Why David Coverdale Couldn’t Wait to Remix ‘Whitesnake,’ and What’s Next: Exclusive Interview
At first glance, it’s the incredible commercial success of Whitesnake's self-titled album from 1987 that sticks out. The album has sold close to 10 million copies in the U.S., partially driven by the chart-topping success of “Here I Go Again,” which had been rescued from its initial placement on 1982’s Saints & Sinners LP and given a new coat of paint.
The hit power ballad “Is This Love” came close to matching that success, stopping at No. 2 on the chart. Two other singles, “Still of the Night” and “Give Me All Your Love,” helped to ensure that the British hard rock band was a constant presence on the radio and on MTV.
But leading up to the release of Whitesnake, leader David Coverdale found himself dealing with vocal issues after sinus surgery, which required a long recovery period. Producers shuffled in and out and, according to Coverdale, there was no shortage of dissension within the ranks -- something that eventually drove a permanent wedge between the singer and guitarist and collaborator John Sykes. By the time Whitesnake was completed, Coverdale dismissed the band members who recorded the record and brought in new players for the tour in support of the album.
In hindsight, it’s remarkable Coverdale was able to complete the project and have it turn out to be as successful as it was. A new 30th-anniversary box set arrives on Oct. 6 and gives fans the chance to check out a bunch of previously unreleased material from the era. The four-CD/one-DVD edition includes a remastered version of the original album which restores tracks that were released overseas. As you dig further into the set, the real gems emerge, including a full disc of demos and rehearsals that reveals the collaborative chemistry between Coverdale and Sykes.
There are also discs that document the 1987-88 tour with guitarists Adrian Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell, bassist Rudy Sarzo and drummer Tommy Aldridge, and collect the radio and single mixes along with 1987's Japanese EP Versions. The DVD gathers the videos, a new documentary and more.
It’s a collection that should keep fans busy, Coverdale tells Ultimate Classic Rock in the second part of a two-part interview.
You did a new version of “Here I Go Again” for the 1987 album. What were your thoughts when the idea was presented and how did you go about revisiting the song? It seems like that would be an interesting thing to navigate artistically for both that and “Crying In the Rain.” A lot of artists, once they record it and put it out into the world, it’s done and that’s the version.
Well, that’s basically how I was. This was specifically David Geffen requesting that we do “Here I Go Again” again. Now, the Saints & Sinners album, which the song is from originally, was what I called my contractual-obligation album. I refused to finish that album until my manager at that time was more reasonable in our divorce proceedings. I’d inherited him from the Deep Purple mashup of people taking advantage of others contractually. Really stomach-turning stuff – but nothing new, you know. It’s the music business. Who the f--- would have put money on the fact that I’d be still making records and doing deals in my 60s, for crying out loud – you know, sellout f---ing tours, go figure. But anyway, the circumstance was that I’d never really had a full complement of musicians to finish that record. A couple of the players felt that “Crying In The Rain” was too much like Black Sabbath. I still don’t know where that came from! You know, to me, it was a heavy rock riff that Cream could have done, or Mountain or [Jimi] Hendrix. There were all of these indicators that it was time for a change for me.
You know, the house of Whitesnake stays the f---ing same. We just get some new furniture in it and some nice wallpaper, some different drapes – but the foundations are still the same: Hard rock; blues; commercial, memorable hooks; soul music, which is immensely influential to me; ‘60s Motown and Stax, just with tougher guitars and bigger drums. But it was really evident that it was time for a change. I was kind of disappointed. We had a modest hit in the rest of the world with “Here I Go Again.” “Crying In the Rain,” once I put Cozy Powell – God rest his soul – and Neil Murray back in the mix [with] John Sykes – who was this hot and great looking, amazing guitar player out of the Randy Rhoads school – we rearranged “Crying In The Rain” to be a very symphonic epic, really. Number one, there's a great guitar solo, which Sykes does a breathtaking, jaw-dropping guitar solo, but it was also going to be a feature for Cozy. We still do it these days, with Tommy [Aldridge], it’s the best song for him, that middle piece, to go into his unforgettable muscular solo. Once they said, “Let’s do ‘Here I Go Again’,” I said, “Okay.” It’s doing deals, Matthew. I’ll do that, if I can do “Crying In the Rain.” That was the purpose of that. Sadly, we didn’t get to work with Cozy. We tried, believe me, but too much water under the bridge, I think. But all of that album was pretty much arranged with Cozy in mind.
Listen to Whitesnake's 'Here I Go Again (Radio Mix Version)'
But what’s interesting with “Here I Go Again,” you also did a third recording of the song, for the mix that went to radio in 1987.
David Geffen, baby! David Geffen. Personal phone call from David, “Could you do a more FM-friendly version?” Which radio proceeded to avoid! But I did get to work with the fantastic Denny Carmassi on drums and Bill Cuomo, who had helped me out on keyboards. He was Barbra Streisand’s musical director at the time. And the f---ing amazing guitar player, Dann Huff. He’s a big Nashville producer now. Remember Giant?
