Undoubtedly, one of the most-played hard rock acts of the late ‘80s was Whitesnake. Case in point, it seemed every time you switched on the radio or MTV, you were certain to see/hear a hit from either 1987’s self-titled mega-seller or 1989’s Slip of the Tongue.
But one mustn’t forget that vocalist David Coverdale was also the frontman of one of the most influential hard rock/heavy metal bands of all time, Deep Purple — offering both his singing and songwriting talents to such classic albums as 1974’s Burn and Stormbringer, plus 1975’s Come Taste the Band.
And although the United States discovered Whitesnake late in the game, the group was one of the UK’s top draws for years beforehand (heck, earlier versions of both “Here I Go Again” and “Fool for Your Loving” had been hits years before the US took note of their remakes).
So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Whitesnake still remain popular — recently touring with such renowned rockers as Judas Priest, Aerosmith, and Foreigner, and reaching a whole new audience with the placement of “Here I Go Again” in a certain television commercial.
As a result, the timing couldn’t be better to drop the group’s 13th studio album, Flesh & Blood, which arrives May 10th, and plot a world tour — both of which Coverdale recently discussed in detail with Heavy Consequence.
ON THE LOSS OF JON LORD AND A RECONNECTION WITH RITCHIE BLACKMORE
I went out on the Forevermore tour, which was really successful. It was a two-year world tour. And I thought I could comfortably leave that as my last studio record. And then, the consequence of losing [Deep Purple keyboardist] Jon Lord — who called me, to tell me of his illness, that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and [asked] if I would be there for him to do something Purple-related. Of course, I said yes. But I have no desire to go back — I love what I do — but Jon Lord’s Jon Lord, and I love him dearly. Sadly, as you know, he didn’t survive [Lord passed away July 16, 2012, at the age of 71]. A huge loss. It was a terrible, challenging time that my wife and I went through, because I lost Jon, I’d lost my favorite aunt, and my wife lost her beloved brother, in this small window of time. I was thinking, “What the hell am I supposed to learn from this? This is so savage.” And my feeling was, “I want to reach out and reconnect with people — privately and professionally — as we’re all getting older.” At least Jon Lord knew that I loved him. We had certainly expressed that sentiment. He was absolutely pivotal in relaxing me at my audition for Deep Purple, and then the rehearsals for the Burn record. He was just a beautiful gentleman. But it also inspired me.
And I had a dreadful, 30-year competitive negative energy with [Deep Purple guitarist] Ritchie Blackmore. Who, initially, I was a disciple at his feet. I learned a great deal of things — and unbelievable amount. So, these two guys, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore, were immense. And I thought, “I can’t let this go.” Ritchie was so important to me and pivotal in being who I am, and the generosity of these guys giving me — a complete unknown singer — the job with Deep Purple. When I reflect upon it, it’s ridiculous. So, one of the people I reached out to bury the hatchet was Ritchie. And Ritchie, we shared our condolences on the loss of Jon, and were speaking quite regularly. He asked me to speak to his manager, Carol, who said, “Would you be interested in doing anything with Ritchie?” And I said, “Well, I really am really very happy with where I am. There was no agenda in me reaching out, other than to bury the hatchet — fueled by the horrible loss of Jon.
But I’m not really a nostalgia guy. I hadn’t listened to the Burn or Stormbringer albums for years. So when I did, I went, “Geez, I got the Purple gig for my 21st birthday…my son is older than that now!” But I thought, “If I do this with Ritchie, I hope he’d be open to re-energizing some of these songs — they’re beautiful and they stand up after 40 years.” I came up with an idea for the song “Sail Away”, which would be more like Blackmore’s Night — y’know, the Renaissance style that Ritchie embraces now. And then I really truly realized I didn’t want to do it — with no disrespect to Ritchie. I just didn’t want to go back. But I was talking to my wife, and I said, “It’s such a pity — I’ve been messing around with these songs.” She said, “Well, why don’t you do it as a Whitesnake record, as a tribute to Deep Purple?” And I said, “Wow, I’d go out as I came in!” So, that’s when Joel [Hoekstra] joined me. And we did a two-year tour on the success of the The Purple Album.
