On august 15 2000 myself and photographer Michael Johansson met David Coverdale at the Sheraton hotel in Stockholm. He was in town for a couple of days to promote his upcoming CD “Into The Light” and we got permission to film the interview. The interview was published in two magazines back in the day, BRIGHT EYES issue 3 2000 and also in my own publication DEEP PURPLE FOREVER (issue 27). It will be published again in 2013 in my current publication RETROFUTURE 6. This is a translation from the translation, but it should be close enough to the original chat. We walked away from this interview thinking it was one of the best we had done. As huge fans of mid seventies Deep Purple, we could hardly believe our luck in how forthcoming David had been even for the archeology-type of questions that came up. So brace yourself for some great history, from a very great man.
I started the interview with a story that I thought would hopefully kind of break the ice. How I in my stint with the swedish armed forces (which was compulsary back then) replaced the tape with the tapto one morning with a tape of Deep Purples “Burn” and woke up the entire airfield with this classic track blasting out of countless speakers, indoors and outdoors. David laughed and we were away…
(David) – It´s incredible how far music can travel. I´ve heard so many great stories. There´s this player in New York Mets, Mike Piazza, and he always play a Whitesnake song when he´s about to pitch.
I mentioned the old story from the armydays for a reason. Back then when I was in the middle of it, I hated it and I thought that it was just a gigantic waste of time. But looking back on it now, I seem to recall only the good times. Is that how you look back on the Deep Purple days today, do you recall the good times before the bad? And isn´t it natural that this should be the case?
– I think that is true. It´s natural. But I´m so at peace with myself and my situation today that I don´t feel any negative feelings at all about anything any more. Not in my professional life nor in my personal life. There´s no point in dragging the old stuff with you. That would have a bad effect on you if you did. We already have enough problems when we are born. We emulate our parents and some of us get a less than great start in life. So we tend to bury it deep inside.
And then you get pains in your back or something…
– Yes, or in your knee or whatever. I became aware of unsolved issues that I had with my father when my son was born four years ago. I had to work hard on that because I don´t want my father to raise my son through me. No way. I didn´t notice this when my daughter was growing up because I was working so much back in those days.
How old is your daughter?
– She´s 22 and a ravishing beauty. Shocking taste in men (laughs).
That´s the way it goes, now it´s your turn to suffer David…
– (laughs) Yes. But to go back to your question. In order to get on with your life you have to get rid of the old shit. It´s our purpose in life. That´s my opinion. We´ve such a short time here on earth, not least to make a difference. So you have to understand who you are and experience as much as possible on the way. Taste all flavours. And if you´re unhappy, my advice would be to leave that situation, regardless if you lose money.
You did that when you left Deep Purple.
– I do it all the time.
I´ve read countless interviews with you over the years but I´ve never seen you go into details about why you left Deep Purple. You did your final concert in Liverpool on march 15 1976, but exactly when did you decide that you had to leave? Was it it on the US tour before the UK shows?
– I couldn´t take what was going on.
Was it a particular incident?
– No, it was the situation in general. There were certain elements in the band that had no interest in showing the legacy of Deep Purple any kind of respect. This thing about a bands identity is very important. That´s why I moved on later to create my own thing. It´d have been hard for me to join say AC/DC or Foriegner without compromising what they are. So I went my own way. I was so naive when I joined Deep Purple. I just looked at the others and copied their behaviour. I was in no way ready for that kind of success.
What was it in the beginning that made you realise that something incredible was about to happen?
