David Coverdale is in combative mood. When the Whitesnake frontman announced that his band’s next album would feature what he calls “Snake’d up” versions of songs he originally recorded during his time with Deep Purple in the 1970s, he was greeted with a wall of online opprobrium suggesting, in less than polite terms, that it was a terrible idea.
In fairness, he began with the noblest of intentions; the seeds of the album lay in a mooted reunion with ex-Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. That fell through somewhere along the way, but Coverdale decided to see the idea through with the current Whitesnake line-up. Today he’s aware that the prospect of talking up the just-released The Purple Album presents a few uncomfortable questions. “That’s okay, darling,” he says. “I always have the choice of not answering them. So talk to me, dear.”
The idea of what became The Purple Album was sown by what was eventually a doomed attempt to reconvene Deep Purple.
Let’s get the chronology correct. In 2012 I was told that Jon Lord had been diagnosed with cancer. Jon was a beautiful soul, and I was asked whether I would do some kind of Deep Purple reunion, to which I replied: “Abso-fucking-lutely.” It really wasn’t on my agenda but I was willing to put Whitesnake on to the back burner. But of course Jon passed away. I was shattered. A pall came over the Coverdale house. So I decided to offer out some olive branches, and luckily most of them were accepted. Among them was Ritchie Blackmore.
When had the two of you last spoken?
It was thirty years ago, at the ‘punchen in Munchen’ [a physical backstage tussle at a Rainbow show] which, sadly, happened in front of Queen and Mack, their producer. That led to embarrassment all round, and a distasteful rivalry between Whitesnake and Rainbow.
How did your reconnection with Ritchie take place?
Well, there was a time when both Blackmore’s Night and myself were on SPV Records, and actually shared a driver – separately, of course. I don’t think he told Ritchie anything about me, or vice versa. He was incredibly discreet. And he would help me load pictures of the shows into my laptop.
I’m not sure how it happened, but one day I found Lady Candice’s [Blackmore’s long-time partner and singer in Blackmore’s Night] fucking email address in my inbox… Go figure. So I wrote her a really, really respectful introductory message – not taking any assumed knowledge for granted: “I worked with Ritchie many years ago…” And that set things in motion. Ritchie and I were very complimentary to one another. Which after the animosity of three decades was glorious. I had the pleasure to thank him for taking a complete unknown geezer from fucking North Yorkshire to join Purple. That was my only agenda. But then Ritchie asked whether I would talk to Carole [Blackmore’s Night manager and Ritchie’s mother-in-law], who wanted to know whether I would consider doing something with Ritchie. My reply was that something along the lines of what I’d done with Pagey [with Coverdale Page] would be more interesting [than appearing on an album of Blackmore’s]. We could touch upon Whitesnake, Rainbow and Purple… and I wouldn’t have to sing fucking Highway Star [laughs]. But the more we talked I couldn’t share their vision. So I withdrew, wishing them the greatest respect.
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Could it still happen?
It’s still on the table. I offered to write a song [with him]. The good news is that, as much as I enjoy his renaissance music, I think he will be doing some rock stuff again.
Did you get the impression that Ritchie wants to go back in that direction?
Yes, without a doubt.
When Purple’s epitaph is written, the phrase ‘final reunion nixed by guitarist’s mother-in-law’ won’t look too glorious.
Ooh, I don’t know. I’m not going to give any kind of opinion to that. But there’s a totally quality-driven project there – I’d buy it.
So what happened next?
I’d done all this fucking work, and my wife suggested: “Why don’t you do it as a Whitesnake record?” And the more I thought about the idea the more I liked it.
There’s been a lot of cynicism surrounding the project…
[Interrupting] David, how long have I been doing this? From the moment I was announced as the singer for Deep Purple, the New Musical Express printed a picture of me looking dorky with the headline: ‘Who?!’ So… controversy? Do me a favour.
Okay, the video of the new version of Stormbringer that was posted on YouTube provoked some extreme reaction. Does anyone in your organisation have the cojones to tell you about that?
Yeah, of course. But have you seen the orders we have for this record? I’ve never made music for the haters. If somebody develops a cure for cancer there will still be haters. I’ve no space in my life for haters or negaters. They’re not gonna buy my record. They won’t buy a ticket. Why the fuck should I give a fuck? They’re probably sitting at home, running their wi-fi off their mother’s account. I owe those people nothing. Such opinions mean nothing to me. I’m talking to you from a fucking very, very beautiful residential studio. I have a home overlooking Lake Tahoe. I’m sixty-three years old, booking a world tour, the tickets are flying out the door… The odds are not in these people’s favour. They are wasting their hate.
