sleepy foothills of the Sierra Navads, where Hook Studio is, which is a converted house. It's not a residential studio, but it's a house that we've built an amazing high-definition studio in, we have a video editing room, wee have a psychorama room for shooting videos, and It's incredible; people think it's a fucking meth lab! But it's a studio which is just really for Whitesnake and our projects.
I'm calling you from just down the road from Ballyshannon, the birthplace of Rory Gallagher; I believe you're a bit of a fan.
Mmm-hmm. Rory, I met him a couple of times, and I opened for him in Taste, with Charlie McCracken on bass. I was in a local band, and we were playing in a club outside of Peterlee, in the north of England, in a venue called the 'Argus Butterfuly'. It was in the depths of a cold, snowy; snow banks everywhere, and these guys, their van had broken down driving out of London, so Rory got his Strat, Charlie had got his bass, and the drummer got his snare drum and some sticks, and they thought; "well, we'll throw ourselves on the bus or whatever, and whoever's opening [we can use their gear]", so they got the train up to Darlington, and they walked in a blizzard to this gig; that was the commitment of Taste and Rory.
That must have been some sight, seeing them walking in from the snow!
Well, my guitar player was using a Vox AC30, which Rory was going; "oh my god!", and he was sitting there, sipping a rum and coke I think it was, with a scarf wrapped around him.
You wanted Rory for Deep Purple, didn't you, when Ritchie Blackmore left?
I loved him so much that when Ritchie said he was leaving [in 1975], the first guitar player I had on the list was Jeff Beck - who I'm still enamoured with entirely - there was Rory, god rest his soul, and then Tommy Bolin. So, yeah, Rory, I thought would have been something, I did. But Rory did really, really well. When he was making 'Calling Card'  in Munich, I spent a lot of time there because that was like my second home. I'd often go down there, and there was just books all over, on Catholicism! [laughing!]
We're here today to talk about the new collection 'Love Songs'. You've said that the tracks have been "musically embellished"; were you nervous at all about tinkering with them?
Not as nervous I think as others who think of these as religious relics, or ancient relics! To me, they're blueprints for live shows, or that's how it was for me, many years ago. I've always been a mixtape guy, from the moment that Philips introduced cassettes, and Sony introduced the portable stereo you could record from. I'd record mixtapes; tapes to get me worked up before a show; tapes for meditation, and I still make mixtapes; I've got over a quarter of a million songs on a three terabyte drive. I love music; classical music, Portuguese music, Brazilian music, Belize music; all of these things. It all goes into the Coverdale blender, and I learn something from everything and soak it in like a sponge.
The tweaks you've made to the tracks actually help it to sound like one complete album, rather than a compilation.
One of the most difficult things for me is to make mixtapes for Whitesnake, my own band! There are so many hits. I'm coming up to fifty years as a professional recording artist, and we've worked with '60s technology, '70s technology, '80s technology; different musicians, different engineers, different producers, different mastering engineers, and consequently you have all of these different identities, and I wanted to make Whitesnake, still maintaining the integrity of the performance without compromising.
When we did the 'Slide it In, people were just filling my social media with; "oh my god, this is the best I've ever heard Cozy Powell sound!"; "this is the best I've ever heard Jon Lord sound!", and that's part of the reason for me to do this; to bring everything up to date, give it a sonic identity which is identifiable.
You once again worked with long time associate Michael McIntyre, and the set follows on from last year's well-received 'Flesh & Blood' album.
My co-producer Michael McIntyre and I, we've worked together for over thirty years, but when we finished, what was a very challenging project to do, the 'Flesh & Blood' album, I'd had to have double knee surgery, and I was on very heavy medication, and in a great deal of pain, and thankfully, my knees were still with me - as well as my amazing musicians Reb [Beach, guitar], Joel [Hoekstra, guitar], Michael Devin [bass], Tommy Aldridge [drums] and Michele Luppi [keyboards]; they were just amazing, was we came up with a great album - but by the time we came to mix, I said to Mikey; "I just don't have the focus for this". I think this album had already been quoted a year earlier, and called out for it on rock website - as fucking usual before people here something, going; "I think this is going to be one of the best Whiteshake albums ever", and they go; "yeah, right...", and it fucking is! I can tell you, I fucking started it; I know it's a good one!
