I hadn't actually planned on speaking with David Coverdale, but I'll tell you, it's an opportunity that's not to be missed, should it ever arise. I casually mentioned to a friend that I'd soon be talking with Coverdale's longtime guitarist, co-writer, and sergeant-at-arms, Doug Aldrich, and my friend insisted that I should speak with the head Snake as well - and who am I to disagree with a friend?
Coverdale and his fellow Snakes are preparing to embark on another season of intense touring, this time to support their latest live offering, Made In Japan, in the company of Journey, and English legends Thunder. Made In Japan is a dynamite package - Coverdale has wisely chosen to highlight selections from Whitesnake's two most recent studio records, Good To Be Bad, and Forevermore, alongside a fine selection of the band's classics, and it's obvious that great effort has been made to make this much more than just another season's offerings.
David Coverdale: "Tony? Hello, man! I understand we have a bit to engage with one another!"
"I don't know why you'd want to talk with me, maybe you should have called it Rock Vocalist Daily! Hahaha."
I told David that Glenn Hughes had just raved to me once again about his love, respect, and admiration for his ex-bandmate, and that anyone who's OK with Glenn is OK with me:
"Glenn....Oh bless his heart. And it's mutual - we are the original unrighteous brothers! We speak most every day."
Getting down to the business of Whitesnake, I ask the man how he's managed to keep his company growing at a time in which the business seems to be shrinking daily?:
David Coverdale: "Well, we have an incredibly consistent and generous foundation, in terms of a fan base. I've got a kind of emotional agreement with the people who love Whitesnake, and support us - that we will do the very best we can, if you support us and not bootleg it.
"I think there's a lot of mentality with younger people these days that they're ripping off the record companies if they download stuff. Because record companies are seen as publicly greedy, haha - and sadly they don't see that that can be very compromising to the survival of their favorite artists.
"So, we have the luxury of people who do support us - you know, we still sell hundreds of thousands of records, which is fantastic! And, we have the bonus that it gives us new material to mix in with the classics that people know and love, like Here I Go Again, Give Me All Your Love Tonight, Still of the Night, so it's a great balance.
"We're proving that creatively we're still relevant to the point where we're going out on a super-extension of the Forevermore Tour that we started in 2011."
He's absolutely right - if you didn't know which cuts were the classics, and which were new material on Made In Japan, there'd be little to indicate what was what - every song on the record is top notch, and some material such as Steal Your Heart Away, off of the band's 2011 release Forevermore could easily have fitted quite well upon any of the band's early, pre-MTV albums such as Lovehunter, or Ready an' Willing:
David Coverdale: "Ha! Don't you think - you're a player, don't you think - to me, and I didn't arrange it this way, but when me and Doug finished it, I said, 'Wow - this is such a musical bridge from early Whitesnake to current Whitesnake!'
"With the fire and passion of now, and the virtuosity of now, with that filthy, dirty, underbelly of the blues groove."
One listen to Aldrich's snarling slide guitar intro, along with some heavy rhythm riffing, and one is reminded just how well Coverdale has taken his history with the more metallic side of Deep Purple, and married it to his early Whitesnake take on rhythm and blues:
David Coverdale: "Thank you for spotting that, it's funny, y'know, because I don't normally play comparisons, I leave that to other people, but when Glenn and I were talking, he said, 'Man, I just heard Love Will Set You Free - we could have done that on Stormbringer!' I said back to him, 'Wait until you hear the album, wait until you hear this track called Tell Me How - this could have been on Come Taste The Band, man!'
"Basically, I look at Whitesnake - I try to think of metaphors, or whatever. It's like certain elements that we favor that are always consistent in a Whitesnake song - your hard rock, your melody, the blues element, your R&B, in the sense of the '60s R&B stuff, the sweaty backs of Sam and Dave, Otis Redding. All of these things come into play with Whitesnake.
"Listen - I'm not bothered if people don't get it - I know it's in there! It's this whole elemental thing with Whitesnake.
"It's like if I buy a fucking suit - if I buy it from Armani, I want an Armani cut!
"There's your fucking headline, dear. Whitesnake - The Armani of Bands! Hahahahaha! I'm just trying to think of an analogy, but if you buy a Coca Cola, you want the familiar taste of Coca Cola."
"With Whitesnake - particularly the albums I've worked on with Doug and Reb, and the songs I've worked on with Doug, there's no sitting down, trying to evaluate a particular timeframe, or song.