Some of them were fans, though…
[Talking over the question] Okay, let me explain the premise of Stormbringer’s production. That song was not on my list. It was there to keep Ritchie happy. Apart from Burn it was the only time in my forty-year career I’ve written a sci-fi lyric. And I couldn’t blues it up. So I decided that the album had to open with Burn and close with Stormbringer and we would create a sonic storm.
That seems to be the problem: you reduced Stormbringer to a heavy metal song.
[Shouting] It is a heavy metal song, David.
But it wasn’t a base, obvious heavy metal song.
Oh yes it was. I wrote the fucking thing. I’m not a heavy metal guy, but it’s a heavy metal song. And I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with it because I was part of the fuckers who wrote it.
Well, sorry to say so, but the new version is well below your capability.
No apology necessary. I won’t release something unless I believe in it. I’ve come to a time in my life, after a very successful career, where I will do exactly what I like. Online the other day some clown wrote: “Coverdale’s well must have run dry.” Well, what you have done in your life? Over forty years I’ve sold more than a hundred million records and written countless fucking rock’n’roll anthems. How fucking dare you criticise me, dude. Fuck off to your bedroom.
Aren’t these songs untouchable in their original form?
When Whitesnake played Burn for the first time, in 2004, the website lit up. And, amazingly, ninety per cent of those people hadn’t heard the song before. And it’s forty fucking years old, David, but, as daft as it sounds, these songs are new to some people. I’m getting tweets from people saying they’ve bought the original songs for the first time after seeing the album’s track-listing. So Purple’s making money too.
Have you received any feedback from any of the classic-era Purple members?
No. Glenn [Hughes, below right with Coverdale in 1974] and I are in regular text contact. He’s got a new project that’s top-secret, but… no, not so far.
Which of these so-called ‘reimaginings’ are your favourites?
Oh, I love them all. But if you put a gun to my head – again! – the new arrangement of Sail Away is so beautiful and elegant. Working with the guys on these songs, I was transported back to the actual times with Tommy Bolin, recording with Ritchie and Jon, getting stoned with Bob Marley And The Wailers. All of those images came back, and I was really pleased that there was no negativity attached. So I am fucked if I am going to let some squeaky little shit posting on a website spoil the fact that this project allowed me to reconnect with my past.
Some people have put two and two together and suggested that The Purple Album might be the reason that guitarist Doug Aldrich chose to leave Whitesnake after more than a decade?
Not at all. In his final year, Doug knew that I was communicating with Ritchie and was like: “Do it. Do it.” He started working on the project with me, but he couldn’t give it anywhere near the time that I needed. He just couldn’t commit. I still love him and treasure the things we created together.
A few months ago Doug told Classic Rock that you were “taken aback, maybe even a bit upset” by his exit, and that there had been no recent communication.
No, no, not at all. It was time. Look back at the fabric of people’s lives and there’s always a reason for everything. Even the unpleasant shit.
Was it a difficult record to make without your long-time right-hand man?
No, not at all. Reb [Beach, guitarist] really came out of Doug’s shadow, and he was extremely enthusiastic about the idea of the project. He was determined to prove himself.
[At this point we are advised that the interview must end. I ask for a final question.]
Hit me again… and make it something positive.
I’m afraid I can’t do that. The elephant in the room is that your voice still sounds good on the record…
[Interrupting] Despite the fact that I’m sixty-fucking-three fucking years old [laughs].
But it must be a tough thing to deal with when the very thing with which you made your name fades away?
David… relax, let me ease your pain. It’s not tough. It really isn’t at all.
Do you just see it as an inevitable part of growing older?
There’s always fucking stuff that’s going to be challenging. Are you kidding me? On this tour I’m going to be singing Mistreated for the first time in thirty-something-fucking years… That’s not my worry. Somebody who buys a ticket to come and see me is going to know that I will give you every fucking thing I’ve got. And if it isn’t enough for some… fuck you, I’m going to do the best I can. I’ll take positive over negative any day of the week. If you don’t like it, then stay home.
This feature originally appeared in issue 211 of Classic Rock