Interview with DAVID COVERDALE (WHITESNAKE)

October 2008

ws1It’s still a surprise but WHITESNAKE got back with a bite. Well, not a bite but the bite. While the success of the resurrected band’s first live trek might suggest some nostalgia was involved there, the tour that followed their new album, “Good To Be Back”, dispelled such a notion for too many a young tit was flashed with the girls’ boyfriends’ nod of approval while David Coverdale continued to play sex god he’s not anymore. But he remains one of the best frontmen in the world with a powerful backing from a new line-up. No wonder he sounds happy – both on-stage and over the phone.

- David, “Good To Be Bad” is obviously not only a song – and album – title but also a wordplay on the phrase “Good to be back”. So is it good to be back with a new record?

(Laughs.) No connection! But it’s good to be back, yes. Very much so. We’ve had probably the most successful year [of our career], and I’m looking forward to continue with our tour.

- Stylistically, with the new album you’re picking up where you left off in 1987-1988. Why?

Ah, because all of those are the kind of elements that I enjoy about being in a rock ‘n’ roll band. That’s how I like to write songs, how I like to express myself and how I like to sing. I’m not interested in trying to sound like somebody else, that’s never been interesting to me. My idea of progress is singing better lyrics, writing better melodies, to have a better production or whatever, but if you think of a WHITESNAKE album you will be hearing hard rock and rhythm-and-blues – melodic rhythm-and-blues – as those are the elements that I enjoy.

- Does it mean you disown – to a certain extent – the albums that have been in between then and now?

I disown nothing. I’m proud of everything I’ve been involved with… otherwise, you would have never heard them. Everything I have ever done is relevant to my life, whether it’s positive or negative. I’m the Edith Piaf of rock! I have no regrets.

- Talking about production, do you think that the success of the “1987” album was partly due to it’s sound, to Mike Stone’s work?

No, no, no at all! It wasn’t so, it’s all of the elements combined! One of the reasons that it was extremely successful was the songs were really good, and at that time MTV was new, and it was incredible exposure, and also radio was very supportive of the music, so all of those elements came together. Mike Stone had minimal doing and all at the beginning of this work – his work was more of an engineer. But everybody who was involved with the record contributed – no question! But the strength of the WHITESNAKE record should always be the songs.

- Didn’t it feel like you were veering away from the blues?

No – but that’s an interesting question. I don’t necessarily want to recreate the traditional sound of blues. Blues, to me, is self-expression. So I don’t mind… I think that Jimi Hendrix was an amazing blues musician but a lot of people think of him as a heavy metal guitarist. But he was extending the blues from just a traditional form to a more electric approach, and that’s what I tried to achieve. WHITESNAKE is based around hard rock and rhythm-and-blues with melody. With the same elements you’re going to get the hard rock, and I try to put the blues element in the feeling or in my vocal performance.

- I always told my friends that “1987” was full of blues, but they were convinced only when they heard acoustic “Give Me All Your Love” on “Starkers In Tokyo”…

It’s always going to be how the one receives your work. But people would receive it positively. But the most important aspect for me is that I don’t play a comparison game: WHITESNAKE continues its journey, and I can recognize the same elements now that were there from the very beginning. Maybe, my guitarists now are more dynamic in the way they perform than the earlier guys but that’s something that I’ve specifically wanted in the progress of WHITESNAKE. I wanted more excitement at concerts.

- Wasn’t there more soul in the early WHITESNAKE?

Um… Listen to “All I Want, All I Need”, listen to “Til The End Of Time” and “All For Love”: these songs I think have the soul element. I don’t have that problem, I don’t have that comparison problem.

- Sure, that’s not a problem – you’re still playing “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” by Bobby Bland!

Yeah, absolutely! But I mean, you’ve got to remember I wrote all those early songs, too, as a composer. I think I’m very happy with how I do it now. I don’t have anything left and I don’t have any desire, on any level, to return to the songs from thirty years ago other than present those songs now. But out of WHITESNAKE, it’s just the same foundation. Every so often I have to remind myself of it. (Laughs.) And I love Bobby Bland! It’s very interesting because there were more Bobby Bland’s songs that I wanted to make arrangements for but Rod Stewart beat me to it. (More laughter.)