ON THE CREATION OF FLESH & BLOOD
I had been suffering from degenerative arthritis in my knees for more years than I care to remember. But Band-Aids like injections, pain meds, and strapping my knees up, they didn’t work anymore. I had two choices — go in for replacement surgery for both knees or I’d end up in a wheelchair…which I certainly don’t see in my future. So, this is the end of 2016. I had already been approached by Warner Brothers, because my deal with Universal was coming up, and there was no love lost between Universal and me, and Warners has always been a home for me. They were the ones that distributed Deep Purple, and then when I had the big success with Geffen, Warners was distributing Geffen. I knew a lot of the guys there, and they were very excited and generous about taking on the back catalogue. But there was no talk of me doing an original album at that time. Then, I got a phone call from my friend, Serafino, the owner of Frontiers Records — the biggest independent rock record company in the world — saying, “We’d really love you to do an album of original songs.” And I’m going, “Man…I have so much on my table. I’m not sure. Really, 2017 is going to be more a year of recovery.” And they just kept pursuing it. I called up Reb [Beach] and he flew in.
With all the years we’d worked together, I’d never sat down to write anything. I had no excuse. But Reb hung in there once Doug [Aldrich] and I went our separate ways. I invited Reb to be the band leader, and he was absolutely a tower of commitment to the Purple project, so I offered him a co-production scenario. But we’d never really written anything, but we’d have fun arranging Deep Purple stuff. So, I thought before I take this any further, I want to see if I can write with Reb. We started off very well and really successfully. And Joel had already been to my studio house at the end of 2016, because one of the projects we were looking at was a Whitesnake greatest hits — Unzipped, with a stringed orchestra. And we’d already written a song, “After All”, which ended up on this record. So, I flew Joel in, and once we’d gotten the “Night Ranger ideas” out of the way [Joel was previously a member of Night Ranger], it was all balls-to-the-walls stuff, and that gave me the strength to say to Frontiers, “I’m down.”
It’s so interesting though, because we have such an incredible, loyal audience, and they’ve stuck with David Coverdale and Whitesnake through thick and thin. And fortunately, we’re not dependent on any kind of musical fashion cycle — we’ve always had a solid support for record sales and tours. And it also helps these people to go, “Wow, they’re still relevant. They’re still writing songs that are as strong as the songs on Slide It In or the ’87 album.” It’s very important as a musician or as an artist to feel that your audience feels that you’re relevant, for you to feel relevant, and that you’re not just going out there, treading on past glories. So, it all came together. And believe me, it was a f*cking challenge. My right knee was replaced in January 2017 and my left knee in May 2017. Holy mother of God — it was painful. But we ended up writing 18 really fresh, sparkling songs. So, on the standard CD, it’s thirteen.
We had dreadful technical breakdowns during the making of the album — we’d thought we’d lost the album. I got a beautiful hi-def recording studio. It’s not just a laptop and GarageBand, it’s the full-blown gig — for video-editing and everything to do with a studio. The Flesh & Blood album is a testament to the quality we can deliver from here. But when all that collapses, it just freaks you out. So, Frontiers was very patient. And I personally feel the album is coming out at a perfect time. But I made a commitment to go out with Foreigner last year for two months, and really, it was to test-drive my knees, because there was a fear after 2017 that I couldn’t perform physically the way I enjoy performing. So, I was too uncomfortable — I wasn’t confident enough to commit to a world tour. The two months were great for me to go, “It worked.” But it’s worked out — we’ve released the video on Valentine’s Day, we’ve got a hit single, a hit video, it’s setting up amazingly for the actual release of the album and the “Flesh & Blood World Tour”. It’s all unfolding as the universe thought it should.
