Whitesnake – David Coverdale’s boom and bust project. Controversial? Well, in part 1 of this blog, we looked at ‘early career’ Whitesnake. How David Coverdale had been plucked out of nowhere to front Deep Purple. How, when Deep Purple split following Richie Blackmore’s departure and the death of replacement Tom Bolin, he embarked on a solo career which quickly evolved into a fully-fledged new band – Whitesnake.
How they progressed from that early funk, bluesy sound into an increasingly hard rocking band. And how, even with all the talent at their disposal, the wheels were threatening to come off until new management and a new label promised to put them on the road to greatness in the USA.
So how did that pan out? And how did the wheels so suddenly fall off? Let’s hear the rest in part 2.
Well, you know that these types of transformation are never pain free, and Whitesnake’s was no exception. Coming off the Saints and Sinners tour in 1983, they were being pulled in all directions. Mel Galley and Cosy Powell, the guitarist and drummer by this time, were pushing for ever-heavier-rock on the musical direction side. A new producer, Eddie Kramer had been parachuted in, with new working methods. Long time guitarist Micky Moody, who’d been there from the very beginning, quit abruptly, tired of continually being sidelined, as he saw it.
Increasingly, Whitesnake was turning into a business, not an environment for friends to hand out. Coverdale was on board with that, but Moody just couldn’t get to grips with the new atmosphere.
A New Hero?
Moody was probably on borrowed time anyway. Coverdale had been convinced by new A&R man John Kalodner that the band needed a guitar hero to move them to the next level – someone who could compete for attention with, say, Eddie Van Halen, who was already pulling up trees on the US rock scene by this time.
A few names were thrown around – Michael Schenker, Adrian Vandenberg (the latter of whom would later join). But first, Thin Lizzy axeman John Sykes got the gig, and eventually, the much delayed ‘Slide it In’ came out in January 1984.
How much delayed? Well, they’d originally hoped to bring it out in time for their latest Donington appearance (this time as headliners) in summer 1983. So about 6 months behind schedule. And even that was only the European release.
In North America, which remember, was now Whitesnake’s prime target market, John Kalodner thought the mixing on ‘Silde it In’ was – how shall we say it – terrible. (Quite a sweeping conclusion – like most of Whitesnake’s early albums, the production had been handled by rock legend Martin Birch (Iron Maiden, Deep Purple…).
But the Americans were anyway unimpressed, and demanded a compete remix. That meant it didn’t come out in the US until April the same year – on the same day as Jon Lord played his last show with the band, before leaving for the big Deep Purple reunion. He was the last Purple alumnus to leave Whitesnake (excluding Coverdale himself).
Anyway, the waiting seemed worthwhile, because ‘Slide it In’ hit the US top 40, much higher than any previous Whitesnake record. They followed up with tours supporting Dio and Quiet Riot, and released singles with glitzy, MTV friendly videos. Coverdale himself moved to the US.
On Their Way (Sort of…)
The scene having been set stateside, and a successful tour in the bag, including appearances at Rock in Rio, Whitesnake plotted their follow up.
Actually, scratch that. Coverdale plotted their follow up. The gear had barely been packed away after the tour when drummer Cozy Powell was fired (musical differences and money). He wanted to fire everyone else in the band as well, but was persuaded to hold fire, at least until a few new tracks had been sketched out. Coverdale and Sykes decamped to France to do some writing, while the search for a drummer stated (session drummer Aynsely Dunbar eventually winning that particular race ahead of Carmine Appice and ex Ozzy tub thumper Tommy Aldridge.
They all started recording, relatively incident free, but disaster struck again when it came time to record the vocals. What happened?
According to Coverdale, he contracted a severe sinus infection, and was unable to sing. After a course of antibiotics, he tried again, only for the infection to come galloping back with a vengeance, now causing a collapsed septum, with surgery and then months of rehabilitation.
Now it must be said that there are different accounts at play here. (Hmmm – a collapsed septum – any other possible causes???)
John Sykes, still hanging by a thread as the band’s lead guitarist, claimed that it was all a nervous breakdown on Coverdale’s part – that he’d lost his confidence as a singer and couldn’t cut it anymore. On this telling, the infections and surgeries were just lame excuses for why he couldn’t perform.
Who can say? But what we do know is that Coverdale now did what he’d wanted to do at the start of the process, firing every band member as well as his new producer, Mike Stone. (He belatedly finished the vocal parts with the help of a yet another new producer).
Whitesnake Whitesnake Arrives
Suddenly, a brand new line up who’d barely played a note on the album were appearing in all the promos as the new Whitesnake. They were newly glammed up, so much better to appeal to the American market, where glam was still going strong. Though actually, all the new people were exceptional musicians. You had Vandenberg and now Viv Campbell on guitar. Rudy Sarzo (formerly of Quiet Riot) on bass. Tommy Aldridge did now agree to join as drummer.