- Rod Stewart is more Sam Cooke rather than Bobby Bland.

But he covered a lot of the Bobby Bland’s songs before I got to them.

- Did you hear Mick Hucknall’s “Tribute To Bobby” album?

Oh oh oh oh, no. No, I didn’t. No. I like him, though. I’ve got to check that out.

- But which other songs of Bobby’s you wanted to record?

“[It’s Not The] Spotlight”… But you want to talk about Bobby Bland or WHITESNAKE?

ws2- I want to talk about you and your interests as you are WHITESNAKE and WHITESNAKE is you!

There are two most infuential albums of Bobby Bland for me. I’m a big fan of all of his records, but the big albums to me are from the early Seventies: I love the songs on “[His] California Album” and “Dreamer”. I would play those records a lot. I would go to see Bobby Bland when I lived in Los Angeles and he played at “The Whisky”. He’s and old guy but an amazing performer but, unfortunately, very bitter because he’d never achieved the fame and success that some of his contemporaries had achieved, and that was pretty sad. Great singer, great singer!

- Back to WHITESNAKE. There are several songs that you recorded a couple of versions of such as “Crying In The Rain”, “Fool For Your Loving” and “Here I Go Again” which you did three times. But why?

I was never happy with the original version of “Crying In The Rain”, so once I started to work with Cozy Powell and John Sykes, we re-arranged it to make it much more exciting without compromising the integrity. “Here I Go Again” has been a hit five times in different versions. “Here I Go Again” and “Fool For Your Loving” were both re-recorded at the request of David Geffen from Geffen Records – and thanks God! (Laughs.) “Here I Go Again” became an immense hit all over again and continues to be one of the most successful WHITESNAKE songs ever.

- What comes first for you – the style concept of an album or the songs?

The songs – always the songs. My albums are all based on songs and always have been. If it’s a WHITESNAKE album, the emphasis will be on songs that can potentially translate into a live environment. If it’s a David Coverdale solo album, it is likely it will contain a more reflective, softer side of my writing and singing. I like choice. The only parameter is that they have the elements of hard rock – rhythm and melodic blues. Some connect, some don’t.

- Which of your songs – old or new – are the most demanding vocally?

I would say most of my songs are challenging to sing with integrity. It’s never simply about ‘singing’ – it’s all about the physicality and emotion it takes to perform them so they contact with the audience.

- Is it true you had a synagogue kantor in the Eighties as a vocal coach?

Yes, a fine man called Nathan Lam. At the time, I believe, he was the premier kantor at the Stephen S. Weiss Temple in Los Angeles. I still workout to the tapes we made together, I had them digitized from analog cassette and downloaded into all my iPods. He has an amazing baritone, I could see the furniture shift when he sang! Incredibly powerful voice!

ws3- Don’t you miss the three-part vocal harmonies the original WHITESNAKE had?

Not at all. I enjoy the four part harmony we have now.

- Tell me, where does the line go between David Coverdale and WHITESNAKE?

David Coverdale amplified ten times is WHITESNAKE, but basically it’s the same thing, just louder.

- How did the idea of twin-guitar band come about in the first place?

Whenever I saw Ritchie Blackmore recording, he would always play a rhythm guitar track, then overdub the lead guitar parts. That was one, simple reason. The other was that I like to go into battle with two barrels rather than one. I have more of an ‘orchestra’ with two guitarists, a much fuller sound. I also loved the early ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND, I loved what they were capable of.

- You seem to have a special bond with guitarists, and Blackmore was the first great player you worked with. What have you learned from him?

I learned a helluva lot working with Ritchie. He’s an amazing player! Him and Jimmy Page are extraordinary musicians, and influenced me a great deal. I still utilize the lessons I learned from the both. In fact, I hope I learn from every musician I work with… and they from me.

- As I heard, you weren’t the first choice as a new PURPLE singer, Paul Rodgers was, and your vocals then were quite similar to his. Did you know Paul from Middlesbrough?

No, really, no. When I started to mix with that crowd in the North of England, Paul Rodgers had already moved to London. And the first person I knew from that time was Mick Moody who used to work with him. And it’s interesting that the first drummer of Paul in London, the guy called Dave Usher, was one of the roadies for my local band in the North. I know Paul now, of course, we met each other several times over the years.