"Doug, my writing partner, is absolutely more familiar with the early Whitesnake material than any other American guitarist I've worked with. He worked with a kid back in his early days, a group called Lion - and Kal Swan introduced Doug to all these, you know - Ready an' Willing, and Lovehunter, that kind of stuff, so Doug came to this with an amazing treasury of awareness.
"To me, we brought a lot of people back into the fold with Good To Be Bad, and Forevermore, because it embraces elements of that earlier period."
While giving a nod backwards into the distant past, today's Whitesnake also keeps moving forward - Forevermore may be the furthest reaching album in the band's catalogue. In fact, it has opened new stylistic doors to an old snake:
David Coverdale: "It reminds me of the transition we made from Saints & Sinners into Slide It In - with Slide It In I wanted to electrify Whitesnake more. I was talking to Bernie Marsden yesterday, and we were just chatting about different bits and pieces - and I can honestly say, and it's no disrespect to my former colleagues, I felt that I'd read all the books that were in that series.
"I'd finished, and I wanted to finish on a high note, and the guys that I talked to about taking Whitesnake more electrified? They weren't really so keen. They weren't comfortable clothes for them to wear, and that's when I started to look at guys like John Sykes and Cozy Powell, people who were prepared to take a risk."
I mention that I'd recently spoken with Micky Moody, who seemed to me to have long since come to peace with his departure from the Whitesnake camp. Coverdale had a slightly different impression, but agrees that life is too short to hold on to past disagreements, and maybe more importantly, that we must value our time here, and always attempt to put one's best foot forward:
David Coverdale: "Well, Micky was very unhappy when we were doing this - it's funny, Tony - I put Whitesnake on hold at the end of 1981, and Micky didn't even bother coming to the meeting we had. He had a more important engagement - a darts match at the local pub.
"Then, a couple of months later, I get a call from him saying, 'Look, I've seen the error of my ways, can I come back?' and I said, 'Absolutely!'
"Because, I had literally - I was starting a sold out UK tour in three weeks, and I didn't have a band! I had Cozy - and that was it!
"So, he came back in, but he really wasn't invested or engaged in the writing process for the Slide It In album, as you can see on the writing credits. Then, when we were doing the actual album, you could see that he wasn't having a good time. When his manager called me, and shared the same information, I said, 'Well, you guys do what you want, I'm moving forward with this. And that was the end.
"In fact, Tony, recently I reached out to Micky Moody through his manager - to shake his hand, but he feels there's still too much water under the bridge, and presumably he would rather not shake my hand.
"It's disappointing, but after the last year in my life....a beloved aunt who was like a sister to me, and all of this within a month....My God, Jon Lord, and a brother-in-law, and just when I was processing all this grief, it was just kind of....it's just not worthwhile carrying the excess emotional baggage of grudges, or negative energy - there is just no room for it in my life.
"I'm reaching out - Ritchie Blackmore and I are communicating in the most positive way - and I truly appreciate that.
"I'm doing it with not only the people I've been involved with in the music business - life is too short to hold a grudge.
"It's so weird, Tony - every time, and I see quite regularly pictures of the Slide It In band, it's still breathtaking to realize that 50% of the band is no longer with us. We're planning on doing our musical tribute to the guys on this tour."
Moving from the past back into the present, I ask David what he thought about the realization of looking behind him and seeing the legendary Tommy Aldridge on the drum stool once again:
David Coverdale: "What a driver he is! It's so funny - nobody, I repeat, nobody in 35 years of Whitesnake has been invited back, and this is the third time! It's unheard of, it should be in the Guinness Book of World Records!
"And I said to him, I said, 'Tommy - when Tichy went to pursue a career as a guitar player/singer, and believe me Tichy had all the ammunition I needed, I thought, 'Who in the hell are we gonna get? Who do you get? Tommy Aldridge.
"I asked my band, I didn't say anything, but I asked my band for their wish list of whom we should approach, because once the word got out, you'd be astonished by the amount, the well known musicians who want to be a Snake, which is very flattering, but Tommy was on the top of everybody's list.
"And that's making it very exciting, because when Doug and I wrote the songs for Good To Be Bad, they were arranged for Tommy. When we called Tommy to say let's go, he wasn't available and it was kind of, it was a conflict of interest, so he didn't get to play on the record. So, for me, the idea of having the opportunity to play the songs that were arranged for his drumming will be an extra bonus!"