You've also worked with Christopher Collier to remix the tracks on 'Love Songs'.
We came across a young man called Christopher Collier, and he came in, and I've got a studio office built into my house, and I said; "I'll be in my office; there you go, pick up the tapes, and have a play" - I didn't leave him any instruction, and a couple of hours later he came out, and I said; "have you found anything?", and he said; "yeah, I've got a couple of tracks to play with". And I was like; "yeah, right...", and I walked in, and I was like; "holy mother of god! The guy's like a sonic sushi chef!" It wasn't to prove himself as the fastest gun in the west; that's just how he worked! He said; "It's great! It's all there", and it was just fabulous.
To my ear, the tracks that benefit greatly from the remix are the 'Slip of the Tongue' era ones; 'Now You're Gone', and 'The Deeper the Love'.
Absolutely. I was working with two producers at the time [in 1989, on the original album]; Mike Clink and Keith Olsen - who recently passed, I'm sad to say - but this was like the sum total of two competitive producers, and I had a very distracting marriage [to supermodel Tawney Kitaen, star of the '1987' videos] which was very shortly on its way out, so it wasn't' my most focused album. I still think some of the songs are amazing, but one of the primary things that I did for the 'Slip of the Tongue' album, was where and when I could, I got Adrian Vandenberg [on the new remixes], because he was never featured on the original record because he injured his wrist.
There's a lot more clarity and depth to the tracks.
One of the things that's very noticeable; it's all '80s keyboards, which I can't stand. They totally date it, but it's got the wonderful musician who I'm still working with - Tommy Aldridge - and the fucking seven-string sorcerer, this breath taking virtuoso [Steve Vai], so there's nothing in there [that needed working on], but what I needed was a Jon Lord Hammond organ. Thank god, I found Derek Sherinian, who - and I know he won't mind me saying this - Derek's like the illegitimate son of Jon Lord. And he respects the work he's doing - which is huge - and the material's very strong, so he just played his ass off for us, and you can hear it. Not only that, but Chris and I found guitar licks that Steve had done, which, for whatever fucking reason, we ignored back in '89 whenever we were doing it. So Steve's thrilled! [laughing]. But I'm glad you noticed that.
Those songs really do benefit from the remix.
It's just making it a more organic, human sound, but also, it's so interesting, when I worked with Jon, the heat was off organ; I wanted more guitar, so I wanted to electrify Whitesnake more. So it was really interesting with Jon, back to Purple, when I could indulge in my guitar hero scenario, but it was down the line that I thought, fuck, I so miss, not only Jon as a person, but the incredible sound tapestry he would create, which was really limited, but so incredibly effective.
Another song that has gotten a serious reworking is the severely underrated 'Too Many Tears', which seems to be a track that you really love.
Very much so, and there's two versions of it; there's the blues version, which is going to be remixed, et cetera, which will be on Whitesnake 'The Blues Album' [coming in 2021]. I'm a huge fan of Roy Orbison, and one of the acolytes of Roy Orbison is Chris Isaak.
His kind of approach on the 'Love Songs' version of the track is unmistakable!
Now it's interesting, because Chris Isaak had heard the original from the 'Restless Heart'  record, and he said; "you know, you should do more of a Roy Orbison on this", and I went; "oh wow, that's an idea!" So, I was working with him, and some amazing musicians, actually. Do you remember the name Earl Slick, from David Bowie? Well, Earl's Slick's playing a White Falcon Gretch, and we were going to look at doing a lap steel, but I thought it might make it too country, so we did a kind of Roy Orbison 'twang' scenario. But I remember Adrian saying; "Why would you record it? Out version's great!" I said; "it's totally great, but I just wanted to see what it's like with some different colours".
It almost sounds like a completely new rerecording.
