DECEMBER 1982 WHITESNAKE – interview with Dante Bonutto
And here I am again on my own, Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known (David Coverdale, ‘Here I Go Again’)
SINCE EARLY this year when all suddenly went quiet on the Whitesnake front (established personnel opting for no-comment conversation and ducking all pertinent probing with ‘name, rank and serial number’ responses) guesses and bets have flowed unchecked, touching tidal wave proportions with the official confirmation of the forthcoming UK tour. The mighty rattler, long subdued, had at last coughed up the cobwebs and was primed once again for an injection of venom, nationwide.
Coverdale, predictably, was still at the helm, but who was manning the oars? The permutations were endless, the intrigue Crossroads/Coronation St/Dallas (delete according to taste) compulsive. For a long time the true situation remained unsussed with rumours flying to and fro like demented fruitbats, most seeming to spring from nowhere and most well wide of the mark.
One had David Big E-ing the band on the punk-like premise that rock’n’roll was a young man’s game, while another, a variation on the theme, had the dismissed personnel refusing to budge, a bizarre idea conjuring visions of an arthritic, wheelchair-ridden troupe chaining themselves to the EMI railings and thrusting obdurate, ‘we shall not be moved’ placards under the noses of passers-by.
And as for potential new recruits…. Jimmy Page was certainly the hottest contender, a rumour that reddened ears on both sides of the Atlantic, though Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour and Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs have also had their names dropped in dark, secret places.
On a different, more drastic, tack word came that Coverdale had tired of his reptilian rabble-rousin’ and decided to give it a go with either Bad Co (an enduring slice of gossip not to be taken seriously), or a pre-Graham ‘no more jokes, honest’ Bonnet MSG.
Fingers were being pointed at the slightest provocation, but behind the blur of flying digits it was clear that something was amiss – there was no contradictory claim or statement of intent from the Whitesnake camp and, with Bernie Marsden going off to form his own band. SOS, and Neil Murray and Ian Paice falling in behind Ozzy fave Gary Moore, both live and in the studio, change, and dramatic change to boot, seemed a likely, logical assumption.
And that indeed has proved the case. With the British tour now poised to get underway, only Micky Moody (guitar/vocals) and Jon Lord (keyboards) remain from the original line-up – Coverdale excepted – the latter having recruited cozy Powell (drums), Colin ‘Bomber’ Hodgkinson (Bass) and Mel Galley (guitar/vocals) to give the band a new, more committed edge. Tunnel vision in the best sense of the term. Fresh blood assembled and concert halls booked, the chief Snake was finally ready to talk…
I’d last met the one-time Purple frontman outside a Boston hotel a couple of years back, in the middle of Whitesnake’s first US trek. And, renewing the acquaintance at his publicist’s London office, it’s clear that time has taken little toll on image. Clad in denim (jeans), leather (jacket) and an obligatory touch of snakeskin (tie), his only noticeable concession to contemporary trend is a pair of woollen ankle-warmers and a couple of millimetres off the celebrated mane, still copious enough to provide the archetypal rock’n’roll silhouette.
A coffee and some preliminary chit-chat later, the scene shifts to an upstairs room where a bottle of white wine is chilling nicely in the fridge and, seats taken, glasses brimming and tape machine awhir, we begin a comprehensive run-through of the year, examining the complex events that have made this encounter so long-awaited.
Though clearly relieved to be setting the record straight, David picks his words with care, not wanting to gloss over matters or sweep them under the carpet yet at the same time concerned to avoid litigation. From his point of view there’s been quite enough already for, as well as shaking up the band personnel towards the end of ‘81, he also determined to divest himself of manager John Coletta, an inheritance from his Purple days, a move that solicitors advised him could best be effected if he kept his mouth shut. Hence The Silence.
Listening to ‘Saints An’ Sinners’, the band’s sixth album, however, it’s plain that these ‘behind the scenes’ goings-on have done something to stem creative juices, an unfortunate yet predictable occurrence. Recorded with the same line-up that handled ‘Come An’ Get It’ (the only difference being the appearance of Mel Galley on backing vocals), ‘SAS’ is really already out of date, a part of Coverdale’s past and hence likely to reflect the problems that have dogged him in recent months.
