When the white snake puts on its purple coat

David Coverdale - Whitesnake by Mark Weiss“Non, je ne regrette rien”, as Édith Piaf would put it. Now those lyrics apply to David Coverdale, who went back to his distant past to put together The Purple Album, Whitesnake’s latest record, made up of covers from his era in Deep Purple. It is with unmitigated pleasure that we listen to him talk about the surprising genesis of this project, but also about his memories from the years 1973-1976, his relationship with Ritchie Blackmore and the late Jon Lord, everything the experience has brought him, and his genuine, never-ending gratitude. Now, in the 2010s, Coverdale has the same passion for music and the idea of creating it that he had at the time – even if he’s aware that time does fly, and if it’s obvious he’s wondering what the future will be made of. The Purple Album could be his last rock record, he confesses, without too much confidence.

At any rate, it is the first album since the departure of guitarist Doug Aldrich, who rekindled the fire in Whitesnake’s music in the space of two records. Consequently, it’s also the first with his new guitarist, Joel Hoekstra, whose talent as a classical musical never ceases to amaze him. It might also be a good opportunity to start considering a more acoustic and intimist music. But he’ll tell you that himself, too.

With David Coverdale, questions are almost unnecessary; they’re merely prods for him to keep telling his story, with all the detours and deviations that go with it. An interview with him also implies a healthy dose of honesty, elegance (when he talks about other people), and humor (particularly when he goes all Columbo and talks about his wife, who seems to matter an awful lot to him). And this time, the poet trades Häägen-Dazs for little blue birdsto kick off his tale…

Whitesnake by Ash Newell

« Life is too short and far too precious to hold animosity, anger, resentment, bitterness… It’s what make people look like shit when they get older [laughs]! »

How are you doing?

David Coverdale (vocals): You know what? I’ve got so excited that I have blue birds flying out of every orifice! So it should be fun! I just had two days at home with my beautiful wife who had some minor surgery and I’m glad to be free of nursing, as much as I love her [laughs].

You’ve got a new album called The Purple Album coming, which consist of remakes of Deep Purple songs. Apparently this all started with Jon Lord wanting to do a sort Deep Purple Mark III reunion, but he sadly passed away before that could happen. Do you think he had a particular love for that period of Deep Purple or that he even had regrets that it only lasted for such a short period of time?

Don’t forget that Jon and I, and Ian Paice, had the pleasure of working together significantly longer in Whitesnake. Believe me, three years in Deep Purple is the equivalent of thirty years in the military [laughs]! So, yeah, the actual seed was sown by Jon, by a representative of Jon who called me in 2012 and told me of Jon’s diagnosis, that he had cancer – which is horrifying to hear of people you love and far too frequent, of course. He asked, on his recovery, would I be prepared to do some kind of Deep Purple reunion? I’m not sure that it was specifically Mark III but I said: “Yes! Absolutely, I’ll be there for you.” And then, of course, sadly the next thing, the news was that he passed away. Sadly at the same time, one of my wife’s brothers also passed away and my aunt Sylvia, who’d introduced me to Elvis Presley and Little Richard as a child that immediately resonated with me and still does… You know, all of these people who we loved and treasured within the family passed away in a small window of time. So it was a very, very sad Coverdale house. And my wife and I were talking one evening, saying: “What are we supposed to learn from this? This is so extreme to be thrown into such greif!” And the big epiphany for me, Nicolas, was life is too short and far too precious to hold animosity, anger, resentment, bitterness… It’s what make people look like shit when they get older [laughs]! It’s excess emotional baggage which is totally up to the individual if they wish to carry it. And I didn’t want to. So I gathered a bunch of olive branches and started making calls and reconnections with people I hadn’t seen for forty years or that I had worked with or just known as friends or members of family, just to say: “Look, I’m sorry if I hurt you, just know that I love you. Can we let the bygones be bygones?” Pretty much everyone I spoke with was really positive and very pleased to shake hand and move on. Some worked, which of course is not a problem because I did make the effort to do this, so I’m not carrying that shitty heavy load, you know? But one of the people I wanted to reach out to was of course Ritchie Blackmore and there were two reasons: one, I wanted to share the grief and commiserate the loss of our mutual friend and colleague Jon Lord, and the other thing was to actually thank Ritchie personally, rather than in an interview and have him read it, to say: “Thank you so fucking much for having such courage to give an unknown singer such a golden opportunity, and that opportunity set me on a voyage that I’m still on today!” So those things were important for me, and that was my only agenda.