– That was the first show that we did, because meeting the public was the real eyeopener. It was winter and a warmupshow at a smaller place had been cancelled so the first show was at the KB Hall in Copenhagen. The second show became the first. And I recall Denmark from an earlier visit when I was with a club band and how we got screwed by a promotor that promised us plenty and gave us nothing. I mean, all we had was gas money, cigarettes and pölsa (sauseges) and if it had not been for wonderful warm people that offered us places to sleep we´d have slept in the van. So this gig with Purple at the KB hall was something really big for me. I had worked with Purple in the studio…
…But the reality came with the tour…
– Exactly. I found myself this room on another floor and I gave myself a real peptalk, “You have to do this, this is what you´ve dreamt of”. And at that same time everybody else was in a panic because they thought that I had done a runner, so they had people running around the streets going “David! David!” (laughs). When I showed up they all went “Thank God, there he is!” and I could see how nervous they all were. This was the first time that I went into what I call The Zone. I don´t care what the others are up to, I´m getting ready for the show. And I can see it now. The lights go down and I can hear this incredible roar and I´m thinking “What´s that?” and they lead us on to the stage with flashlights and there I am. That was the first time that I screamed “Are you ready?”, because it helped me get rid of the butterflies. And the place just erupted. And that was it. I do that to this day when I walk on a stage. And here is something that you are going to like Michael. I had worked with these guys in Clearwell Castle and I had spent time with them, but I´d never seen them live. So I´m standing there with my mike and then I look around and I go “Christ, what´s Ritchie doing, and Jon, what is that?”. What I saw was these guys working the crowd like crazy with flying guitars in the air and all that so for part of that show I felt like I was part of the audience as I took all that in. But, to go back to the end. I was there to respect Deep Purples image. What I did, I tried to get some blues into it…
You sound a bit defensive now…
– No, this is fact. Some people started to compromise with the whole thing. In Liverpool I turned around and saw Ian Paice and Jon Lord play with their heads hanging down, and Purple had always been a very proud band. An arrogant, proud band. I never wanted to take it to England, that was a favour I did to our manager Rob Cocksey. I liked him and I had been one of the guys that had given him a kick upstairs. I had been given this great opportunity, so why shouldn´t he? So he went from having been in charge of the crew to the job of tour manager. Unfortunately he made a number of mistakes so he came up to me and said “Please, can you do the UK tour, we can´t cancel it now”. So I did and it was a huge mistake. It´s my job to get the crowd on its feet and I could see them thinking “This isn´t Deep Purple”, and ofcourse they were right, it wasn´t Deep Purple anymore.
It took almost three months for the split to become official. Why did it take so long, did they try to convince you to carry on?
– No, what happened was that after Liverpool I went down to stay with my mother in London, she had this pub and thank God she just left me alone. My nerves were shot to hell. I was completely drained by the whole experience. I just sat there and stared into the fireplace and my mother just gave me sandwiches and she never asked me what was wrong, which would have been her normal reaction. Then I wrote a resignationletter that was seven-eight-nine pages long and handed it over to the management and then I flew to Munich were my wife Julia was living. I just couldn´t go on. I told them that I didn´t want to drag the good reputation of Deep Purple through the mud and they said “We understand and respect your opinion but can you please keep this quiet until the original members have decided what they want to do?”, so I did. We talked about me doing PAL, or Coverdale, Lord, Ashton, Paice, which would have been CLAP (laughs), so I did spend some time just thinking about the future at that point.
Six months later, Tommy Bolin died. How did you find out about it?
– I sat in my bed writing some lyrics and my wife came in and said “Tommy is dead”. She and Tommy had been close so her face was swollen with tears. And it was strange, I just sat there…
This was in Germany?
– Yes, in a village called Wartaweil in Bavaria, I´ve always been the most happy on the countryside Mike.
Did you cry?
– No I didn´t because sadly it didn´t come as a surprise. He was hard on his body. For some people getting a job in Deep Purple is the same as getting the keys to the bank but for Tommy it was like he got the keys to… You know, Tommy was an incredibly talented young man, but in this business you can start to believe in your own press, and you can think that you are immortal. But we´re all the same and if you constantly abuse your body it will eventually catch up with you. I don´t know if he lacked self confidence or if he felt that he had to compromise too much. All I know is that he was a talented person that, even in the short time that I knew him, were killing himself slowly. And you can´t do anything, there´s an arrogance in people that are doing drugs.
In the early days of Whitesnake it seems like you avoided the guitar hero thing pretty much.
– It was the safe way. I had great respect for Micky Moody and his potential. I knew that he could become one of the great steel guitar players of Europe. From London. His potential was there but he decided not to go that way. He didn´t take the chance.
So you´re saying that Micky Moody could have had a much more prominent position in the band had he wanted it?
– Yes, absolutely.
I see. I always thought that you took Whitesnake in a direction that differed from the band you´d just left.
– No, no, it was the freedom that I wanted. In Purple I felt increasingly limited to express myself. Songs like “Speed King” and “Highway Star” was a huge part of what people expected from Deep Purple. And as one of the prominent writers I felt that I had to take that into consideration. Exactly the same thing happened in Whitesnake. If you listen to my first solo album “Whitesnake” (1977) you´ll hear the real me. On “Northwinds” I started to focus again and that laid down the foundation for what would eventually be Whitesnake. I wanted to be able to do much more in Whitesnake. I wanted to include rock, soul and blues. Anything that would give me a chance to express myself.
