David Coverdale talks about the sweeter side of the iconic hard rock band
“I’m coming up to 50 years as a recording artist. It’s extraordinary to imagine,” says Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale.
To celebrate his long career, Coverdale is in the midst of putting out the “Red, White and Blue Trilogy” of albums that compile his legendary hard rock band’s hits as well as deep cuts, remixed and remastered, with each release centering on a theme. The Rock Album (white) kicked things off earlier this summer, then Love Songs (red) just came out on November 6. The trilogy will conclude with The Blues Album in 2021.
Don’t be alarmed at the word “remix” – Coverdale assures fans he hasn’t tinkered with the songs too much. “It’s the same house of Whitesnake,” he says. “This is just a couple of fresh coats of paint. We moved the furniture a bit. Got a nicer couch. And that’s it! I’m very respectful. I do know there are a lot of people who regard certain songs as part of the backdrop of their lives.”
Coverdale says he undertook this project because “I wanted to be able to have this for me, to be honest.” He says he wanted to take this opportunity to fix a few things that have long bothered him. For instance, on Love Songs, he points out that “There’s an ending!” on the song “Is This Love,” instead of just fading out at the end like in the original version. “That’s one of the things I love, that it’s the whole song [on this release],” he says.
Another noticeable difference with these remixes/remasters is that Coverdale’s powerful vocals are more prominent now. “One of the things that I’ve done for too many years is put my voice back into the band because I’ve always wanted it to sound like, if you’ll excuse me, a band,” he says, “and this time it was a scenario of, ‘You know what? Let’s turn the voice up [and] stop hiding it.’ I’m really pleased to hear myself!”
VIDEO: Whitesnake “Is This Love”
Deciding which Whitesnake songs to include on Love Songs was difficult, Coverdale says, because “Pretty much everything I write is love songs! Even the rock stuff, if you listen, they’re all love songs. I think that’s one of the reasons so many people identify emotionally with the themes of Whitesnake, because regardless of being a successful rock and roll musician, I’m still a human being who experiences human emotions that people can identify with.”
Coverdale says he has no intention of changing his writing style, either, even during times like this when many artists are writing more issue-oriented songs. “I’m very politically involved. I’m very environmentally aware,” he says. “But the circumstance is, these are themes that don’t occur to me as a writer. Writing about a politician is not remotely interesting to me. It’s the human element that I think people can identify with.”
Besides releasing this “Red, White and Blue Trilogy,” Whitesnake should also have been in the middle of a worldwide tour this year, but the pandemic put the brakes on that, at least for now. Although he seems to be in an affable mood, Coverdale admits he’s frustrated about being at home in the Tahoe area instead of out on the road as originally planned.
“This was supposed to be my, ‘Farewell and thank you for an amazing time,’” Coverdale says of the scrapped tour plans. He adds gleefully. “I’m 69 [years old], so this was supposed to be my ‘69’ tour – I designed the best T-shirts, as you can imagine!”
Coverdale first became known for his incendiary live performances as the lead singer for Deep Purple from 1973 to 1976 before founding Whitesnake in 1978. He has since led Whitesnake to worldwide fame and multiplatinum sales thanks to ubiquitous hits such as “Here I Go Again,” “Is This Love,” “Still of the Night,” “Fool for Your Loving,” and “Slow an’ Easy.”
VIDEO: Whitesnake Donnington 1990
Before all that success, though, Coverdale started from what he calls “my working class roots” in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, a small town on England’s northeast coast. It’s a place, he says, of “Steel mills and coal mines.”
Despite this unglamorous backdrop, Coverdale describes a happy childhood in which music played a key role. “My mother’s side of the family were great singers,” he says. “My mother taught me Irish rebellion songs: ‘Never sing this in front of your father!’”
Coverdale says his family didn’t have luxuries like a radio, so it was a treat when he could visit his aunt and uncle, who were avid record collectors. He recalls discovering “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley. “It was so extraterrestrial: Elvis looked like an alien come to Earth to wake us up!” he says with a laugh. “They let me play these singles, and I’d sing along with them. They’d go, ‘You’ve got a good voice, you.’”
Soon, it wasn’t just Coverdale’s own family who noticed his voice. He began singing in the school choir, where he was often given solos. “But it never occurred to me, until I heard people like Ray Charles and Muddy Waters, that the voice could be an expressive instrument.” He adds that Little Richards was also a key influence. “That music ripping it up really brought out the primal in me.” As a result, he says, “My performance is rooted in the blues and soul.”
Coverdale began singing in bands as a teenager, but then chose to attend art college, intending to become either an art teacher or graphic designer. It didn’t take him long to figure out that he needed to refocus on music, however.
“It was really interesting doing a painting, taking me three months, and people going, ‘It’s very nice, David, but what are you trying to say?’ Whereas I could sing and play a couple of chords on guitar and people got it immediately,” Coverdale says. “I learned that I could touch people with writing songs and singing. It was immense for me.”
These days, Coverdale’s still working to find ways to connect with people, even when he’s not touring. To that end, he’s very active on social media, which he says he enjoys. “When I actually started interacting with people, I was astonished at some of the songs that meant the world to them, [and] the stories behind why that song was special to them. Like, meeting at a concert and becoming lifelong friends or marriage partners.” Fully realizing just how significant his music has been for people, Coverdale says, “was incredibly humbling. I don’t feel like a nostalgia artist, but I know that a lot of these songs, they’re precious to people.”
Coverdale says he’s gratified that his work is taken so seriously because he takes it very seriously, himself. “I’ve always written very challenging music for me as a vocalist,” he says. “To be able to be physically strong enough and vocally strong enough to do songs like “Slow an’ Easy” or “Still of the Night,” it takes a great deal of athletic ability to be able to do that.”
With touring plans on hold for the foreseeable future, Coverdale hopes it won’t be too long until he can hit the road again with Whitesnake. Once they do get the green light to re-book that farewell tour, “God willing, I’ll be physically strong and healthy enough to actually pay my respects and my sincere thanks for an extraordinary career,” he says. “I want to do my world tour of appreciation and gratitude!”