40 Years Ago: Whitesnake Turns a Corner With ‘Ready an’ Willing’
By the time Whitesnake unveiled their third studio long-player, Ready an’ Willing, on May 31, 1980, David Coverdale’s crew of English blues rockers had already been alive and kicking for a couple of years. But to say they’d achieved true stardom would be something of an overstatement.
Instead, it was Ready an’ Willing that signaled the career turning point they’d been working toward, as it climbed into the U.K. Top 10 and became Whitesnake’s first effort to even chart outside their homeland. The catalyst for all this being the group’s first bona fide hit single in “Fool for Your Loving,” and perhaps some timely upgrades to their lineup, too, with the arrival of former Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice.
By joining up, Paice was of course reuniting with his erstwhile Purple bandmates, Coverdale and organist Jon Lord, and simply adding his formidable talents to those of guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody, plus bassist Neil Murray — all of which elevated the band’s creative and performing powers to the next level.
This upgrade was perfectly apparent in album standouts like the sharp-tongued “Sweet Talker,” the slowly building “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More,” the bluesy balladry of “Blind Man” (reworked from Coverdale’s solo LP), and that groove monster of a title track.
We discussed the period surrounding Ready an’ Willing’s recording and release in an interview with former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden.
What comes to mind when you look back at that album all of these years later?
I just remember Ian Paice coming into the band and the difference that he made. That’s not being detrimental to the original drummer [Dave Dowle], who was great, but when you’ve got the “The Guv’nor” wanting to join your band, you know, what are you going to do? Then we went in and we started to play. … I remember David and I, because we had both obviously previously played with him and we looked at each other and we didn’t have to say anything -- we just realized and knew, “Wow, this is what we need.” We could write a certain way knowing what Ian Paice and Jon Lord would put into that material and they never let us down. Jon was forever tinkering away and saying, “You know, we could do this” and “I could do this” and we’d say, “Jon, just do what you do. You’re Jon Lord, man!”
You guys were working a lot in those early years, putting out an album a year. It seems like the band chemistry and all of those things were probably in a good groove by the time that you got to that album.
Yeah, we’d toured for about six months before we started to record Ready An’ Willing and that really showed as well. I think we’d hit kind of a gold vein song-wise as well, knowing that Jon and Ian were permanent members of the band by then and that made a big difference, really. We were trying to come up with the best songs. We were never interested in being guitar heroes -- I was always more conscious of being a good songwriter and contributing good guitar parts. I was never bothered about [trying to be] Ritchie Blackmore or being Jimi Hendrix, because I was never into that kind of thing. I could play a lot!
What do you recall about co-writing “Fool for Your Loving?”
I basically had “Fool for Your Loving” together, pretty much the riff and the verse that you know. And then I think that Micky Moody came up with a small bridge piece that tied the whole thing together brilliantly and then David went away and came back with the whole lyric thing, which was great. I think I had the “fool for your loving” line and then he built around that afterwards. He was very, very good at that. “Walking in the Shadow of the Blues” was a similar thing and so was “Here I Go Again,” to be honest. He’d disappear and we’d either see him two hours later or two days later with a finished lyric, which was really cool.
Listen to Whitesnake's 'Fool for Your Loving'
Did the album come together pretty easily?
Yeah, because we had Martin Birch in the studio, the secret weapon as I used to call him. He was dead on the money. He knew. He’d been there with the whole thing with Fleetwood Mac and Deep Purple -- we all understood each other and never had to say much. He’d say, I’m ready for a solo” and I’d do a solo and I’d say, “Okay, shall we do it [again]?” and he’d say, “Thank you, I’ve got it” and he was right usually. You learn to trust people like that.
He was kind of a good neutral opinion, it sounds like.
Pretty much. Because of his association with the Purple guys – and I’d worked with him with the Paice, Ashton & Lord project, so he knew what I could do. He said, “I know you can play faster and I know you can do this, but what you’ve done on this track, is perfect for the track.” “Don’t Break My Heart Again” [from 1981’s Come An’ Get It] was a good example of that. That was a run through, the guitar solo on that. We did another 10 or 15 or 20 [takes of the solo] and he kept saying, “It’s already done, you know? That first take is fantastic.” What you hear on the record is the first run-through take. He’s right, it was perfect for the track.
It’s always interesting to look back at the pacing that you guys and a lot of bands kept during that era, being able to turn out an album a year and sometimes more, while touring and all of that kind of stuff. It’s amazing.
Well, you look at your date sheet and you’d have 40 dates and then it would say, “One month off -- record album” and then a month after that, you’re back on the road in Europe or Japan or whatever. Two albums a year. I look at it now and think, “How did we do that?” Sooner or later, it gets to you, because you become very successful and you become a big name and you start to say, “Hang on, I need a rest here” and people say, “You can’t have a rest -- you’ve got to do another 40 dates.” Sooner or later, there comes a time where you have to say, “We’ve got to take a break” and that was Saints & Sinners. The more work they loaded onto us, instead of bringing us tighter together at that point, it kind of broke us apart. So what’s really good for you can end up destroying you as well. But by then, we’d had a pretty good time.