Interview with David Coverdale from Whitesnake: Uncoiling His Snake

Rock ‘n’ roll may be at a strange crossroads right now, co-opted by American Idol, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and the music biz may be waning, but Whitesnake is still going strong. The band is revving up to tour behind their excellent new album, Forevermore, their grittiest and bluesiest release since their 1984 masterpiece Slide It In. Their music lives on everywhere. From Hollywood’s The Fighter to Broadway’s Rock Of Ages, while YouTube views for their immortal “Here I Go Again” video have passed the 11,000,000 mark. On top of a happy marriage and private life, frontman/founder David Coverdale is experiencing quite a hearty Whitesnake resurgence. It is certainly one that is marked by his dogged determination—he recovered handily from a blister on this throat that prematurely ended his band’s U.S. tour in 2009—and a healthy sense of fun and well-being.

“It’s so interesting. Whitesnake is flourishing in a time when people are running a hot bath and looking for razor blades,” muses Coverdale. “The glass is definitely more than half full. I’m not a person to look at half-empty, and I avoid people who have the energy of ‘Oh my God, it’s not like it was.’ It’s the nature of things to change, it truly is, and the reason we survive is because we can [change]. We can indulge in variety. If you can’t drink this, if you can’t eat that, we find something else. I’ve turned into the Lewis and Clark of rock, forging new trails. We all know there are a lot of avenues that are totally closed off now, and that’s fine. Those were grand days while they lasted. It’s all chapters of a fascinating book, and I’ve still got enough enthusiasm that if you stick a plug up my ass I can light up the suburbs of Los Angeles.”

A full listen to Forevermore provides evidence of that boast. Meshing snarling hard blues rockers like “Steal Your Heart Away” and “My Evil Ways” with sincere ballads like the epic title track, it spans a range of emotions and invokes the group’s classic pre-1987 days before the big hair, glitzy videos and radio-friendly hooks. Coverdale recalls sitting with guitarist/co-songwriter Doug Aldrich during the new album playback and saying, “‘You know, that song could’ve been on Coverdale/Page. That song could have been on Lovehunter or Ready An’ Willing.’ Once again, we achieved what we didn’t set out to do, which is to tie in all the necessary ingredients to make a very tasty Whitesnake cake.”

An important reason why the latest ‘Snake platter is so cohesive is that Coverdale, Aldrich and guitarist Reb Beach have been playing together for eight years now, a little longer than the period that the singer worked with original axeman Micky Moody back in the day. Coverdale is pleased that Aldrich had worked previously with another British singer years ago who introduced him to early Whitesnake albums from the late ‘70s through early ‘80s.

“He was familiar with and loved that early, bluesy, R&B stuff that I came out of [Deep] Purple doing,” notes Coverdale. “So when we sat down to write, it was almost an organic exchange. The success of Good To Be Bad gave us more license to try it without a net. We have an almost telepathic friendship/writing partnership, it’s an extraordinary thing. Normally singers and guitarists have a more antagonistic relationship that I don’t work well with, which is pretty obvious. For me, I don’t think it’s necessary. I put myself into a particular zone when I’m creating music. It’s almost similar to breathing for me to create Whitesnake music, but with Doug as a partner, it’s a marriage made in heaven.”

During the pre-1987 period of Whitesnake, Coverdale had a raunchier persona that could be called “Dirty David.” “I’m still pretty dirty, according to my wife; thank God at my advanced years I’m still enjoying anatomical conversation.” And while lyrically vintage songs like “Dancing Girls” and “Spit It Out” may never reemerge, that raunchy spirit is lurking within the performances on the new album.

“I still have my moments,” counters the singer. “I was thinking if you want to look for the Naughty Norman stuff, if you listen to the lyrics on [the new] ‘Whipping Boy Blues,’ I assure you it’s all there. But, really, now I celebrate love in my lyrics without any concern of singing about love again or having love in the title again. I passed that years ago. I looked up to the sky in a way that Salieri does in the Amadeus movie and goes, ‘If this is what I’m supposed to do, so be it.’ I would never consciously sit down to write love songs, and that’s what would come out. It is the most motivating, inspirational factor that I have as an expressionist, and I just hope that I get to the point quicker and touch deeper. I’m very encouraged by the response that we’ve received so far [to Forevermore]. It’s been astonishingly positive.”

Many theatergoers recognized the famed singer’s voice as the pre-show narrator of the Broadway jukebox musical Rock Of Ages, asking people to not use any recording devices unless they are really hot and willing to bare their breasts. Surprisingly, Coverdale has yet to see the show, which he views as a celebration and proof of the great songs of the ‘80s. “I’ve not had the pleasure,” he admits. “I’m actually coming to New York at the end of the month, but literally I’m in and out. I will certainly try to get there.”

One could argue that as fun as Rock Of Ages is, the show is a whitewashed representation of the chauvinistic hair band assholes who littered the Sunset Strip during the ‘80s. “It was an interesting chapter for me because I had the Cinderella rags to riches [tale]—well, not so much rags, but not well off when I got the job with Deep Purple,” recalls Coverdale. “I had never made a record before, and I started touring on a customized private 727 with flight attendants who had been let go from commercial airlines for sex offenses. Are you kidding me? I took to it like a duck to water. And those days were nowhere near as oversaturated as the music business became in the ‘80s. So it was really interesting for me to see all these people trying to live like we lived back in the ‘70s. At times it was very distasteful, I agree, but these are things you go through. The only thing I regret—and I’m the Edith Piaf of rock; I have no regrets—is that some of the hair is a bit dodgy, but the music never lost the substance.”

On top of music these days, Coverdale has plunged into the wine business. He hooked up with wine maker Dennis De La Montanya in late 2009 for a first vintage that sold out almost immediately. The singer agreed to it when he liked one of the De La Montanya’s Zinfandels, “Which had this pepperiness and spiciness of Whitesnake,” but due to limited supply only 300 cases were ever shipped; combined orders from Sweden and Japan equaled 2,000 cases. The duo is already working on a merlot. “I think he found some of more of the Zin grapes, so they’re doing some kind of catch-up. The merlot is breathtaking. Coming from [an] old wino, it’s way happening. I actually want that myself.”

The singer jokes that “we are going to do a manly fragrance called Penetration: ‘It’s all that matters.’ Hopefully somebody will read it and go, ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea!’ We could tie in free copies of Slide It In. You know what it is? It is having fun with stuff.”

Coverdale plans to keep having fun. While one song on Forevermore, “Fare Thee Well,” sounds like the thoughts of a man about to hang up his hat and retire, it is actually a thank you to the audience that is a longer variation on “We Wish You Well” from Lovehunter. “Since having an interactive website, I’ve discovered that a lot of [Whitesnake] songs have become really important parts of the backdrop of people’s lives. It’s very humbling to hear this stuff, so now like I do, there are certain songs that I stick in my pocket to accompany me on the journey. And ‘Fare Thee Well’ is going to be one of those songs. I enjoy the journey, I enjoy the story it tells. It’s like being at school. You can’t wait until the end of term, but then you go, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to see my friends again. I’m off to college,’ or whatever. It’s a thank you. All the joy, all the tears, all the laughs we’ve had. Let’s have a drink and God willing we’ll see each other next year. That’s the sentiment. I had a lot of people come on my website and hear it and go, ‘Oh my God, are you retiring?!’ No, and I’m not shy either.”

Whitesnake’s new album, Forevermore, will hit stores March 29. The band has a show scheduled for May 18 at Irving Plaza. For more info, go to