Phew. After all that, the eponymous album ‘Whitesnake’ hit the shelves in 1987, and was an instant smash. Number 2 in the US chart, and number 8 back home in the UK. ‘Here I go Again’ was now, in its re-recorded and rearranged form, a #1 single in America. Compare and contrast with the version in part 1 of the blog.
Brief Domestic Bliss
Second single ‘Is this Love’ was not far behind, hitting #2. Coverdale had his fiancée, Tawny Kitaen, appear in the videos for both, which went down a storm on MTV. And the fresh musical direction hit a new level when they supported glam kings Motley Crue on their ‘Girls Girls Girls’ tour.
Any stability in the band yet, after all this success? Forget it. Right after the tour, Vivian Campbell walked, either because of musical differences or because his wife didn’t get on with Coverdale’s now wife Tawny (depending on who you believe). There were also strong guitarist-pissing-contest vibes coming from Vandenberg, who wanted to be the sole guitarist in the band, and its go-to song writer alongside Coverdale.
Let’s face it, anyone would have a hard time going up against Viv Campbell, if you care about that sort of thing, so one departure was almost inevitable.
Although Vandenberg should have known better if he thought that getting rid of Campbell would increase his own influence on the band. Whitesnake is a David Coverdale vehicle – never had been or would be anything else.
Only One Boss
And sure enough, when Vandenberg suffered a wrist injury that heavily affected his playing ability, Coverdale had no hesitation in bringing in Steve Vai, who’d made his name both as a soloist and as a guitar God in David Lee Roth’s band. Vai got to do pretty much all the guitars on the next album, ‘Slip of the Tongue’ (1989), while Vandenberg was sidelined and emasculated.
Opinion is mixed even today on whether Vai was a good fit for Whitesnake. Nobody doubts his ability, but was it a little too much for a (now heavily) mainstream rock act like them? You can see the point – listen to that Donington video in part 1 of this blog, and some of the Vai guitar can detract and distract from what are, in the end, mostly quite straightforward compositions. Is he (whisper it) a little too flamboyant for this role?
Well, whatever you think about that, ‘Slip of the Tongue’ still did quite well, though not in the same league as its predecessor in terms of sales – it scraped the top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic.
For The Hawk, the songs on ‘Slip of The Tongue’ stand up better though. There are some mis-steps, like the attempt to resurrect ‘Fool For Your Loving’, and repeat the success of the re-recorded ‘Here I go Again.’ That didn’t work – it barely got into the top #40 in the US.
And second single ‘The Deeper The Love’ barely improved on that, topping out at #28.
You can’t help but feel that by this time, Whitesnake were obsessed by the idea of smash US singles, when actually, there are songs from this album that would never have made a dent as single releases, but are much stronger compositions than the ones they did release. Here’s a great example.
Anyway, we now come full circle. Whitesnake went out on tour (with both Vandenberg and Vai), culminating in that famous Donington headline appearance. Actually, that wasn’t the last show on the tour, which actually wound up at the Budokan in Tokyo a few weeks later.
But right after that, Coverdale called a band meeting, and dropped the bombshell. He was taking an indefinite break, effectively disbanding the group with immediate effect. He was exhausted. He felt unfulfilled. He was now in the middle of a messy divorce from Tawny Kitaen, who may or may not have been involved in Vivian Campbells departure not too long before.
And that was pretty much that, at least as far as Whitesnake being a force of world domination has been concerned. Of course there has been the usual Tsunami of re-releases over the years, with various on-again / off-again reunions. Coverdale had another bash at solo work around the turn of the millennium, though nobody really noticed.
In 2002, he resurrected Whitesnake, with mostly new members, and it’s been (sort of) going ever since. Coverdale has had more vocal issues, and now well into his 70s, has had to cancel recent shows for health reasons. Who knows if there will ever be any more. And who will really notice anyway?
Honestly, many bands in the Whitesnake genre died a death anyway going into the 1990s for reasons that have been well covered. Time and tastes move on, and it may well be that this would have caught up with Whitesnake even had they carried on when they were at the height of their powers.
Maybe Coverdale just had a premonition that this was as good as it was ever going to get, and wanted to get out at the top – though of course he couldn’t keep away. Good luck to him. He rode the wave of the 80s classic heavy metal boom time, and nobody can ever take that away.
And to prove it, here’s another one of those re-recorded and improved songs that really broke them through in the states. Like ‘Here I go Again’, it first appeared on ‘Saints and Sinners’, before coming back on the eponymous 1987 offering. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s another divorce-inspired David Coverdale number – ‘Crying in the Rain’
Well now. Honestly, The Hawk had started this post intending to focus on that Donington appearance, not give such a blow by blow history. But it’s always interesting when bands go from Hero to Zero so quickly. What are your favourite memories of them? Do you prefer the US-inspired supergroup, or early career? Share your thoughts in the comments.