There are singers in the industry that “just get by”, and then there are singers that other singers admire and aspire to be like. David Coverdale is a singer of the latter group. Since the 70’s he’s inspired fans, fellow musicians and industry folk alike. Disappearing for most of the 1990’s, David is back with a revamped Whitesnake and a major league attitude. Read on, in this exclusive interview with Wisconsin Music:
WM: Hello David.
DC: Hello! Where are you, bro?
WM: In Green Bay, Wisconsin.
DC: Oh, lovely!
WM: You will be here July 7th.
DC: I’ve got two shows in your neck of the woods, don’t I?
WM: Yes, July 7th is in Green Bay, and July 8th will be about an hour and a half away in Milwaukee at Summerfest.
WM: It’s going to be some great shows. There will be a lot of people there.
DC: Looking forward to it, doll. Are we doing radio or press?
WM: This is going to be a little of both, actually.
DC: So I better watch the inflammatory oratory.
WM: We’ll just take a couple of mp3 clips, we can always bleep ‘em out if we need to.
DC: (laughs) Put some Britney Spears blips in!
WM: Exactly. (laughs)
DC: (Screams a high note) Ok, thank you!
WM: If we could just take a few minutes, and just have brief rundown of your illustrious career?
DC: Oh my God, a few minutes, you’re talking about over 30 years! I was born at a very early age, spent most of my life trying to get back in. So that’s that summed up … (laughs)
Other than playing in local bands, my first taste of working as a professional musician was with Deep Purple.
WM: What a band to start with!
DC: That’s was just an incredible baptism of fire for me. And a lot of the incredible lessons I learned at that time, I still implement today. Two very influential and inspirational people were Ritchie Blackmore the guitarist, and John Lord, the keyboard player. Yeah, so that was an incredible time.
I came out of Deep Purple, I really didn’t want to be part of the disintegration of the band. I was very honored to be given that opportunity. But near the end, some of the new blood in the band was tending to kind of tear it down somewhat.
So I got out of there. I had a year and a half where I think I made two solo records. Very cheaply, since the Deep Purple management wasn’t backing me. (chuckles) I was kind of the new pony in that setup. And then I put Whitesnake together, to actually promote a solo album in the United Kingdom called Northwinds. I was told there wasn’t really an audience for what I was doing. But what ultimately happened, I went out on a small club tour, and found out I had four times as many people outside trying to get back in. So, Whitesnake actually grew very quickly and rapidly in Europe and in the Far East… but I never really crossed the water. I kept getting told, ‘Oh, you’ve got to come over to the States’ but we never really had a good record deal in place or anything.
I got to the point with the management, who I’d inherited from Deep Purple, that I couldn’t deal with them anymore. I felt that every step forward that I took forward in my career, they made decisions which caused me to slip three or four steps back. So, I bit the bullet and divorced the management, for very significant money. A million dollars, which I certainly didn’t have!
Then I got a call from David Geffin, asking me if it was true I was divorcing my manager. Obviously, my managers had very good reputations! As soon as I said, ‘yes, that is the case’ he said, ‘Well, I’m very interested in talking with you.’ Suddenly the sun came out from behind the clouds!
Also at that time, my marriage and my private life was pretty much up in the air. So I closed everything down in Europe and moved lock stock and barrel to Los Angeles. I thought that I’d take America on from the inside. And then sold 40 million records in a very short space of time!
I retired at the end of 1990. I divorced… contrary to what my ex-wife says, that she divorced me. But if anyone wants to look on file, I was the petitioner, not the girl in the videos. (Tawny Kitaen)
Then I met a girl in the Tahoe area, who has turned out to be the best partner I have ever, ever considered being blessed with. She’s blessed me with a son, who is now nine this year. I wanted to experience what it was like to be a parent … because I have a daughter, who was born at exactly the time I was making my first Whitesnake album. I had no idea of bonding, I thought it was dental work. (laughs)
What happened, I was away working, and I was the man who’d turn up for several years with an armful of gifts and that was it. So my daughter and I, I’m very happy to say, have a phenomenal relationship. But we still deal with issues of why Daddy wasn’t there a great deal of the time. That’s a problem I think a lot of my colleagues and peers have experienced. So ultimately, moving forward very quickly, I didn’t want to go through that with my son.