Now you go out in your own name again, or really for the first time. Does this mean that you have more freedom again and that you can put together a liveset that is more diverse?
– Yes, I can do anything now. I can play Deep Purple songs again if I want to do that. You know, in the early days of Whitesnake we used to play a few Deep Purple songs but as soon as we had material enough to do 90 minutes of Whitesnake songs that´s what we did. Now I can go back and do Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Coverdale/Page, anything. I can do Beach Boys if I want to.
I saw this tv-concert with Whitesnake from Sofia back in 1997 and at the end you alone walk on the stage again and you do this wonderful version of “Soldier Of Fortune” and the entire crowd is singing along. It must be an amazing feeling to have an audience that is so much into a song that was released so many years ago?
– But isn´t that very interesting? That a band like Deep Purple, that was well known for something specific, came up with a song that meant so much to so many that was different. When Ritchie and I wrote that song Ian Paice was so insecure about recording it. Ritchie and I had to cut a demo of it at Musicland Studios to get the rest of the band to understand it. When we had played it to them just the two of us Ian couldn´t see the point in it at all. And Ritchie was so pissed off about the fact that we had to do a demo of it that he turned to me and said “That´s it, I´ve had enough of this”. So “Stormbringer” became the first album on which the band didn´t share all songwriting credits. Ritchie said “We are doing all the work and they are just playing football”. Ian Paice was very much against what happened but it was him that had put the last nail in that coffin. He shouldn´t have bothered us so much about that song when we really believed in it.
Are you aware that people play that song on weddings in the far east?
– No, I didn´t know that. I knew that “Is This Love” is a big song at weddings over there.
I think it´s wonderful.
– Yes, it is. And this is something that I try to explain to people. There are so many cynics out there. It´s wonderful to have hits and make lots of money and all that, but when I hear that a song has touched somebody on a deeper level and maybe given them strength to carry on when times have not been easy, that´s the best kind of feedback that an artist can get.
You had years of great success with Whitesnake and that whole circus. But then you came upon a darker period.
– Yes, you can read all about it in my lyrics.
Whitesnake ended because you were tired of it, your mother had passed away and you went through a divorce. Apart from that record you did with Coverdale/Page a good deal of the nineties was time spent outside the business. Do you feel now that you´ve had time to look back on your life and that you´ve had a chance to reflect on everything that has happened to you? Have you done that inner journey?
– Yes, the last two years. I´ve gone through my childhood, not just Deep Purple and all that has happened to me since then. It seems like life has seven year cykles that makes you stop and reflect. When I was seven I must have looked at my parents and thought “I´m not going to get what I need here”, so I got into daydreaming and that is the beginning of a creative process. You´re creating something. And I came from an invironment where my father would slap me on the head and say “Stop daydreaming boy”. So you start to focus your energies on becoming somebody else, and what is better than getting to be a singer? A singer that becomes a rockstar with the power to take control. And not only that, but in that situation you get surrounded by very supportive people. So my advice to anybody is to take that chance. It´s been an incredible journey and I´ve had so much support from my wife, Cindy. Every day with her is like a gift. It´s the right moment for me to get back using my own name again, I don´t want to hide behind a fake band anymore. You know, to be the boss and still camouflage yourself as being just part of a band. The new record is my ticket to the future and a salute to the past. It´s still blues oriented but my voice isn´t hidden behind a wall of guitars and thundering drums. So I don´t know, maybe I´ve come full circle? But the record is called “Into The Light” and it is a lot more positive. This is a very positive period in my life. Everything seems to fall in its right place almost like by destiny. I´m convinced that things happen for a reason and I don´t believe in coincidenses anymore. I´ll go were the inspiration takes me.
I read somewhere that you had been interested in a career in film, is this true?
– No, but I´ve had offers. But I´ve never searched for it and I have no need to create more illusions about myself. Let me tell you something about Hollywood. The music industry can be bad, but to start an affair with Hollywood is like getting in bed with someone that you know is going to be constantly unfaithful to you. That´s not to say that I wouldn´t be interested in writing music for film when I´m too old to do this. I love scores, classical music. If I see a movie nothing takes me out of it faster than a pop song.
So you would be more interested in writing scores than to be in the movies yourself?
– Yes. Cindy and I have been together for 10 years now this november and it grows all the time. She´s my guardian angel and you can see her on the new CD. I would wish that everybody got to experience what we have and I hope that I´ve given her at least a fraction of what she has given me in return. It´s amazing and that´s were I get my stregnth so this record is a success to me regardless if it sells or not.