The LP cover (a photo of a statue long assigned to the Coverdale khazi), has an interesting ambiguity, but with the exception of ‘Here I Go Again’, the single, and ‘Crying In The Rain’, an epic knee-trembler launched on some exquisite slide guitar from Micky Moody, the material and the playing are rarely more than average. Coverdale, his colossal chords very much the saving grace, disagrees
“I would say that it’s the best thing we’ve done; certainly my singing has never been better. . . ‘Victim Of Love” is a great little rock’n’roller, ‘Bloody Luxury’ I like very much, I can see that going well in concert, and ‘Crying In The Rain’, from what a few people told me, could well be the new ‘Mistreated’ (let me add a ‘yea’ to that), and it’s time for a change anyway.
“If I didn’t think this album was up to standard I’d have burnt the masters, though I’d probably have ended up floating in a river in Hull. It’s a fine testament to the power of ‘de Snakes but the next one will be even more powerful, that’s for sure!
When did you realise that there were problems within the band?
“Well, I flew off for my annual holiday which I always use for writing and topping ‘n’ tailing my songs, swam a lot and came up with some of my best tunes. I really wanted to go for the album, but when I got back everything had changed. Jon was just finishing off his solo project, so I went along to the studio and he said: ‘what tunes have you got for us, David?’ And I said: ‘well, I’m embarrassed, I’ve got a ton of stuff, but I’m going to hold back and see what other people have got’. And what did other people have? NOTHING!”
What were they doing?
“I’m not interested. I want to learn from the past not live in it…… the last thing we did was a German tour in December and I decided that if I didn’t have a good time with the band then, and I don’t mean superficially, I’d knock it on the head. But the tour was riddled with illness so it would have been unfair to make a decision at that point.
“By the end of ‘81, however, it was out of control and I was really disappointed with my colleagues – they were cruising along on gold status and I’m hungry for platinum. To me, Whitesnake had lost its strongest element: its hunger. So coming into ‘82 I really made up my mind and played some horrid character, the Arthur Scargill of rock.
“I took over the completion of the album and put Whitesnake on a holding pattern. I said to the band: ‘I make no promises to any of you. If you get an opportunity to join someone else, please take it’. It was also at this time that I decided to divorce my management company because I was getting more and more disillusioned with the way my career was being run – or wasn’t being run.
“Lots of decisions were being taken that I disagreed with 100 per cent, it was terrible, terrible. Incidentally, I also engineered it for the rest of the guys to be contractually free, but nobody’s ever said thank you. Sometimes you just sit there and think why the hell do I bother?
“Anyway, it all proved very expensive but I’m pleased it’s sorted out at last because in the final analysis the buck stops with me. It rests on my ass, and I’m sick of picking up the pieces of other people’s mistakes. I’m not perfect but I’m going for as close as possible to that.”
Perhaps the other members of Whitesnake were suffering from a lack of incentive; it is essentially your band after all.
“No, listen, I’ve always asked for everyone’s opinion, but towards the end they started to get so high and mighty I thought, f*** it. And when I get angry it’s not a pretty sight; definitely firecrackers up people’s asses time.”
So what went wrong with Whitesnake in the end?
“I don’t know, tell me about it. “Why does a relationship with a woman get boring? Sometimes a thing has just run its course.”
How did the members react when you put the band on the shelf?
“They played much, much better. They put the icing on the cake during the last week of recording but they should have delivered like that in the first place. Then the album wouldn’t have cost over £100,000 which is more than the whole Whitesnake catalogue put together. It’s not a piss in the ocean, but it won’t happen again that’s for sure. I’ve now surrounded myself with players who are as lunatic as I am and as passionate to improve.”
Not all are new faces, though…
“No, I’ve kept Micky Moody who’s now regained the root feeling that I felt he’d unfortunately lost at the end of ‘81. He’s coming back to earth, which is great because I love his playing, his temperament…. and his hats! He’s got the hunger back at last.
“Actually, I’m something of a private ‘guitar hero’ myself, though l don’t think I’ve got the bottle to throw shapes on stage. Maybe one day, who knows. I’ve never played on a Whitesnake album but I did quite a contender solo on ‘Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick’, even though it was wiped instantly and banished to the ionosphere.”
Apart from Micky Moody, you’ve also retained Jon Lord in the ranks…
“Well, John enhances my songs more than any musician I’ve worked with. I listen to keyboard players and there’s nobody as complete as Jon Lord.”
And what about the new recruits?