After communicating with Ritchie for awhile, he asked if I would speak to his manager. This in the end of 2012 and going into 2013, and through the first half of my Year Of The Snake world tour, I was communicating with Ritchie and his wife and Carole [Stevens], his manager. And Carole asked me if I would be interested in doing some kind of project with Ritche. And I said: “What? Some kind of Purple thing or Blackmore/Coverdale, as I did with Jimmy Page?” As to me Blackmore/Coverdale would have been really interesting because we could have played Whitesnake, Rainbow and Deep Purple; it could have been a very interesting musical experience. Then she said: “Ritchie wants to know who would you work with: Roger [Glover] or Glenn [Hughes]?” I said: “Of course, Glenn!” Because he’s my soul brother, but I do respect and love Roger who I worked with on two solo albums. And I suggested Keith Emerson as a keyboard player because there was a friendly rivalry between Jon Lord and Keith Emerson back in the day, and I think Purple fans from that period would have accepted the genius of Keith Emerson as a member of Deep Purple, don’t you? You know, he’s such a gifted musician! But the further we got in conversation and discussing the project, the further from my vision it was becoming. It was to be a very short project, and for me to stop what I’m doing with Whitesnake, it had to be something significant, something more substantial. So after a great deal of thought, I said: “Look, I respectfully withdraw from this project.”

At that time I had no plans to do this tribute record but at the same time, while Ritchie and I were communicating, I was researching our work, because I’m just not a nostalgic person, Nicolas. So for me, I had to go back forty years to listen to Burn album, to listen to Stormbringer album, listen to Come Taste The Band, and thinking: “Oh my God! I was so fucking young and naïve! I hope Ritchie’s open to giving some of these songs like a fresh coat of paint!” [Chuckles] And of course I worked on an arrangement for a song we wrote together called “Sail Away” and I thought it would be a fabulous unplugged song, almost a continuo of what Ritchie’s doing now with Renaissance music. Because a lot of the music Ritchie and I wrote was based on English folk music, that kind of musical structure. All we did was really play it fucking loud! [Laughs] “Soldier Of Fortune” is one of the reasons Ritchie’s doing what he’s doing, he loves that style of music, as I do. So, when I withdrew from the project, my wife and I were talking and I said: “It’s such a pity that these arrangements are not gonna see the light of day!” And she said: “Well, why don’t you do this as a Whitesnake project?” And went: “Oh…” I gave it little thoughts, spoke to my musicians… I’ve been communicating with Doug Aldrich at that time, he was still part of Whitesnake and we were very close friends, and he was totally into the idea of a project as were all of my musicians because every one of them has been influenced and inspired by Deep Purple’s contribution to rock. So that was really exciting for them. I spoke to the record company, Frontiers, who are huge rock fans, as you know, and particularly Deep Purple fans. So there was all positives. Then I said: “Okay but if we’re gonna do this, I wanna keep it quiet.” Which is really difficult in the age of the internet, as you know. And incredibly, we kept it quiet [laughs]! But it helped me reconnect with a part of my life that I was disconnected from. It was amazing that I’ve been sitting next to Joel [Hoekstra] or Reb [Beach] doing a solo on “Burn” and flashing back on sitting next to Ritchie Blackmore in The Rolling Stone’s truck in Switzerland while he played the solo! You know, being there for Jon Lord’s solos, being there with Tommy Bolin working on “Love Child”… And it was really beautiful to reconnect. There was none of the negative memories or anything surfaced, it was all just positive! Like Edit Piaf, I have no regrets.

