In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Agora, Whitesnake Singer David Coverdale Talks About the Band’s Hard Rocking New Album

click to enlarge In Advance of Next Week’s Show at the Agora, Whitesnake Singer David Coverdale Talks About the Band’s Hard Rocking New Album
Courtesy of Freeman Promotions
Having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, the hard rock act Whitesnake has just finished recording a new studio album, Flesh & Blood. The disc comes in the wake of 2011’s Forevermore and 2015’s The Purple Album, a reimagining of Deep Purple classics from Whitesnake singer David Coverdale’s time in that band.

Like any classic Whitesnake album, Flesh & Blood commences with “Good to See You Again,” a tune that features a bluesy guitar riff and wailing vocals. This time around, Coverdale got a little help from his friends — guitarist Joel Hoekstra co-wrote six of the album’s songs, and guitarist Reb Beach, who originally joined Whitesnake in 2002, co-wrote five of the tunes.

In a recent phone interview, Coverdale, who brings Whitesnake to the Agora Theatre on Wednesday, May 15, speaks about the new album and the band’s remarkable staying power.

You just celebrated your 40th anniversary. What was that like?
It just passed me in a flash. To be perfectly honest, my social media brothers and sisters and my cyber pals bring that stuff to my attention. We’re starting to put people in place to look at all these things, so we don’t get caught by them. It’s so interesting. I have nothing to do with the early catalog, which is controlled by the estates of former Deep Purple management. Sadly, I don’t think there was anything out to celebrate the anniversary. I’m also preparing to release the 35th anniversary version of the studio album Slide It In, and I’m releasing a new album and going out on a world tour at the ripe old age of 67. It’s not me pursuing this. I have people calling me and asking me to make a new album. It’s pretty happening. In 2017, I did eight projects while I was recovering from very invasive surgery and all of them did great. Thankfully, Whitesnake is a very well supported entity.

Why has Whitesnake endured while other bands from the ’80s have fallen by the wayside?
I don’t know. Good songs probably. I really focus on the songs. I have a stamp of approval. You wouldn’t have anything in your hands if I hadn’t approved it. When we do these anniversary boxsets, we want to make them a gift to the fans. It’s like an Oscar grab bag. We’re also known for delivering when we perform and delivering in terms of songs. It makes putting a set list together very difficult. In different parts of the world, we have different hits.

When you first formed the band, did you have any fears that it might not take, and that it would be difficult to go solo after Deep Purple?
Not at all. I couldn’t wait to get the tight suspenders and the parachute pants from Deep Purple off and create something where I could do whatever I wanted. The only thing I don’t do that I love is jazz. [With Whitesnake,] I could tie in my love of folk and classical. I arrange symphonically as opposed to concertos, which are the usual pop songs. Symphonies are four movements, which are the Whitesnake epics. We do like writing those big ones. That’s the bottom line. We work hard on getting the best out of each other.

What was your mindset going into the making of this new album? Did you want to do anything differently?
We just wanted to do the best we could. I’ve tried to retire more times than Sinatra. We did what I thought was a very solid album, which was Good to Be Bad in 2008. I thought, “That’s great. I don’t need to add any more songs to the existing repertoire.” Then, I was asked again to do an original album and we came up with Forevermore, which had some absolute classic Whitesnake songs on it. I thought it would be great to bow out with but no. It’s the demands of my Twitter pals. It’s what people want from me. That’s what’s been happening for the last 15 to 18 years. Then, it’s very sad. I hate to make it a short story, but in 2012, we lost the very beautiful Jon Lord from both Deep Purple and Whitesnake. Suddenly, in the same window of time, my wife loses a brother and I lose the aunt who was the first person who played me Elvis Presley and Little Richard. She was like an older sister, so it was really tragic for me. At the same time, I was working on updating Deep Purple ideas and then the epiphany I had after all this terrible grief was about reaching out and making amends. It was an extraordinary time period for me to reconnect with people from 30 and 40 years ago to remind them about how much I loved them and how important they’d been in my life’s journey. I didn’t want to lose anyone without telling them how much they meant to me.

One of those people was [former Deep Purple guitarist] Ritchie Blackmore, right?
Yes. We had 30 years of compete negativity, which was awful for me. He was like a musical mentor for me. We just shared condolences on this tragic loss [of Jon Lord]. Ritchie’s manager talked to me about doing something with Ritchie, and it was tempting but we just kissed and made up. I was having dinner with my wife and said I had done all this work arranging [a Deep Purple album] that it’s sad to let it go, so she suggested I would use it as a Whitesnake album. I liked the idea. [With 2015’s The Purple Album,] I could do my tribute to these incredible guys who gave me the opportunity to sing. I thought it would be a great way to retire. That was successful, and I was on the road for two years. My friends at Frontier and told me they had fans asking for you to do another original record. I said, “Guys, I’m going in for knee replacement. I have to sit down with the guys and try to write, and I didn’t know how it would go.” We wrote 18 new songs while I was Mr. Hillbilly Heroine. Thankfully, it all came through, and we’ve come up with what I think is one of the most powerful and consistent Whitesnake albums. We have a video with 800,000 views. For a classic rock act, that’s astonishing.

Talk about writing with Joel Hoekstra. What does he bring to the table?
When Joel joined me, we were most of the way through The Purple Album, so there was no opportunity other than adding his terrific musicianship to the album. Deep Purple was one guitar player and keyboard player and they would interplay. Whitesnake has always been two guitars and keyboards. When we first started sitting down, Joel had flown in to see me. One of the plans I had was Whitesnake hits with string quartets and orchestra done in a very intimate way. Joel is a very gifted acoustic guitar player. We were just messing around. When you connect so well as we do, the conversation turns to music. I was playing a riff that was going to be a love song for my wife. He said, “Is it finished?” I said, “No. Go for it.” The song “After All" was the first one that Joel and I wrote together. It’s a beautiful tender relationship for a relationship coming into the Windsor years. The Missus and I have 30 years together. Then, Reb [Beach] and I wrote the “Shut Up and Kiss Me” song, which is quite the little scorcher and very much in tone like past Whitesnake songs “Kitten’s Got Claws” and “Would I Lie to You?”

With Deep Purple and Def Leppard’s induction into the Rock Hall, do you think Whitesnake might have a chance?
I’m very honored that I’m in there with Deep Purple. Somebody did whisper to me that Whitesnake was a consideration. I connected very well with the people there. But you must remember that I got into music to express myself. I wrote poetry when I was a child. Once I learned a couple of chords, suddenly those poems turned into lyrics. That’s my drive. They’re diaries of experiences, celebrations of love, disappointments, heartbreak and the search for direction. Everybody I meet has their own “Here I Go Again” personal experience story to share with me. It’s incredibly humbling to know that your music has been the backdrop to marriages and births of children. When I was working with Jimmy Page [in Coverdale-Page], we were playing to two generations. Now, I’m seeing four generations.

You must be happy that Def Leppard was finally inducted.
I’ve known them since they started. They’re North Yorkshire and I’m South Yorkshire. If you don’t support your fellow Yorkshire guys, there’s a special place in hell for you. [Singer] Joe [Elliott] and I are in touch with each other every fucking day. If his mother could see the dirty filthy memes he sends me, it would make her toes curl, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. We’re dear friends. Last year, I was touring with Foreigner and Joe and the guys were out with Journey. We were all having great crowds. Nothing pleases me more than to see people I generally care about doing well.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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