Do you sing for her on the record?
– Almost all the songs are for her. When I write a song I can tell in which way the song is going to dictate the lyrics. So today, if I want to write an “evil woman” type of song, I´d have to go far back to dig up inspiration for that. And that wouldn´t feel like the right thing to do to her. And I´ve written about that before so I´ve no reason to go back there. I want to learn from the past, not live in it. So, sure, this record is a celebration to her. The last song on the record was written as a birthday song to her four or five years ago and I had no intention of recording it. But my friend, Björn Thorsrud, that I work with in America, said “That´s one of the most beautiful songs I´ve ever heard, you have to record that”, so it went on the record. She´s like an angel that was put here on earth just for me. I wish that everybody could have that, the world would be a better place.
If the record is doing well people are going to say “You have to tour!”. But is that even an option for you now that you enjoy your private life so much at home?
– It´s hard for me to travel. I´m missing my sons fourth birthday right now and that feels bad. I got this fax from my wife when I was in Tokyo and it said “We know that you´re doing this for us”. So it´s tough to go but it´s my job. And this is interesting. I used to have a private life that revolved around my career, but now I have a career that revolves around my private life, and that´s infinetely better Michael.
I´m glad that you are in that position with your life today.
– Thank you. There´s a song on the new record called “Living On Love” and the lyrics go “So many mistakes I had to make to lead me here to you”, so it´s OK to make mistakes. As long as you learn from them. We all make mistakes, as long as you got something out of it, it´s fine. All the mistakes that I made in the past gave me the eyes to recognise that this person was perfect for me.
You spent years on the road with Whitesnake and with several lineups, yet there´s only one live album out. I think you´ve missed a great opportunity to cash in there.
– Yes, there´s a lot of stuff that we can release. But we´re about to start my own label in America and EMI will release this record and the next here in Europe and after that I don´t know what´ll happen. I´m supposedly the longest signed artist on EMI in London and they are going to throw a party for me when I get there. But to return to your question, I´m working with the right people now and we are going to release stuff. You haven´t seen the last from Whitesnake. Also, I´ve been in negotiations with the old managers about the original recordings of the early albums, so I hope that we can re-mix them and re-release them some day. I understand that they have been stashed away in a garage in Spain for years so they might be confetti by the time we get them.
But you want to re-release them with bonus tracks etc?
– Yes. Most releases like that are put together by shadowy figures in record companies. I want to give value for money, we could release “Best Of” records that span from my first solo album to “Saints An´Sinners”. You know, to make sure that it´s out there for the people that wants it.
How about a live box?
– A box sounds a little too much but we´ll definetely release live stuff. It´s incredible how expensive records are today and that makes me ill at ease as an artist. I don´t make that much on them myself, I make a good living because of my standing in the industry but it´s a far cry from getting 50% of the price you pay in the stores. I´m a consumer myself so I react when I see how expensive recorded music has become. This is something that I hope we can look into with my label in the States and in Canada, but I can´t do anything about it here.
When you recorded “Slip Of The Tongue”, Glenn Hughes came into the studio and sang and you gave him quite a lot of money for it although you can´t really hear him on the record. Did you feel obliged to help him out?
– I didn´t feel that I had to, but that´s how it was. Glenn and I have minimal contact but he´s good in burning bridges. He gets involved with people that love him, which is understandable because he´s such a huge talent, but he seldom stays very long. I could afford to help him. It´s nice to see pictures of him now, healthy again. But when he walked into that studio back then I didn´t even recognise him. The reason that you can´t hear him on the record is that we didn´t really get much that we could use.
I met him that year and I think he knew then that he had a problem, but it´s hard to go to the Betty Ford clinic…
– You need to want to help yourself. That´s the whole thing. I´ve quit all that stuff in my life, except for cigarettes. It´s obvious that I´m not quite done with the nicotine as yet.
Have you tried to quit?
– I´ve tried a couple of times. My wife doesn´t smoke and I try to keep it away from her and our son at home. I can because our house is so big. We have this room with instruments and stuff and that is off limits to my son. And I can always go outside and have a smoke. I don´t drink at all these days. There was a time when drinking and getting a woman was a daily routine, that´s just who I was. I don´t like the hangovers anymore, I can´t take it. I like to get up early in the morning and work now.