Whitesnake - The Purple Album

« There’s a part of me that’s unbelievably fucking lazy but not when it comes to creativity. That’s what really fuels my heart, my body. »

You just said that you actually started working without even knowing if this reunion thing or project would be possible. Are you always like that, diving into work before knowing if things will even be possible?

Oh yeah, when I worked with Jimmy Page, he turned around and said: “Fuck! You do everything that I used to do with Zeppelin!” He said:”Can I leave this shit to you?” I said: “Yeah, I’m a Virgo! It has to be organized!” [Laughs] For somebody who loves to improvise with music, you know, like blues or jazz, it was… You know, it’s what I do! It’s just natural for me to get up, pick up a guitar and work! You know, I meditate every day and then usually, from there, I like to pick up an instrument, go to work, go to work out in my gym…You know, my wife now is recovering from some minor surgery and she’s going crazy because she’s another active person! I can’t imagine… Because, really, there’s a part of me that’s unbelievably fucking lazy but not when it comes to creativity. That’s what really fuels my heart, my body, you know, creating something that really didn’t exist the moment before, and then having million people sing that song to me is an astonishing reward, very fulfilling. But yeah, it’s just what I do! When I worked with Page, I reviewed Zeppelin stuff and I thought: “Okay, well, if we’re gonna do this, I’d rather do the blues based stuff.” Because that was a huge common denominator for Jimmy and I. You know, Ritchie and I work together great, and the good news, I do believe and I sincerely hope, is that Ritchie might be doing what you could call an electric rock record. I do hope so because I spoke, maybe six week ago or two months ago, to his manager who asked me if I’d write a new song with Ritche. I said I’d be delighted! First she asked me to do an old one, to which I said: “No, we had such an incredibly creative time…” That’s one of the things that was so eye opening for me, it’s to hear how well Ritchie and I wrote so quickly. When reviewing those things and looking at the necessary elements to redo these songs – you know, “what’s important? What can I change? What can lift up and throw a little bit more lightness on?” – or indeed restructure, like I did with “Sail Away”, those things are absolutely natural to me, but the real bonus was hearing the fucking amazing ideas that Ritchie and I had! We wrote in an afternoon and that night we recorded! Then I’d be up all night writing fucking lyrics in the studio. It was an intensely insanely creative period. So, you know, forty years later, I said I’d be fucking delighted! But I said: “Don’t be too late because I’m getting really fucking busy!” And of course, so far, I haven’t received anything, so I don’t know what their plan is.

All of these songs that are featured on The Purple Album haven’t been played by Deep Purple since you actually left the band almost 40 years ago…

Well, according to the current Deep Purple, Mark III and IV doesn’t exist [laughs]! Which is absolutely not a problem…

Do you feel like entrusted with a mission to bring these great songs to the attention of the young generation, so that they don’t get lost in history, somehow?

