There are two David Coverdales. The more famous is the frontman with Whitesnake. Lesser-known, but far more impressive, is The Voice – that’s what’s left once the glossy videos and sexual innuendo are stripped away.
For underlying Coverdale’s stardom is a talent that – with a bit less lyrical focus on the trouser area – might have made him a national treasure. He was only ever having fun, but it did prevent his reputation spreading into the mainstream in the way that, say, respect for Paul Rodgers (his early hero) and Robert Plant has done.
Coverdale was born September 22, 1951 in Saltburn-by-the-Sea. In 1973, almost unbelievably in retrospect, he was hired by Deep Purple to replace Ian Gillan. He’d spent six years in semi-pro covers bands and got the gig on the strength of a demo tape and one nervous rehearsal.
Coverdale grew up fast in Purple and made three studio albums with them before they split in 1976. After that he released a couple of low-key solo albums, the first called White Snake which (contracted) gave its name to his fledgling band.
Whitesnake’s line-up changed often, but the presence of guitarists Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden, plus former Purple men keyboardist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice (later replaced by Cozy Powell) meant Whitesnake always sold tickets. Their albums, though, were slower to shift, especially in the US.
In 1984, with the early good-time blues- rock formula going stale, a US-only remix of their Slide It In album sold two million. Three years later Coverdale returned with a more metal sound, a ‘hair-metal’ image, an entirely new line-up and a bunch of slick videos. The 1987 album gave him hit singles and a mega profile. But short-lived liaisons with guitarists Steve Vai (for the follow-up) and Jimmy Page (as Coverdale- Page) couldn’t sustain the momentum.
In the 90s Coverdale put a toe in the comeback water with a new Whitesnake, while a solo album, Into The Light (2000), reminded fans of his roots. In 2008 Whitesnake re-emerged with Good To Be Bad, followed by 2011's Forevermore, 2015's ill-advised tribute to his old band The Purple Album, and 2019's Flesh & Blood.
Deep Purple - Burn (Purple, 1974) (opens in new tab)
The album that catapulted him from nowhere to being an international star is still a hard-rock and Coverdale classic.
On Burn his young voice copes easily with full-on blitzkrieg (the title track), and Purple detours into slow blues (Mistreated), soul (Might Just Take Your Life) and funk (Sail Away). Although Glenn Hughes (opens in new tab) sings on the album too, Cov’s voice is the undoubtedly star of the show.
An amazing feat, considering the pressure on him: he was a nobody joining a band of seasoned pros, knowing that the reputation of one of the world’s biggest bands rested on his performance. Coverdale delivered in spades.
Whitesnake - 1987 (EMI, 1987) (opens in new tab)
Written mostly by Coverdale and guitarist John Sykes, this is Whitesnake at their heaviest, but knocked into radio-friendly shape by hotshot US producers Mike Stone and Keith Olsen.
It sold eight million copies, thanks to an entirely different touring line-up, and videos for the Zep-like Still Of The Night, Here I Go Again (a Bernie Marsden co-write from five years earlier) and top-drawer power ballad Is This Love.
Coverdale is equally strong on Looking For Love, Crying In The Rain (another redone ’Snake oldie) and Don’t Turn Away, proving that while he can rock with the best of them he’s at his best doing the moody stuff.
Deep Purple - Come Taste The Band (Purple, 1976) (opens in new tab)
With the mercurial Tommy Bolin (opens in new tab) now as lead guitarist, all bets were off as to what Deep Purple might sound like. The answer was: like never before, and much better than on the previous year’s Stormbringer.
Coverdale doesn’t sing every lead, but even when he alternates (with Bolin, on Dealer), or shares (with Glenn Hughes, as on Drifter) he’s in great form. On Lady Luck he’s in funk-rock heaven and having fun. But it’s the two songs that book-end the album – the riotous Comin’ Home and the brooding You Keep On Movin’ – that show him to best effect. An overlooked gem.