I quit drinking 10 years ago, I couldn´t handle feeling sick every sunday.
– I had a hangover seven days a week. The voice gets really dry when you live like that.
Was it ever a problem on the road?
– No, I did a sinus operation in 1988 and there´s tones on “Slip Of The Tongue” that only dogs can hear! That operation was a good thing.
I´m told that opera singers reach their peak in their fifties. Have you noted any differences in your register?
– The big difference is that there´s more joy in my voice now. I met a journalist this morning that is a huge Whitesnake fan and he said “I think the new record is far to laid back”, and that shocked me. I think I´m doing a bit of everything on this record. You can hear the different sides of me. All you need to know is that I wish everybody all the best. And I say this to you because you´re so involved in the Deep Purple legacy, that I´ll always be greatful about them taking such a chance on me and that they gave me the opportunity. I mean, I knew they were big in England but I had no idea that they were one of the biggest bands in the world. That was just beyond my horizon. They took a chance on a guy that had never seen a professional recording studio before and that is evidence to how brave these guys were.
But you were equally brave when you invited Tommy Bolin into the band.
– Yes, God rest his soul. But you know what. We should have changed the name. That would have been much better. We had a meeting about this and we did discuss the possibility of calling it just Purple, or something else, when Ritchie left. To me it was wrong to call it Deep Purple but the management didn´t want to change it.
You could have had greater freedom with a new name.
– I thought that we probably had a good shot at success considering all the talent involved, and it would have meant less expectations. Ritchie had been such a huge part of Deep Purple. Him, Jon and Ian knew eachother so well that they could read oneanothers minds. The fact that they didn´t really get on any longer didn´t mean anything. But it surfaced in the arrogance in their performances, which was fantastic. They tried to blow eachother away and that created great rock music.
You used the word arrogance. When I was a kid and saw the pictures, I just loved it.
– Yes, it was the attitude that you could see.
It was pure power and Purple had plenty of that.
– Yes, bigtime. I recall writing six different lyrics to “Burn” and I laid them out in front of Ritchie on the piano. One of them was titled “The Road” and that was a bluesier version. I wrote “Burn” and “Stormbringer” to make Ritchie happy. I loved songs like that. I enjoyed the emotional side, things that you could grab. I recall the second take when we recorded “You Fool No One”. It was a difficult drum track but Ian nailed it. I mean, what you hear was done live and it wasn´t easy. And somebody else made a goofy mistake and everybody just laughed, and Ian threw his drum sticks on the floor and said “Look, this ain´t fucking easy!” and “Get the fucking thing right!”. The next take was fine. Ritchie always tried to get Ian to bring down the snare drum a bit. Ian was influenced by the big jazz bands and he swinged like a bitch. But everybody else wanted him to sound more like Bonzo in Led Zeppelin. So he would say “I´m fucking Ian Paice and this is my sound!”. Later I saw him listen back and I could see him think “Fuck, the snare drum sound light”. That´s why you can hear tambourine in that song. I always wondered what it would have sounded like with a bigger drum sound. I recall these things now because I´m talking to you. I don´t sit around and think about it. I remember coming to Europe in 1997 and I was ready to meet the press and to talk about Whitesnake and the very first question I got was “So, what was it like to join Deep Purple?”. Aaarrgghh! People seem to think that I go to bed thinking about it, and I really don´t. It happened a long time ago. On another occation I met this journalist in former east Germany right after the wall had fallen and he said “You must be the unluckiest person in the world” and I stared at him and said “I´m sorry, but I don´t know what you mean?”. “Well, you could have been the singer in Deep Purple”. I said “I was the singer in Deep Purple”, and he went “But not when they returned”. So I said “I´m sorry but I´ve sold more records than Deep Purple and I don´t miss them”.
Have you heard the current lineup?
– I would love to share the stage with Ian Gillan if Deep Purple did a charity concert or something like that. More than happy. I´ve not heard the latest record but I heard the last one three years ago (“Purpendicular”) and by cheer luck I run into Jon Lord and I said “The most important thing to me is that you sound so happy” and he said “Oh David, it´s great to be in Deep Purple again”. Did you see Paicey with Paul McCartney by the way?
Yes, he seems to be enjoying himself.
– Paul wanted Ian to audition for Wings and Ian said “I´m fucking Ian Paice, I don´t do auditions!” (laughs). Paul must have said, “Well, bugger off then!” (laughs).
Michael Eriksson (c)
(No part of this interview may be copied without permission)