I don’t know! We still sell a lot of records! Glenn Hughes and I speak a lot and usually when royalties come in, we call up and say: “How much did you get? Blah, blah, blah… Oh! I got this…” Something like that. So, we still sell records from that time period. One of the reasons was the quality of the music and the performances. That’s when my musicians started to dig deeply into these songs, they were going: “Fuck me, Blackmore was amazing! Oh my God, Ian Paice was incredible!” You know, I made the decision early on to focus on the twin guitars of Whitesnake. Jon Lord is irreplaceable to me, as a man and as a musician, so I brought a friend of mine in who’s a big Jon Lord fan and I said it’s gonna me more textures as opposed to features. The song “Burn”, of course, has such a stunning solo that you have to have that keyboard solo, and I gave this friend of mine a solo on “You Keep On Moving”, but most of the time, we keep… You know, one of the huge sonic elements of Deep Purple, was Jon Lord organ, particularly his left hand which was earth-shatteringly one of the foundations we build on; it was just an earth-shattering sound. It was most important that we didn’t just recreate these songs; they had to be snaked up. There had to be a reason for us to do this. And for me, without even realizing it, it was like coming full circle! I don’t know whether this is the last big rock album I’ll make and big rock arena tour… Very likely. You know, I’m very aware of my age, very conscious of that, which has not diminished my passion but I’m still 63 years old and I’ll be 64 years old, about to start a fucking really physically challenging world tour! I have every confidence that I’m gonna be able to do it but the most important thing is that I maintain my well-being. But as far as future projects are concerned, I have a bunch of ideas, as you say in English, on the back burner. One of them is an unplugged greatest hits. I can see part of my future continuing to tell my stories to people in a more intimate environment. All of the rock songs I’ve ever been involved with have all been given birth on acoustic guitars, all of them, and in my mind I hear what I want the drums to do, the electric guitars to do. If it’s a good song, you should be able to take all its closes off and strip it down to be the bare essential. That’s something I can see, which won’t be as challenging. Being Tarzan on stage can have its drawbacks [laughs]!

David Coverdale - Whitesnake by Ash Newell

« I’m still 63 years old and I’ll be 64 years old, about to start a fucking really physically challenging world tour! […] Being Tarzan on stage can have its drawbacks [laughs]! »

How did you choose the songs that would be on this album? All the classics are there but there are also some lesser known songs, like “Holy Man”, “Love Child” or “Might Just Take Your Life”…

It was very easy, Nicolas. I just looked down a list of songs and saw the things that I thought would be played beautifully by my musicians and that I would like to revisit. A lot of the times, in those days, Glenn Hughes was an incredibly talented singer, he and I would share the songs, and I made a decision early on that we had to stand on our own feet because, as much as I love Glenn, he’s not a member of Whitesnake, and I didn’t want to put “Whitesnake featuring Glenn Hughes” or featuring Joe Bow. All my guys are great singers. Reb Beach and I have a fantastic blend. Joel Hoekstra, Michael Devin, the new keyboard player [Michele Luppi], they’re all potentially lead singers, so I’m in really fucking good company! But yeah, picking the songs was easy, but initially, I thought: “Ah, Ritchie’s not gonna want to do anything from Come Taste The Band because that was Tommy Bolin, god rest his soul!” I thought that would be a compromise on my part because that’s some of my favorite songs that I’ve been involved with in my forty something year career. So of course, once I withdrew from the potential Blackmore-Coverdale-Deep Purple-Mark-whatever reunion, I could really just pick and choose whatever the fuck I wanted. And there’s actually more Come Taste The Band songs on the special edition, I don’t think you’ve heard yet. We also did a song called “Lady Luck” and “Comin’ Home” which is only on the special edition with the DVD stuff. So we actually recorded fifteen songs and I’m delighted how they came out.

You know, none of this is to be compared to the original. When we announced this, because there was such a space of time between the announcement and the actual release of the record, people have gone out and bought the Purple records and put them in the running order of the Purple Album, just to see what they’re like [chuckles]! But, you know, I keep saying on social media that this is not to ne compared! Deep Purple is incomparable to me. These are new versions. It’s the same house of Purple but with a fresh coat of paint. It’s Whitesnake playing these songs and I’m not 22 years old anymore, I’m sixty-fucking-three! So don’t be expecting to hear the youthful lion of rock! I’m doing kicking asses as much as I can do and I’m very happy with what we’ve achieved! And I’m extraordinarily proud of my musicians and I must salute Tommy Aldridge, my drummer, who literally came in so prepared – all of the guys were prepared for this -, it was so respectful to the music. They all came in totally prepared, and with new and fresh ideas to discuss and to experiment with, all of them. Reb came in so passionately that Michael [McIntyre], who you spoke with a few moments ago, my co-producer – he’s been my right-hand man for almost thirty years –, he and I invited Reb to co-produce the album with us. He was so engaged, so involved, it was fabulous. But Tommy Aldridge, once we started tracking, once that we rehearsed a lot of the arrangements with the guys, Tommy brought an energy to the sessions, which was, as I describe it, the energy of a 20 year old punk who could actually play! And everybody went: “Oh my God!” And upped their energy and performance. It’s just like if you go and play tennis with somebody who’s a lazy player, you’re not gonna play your best. But if somebody comes in and fires a hundred mile an hour ball at you, you have to be on your toes! And Tommy brought that energy and I’m eternally grateful to him for that. That set the bar for all of us!

