For a while there, many years back now, I wrote a series of reviews and interviews for an Auckland newspaper under a fake name. I needed a generic-sounding – safe – pen-name. I chose ‘Mark Reid’. A little tribute to Chopper eh? Something like that…In fact it just seemed like a safe/boring name that couldn’t be connected to me. I then dashed out copy weekly – CD reviews, film reviews, profiles, interviews. And I did it in exactly the same way as I did when writing my blog posts and reviews for a Wellington newspaper and website. I didn’t try to write differently. No one ever asked, or guessed, or…cared…
Here’s my interview with David Coverdale that I conducted as Mark Reid. He was on his way to Wellington for a two-day hard-rock/metal festival called Rock 2 Wgtn. It was a financial disaster – poor, poor turnout – Whitesnake was one of the highlights of the event, along with Alice Cooper.
We begin with an explanation of the natural stretch of water that is Lake Tahoe, from there David Coverdale bangs on, full steam ahead for thirty minutes. Punctuating many of his free-flowing sentences with an extreme cackle, the British-born, American-based heavy metal singer is an interviewer’s dream. He just keeps talking.
This Ever-Ready-Bunny of conversation is on the line from his home (“surrounded by a beautiful Alpine lake on one side and traces of the Nevada desert nearby”) to talk about his band’s appearance at the two-day Easter showcase Rock 2 Wgtn. Coverdale is the lead singer of Whitesnake. But for all intents and purposes Coverdale is Whitesnake. Just how many lineups of Whitesnake has there been; how many past members have floated through the ranks? Cue first burst of insane laughter.
Happy to talk about Deep Purple – plucked from obscurity in the early 1970s to replace Ian Gillan, leading one of the world’s biggest metal acts to a mid-70s implosion – Coverdale tells me that he “will always be grateful to Purple, no matter the animosity now; they took a chance. They gave me my start. I’m here because of that chance way back when…”
Coverdale is easy to like on the phone, articulate and intelligent, there’s a self-awareness regarding the hilarity of being a late middle-aged rocker who knows no different. But behind the peels of laughter and refusal to take himself too seriously, there are hints that as band-leader and businessman he is not to be argued with. Not quite the Svengali approach of Gene Simmons (whose creation KISS shares the bill with Whitesnake at Wellington’s “cake-tin” stadium), a different kind of control-freak but the ego (if not the song) remains the same.
Whitesnake’s career – a band for 30 years (“I only remember that because, conveniently, I have a daughter who is 30”) – has stopped and started at Coverdale’s whim. When he has felt like releasing solo albums he has called the band to rest. When his 1993 album with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page (Coverdale/Page) resulted in Page reconnecting with Zep singer Robert Plant for a series of shows which saw the old songs rearranged, Coverdale (always the bridesmaid) reformed Whitesnake.
But that is not to say that the band is a joke. And David Coverdale takes the business of being in Whitesnake very seriously. “I stay in shape. I have to. That’s why I’m still doing this. I’ll be in the gym, and off for a swim. It’s hard work preparing for show”. He just happens to step in to a larger-than-life character when he is doing his job.
And just what does the show entail?
“Well, I got the call for Rock 2 Wgtn”, Coverdale begins, sounding like a wound-up pro-wrestler delivering pre-match hype, “and I’m contracted to bring my band and play for an hour. So we’ll present blood, sweat and tears, balls-to-the-wall rock”.
He pauses to laugh at the absurdity of it all and then swiftly moves back to earnest-mode, “everyone is welcome at a Whitesnake concert and we’ll play the hits from the 1980s. And we have a new album which is due in April. But we’ll only play a few from that”.
The formula of his creation extends to the new record, Good To Be Bad. Coverdale describes the track-list as “featuring eight rockers for the guys and three ballads for the girls”.
More laughter. And then the poodle-haired Yorkshire singer, who planned to be a graphic designer and has managed, almost by accident, to be a lasting presence in rock is off for a swim and a workout. The character is dropped – until the next time he struts his stuff on stage.