So, that brings us up to 2003. I’d been working for EMI, putting some compilations together, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Whitesnake. A lot people suddenly starting asking me, why don’t you go out and do some shows? Some of the calls I got were from my old friends, the Scorpions. So, I thought, ‘Ok’, so we went out on a co-headliner. The first time in America for 12 years. We played to great crowds. Actually, I went out for two months and ended up back nine months later.
I’d missed it unbelievably. So that was a very busy year. You know, my plan was to do six months a year, maximum, and I’ve got to effect balance in my life. I love my family and I love being home with them. Now my son is of an age where he can travel with us.
WM: That’s great.
DC: Yeah, it’s quite a perfect existence. The reason I’m doing smaller venues, quite honestly, on some of these shows, is the perception. I want to try to change the perception of Whitesnake. When we talked about going out, a lot of the promoters wanted an ‘80s package, with me and a bunch of contemporaries from that time. I’ve done this for 30-odd years, sold 70 million records, why would I want to group myself into a kind of niche? So, I want to try to change the perception by re-birthing Whitesnake, doing it this way.
WM: So will you be taking your son out on the road for this tour?
DC: Some of the time. Obviously, we won’t let anything mess with his school, he’s a very bright student. Europe was really difficult for me last year. We went over literally for six weeks, and ended up coming back twelve weeks later. It was an interminable time for me to be separated from my son. We developed communicating on I-Chat cameras, which just saved my life, you know?
WM: I like your choice of words earlier. You divorced your management, your record label… in correlation to things that were going on in your personal life at the time. It seems like several times in your life, you’ve literally had to divorce everything. Walk away, and start over.
DC: Absolutely. And do it again, if it ever happened. I’m not prepared to tolerate any kind of indignity in my life. By the same token, I’m at a great spot in my life, where I hold no grudge. Part of the journey I’m on, is forgiveness. It has to be. It’s a huge element in the big picture. It serves no positive purpose whatsoever to hold negative energy for any experience. Those experiences were necessary. I don’t suppose many of your readers will have heard of a French chanteuse called Edith Piaf. She had a gigantic hit in Europe, after the war, called “No Regrets.” I’m the Edith Piaf of rock. There’s been some very questionable scenarios, but I feel they were all necessary for me to find out who I am, how I deal with things.
And of course I am a complete, devout believer in karma. I will definitely have to experience anything that I put anyone through on my journey.
WM: Does that mean at some point somebody’s going to have you prancing around on the hood of a Jaguar?
DC: Well, I’ve been there! I’ve done it. But it was only for polishing. (laughs) But I do want my hood ornament back!
WM: You sound like you’re at a really great place in your life right now.
WM: Throughout your career, you’ve worked literally with the finest rock guitarists ever. Ritchie Blackmore, John Sykes, Jimmy Page…
DC: Well, not only that, don’t short-sell the bass players and the drummers, the keyboard players. I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate.
WM: Just incredible.
DC: The remarkable thing is, the two sort of better known musicians I’ve worked with were incredibly inspirational to me, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page. But everybody I’ve worked with has brought something to the party, whether it was positive or negative. And I’m grateful for all of that.
WM: And your guitar players currently in Whitesnake are no strangers in the rock circles either.
DC: Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach. Both great harp players. Got a great new bass player, I’m not if you’ll have heard of him: Ryan Duffy…
WM: That was a question I was going to ask later, but let’s cover it now. That’s within the past month, correct?
DC: Actually, it’s been going on for some time. I worked beautifully with a fabulous musician and a great guy called Marco Mendoza. He’s a master musician. But he just can’t sit still for two minutes. I’d explained my philosophy of working, and everybody accepted that. But Marco would be consistently going, ‘Are we gonna work, are we gonna work, are we gonna work’ and it was like, ‘Enough already! No, we’ve just done six months.’ So he would take other projects, and I said, with my blessing, as long as they don’t conflict with Whitesnake activities.
But they did. So, we just wished each other well. I love him very dearly, and do sincerely wish him well. But I cannot conduct my life around somebody else’s agenda.
WM: So how did you come across your new player?
DC: There’s a lot of people, surprisingly, who wanted to jump in the band, from very dark musical bands. You know, kind of metal-goth-grunge, and it was weird for me. I’m not sure I want that energy for what I do. But Uriah was the only one I spoke to. I felt a connection immediately, just going over his website and stuff. We met, and got on extraordinarily well. He’s another master musician. And he continues the theme of that exotic bass player that Coverdale picks, you know?