The ill-fated bash at putting his own band together with his brother. But I loved Dann. I thought he was a super musician, and he’s the one that got away. I definitely would have had him in Whitesnake, given the opportunity.
I know that for the 20th anniversary of this album, you wanted to do what you’ve done for the 30th anniversary and that is, you got to go back and do new mixes of at least four of the songs. What did you want to address doing that?
Well, get rid of those ‘80s f---ing tinkly bells that were on every f---ing record at that time. You know, [producer] Keith [Olsen] was the master of FM radio, with his history: Rumours from Fleetwood Mac, Foreigner, Sammy Hagar, Stevie Nicks. There was a tested, tried-and-true formula that radio embraced. You know, I didn’t go full hog. They brought Jonathan Cain [of Journey] in one time when I was on the road and I went nuclear. I mean, I love Jonathan, but he put this carousel f---ing thing on “Give Me All Your Love,” which was just outrageous for me. I was like, “How f---ing dare you touch my work without discussing it with me! Without me being there!” It was a succession of f---ing learning. Ultimately, [A&R man John] Kalodner and I sort of got on well, once he realized that I would have ripped his f---ing head off had he done that ever again. It was interesting for me, because the records are pretty f---ing happening and stamped! You know, Jimmy [Page] had the same thing with [Led] Zeppelin, people’s familiarity [with how the songs are]. For instance, when you hear the Evolutions disc, you can hear a lot of these songs – “Straight For the Heart” was called “Love Drives You Crazy,” because I’m just jamming lyrics on musical ideas I had. John [Sykes] is firing off on all six. There’s two of us in a f---ing villa in the south of France, high ceilings, very echo-y. It’s my s---ty acoustic guitar playing and my s---ty piano playing, but you know, we got there. You can hear the evolutions of the songs and where they ended up.
We never stopped trying to make those songs better, as you can hear. People are going to hear a different “Still of the Night,” before the atmospherics. We were recording an introduction of atmospheric sounds and stuff, chimes and wind sounds from a synthesizer, to introduce the song “Looking For Love.” I was just standing there and I said, “John, what about putting this in the middle of ‘Still of the Night?’” That led to us coming up with the amazing cello riff. It’s just all prepared, not to f---ing rest on your laurels and keep pushing forward until you’ve got [it right]. There’s a lot of times in my early years, my contract with my former manager was two albums a year.
I can’t remember – I do remember doing a lot of Ernest Hemingway-suggested [Coverdale laughs] things to speed me up in order to get lyrics and songs written. Some songs are really good, but they’re so hasty, we improved the songs later live on live arrangements.
That’s why it’s cool to hear that live stuff on this new set.
Yeah and of course, it took social media to talk me into the fact that people loved live records. I always thought live rock records were just lazy bastards who didn’t have enough material to do a studio record. That’s why we scoured the planet to found a best of [the] bootlegs, as it were, for Snakeskin Boots. You know, because the majority of my audience don’t bother with bootlegs or don’t bother with YouTube, they actually support the band.
Watch Whitesnake Perform 'The Gypsy'
What can you tell me about the new music that’s incubating at Hook City?
Okay, this is what’s going on now – and a lot of people don’t know this. We obviously have the 30th anniversary [reissue] coming out at the beginning of October. On Black Friday, isn’t that November something? The 24th? We have the Purple live DVD [recorded during the band’s tour supporting 2015’s The Purple Album].
Yeah, it’s f---ing fantastic. I’m going from talking with you guys to finishing off the edit today. We’re doing the last tweaks and then delivering it to Warners. It’s kick ass. To promote it, we’ve put together Whitesnake as you’ve never seen them before on a video for “Burn.” It is un-f---ing-believable. It’s a full production video. And we’re still tweaking, but the people at Warners who have seen it, they’re mind blown by it. We worked with a young, hip gunslinger Canadian director called Tyler Bourns. And you owe me for that, Tyler! [Bourns laughs in the background as Coverdale also laughs.] And he’s kick f---ing ass. He did all of the videos with us on The Purple Album. He’s the head of our video creative ops, and a great guy as well. But also, probably around the same time, we have a f---ing huge – I call them coffee table books. It’s about the size of a f---ing huge encyclopedia, a historical photographic journey from the beginning of The Purple Album to the end of the last show in the U.K. in Sheffield. We were supposed to have this out for last Christmas, but I was so exhausted, coming off the road. So, better late than never. It’s still only a year and a half old. The book’s f---ing beautiful to have. It’s going to be a Whitesnake Christmas, without a doubt.
The studio album that we’re working on, we’ve never had such an immense amount of positive material. I’ve worked, for the first time as writers, with Reb Beach and with Joel Hoekstra. Because when Joel came in, we were doing The Purple Album, of course. And not only do we have great Coverdale/Hoekstra and Coverdale/Beach songs, but we have the three of us combining [as writers]. The songs are f---ing excellent. We have 18 or 19 extraordinarily positive, potent, juicy classic Whitesnake songs from balls to the wall to blues, to epics to ballads. It’s kick ass. It’s definitely got me fluffed up. That will be [coming out in] late spring next year. We’re looking at getting out [on tour] in the U.S. around June, so probably May.
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