It's once again all new mixes. Everything is remixed. If you remember the 'Restless Heart' album; we had the keyboard player we were just discussing - Derek Sherinian - a giant of a musician, and a beautiful guy, and everything he did, it just touches my soul, and it also reminds me of Jon Lord, in the most positive way. And that's no disrespect to Derek, because Derek's his own man, but it gives me that identity, which reminds me; it touches my soul. And I'm in such appreciation for Derek coming into the picture.
'Restless Heart' was a different period for you, and that album was billed as 'David Coverdale & Whitesnake'.
One of the things that 'Restless Heart' originally was, was after Coverdale Page' , my manager at the time - another beautiful soul we've lost - Harold Kaufman, after Coverdale Page, wanted to start building the 'Coverdale' identity. So, "okay", so of course, Adrian and I were incredibly close friends, and I'd started writing, and I started more when... let's see, some tour; Geffen and EMI released a 'Greatest Hits' and it was like top 10 all over the place, and I was going out with a group I was calling 'The Dog's Bollocks!'; just playing stuff with Warren DeMartini, and Adrian, and it wasn't really meant to be a Whitesnake thing, but of course, I got absolutely talked into it.
So that 1994 tour led to pressure for a new Whitesnake album?
The circumstance is, I was getting so familiar that my deal with EMI was 'David Coverdale, aka, known as the artist 'Whitesnake'. It's always been my name on the deals, nobody else's, so, I can turn around and say; "I'm going to do the solo record", and everybody's going to go; "fantastic!". So I started working on the songs [circa 1993], and Adrian and I are basically speaking every day, and I said; "why don't you come over and help me with the songs?", which he did, and we had a super time, and then suddenly, I start working with Jimmy Page, and put all that on hold, and when we came back to it, I was going; "wow, some of these songs are really cool!" I'd started writing Ideas for Coverdale Page II, and his manager at that time talked him out of it, so I've utilised those ideas over the years, in the songs 'Woman Trouble Blues', and 'Take Me Back Again' [from 'Restless Heart'], and just recently on 'Flesh & Blood', on the song 'Gonna Be Alright'.
What happened that changed 'Restless Heart' from a solo album into a sort-of Whitesnake one?
When were finishing off David Coverdale's solo album, the new powers that be at EMI flew to Reno and sat me down and said; "we want this to be a Whitesnake record", and we'd nearly finished mixing the fucking thing! I said; "it's mad!" Some tracks are very rocky, but it's more like soulful; 'Your Precious Love', 'Don't Fade Away'. So, we did the best we could in terms of the mix, and then they agreed to do 'David Coverdale & Whitesnake'. That's how it started; we turned up Adrian's guitars, and the drums, and then I was unhappy with the mastering, sadly, so it was a frustrating record for me.
So when Joel had joined - he's such a precise player - and Adrian in, he was going to work in Vegas with the immortal Cher, and Mikey and I said; "fuck it, why don't we fly him in to double up his Les Paul chords on Adrian's stuff?", because I'd already had Derek Sherinian do amazing organ, so the new 'Restless Heart' sounds like a beautiful hybrid of the earlier Whitesnake to the 'Slide it In' sound of things, but really it's very soulful.
So you're going to be releasing a brand new version of 'Restless Heart'?
Actually, we've been tweaking that in the studio this last couple of days, and it's going to be mastered soon for vinyl. The box set of that's going to be, I think, May / June next year. It's fucking kick-ass, Eamon, and when we rerelease it, it IS going to be under Whitesnake'; it's not going to be that ridiculous 'David Coverdale & Whitesnake'. We've embellished it so much with Joel Hoekstra and with Derek Sherinian, and it's much tougher; it's much more Whitesnake. I don't have that confusion of half a David Coverdale album. But if you listen to 'Restless Heart' and my solo record 'Into the Light', you can see the comparisons; it's a very brother and sister album, and you'll see what I was going for.
Have you any further news on the Coverdale Page album being reissued?
Well, my time with Jimmy was amazing. We spoke a couple of weeks ago, in fact, I'm probably going to speak to him this weekend. I think we're probably going to be looking at an anniversary issue in '23. What would that be; 20th? THIRTY?! Fucking hell! As my wife would say; "how old ARE YOU?!" [Laughing].
