Coverdale, David (Contemporary Musicians)
David Coverdale is a successful singer and songwriter who has sold more than 40 million albums over the course of his career. The bluesy rock vocalist has been a fixture in the recording industry since the early 1970s, first as a member of the supergroup Deep Purple, and later as the founder of Whitesnake. Performing with legendary musicians such as Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Tommy Aldridge, and Jon Lord, and raising his infant blues-rock band to heavy-metal stardom, Coverdale has firmly established himself as a notable force in the world of hard rock.
Coverdale was born on September 22, 1951, in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Cleveland, England. His love for music developed early. Even as a toddler, he was singing along to records. Around the age of 14, the aspiring singer began performing professionally and developing the voice which made him famous. "I don't think my voice had broken," he explained to Sounds magazine in 1974. "And that's when I first learnt how to sing with my stomach, which sounds silly, but it's totally different from a normal voice." Coverdale continued to work on his craft until he witnessed legendary soul musician Ray Charles perform "Yesterday" one afternoon while watching Alan Freeman's Pick of the Pops. The experience moved him to tears. "I'd heard the Beatles version but this had the hairs standing on my neck. I thought it must be good to have a voice like that and that sort of feel. I started thinking 'I'm a person, I can feel... why can't I emphasize it in what I'm doing.' That's when I started borrowing records and started listening to more than The Pretty Things ... going beyond the R&B thing," Coverdale told Sounds. He continued to develop his talent as well as his interest in soul, playing mainly with local bands such as The Fabuloso Brothers.
At the age of 22, while working at a local boutique, Coverdale spotted an article in British music publication Melody Maker. There was a picture of keyboardist Jon Lord accompanied by a significant line in the text: "Deep Purple still looking for vocalistonsidering unknown." Coverdale wanted the opportunity to audition. He contacted several influential people from the local music scene in an attempt to try to reach Deep Purple. Unfortunately, his efforts proved fruitless. Still determined, he proceeded to ask friend Roger Barker, manager of the Redcar jazz club, to intervene. Barker, as with many of Coverdale's friends, had confidence in the singer's ability, but initially felt that he was setting his sights too high. Regardless, the club owner pulled the right strings, and after sending in a tape, Coverdale landed the audition and ultimately got the position as new lead singer for one of the world's biggest rock bands.
Comprised of a powerhouse of accomplished musicians, Deep Purple enjoyed a soaring wave of success with their early 1970s albums and hit singles, including the classic "Smoke on the Water," from the record Machine Head. Despite their rising popularity, tension was apparent between Ritchie Blackmore and Ian Gillian, two of the group's principal members. In 1973, Gillian left the group and Coverdale became the new lead singer for Deep Purple. The ambitious vocalist proved to be a worthy successor, collectively moving the band in a different direction. Though, as Coverdale pointed out in Sounds, "I never considered myself to be a replacement, it was a new thing. As far as they were concerned it was a new band. They just had a reputation to live up to and an excellent one at that." The group's next record, Burn, became a top ten hit. Coverdale stayed with Deep Purple for the next three years and released two additional albums, Stormbringer and Come Taste the Band. In 1976, after a particularly disastrous tour, Coverdale left the group because he was unhappy with personal conflicts and musical direction within Deep Purple. Shortly thereafter, the group broke up.
Following his departure, Coverdale relocated himself and his family to West Germany where he began writing music for his first solo effort entitled White-snake. The record was issued in a reptile sleeve and contained a strong collection of rock ballads. However, London was in the midst of a punk explosion and the album failed to break any ground. In 1978 Coverdale returned to the United Kingdom and assembled a band to support his second record, Northwinds, recruiting the same session players he used to record his debut solo album. The group, which included Mickey Moody, Bernie Marsden, Brian Johnston and Dick Dowles, debuted in February of 1978 as David Coverdale's Whitesnake. A blues-based EP, Snakebite, followed several months later, ambitiously highlighting the Bobby Bland soul classic, "Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City." The song soon became a constant in the band's repertoire.
Whitesnake was a soulful hard rock group that had slightly provocative lyrical content laid over heavyhanded rock tracks and ballads. The band was a source of amusement and controversy for the British press. While journalists were often impressed with the group's obvious talents, many had a problem with Coverdale's racy lyrics, though, as writer Carol Clerk explained in a 1984 issue of Melody Maker. There's a humor about Whitesnake, a tendency to take an idea, an element of truth or a simple observation and exaggerate it to such over-the-top proportions that it's pointless, really, to take offense."