– You’d changed DEEP PURPLE almost completely – even lyrically. But there’s one song standing out from the rest: “Burn”. What had prompted you to take to the Cassandra subject matter?

I was a big fan of science fiction, so was Ritchie. And I wrote two songs really to make him happy: “Burn” and “Stormbringer”, though I prefer to write about emotional and physical themes, like “Mistreated” or “Sail Away”, to be honest. But I do like those two.

- Some fans don’t like “Come Taste The Band”. I love it. Would you agree it’s quite a special album, and if you would – what did make it special?

Regardless, it was a very successful album. I never involve myself in who liked what or didn’t. I’m always busy with the next thing in my life. I haven’t heard “Come Taste The Band” for many years, to be honest, but I have good, positive memories of writing the songs with Tommy Bolin. It was a challenge, coming up with stuff after Blackmore left but I feel we pulled it off. I embrace challenge, it’s more interesting.

- When did you decide to strike on your own? I mean you left Purple in the summer of 1976 but initially auditioned for URIAH HEEP before going solo…

Actually, it was not really an audition, I never had any intention of going there. I just jammed with HEEP for fun. Nice guys, but it was never a career consideration. I knew what I wanted to do – and I did it. Still doing it, as a matter of fact.

- Do you think the combination of you and HEEP could work?

No. It was too similar musically to what PURPLE were doing, and I definitely preferred PURPLE! I really did know what I wanted to do.

- Why didn’t you go solo but opted for a band approach?

Probably cos’ I felt more comfortable in a band structure.

- Didn’t you feel a bit awkward leading the band with Jon Lord, Ian Paice and then Cozy Powell in the line-up?

Why on Earth should I have felt awkward? No, definitely not! Have you been drinking the naughty stuff again?

ws4- Many fans miss the point that it’s always been songs in the center of your band rather than instrumental prowess…

Really? Well, that’s not my problem, is it? A musician must make the music he, or she, wants to make. It’s up to others if they want to join in the journey, or not. If I spent my time trying to please everyone else, and not me, what would be the point of that?

- …but what instrument you compose on?

I write songs on acoustic guitar, sometimes piano.

- How do you chose vocal microphone in the studio?

I usually explore what equipment a studio has at hand and then try an assortment. I’m not married to any particular microphone.

- When with Jimmy Page, you played an acoustic guitar. Wasn’t it intimidating to be strumming alongside the master?

No, it was fun. You should know I’m not easily intimidated! (Laughs.)

- “Take Me For A Little While” was the most perfect marriage of your styles. How did the song come about?

It was a song about loss… grieving. We’d both lost dear friends in our lives. It was a very honest sentiment, and I still enjoy the record when I hear it. I saw Jimmy earlier this year, he came to our London show. He told me he wished we’d had more time to work together. We maintain a good, supportive friendship. I treasure him in my life.

- How instrumental was Doug Aldrich in shaping up this new WHITESNAKE as both composer and player?

Very much so. He’s a good inspiration for me – very enthusiastic. Our relationship is very solid, and when I decided to record again our friendship provided a strong foundation for creating new WHITESNAKE music. It worked very, very well, very natural, relatively effortless. In fact, it was a pleasure. The big bonus for me was that, unlike a lot of the American players I work with, Doug was very familiar with the early WHITESNAKE records, so he was familiar with the history of the band.

- What do you think of the Coverdale soundalikes like Jorn Lande? Is it flattering?

I never think about it, to be honest…

- You’re doing meditation before the show. Is that where you on-stage energy come from?

I feel meditation is the ultimate, perfect accessory to my life. I recommend you try it. It’s helped me in every aspect of my life.

– Some of your early songs such as “Gypsy” and “Soldier Of Fortune” dealt with getting old. Almost thirty five years on and in brilliant form, how do you feel about aging?

Not thrilled about it, but who is? But, in reality, I feel better, stronger and more focused on life than I’ve ever been. To quote the opening track on the “Good To Be Bad” album, these are the best years of my life. And it is absolutely true!

Photos by Eugene Veinard exclusively for DME – Tel Aviv 10.11.2008

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