Have you any idea what an anniversary edition might include?
Yeah, I think you're in for some nice surprises. Jimmy and I have been talking about it, and he's isolated out in the country, so we just have to make sure, because I'm not getting on a fucking plane, and I certainly don't expect him to! We'll have the original album remastered, and we've got a bunch of songs we didn't release, and I videoed most of the writing and recording scenario, and all the way to the shows in Osaka and stuff, so, there's a shit load of content, but one of the things I suggested to him, I said; "why don't you do a Jimmy Page mix on the record, and I'll do a David Coverdale mix, and let the fans just get Jimmy's perspective, and mine".
You seem to look back over that period very fondly.
It was a great relationship with Jimmy. The lawyers were furious; they thought they were going to make a bunch of money negotiating this and that, and Jimmy and I just met in New York, shook hands and said everything's 50/50. And we did that like Lennon / McCartney without the bitterness! [laughing].
Have you had any albums during your career that for you, have fallen short?
The only frustrating albums I had was 'Lovehunter' , because the manager refused to put Ian Paice, once Paicey had joined, I just felt Paicey - and no disrespect to the original drummer [Dave Dowle] - but Paicey is fucking Ian Paice! Him and Neil Murray, dear god, they nailed it, as you can hear on 'Ready an' Willing' , and 'Come an' Get It' , and that is sad to me, because I thought 'Lovehunter' had great songs that would have benefitted greatly by having Ian Paice on. The other one was 'Restless Heart', because it wasn't supposed to be a Whitesnake album. So, I don't really have any regrets.
What were the circumstances that led to 'Good to be Bad' in 2008, the first proper Whitesnake album in almost two decades?
So, all of my experience for the last bunch of years had been with the overtly corporate music business. I mean, it's always been corporate, but it just became stupid greedy, and it changed the whole dynamic. Most of my career, I've worked with record company people who were musicians or formerly in bands; they had some musical credentials, so I could talk to them artistically, as well as business. So that was totally changed to the point of, simply image, minimal substance, just fucking music factory stuff; "it's not for me". So I restricted the band in 2003, and Doug Aldrich was the first guy in there, and we connected really well - I'm sorry Ronnie, I stole another guitarist off you! God rest his soul - and while I was working with Doug , he said; "what do you thing about recording again?", and I go; "no, no, no; let's just do this for fun".
What changed your mind?
Everybody at that time said; "you've got to tour every year", and I said; "why?!" I'd done really well, but I took their counsel, and I toured 2003, 2004, 2005, and made a bunch of money - there's no question at all - but I was getting really fucking bored. You've got to remember, I only ever toured every three years, so, every year I'm going; "fucking hell, I hope my audience isn't as bored with 'Love Ain't No Stranger' as I am!" I had to stop, and I thought; "I need new meat to bite into", and Doug and I had gotten on so well as friends who socialise, and I said; "okay, lets see if our conversation can go into a musical exchange".
It certainly did work, and you followed it with 'Forevermore' in 2011.
We just wrote, naturally, really organically, together. I think both albums we wrote together; the 'Good to be Bad' album - which is being remixed. We still have a bit to go on that one; only a few tracks - and 'Forevermore', I thought were like, our 'Sgt. Pepper' until we put out 'Flesh & Blood'. I thought 'Forevermore', the title track, and 'Love Will Set You Free', 'Steal Your Heart Away' immediately went into the Whitesnake classics stuff that was embraced across the board by Whitesnake fans around the world.
What's it like seeing those newer songs become classics?
We played in New Zealand [in March 2008], and the song 'Lay Down Your Love' had been played a few times on radio, and we played with Ozzy, god bless him, at the first and only New Zealand Rock Festival, and we shot a video there of 'Lay Down Your Love', and fucking hell! 20,000 people singing with us! You know, it's not exactly the most difficult hook line, but I mean, to see and hear a stadium full of people singing a new song, is quite amazing.
Click for Part Two of our 'An Audience with David Coverdale' interview, from Monday 2nd November 2020.
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