“Let’s see, I’ve got Mel Galley, who was formerly with Trapeze and who was supposed to be in the original Whitesnake line-up with Dave Holland, because I love his voice, his singing blends well with mine, and I’m very fond of his guitar playing. He’s a fine songwriter too, we’re already coming up with great stuff together…. then on bass I’ve got ‘Bomber’ Hodkinson who’s played with Jan Hammer and Neal Schon and is probably the best in the business. He’s unique, a hooligan. He changed Stanley Clarke’s style and he’s not that old, just early 30’s.
“I actually met him some years ago when he was with a jazz/rock trio called Backdoor. They were from the same area as myself, the north-east of England, and in fact they asked me to join them at one time but I thought what the hell can I do there?……No, really, Cohn’s great and he uses a pick which is something I’ve always wanted from a bass player; I adore that chunky, bottom-end sound. Apparently, Hammer won’t work without him but he’ll have to now, that’s for sure!”
Which just leaves Cozy Powell..
“Well, Cozy was actually the first member of the new Whitesnake – he’s my right-hand man. He and I have been threatening to work with each other for years but the time and the situation has never been right before: it is now. When he left Rainbow he came to me and said: ‘I can’t push Ian (Paice) out because he’s doing a first class job’, but I was very disappointed with the way things eventually – started to slope downhill. I wish Ian had played on ‘Saints An’ Sinners’ the way he plays on Gary Moore’s album.”
Has Cozy got a new solo in the pipeline?
“Oh yes, and he’ll have to be careful he doesn’t blow the rest of our asses off stage. It’s marvellous, real heroic stuff, severe Viking shit, though I’ve threatened to upstage him by flying across the stage on wires in a blue suit with a red cape.
“To be honest, I just can’t wait to kick ass with him because he’s so root. He’s an animal when he plays, the same as I am when I sing; it’s a marriage made in heaven though he was seriously thinking about knocking it all on the head at one point, he was so disillusioned after his Marks & Spencer’s Group, MSG or whatever.”
Weren’t you tempted to gather younger musicians around you this time though?
“We’ll, a lot of people told me l should but I don’t really like white noise merchants, they all sound the same, besides which they haven’t got the bottle. When Powell goes into his double bass drums it’s just frightening and would blow a kid offstage. It’s actually a physical thump in the back… but this age thing. I don’t give a toss. The energy level of the new Whitesnake is gonna show a lot of supposed young bands the way home.”
Why weren’t the backing tracks on ‘Saints And Sinners’ recorded with Martin Birch, who gets producer’s credit overall?
“Well, Martin was ill at the time and I was pressured, bullshitted actually, into believing that I had to deliver the album by the end of December last year. l wanted a minimum of two week’s rehearsal but we ended up with four days which then turned into two with not all the band members around at the same time. There was a pocket of feeling that we should produce ourselves, but it proved a case of too many chief’s and not enough Indians.
“We started off at a studio in Shepperton, Rock City, then moved onto Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire with a mobile. In all that time I got one drum track from two weeks in Rock City, eight drum tracks from Clearwell Castle and one drum track from Britannia Row, London, which was in January this year. The rest of it was all done at Britannia Row, again in January, and I finished off the album in September/October in a three week burst at Battery Studios, London, where I supervised two guitar overdubs, did 10 vocals, all the backing vocals and mixed the single.
“Actually, we mixed the single on a Tuesday, cut it, delivered it to a security man at EMI at midnight, by Wednesday it was on its way to the factory and by Friday it was on the air. Wild! It must be some kind of record. And Birchey had to do a severe doctoring job and put everything but the kitchen sink on the backing tracks. When I recorded the vocals, they made the tracks sound really thin, but you won’t notice it. I certainly hope not, anyway.”
So did Bernie contribute much to the writing of the album?
“Hmm… he gave me a tune; the riff of which was identical to that on a single by a very well known group. I hadn’t heard it, so I spent ages writing a song with it and came up with a contender – I won’t tell you which one it is because we changed it so it doesn’t sound anything like the other one now. But I wasn’t amused..
Did he know what he was doing or was it just a coincidence?
“I’ve no idea. It’s strange, though, because Bernie and I have written some good songs together.”
He seems to be having a few problems with SOS at the moment…
“Sink Or Slim, isn’t it? Right now I’m feeling just a bit bitter. The only people who wished me well when I went in to finish the album were… well, Moody was helping me out and Lordy was popping in every other day, but I had no message from any of the others, like: ‘go for it!’, y’know. The only word I had was from one member calling up to find out what his publishing was. So f*** it!”
Will you keep in touch with the ex-members?