What were the biggest things that you’ve learned or retained from your Deep Purple years?

Oh my gosh!


Yeah, that’s really difficult. The easiest way to answer that is: I had the pleasure of being able to tell Jon Lord and Ian Paice and of course my soul brother Glenn Hughes how much I loved and appreciated them. Sadly over thirty years ago, Ritchie and I got into a physical confrontation the last time we were in the same room together and we were just kind of negative about each other. There was just a negative rivalry and competitiveness between Whitesnake and Rainbow. But truly, Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore taught me so much in such a short time and such valuable lessons that I still utilize those things today. We played clubs a lot in those days and one thing Ritchie would say to me was: “Look at which rhythms people jumps at and responds to.” I would never have thought to look at that. And you’d see people jump up on particular songs and you go: “Okay, let’s structure a song with this kind of tempo.” And Jon, of course, one of the most beautiful bon-vivant raconteurs I’ve ever known, taught me charm and grace, and we were both well-read, we’d be giving each other books all the time, we both loved the arts, poetry, he was an incredible man who I’m so honored to have known. Ritchie’s much more internalized, more insular, which is fine because I swing that way too: I live in a quiet mountain village, not some crazy… You know, I was talking to Slash recently and he’s going: “What the fuck a I living in LA for?” He was in a Lake Tahoe show where I live and he said him and his wife were talking about moving out of LA, and I said:”Well, I can recommend Lake Tahoe! It’s nice!” You can always find noise and action when you’re touring in London, New York, Berlin, Paris, but finding peace and quiet, that’s the challenge, and I embrace those.

Whitesnake by Ash Newell

« To have regrets sucks! I have none! Even some of the bad decisions I’ve made in my life were necessary to lead me to the next fucking doorway to go through. »

You have a new guitar player in Whitesnake called Joel Hoekstra…

Oh, oh yeah!

But actually, the departure of Doug Aldrich came as a big surprise as you two seemed to have a great chemistry together…

Oh, absolutely agreed! Absolutely agreed! But people should realize that relationships in groups are just like relationships in life! Sometimes a relationship runs its course. Nobody in my band knew about the stuff that I was discussing with Ritchie other than Doug, and my wife. That was it! The only people who knew about it. You know, there were changes in Doug’s personal life, which is none of my business to discuss, but it directly affected the time table of us getting together. So it became obvious to both of us that the energy had changed. We had an amazing ten or eleven years. I gotta tell you: I adore Doug Aldrich. The music I wrote with Doug Aldrich is some of my favorite in my life! I think we wrote beautiful songs together, Whitesnake classic to die for, like “Forevermore”, “Steal Your Heart Away”, “Love Will Set You Free”, “Best Years”, “Can You Hear The Wind Blow”… Fucking Fabulous! Some of my favorite songs from my career! And I wish him every success! But it was time for us, it was time for a change. And that gave me the opportunity… Joel was probably in Whitesnake within a week of Doug Aldrich making the announcement that he was leaving. We just kept it quiet out of respect for Joel’s group, Night Ranger. But yeah, you’re absolutely correct! And the same with Adrian Vandenberg, I had a stunning relationship with him! I was talking with somebody the other day who was really surprised that Adrian didn’t rejoin the band and I said, to be honest, I never even thought about it! I’d already recorded a song for Adrian’s Moonkings. You know, Adrian and I will most likely work together again but probably in something like an unplugged. We’re great, great friends. If you can come out of a relationship and remain friends, then it’s beautiful French bread and butter! Because, a lot of times, it’s hurtful at the end of relationships, but this wasn’t. It had to happen. Doug now is free to do all kinds of projects, which great! You know, if you’re in Whitesnake, it’s a big commitment.