Overcoming challenges seems to be one of David Coverdale's stocks in trade. Whether it's fronting the loudest rock band in history with Deep Purple as a rookie in 1973, coming back from difficult surgeries and health risks in the mid '80s to the inevitable headaches of keeping a huge enterprise such as Whitesnake on the road and in the black for 35 years, I was curious to hear how David has managed the attendant fears, worries, and anxieties of his chosen profession, and how perhaps his voyage may be valuable as a lesson to others:
David Coverdale: "Well, to me, being a human being is a challenge, not an excuse. We only have one run at it, and for me, I learned a long time ago that at times you have to have the bullocks to let go of the riverbank, and see where the river takes you!
"It's based on a very simple premise, Tony - if you're not happy, you've got to do something about it.
"That's a scenario you'll hear with which I sign off show's - 'Be safe, be happy, and don't let anyone make you afraid.'
"Stop giving yourself excuses - change it. This is reality, it's not a fucking audition. Get out there and do it."
And getting out there and doing it is just what David Coverdale is doing - jumping back into a serious year of touring, I ask how he manages to stay fit, healthy and sane on the road:
David Coverdale: "I completely disregard the fact that I'm 61 years old, and I double my cardio! Because these are the parts where I won't take risks - if I was doing a free tour it'd be a different story, but if people are paying to see me, then I want to be the very best that I can be at this time in my life.
"I'm married to an extraordinary and beautiful woman, and I must say, that's an inspiration for me to stay in shape. I don't have a very lucky metabolism. It's very easy for me to just sit back and drink a bottle and a half of some fine burgundy.
"There are certain disciplines I have to undertake, but they're all things that are great, and it's a small price to pay for the big picture!"
Indeed, it seems to be a story I'm hearing more and more these days - musicians in the autumn of their years who are not just working harder than ever, but they are doing work that is as good, or better in some cases than at various times in their careers. I congratulate David on his passion and on his continuing success:
David Coverdale: "I've got to tell you, and I was just telling this to Tommy, because it's been five years since he's worked with us, and I'm happy to be welcoming him back for the tenth anniversary of the re-vamped Whitesnake - I said, 'Every time we do something, Doug and I say, we have to take it to the next level. And the next level doesn't have to be unreachable, it's steps - like climbing a ladder.' Nobody wants to stay on the same rung.
"It's absolutely important for me. I have a great playlist, like a Best of Whitesnake, which ties in Deep Purple, Coverdale/Page, etc, etc....and I delight when I hear the more recent songs from Good To Be Bad, and Forevermore, because not only do they stand up, but at times they kick the ass of some of my classics, and I was involved in writing them too, so it's not a matter of diminishing the past.
"Yeah, I thank you for that, because you would never hear it if I felt it wasn't as good as the stuff we've done before."
"Listen, I have to run, dear brother - is there anything else you've got for me?"
No, I think we've covered a good deal for the time being, and we'll cover more ground at a later date, but I did want to ask him if anything had come of the project my old boss Michael Schenker had mentioned that he wished to get David involved with over the last summer. It was Michael who had first introduced me to the King Snake over twenty years ago at a show in New Orleans:
David Coverdale: "Ah well....Michael got in touch with me and we spoke, but honestly, I'm booked solid for the next three years, unless something very special comes up.
"I'll probably be back in the studio next year, so you'd better, what you'd better do is get out there and get your tickets, because this is a show you will want to see right now!
"Tony, thank you so much. I'm glad we got a chance to talk - be well."
Frontiers Records releases “Whitesnake: Made In Japan” on Deluxe 2CD/DVD, Blu-ray and DVD on Monday April 22.
Don’t miss “Journey” and “Whitesnake” with very special guests “Thunder” on tour in the UK during May 2013.
Glasgow SECC (May 18)
Sheffield Motorpoint Arena (May 20)
Newcastle Metro Radio Arena (May 22)
Newcastle Metro Radio Arena (May 22)
Manchester Arena (May 23)
Nottingham Capital FM Arena (May 25)
Cardiff Motorpoint Arena (May 26)
Birmingham LG Arena (May 28)
London Wembley Arena (May 29)
London Wembley Arena (May 29)
Thanks to David Coverdale, Glenn Hughes, Carise Yatter, Peter Noble at Noble PR, and my dear friend Richard Reese-Laird for the direction.