He’s actually working now in London with the Family Stone. I’m sure you remember Sly and the Family Stone, this is some of the original members, and they’re keeping that music alive. Fortunately, because it’s one of my favorite elements of all time. So he’s a great groove player, as well as a rock player. He’s a bit too good-looking, but we can’t have everything. But it should keep us on our toes.
WM: One thing you mentioned a little earlier is that you don’t want to be pigeon-holed as an ‘80s hair band…
WM: And now you’re continuing that tradition, whether it be the people in your band, or…
DC: Oh yeah. My wife and I were channel surfing a couple of years ago, and we came across an “In concert with Dave Matthews”, and this phenomenal united nations of musicians working with him was just so inspiring to me. I was actually just working out this morning to a DVD of my old mate David Bowie, and he has this beautiful bald female African-American bass player. I have no blinders to say that is not a possibility one day for Whitesnake, if the situation arose. If a black guy would work in a band called Whitesnake, I wouldn’t have a problem. (laughs)
WM: There’s a couple of things that’s tied into the overall public image of Whitesnake. You are probably the biggest one, being that you yourself are Whitesnake. The other image, that we just kind of briefly touched on a minute ago, was Tawney sprawled out on the hood of your car.
DC: Oh, indeed. Yeah, huge. We were the Rolling Stone cover of the year, much to Madonna’s chagrin. I know that personally, because Sean Penn told me. He said, ‘Oh my God, she was so pissed’. So I’ve kept out of her way! (laughs)
Whenever I checked into a hotel in America and put the TV on in the suite, 9 times out of 10, MTV was the station that had been left on from the previous occupant. And 8 times out of 10 it was that Whitesnake video playing. I really don’t come from that promotional school. When I worked with Pagey (Jimmy Page), and Geffin wanted us to do videos, he was completely uncomfortable. I was going, well this is what we do now, Jimmy! This is what we have to do. We created this monster, MTV, and now you have to do basically whatever they wanted.
The idea for me, as a musician, of doing 3 or 4 minute video, which has absolutely nothing to do with the song content, was the strangest shit. But then again, for three years, I sold frightening amounts of records, and all the other aspects of that scenario.
WM: Do you recall who’s idea was it to throw Tawney on top of the car?
DC: Well, Tawney was one of my girlfriends at that time. The original Whitesnake girl was supposed to be Claudia Schiffer, when she was the Guess jeans girl. Right at the last minute, there were problems. We were in L.A., and my director called me and said, ‘can you stop by the house, I want to talk over a few things.’ So instead of taking Tawney out for dinner, talk about synchronity, we went by his house at Beverly Hills. He opens the door, and his jaw hit the floor. I mean, Tawney was spectacular to look at. An extraordinarily pretty woman. And he went, ‘That’s her! that’s the Whitesnake woman, that’s the Whitesnake woman.’ And I went, ‘Marty, this is a friend of mine, I don’t mix business and pleasure.’ Tawney, affecting modesty, said, ‘Ah, don’t be silly David. I wouldn’t mind at all!’ (laughs) And grabbed it with both hands. She brought an incredible element and attention to my work.
“Here We Go Again” is a song about marital breakup. My first marriage had nothing to do with Tawney… or indeed white Jags. But I think people have gotten past seeing the white Jag in their mind’s eye when that song comes on, I’m very happy to say.
WM: Last year, you had Adrian Vandenberg join you onstage again.
DC: That’s right, yeah, my old brother. I love him very dearly, he’s a great guy. There’s an interview with him on Whitesnake.com that people might be interested in.
WM: I saw that.
DC: Yeah, he’s a very dear friend of mine, and welcome wherever I am. In fact, I’m sincerely hoping – you know, he was always staying with us at the house a lot, we were very close … he survived two marriages, of mine, and anyone who’d ever been in Whitesnake, he was the longest survivor. He’s a very good person, a great soul. He would still probably be with me now, but he has an injury which prevents him from being able to hold a guitar for too long. Certainly not to do a show.
WM: Is that a permanent?
DC: Well, they’re working on it. I don’t think so. You know, I subscribe to a different healing method. I think one of the reasons I’m trying to get him over here is to throw him to my healers, which are not the conventional antibiotic injection route. Cause a lot of that does as much damage, if not more, than the actual injury. But that is my philosophy, and I don’t force it on others.
WM: That would be great to hear him play again.
DC: Yeah, he is indeed an incredible player. I’ve got a lot of time for Adrian.
