Martin Popoff: Sail Away – Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage

Soundcheck Books 2015

Martin Popoff: Sail Away - Whitesnake's Fantastic Voyage

Sail Away –
Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage

Light shed into the shadow of the blues but the farthest reaches of one band’s story remain deeply dark.

It’s somehow ironic that this book was finished shortly before its subject released “The Purple Album” which could signify a full circle for David Coverdale‘s journey, but neither his group’s latter-day renaissance, nor the ensemble that the singer had risen to fame with lie within its scope. While both open ends of WHITESNAKE’s existence are touched upon here, it’s the band’s classic period that Martin Popoff addresses and provides a curious perspective to. A Canadian, the author might not know the thrill of hearing their 1987’s record – one to have brought the Brits international fame and fortune – beginning with “Still Of The Night,” yet the North American view at their route highlights the sometimes plight Coverdale’s operation experienced in their early years because, in the Old World, SNAKE seemed successful every step of the way.

In fact, it’s a story of toil and trouble starting with “Trouble” and signing off with “Slip Of The Tongue” – based on Popoff’s many interviews with its principal characters, including David himself, as well as Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden and Neil Murray, the people Coverdale more or less ruthlessly parted company with once they became no more than those steps of his ladder to global recognition. They may try diplomatically to avoid direct description of how what was a democracy situation in the beginning turned on its head by suggesting it had always been a one-man vision, yet disillusionment seeps through. Martin, though, tries to reinstate the balance by going off on a tangent and touching upon Marsden’s potential collaboration with Phil Lynott or recounting a BLUE MURDER saga – without tying the loose thread of Tony Franklin’s progress from being part of the SNAKE offshoot to part of the parent collective – so there’s a lot of fleshing it out.

Through the author’s own track-by-track reviews and the players’ commentary, all integrated into narrative, the background of rehashing early ’80s classics “Crying In The Rain” and “Fool For Your Loving” in the latter part of the decade is revealed, and their original genesis is explained. As a result, the writers’ personal connection to songs transpires, albeit the same, if not directly expressed, emotionality oozes from producers, engineers and A&R John Kalodner’s remarks on behind-the-scenes dramas, first and foremost with regards to guitarist John Sykes’ estrangement and the English ensemble’s embracing its leader’s American dream. Details are aplenty on these pages, so the minutiae buffs get to know about Ritchie Blackmore’s role in the genesis of “Still Of The Night” and learn that Adrian Vandenberg not only appeared in the video to this song but played on one studio version of “Here I Go Again”; yet some moments of the SNAKE’s crawl remain dim.

A few of the band’s former members are just shadowy presence here, among them such elsewhere-prominent musicians as Pete Solley or Aynsley Dunbar, and objective analysis of the power shift in the band is sacrificed to the author’s sympathy towards his subject as well as his permanent quest for metal, Popoff’s genre of choice; more so, the story is so music-centered that it leaves out WHITESNAKE’s entertainment factor as a few funny live situations get mentioned but none of the ensemble’s off-stage shenanigans made it onto the pages. That wasn’t the author’s goal anyway, so as far as charting the band’s classic period goes – more or less academically – this is quite a riveting read.

****

September 1, 2015

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