ON THE SINGLE/VIDEO, “SHUT UP & KISS ME”
The choice of “Shut Up & Kiss Me” was Frontiers. In 2017, we were still working arrangements and recording, but you could hear in the demos the ideas of the songs, and they just fell in love with the idea of “Shut Up & Kiss Me.” I thought, “OK, that will be the single and the video.” It’s a song that Reb and I wrote, it’s one of the Whitesnake tongue-in-cheek songs — like “Kitten’s Got Claws”, “Would I Lie to You”, “Lie Down”. There’s that humor aspect that is part of the Whitesnake identity, and should not be taken seriously, boys and girls — it’s all fun and games.
We had just released a really intense, dark video of the “Burn” song from The Purple Album. I had never done anything like it. I had worked with a guy named Tyler Bourns — a super-creative director. It’s the same as Reb, Joel, and I — it’s an almost telepathic, communicative relationship. We sit down and do storyboards like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas do for their epic movies — so we know what we’re going to shoot, but we still want areas where we can jam and improvise. So, obviously we wanted a performance video, and initially, we were looking at some downtown Reno clubs. And I kept going, “No, no, no. I don’t want to do it.” Because with my knees, I was still recovering. I wanted it in a controlled environment, where if my knees are hurting, I can go and rest. So, we created “Club Snake” in my studio, which works great.
We invited a bunch of the video team’s friends, friends of friends of friends, I’m very close with the police department in Reno and I invited them to participate, which they were only too happy to do. It’s a movie. Most people are doing videos that looks like they made it for a hundred dollars. This is a major movie, dude! So, other than the performance, what’s going to be the “eye candy”? It’s not going to be David Coverdale gets the girl — I’m 67 years old. So, I brought my son in and his beautiful girlfriend — he’s the blonde guy and she’s in a sparkly suit, that looks extra-terrestrial.
And then I went, “F*ck it…why don’t we get the Jag out?” [Which was used in the “Here I Go Again” video] The Jag has been in storage for almost 30 years. And the first idea was just to park it outside a bar in Reno, and take pictures of people f*cking around on the Jag. It’s such an iconic video — over 50 million views. Most important, I said, “We cannot have people doing cartwheels. I don’t want anything in this video looking like it’s negating the joy and success of the ‘Here I Go Again’ video.” This is once again a salute. And we’ve gone over 500,000 views in less than a week — which is pretty good for a classic rock band. And I can still get into my turquoise suit, which was fun to do. So, all of these elements came together.
All the Jag stuff, we wanted in a more protected, controlled environment, because Michael McIntyre, my co-producer, said, “David, it’s going to be trashed if you do the, ‘Come on, everybody jump around and dance on the car’.” So, we created an alleyway outside the backstage door of Club Snake, where people coming to the show are going, “Oh my God…is that the Jag?” And then my wife pops in at the end — it’s a totally family affair. It’s extremely popular, and hats off to Frontiers for picking it. I would have gone for “Hey You” or something like that. But it’s worked out magically, and it’s very much in the Whitesnake canon.
ON WHAT FANS CAN EXPECT ON THE UPCOMING WHITESNAKE TOUR
We are also celebrating the 35th anniversary of the Slide It In album, so there will be a couple of Slide It In songs. We’ve got the real big Whitesnake songs that people certainly want to hear — “Is This Love,” “Here I Go Again,” “Still of the Night” — and I’m hoping that we can get in at least four, hopefully five, of the new songs in the show. Right now, the energy in the band… we have a band thread on texting, and it’s just so electrifying. The timing of the release of the video and the success of it, everybody is fluffed up and ready to rock, and the world tour looks really good, really solid. And I’ve got a Geico ad that’s like, 270 millions views — it’s ridiculous!
Our thanks to David Coverdale for taking the time to speak with us. See Whitesnake’s tour dates here, and pick up tickets here. You can also pre-order the album Flesh & Blood at this location.