“Well, they have my number, but l don’t think they’ve got a copy of the album. Maybe they’ll have to buy one, I don’t know.”
Were you worried at having to sing in the studio after the long enforced lay off?
“Oh, yeah, because it’s not like riding a bike. Initially, I just did backing vocals to try and ease myself in, but the first lead vocal I did was ‘Love An’ Affection’ and that was a straight take. Then I went on to ‘Saints An’ Sinners’ and that was straight through too. I was singing like a dream, perhaps the lay off did me good – there’s some real severe notes on ‘Victim Of Love.”
Did you get frustrated while contractual hassles were being sorted out?
“Oh, certainly, I had nothing all to do for six months. I wasn’t allowed to go in a studio, nothing! It drove me mad though Powell was very supportive. I was really miserable, and my private life was in a shocking disarray, because I’m a pain in the ass if I can’t work. I went through terrible frames of mind, up and down like a whore’s tights, and I started to feel really sorry for myself. I swam in brandy for about a fortnight, then I saw my doctor who said I should knock it off.
“I had my head in my hands and suddenly my daughter became very ill, she contracted a terrible illness called bacterial meningitis, it can be fatal and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. Thank God she came out of it without a mark and that proved to me that the only time I should ever be despondent is when I can’t do something about a situation.”
When were you finally free of management ties?
“August 5. lt took six months but it could have taken 18 and my career would have been finished. You’re not gonna believe this but the day after I got the settlement agreement I went to Dartmoor and back-packed for like 70 miles with Big John and Cozy – I call him Action Man by Powelly Toy – and then we went the whole hog and bought a load of little tents and camped out on the moor.
“And this was just after seeing ‘American Werewolf In London’ which is hardly conducive to having a tent flapping round your ass. It was a bit decadent with the booze and everything, I suppose, and we ended up signing dozens of autographs”.
What did make of all the rumours that sprung up in the absence of any comment from the band?
“Well, I was highly amused by some of them, in particular the one that I auditioned for Michael Schenker. The only people I audition for are the audience, you know. I don’t audition!”
Did you want him to join Whitesnake?
“No, not at all. I think Michael’s great but he’s a liability. The sooner he stops surrounding himself with people who lick his ass, the sooner he’ll grow up and become the guitarist he could and will be, cos he’s excellent. What happened was Cozy said he’d like me to join MSG in January and I agreed to go down and have a blow because supposedly I had to start singing very soon and I wanted to get the dust off the Hobson’s Choice. When I found out he was going to be managed by the guy I was divorcing, though, that was it. No more Mickey Mouse operations, thank you.”
What about the Jimmy Page rumour?
“Oh, I don’t know where that one came from, I haven’t seen Pagey in ages; he’s probably pissed himself laughing too. And who else was supposed to be joining – there was tons. That Dutch guy Vandenberg was actually under consideration as one of the guitarists – but they all sound the same to me…the best guitarist in the world, if only he’d settle down and not grimace quite so much, is Gary Moore. He’s great and we discussed about him being in the band but I just don’t want to build songs around guitarists.”
ABOUT the only group Coverdale’s name has yet to be linked with, in fact, is Black Sabbath, a huge, reputation-crumbling oversight on the rumour-mongers’ behalf, for Tony lommi, it seems, approached both David and Cozy with a view to filling the vacant Sabbath posts. Both, however, had other plans.
How well those plans have now come together and how well the new line-up has gelled, can be judged on the coming UK tour, sadly minus a Xmas Eve show (David tried to persuade Haircut 100 to relinquish their yuletide claim on the Hammersmith Odeon but, unfortunately for London Snake fans, they dug in petulant heels).
Following the British dates, the band move onto Europe, then Japan, where they’ll be playing the most concentrated tour ever by a British or American group with three gigs at the Budokan alone, finishing off in Hong Kong, Bangkok and possibly Australia.
Armed with a band single-minded in purpose and individual musicians more interested in getting on with it than out of it, the next LP, possibly called ‘Slide It In’, could well emerge as the “governor album” David hoped ‘Saints An’ Sinner’ would be and he’s already mulling over potential producers, with Lange and Templeman high on the list.
Certainly both have good track records in the States and, having recently secured a deal covering the US, Canada and Japan with David Geffen’s ultra-exclusive label, home of Hagar, Quarterflash and Asia, he should soon be breaking down hard-to- fathom colonial resistance,
“Whitesnake is a strange band,” he reflects. “The idea of the name is that you either love it or hate it – Snakes, the cock-rock sign. But it’s wierd, it sort of transcended that HM thing which it never was and became a kind of people’s group. There was an incredible, bond between the audience and the band and I hope it’s still there. I hope so.”