WM: So how did your current rock ‘n roll, rhythm-and-blues tour come about?
DC: It was once again trying to separate from this image. When my new manager found resistance for me to go out with somebody like Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepard, they wanted me to go out with bands from the ‘80s. You know, that tied into this hair aspect. We said, we have to effectively change. It doesn’t affect us anywhere else in the world, it’s just literally here. A very small mentality which can’t let go of that ‘80s package thing. So we said, let’s do a European-style tour of theaters, under our own steam rather than go along with the big Clear Channel aspect of the ‘80s package.
WM: And you were able to get VH-1 to back it.
DC: Yeah! Old mates, I think, from glory days, you know.
WM: It seems that music kind of goes in circles.
DC: Oh, it’s all cyclical.
WM: Now, if ever there was a tour to celebrate Deep Purple that would include previous members of the band, is that something you’d participate in?
DC: Oh, I don’t think you’d find dressing rooms big enough to accommodate those egos!
DC: No, after I joined Deep Purple, in a very short space of time, it degenerated into five egomaniacs fighting for the spotlight. I have no idea how they are now. I do hear stories, as you can imagine. But, I actually had a chance encounter with John Laud a couple of years ago. I said, “Here, what’s all this stuff I hear about your dream is to have all former members and current members of Deep Purple appearing for one night?” I said, “If Ritchie does it, and it’s for charity, I’ll do it.” He said, “Oh, it was the booze talking, David!” (laughs)
You know, he was talking to some journalists. But now of course, with this incredible internet, just an aside remark can fly around. I mean, I still deal with people asking me on my website, ‘Was there any truth to the rumor that you were joining Van Halen?’ Where the hell that came out I have no idea! No, absolutely not.
WM: Maybe Eddie talking…
DC: Who knows? But it suddenly becomes like the Constitution, if you’ve read a rumor. We’ve actually put on our website, ‘Please don’t be spreading rumors on here that you’ve heard from other websites.’
WM: I believe there was a rumor going around that Whitesnake actually broke up recently. Which is kind of funny being that you’re about to head out on tour.
DC: I think that probably came from Marco leaving, the change. It’s very interesting. Once again, this is usually the internet. It fuels, it’s like a form of brushfire. It spreads incredibly. We’ve very fortunate. We have an incredibly successful and very active website, so we can usually get damage control. I work with some pretty powerful people, who have access to other avenues of media. I n order to stem that kind of stuff.
You know, there’s a tribute band to Whitesnake in Europe. The singer came off his bike, and it was in the newspaper in Germany. For the first few Whitesnake shows, it actually affected my business. The article said, ‘Whitesnake had to cancel their tour, because the singer is in hospital after sustaining injuries in a motorcycle accident.’ So those things you just have to be careful of. But the challenges continue, and if you’re a wuss, you let them get the better of you.
WM: Roll with the punches.
DC: Yeah, get on with it.
WM: You have a new DVD coming out, what can you tell us about that?
DC: That’s being put back until mid to late summer. The guy coordinating just had a heart attack, and I think probably because he was watching it too much. Fortunately he’s on the mend now, which is why I can be flippant about it. And Geffin are coming out with a double-CD called the Gold Series, which will feature some early Whitesnake, some unreleased mixes of pretty well known songs. Previously unreleased, of course. And Doug Aldrich is currently putting some beefcake guitars on a song of mine. If it comes out well we’re going to give to Geffin so there’s a complete new song for it.
WM: That’s excellent.
DC: For the discerning buyer.
WM: Is there a proposed release date on that?
DC: I think they’re going to try and tie that into what we’re doing. It’s the strangest time now. I don’t recognize how these companies do business, Brett. I’m very happy to say that I’m somewhat divorced from it, I’m delighted to say! Even when I was completely caught up in that time, because I’ve always balanced this fine line of musician and businessman – I saw, so many years ago, so many musicians being taken advantage of. I thought the only common sense is to keep an eye on what’s going on. I would always have independent lawyers and independent accounts from other people, and if I don’t understand something, I do ask what it means. I pass that suggestion on to anybody who considers taking a career in an industry where overnight you can become very wealthy and successful. Because for all the people who applaud you, there are certainly enough people who try to take advantage, and help themselves to whatever you’ve achieved. Success has many parents.
WM: Any message to the Whitesnake fans in Wisconsin?
DC: Can’t wait to see you again!