The Purple Album will actually be the first Whitesnake album that Joel plays on. So wasn’t that also a good way to offer a new album to the Whitesnake fans, while still giving time for you and Joel to build up a working relationship?

Oh yeah, absolutely! I mean, there are no mistakes. There are just opportunities [chuckles]. And if you sit going like: “Oh no, no, no, I made a mistake, I made a mistake…” You know, that beautiful song I consistently quote: “No Regrets” by Edith Piaf. To have regrets sucks! I have none! Even some of the bad decisions I’ve made in my life were necessary to lead me to the next fucking doorway to go through. I don’t lead a safe life. There’s risky element in anything you do. My musicians are complete cognizant of the fact that I’m not sure if I will make another rock album but one of the things that was a great joy for me working with Joel is his extreme talent as a classical musician. So I had my scratch ideas for “Sail Away” and I said: “Joel here! Put your layers on it!” And he did a breathtaking job! All of the acoustic guitars on The Purple Album are Joel Hoekstra. What a fucking musician! In fact, Michael and I are just working on some alternate mixes. You know, we just had all of the guys playing the solos and then we’ve made a decision to make sure that there was a good balance. Reb makes the solo on “Love Child” on the Purple Album and Joel does it on this remix that we’re putting out as a four-track alternatives. You know, everyone’s happy! I mean, Jesus, what better guitar music to come in and play than a mix of Whitesnake and Deep Purple [laughs]? You would be so, as I was, amazed by the musicians who want to come in, join Whitesnake and play with Whitesnake! When it was announced that Doug was out of the band, I swear to God, people I never thought would ever be interested in this environment suddenly came out of the woodwork. It was fantastic, absolutely fantastic. But Joel stood head and shoulders… He’s an incredibly musical guy. There’s camaraderie across the board with these guys, which is why it was interesting that we made the decision to look for another keyboard player. When you’re traveling on a world tour, it’s an incredibly intimate environment and Tommy, Michael, Joel and Reb are really connected very deeply on a soul level, I think. When we shot the videos together, everybody was assisting each other, borrowing each other’s clothes, being supportive… It was a beautiful experience across the board. You know, usually people are more competitive with each other. I think there’s gonna be a very healthy competition on stage with Joel and Reb, not a negative competition. I think it’s gonna be really positive, and the fans and the rest of us are gonna get to enjoy that.

And do you know when we can expect a new Whitesnake album of original songs?

I don’t know. The interesting thing to me, I was talking with my wife who I obviously talk to a lot, she’s my best friend, and she said: “What do you plan to doing do next?” I said: “Well, really, to be honest, I plan to doing like a Whitesnake greatest hits on acoustic.” I think that would be exciting to me. Certainly working on a song like “Soldier Of Fortune” and “Sail Away” on this recent project, where I’m not screaming my nuts off, I’m singing, I’m telling my stories in a conversational way, is a very appealing thing to me. And you have to remember that I’ve been challenging myself for most of my life, Nicolas, challenging myself to write better songs, challenging myself to write better stories, challenging myself to be a better performer, a better singer, all of these things I’ve been doing for longer than the Deep Purple experience, and I’m 63 or 64! What the fuck do I want to challenge myself for anymore [laughs]?! I think surviving and living my life successfully is more interesting to me. So, who knows? You know, I never thought I’d end up making Good To Be Bad! And then after Good To Be Bad I never thought I’d make Forevermore! So really, I don’t fucking know [laughs]!

Interview conducted by phone 15th, april 2015 by Nicolas Gricourt.
Retranscription: Nicolas Gricourt.
Promo pics: Ash Newell & Mark Weiss.

Whitesnake Official website: www.whitesnake.com.

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