JANUARY 1983 – LIVE REVIEW BY CHRIS WELCH
WHITESNAKE, Newcastle City Hall
“I’M always nervous before a gig. Here lam close to home as I can get and my bottom is quivering”. David Coverdale had no need to be nervous. The Whitesnake fans of Newcastle were due to give Coverdale and heavy friends the kind of warm welcome that encourages the most pusillanimous of posteriors.
David was roaming the corridors of a magnificent castle when I met him a half hour before the concert was due to start at the City Hall. I was just admiring a suit of armour lurking in an alcove when David swept along a stone passage, a mass of curls flowing over his shoulders, looking not unlike a medieval prince about to go hawking, hunting and riding rough shod over the villains.
Whitesnake had established base camp at Lumley Castle, a magnificent edifice set on a hill some 12 miles out of town. I had arrived by Mr. Stephenson’s newfangled railroad to meet the band and see the first of three nights of musical orgying. There was just time to greet David, Cozy Powell and Jon Lord before hastening back to the city centre for the concert.
It was only the third night of the debut tour of the revamped band and they had a lot to play and say. If David has been accused of demanding a regimented backing band in the past there was no evidence of that during a show generously larded with solo space and feature spots.
For this was very much a ‘hello’ to the fans who leapt to their feet the second the band took the stage.
“Good evening!” roared David, clad in blue jeans, a waistcoat and mike stand. “Are you READY?” He seemed to stamp great authority on the simplest of greetings. From then on he led band and audience on a wild ride of flash and mayhem.
At this early stage in the new band’s development there were moments of imbalance, however. The group seemed to be searching for that elusive climax that makes for total satisfaction and there were signals afterwards that they hadn’t entirely reached that state of nirvana. But they came pretty damn close.
Whitesnake is certainly loaded with talent, but David is the unifying force, a sort of Luke Skywalker amidst the star wars raging around him. He can sing from a shout to a whisper, from a tenor boom to a falsetto shriek with dazzling skill. As he fixes the audience with a smile or a scowl he veers from vulnerable sex symbol to imperial procurator, now gracious, now bullying, his moods changing with kaleidoscopic speed. The music reflects his personality, always demanding, and seeking new avenues. Funky ballads are mixed with raunchy blues, explosive rave-ups vie with the occasional oasis of calm. None falls into any particular category and musical labels are anathema to David as he told me later. What counts most with Whitesnake is the level of performance and swift communication with their fans.
They could take the easy route and go for straightforward bludgeoning, but that would be boring. At any rate with Cozy Powell on drums and Colin Hodgkinson on bass there’s never any danger of Whitesnake’s driving thrust flagging for an instant. Colin is a remarkable bassist who came to fame with Back Door and Cozy has long been one of my favourite drummers.
Front-line duties are shared between Jon Lord and guitarists Micky Moody and Mel Galley. The latter have distinctly different styles, Micky, beaming beneath a huge hat and moustache, concentrates on blues and slide guitar solos, while Mel plays the harder hitting lead lines, with vocals to match.
David led his men through ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’, the fast boogie shuffle ‘Looking For Love’, ‘Ready An’ Willing’,‘Don’t Break My Heart Again’ and many more, with the tans yelling, waving their arms and joining in the chorus.
One of the greatest highlights of the show was Cozy Powell’s amazing drum solo. Flash, bang and wallop would be the easiest way to describe a tour-de-force that featured Cozy drumming along to recordings of ‘633 Squadron’ and ‘The 1812 Overture.’ I won’t give away all the details, go and see the show. But be warned, if you wear contact lenses don’t peer into the glare of the flames.
Jon Lord was featured too on a moving keyboard solo and Mel Galley and Colin worked up a lather on a traditional blues that reminded me of Cream’s old workhorse, ‘Rolling And Tumbling. All the while David was up front armed with a towel to wipe off the sweat and a drink to lubricate his throat. ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’ was delivered over a slow, menacing beat with the kids joining in with yells and handclaps before the band broke into ‘Fool For Your Loving’.
“Whitesnake,” we chanted. “MORE!” we shrieked. The band are just at the beginning of what will be a long journey that will doubtless take them round the world, and it can’t be long before Coverdale is a superstar of international proportions.