The Snakebite EP proceeded to make the United Kingdom top 100 and the band went though various lineup changes. Several moderately successful albums followed, including Trouble, Live at Hammersmith and Lovehunter. The band had its first legitimate hit with "Fool for Your Loving" from the 1980 release, Ready an' Willing. The song climbed gingerly up the American charts, reaching number 53 and finally initiated American interest. Thereafter, Whitesnake crossed the Atlantic and served as an opening act for megagroups AC/DC and Jethro Tuli. As legitimate stars in Europe, this was a large departure from their normal concert experience. The group was accustomed to taking American celebrities such as Ozzy Osbourne, Billy Squier, and ZZ Top as openers for their shows. Whitesnake's next three records, Live in the Heart of the City, Come An' Get It and Saints & Sinners all made the British top ten (Come An' Get It made the American top 200). In 1982 and 1983, the group cemented their hard rock star position as headliners for the infamous Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donnington in England.
Despite the fact that Whitesnake was a force to reckon with in Europe, they had hardly made a dent in the United States music market. This changed in 1984, though, when the band released Slide It In, a record which helped put them on the American map. The platinum album was a certified hit in the United Kingdom. A revamped and different version of Slide It In made the top 50 in the United States as well. The record featured a diminished presence of the band's customary blues-infused sound with a harder edge. Even record mogul David Geffen took notice, suggesting to Coverdale that he "start taking America seriously."
The recording of the group's subsequent album, 1987's Whitesnake, was strewn with problems. Coverdale suffered from a deviated septum, which delayed the recording process. Additionally, serious internal conflicts within the band saw the departure of all of the musicians that worked on the record, including Coverdale's main writing partner, former Thin Lizzy axe grinder John Sykes. Coverdale replaced his band yet again, adopting, with the record label's help, a slew of heavy metal/hard rock veterans. When the singer was asked by Billboard in 1988 about working with musicians who didn't play on the album, he explained, "My prime concern when I was putting this lineup together was who could play the music, who could take it further and who could look good doing it." In 1987, Whitesnake shed its skin and adopted a glossier heavy metal image, one which helped make the group more alluring to a video-friendly, music-buying public.
Whitesnake was a harder, more deliberately polished album. With a new look and contemporary sound, the band catapulted up the American charts on not only the strength of their music but their videos as well. The group had three frequently played videos on MTV, all featuring Coverdale cavorting with then-girlfriend Tawny Kittaen. Whitesnake also contained two top ten singles, "Is this Love" and the band's first number one song, "Here I Go Again," which originally appeared on Saints & Sinners in 1982. The record, Whitesnake, went on to sell more than ten million copies and made the group valid stars worldwide. Oddly, many of the band's new fans were completely unaware that Whitesnake had existed for more than ten years in different incarnations.
In 1989, the group released Slip of the Tongue, which while not as successful as Whitesnake, did sell well over three million albums. The group, now certified headliners, toured yet again with more lineup changes, including the addition of renowned guitarist Steve Vai. A year later, Coverdale's divorce from Kittaen and unhappiness with the band's direction (most notably its glossed up image) put Whitesnake on hold.
In 1992, the prolific singer linked with superstar Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to form a unique and critically acclaimed outfit called Coverdale/Page. The group released a successful album and toured Japan. However, Coverdale/Page was unable to sell out large concert venues in the United States, which ultimately terminated any further plans.
One last version of Whitesnake, called David Coverdale and Whitesnake, surfaced in 1994. The group released a new album, Restless Heart, solely in Europe in 1997 and subsequently went on its final tour. Thereafter Coverdale temporarily dropped off the musical radar. In 2000, the star vocalist released his first new solo album in over 20 years called Into the Light.
Whitesnake, EMI, 1977; reissued, Spitfire, 1999.
Normwinds, EMI, 1978.
(With Jimmy Page) Coverdale/Page, Geffen, 1993.
Into the Light, Dragonshead (North America), EMI (International), 2000.
Snakebite (EP), Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1978.
Trouble, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1978.
Live at Hammersmith, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1978.
Lovehunter, Geffen, (EMI, International), 1979.
Ready an' Willing, Geffen, (North America), EMI, (International), 1980.
Live In the Heart of the City (double record UK) EMI (International), (single album US), Geffen (North America), 1980.
Come An'Get It, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1981.
Saints & Sinners, Geffen (North America), EMI, (International), 1982.
Slide It In, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1984.
Whitesnake, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1987.
Slip of the Tongue, Geffen (North America), EMI (International), 1989.
Greatest Hits, EMI, 1994.
Restless Heart, EMI, 1997.
With Deep Purple
Burn, Warner Bros., 1974.
Stormbringer, Warner Bros, 1974.
Come Taste the Band, Warner Bros., 1975.
Larkin, Colin, editor, The Guinness Who's Who of Heavy Metal, Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1992.
Lazell, Barry, editor, Rock Movers and Shakers, Billboard Publications, 1989.
Strong, M.C., The Great Rock Discography, Canongate, 1998.
Billboard, February 13, 1988; February 20, 1988; February 3, 1990.
Creem, March 1985.
Melody Maker, December 20, 1980; April 11, 1981; June 20, 1981; January 4, 1984; March 3, 1984.
Spin, February 1990.
Sounds, November 2, 1974.
David Coverdale Official Website, http://www.davidcoverdale.com (June 19, 2001).