David Coverdale - Northwinds (Purple, 1978) (opens in new tab)
His second solo record after Purple folded is a remarkably mature album that can still send shivers down the spine 30 years after it was recorded.
Coverdale’s singing on the slow-burning title track, the touchingly sparse Time & Again (just The Voice and electric piano) or Only My Soul (a poignant lament that builds to a gut-wrenching finale) has rarely been bettered. He’ll rock you, too: Keep On Giving Me Love, Queen Of Hearts and Breakdown, a stomping boogie.
All in all, Northwinds is the antithesis of Whitesnake’s super-slick 1987, but it’s a fine demonstration of the breadth of Coverdale’s talents.
Whitesnake - Ready An’ Willing (United Artists, 1980) (opens in new tab)
On this, their third studio album Whitesnake’s good-time, Brit-style rockin’ blues peaked – and hit paydirt with Fool For Your Loving, their first Top 20 hit in the UK. That opener segues nicely into Sweet Talker then Ready An’ Willing itself.
It was clear that Coverdale was on top of his game. Witness his singing on Carry Your Load and the (slightly overcooked) new version of his solo song Blindman. After that it’s filler-free to the finish, with the epic Ain’t Gonna Cry No More, a slow blues interlude with Love Man, the honky-tonk Black And Blue and She’s A Woman.
Whitesnake - Live… In The Heart Of The City (United Artists, 1980) (opens in new tab)
Although born in the North East, the band’s spiritual home was always in Hammersmith backed by its ‘Whitesnake choir’ straining against the seat-backs of the Odeon (as was).
The passion of an audience always inspired Coverdale to sing better, and this unusual hybrid live album (half 1978, half 1980) has both sides of that equation at their strongest.
The CD remaster adds the poignant blues of Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City to the likes of Come On, Trouble, Lie Down, Mistreated and Take Me With You, all of which capture Whitesnake in their pomp.
David Coverdale - White Snake (Purple, 1977) (opens in new tab)
With a lazy, bar-room style, a bit of brass and ace backing singers, this is David Coverdale as few have heard him.
Micky Moody plays slide guitar and Roger Glover produces, but songs such as Lady, Goldies Place and Sunny Days are unlike anything he’d done before. Blindman (reworked on Ready An’ Willing) perhaps has shades of Mistreated, but Celebration has a Caribbean feel.
Had Hole In The Sky (a ballad built on Tim Hinkley’s piano) provided Coverdale with a hit, he might well have sailed off into Frankie Miller/Joe Cocker territory without a second thought about asking anyone to lie down or let him slide it in.
Whitesnake - Lovehunter (United Artists, 1979) (opens in new tab)
The band’s second full-length studio album became infamous for its cover painting depicting a naked woman astride a snake (opens in new tab), but it begins with Coverdale in romantic, not sexist, mood on Long Way From Home. His singing is similarly heartfelt on Leon Russell’s Help Me Thro’ The Day – another blues recorded as the NWOBHM raged.
Whitesnake could play bar- room (You ’N’ Me) or fast (Mean Business), but Coverdale’s heart was in rocked-up blues, and the album is best known for the big-hitting title track and Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues.
It’s also home to We Wish You Well, the track played over the PA after each Whitesnake gig ever since.
Whitesnake - Live… In The Shadow Of The Blues (SPV, 2006) (opens in new tab)
An ideal companion to its similarly monikered predecessor (above), this record shows how, almost 30 years later, there was plenty of life in The Voice yet.
Although Coverdale has always been at his best on stage, it’s amazing to hear him singing the likes of Still Of The Night or the neat Burn/Stormbringer segue with an aplomb close to his prime, even at the age of 55.
He’s well supported by Tim Drury on backing vocals, and in a league of his own on a revamped Slide It In or the passion-soaked The Deeper The Love. And as he cajoles the crowd through Ready An’ Willing the years melt away. All this and four studio cuts too.