Whitesnake are a hard rock band formed in England in 1978 by David Coverdale, after his departure from his previous band Deep Purple. Their early material has been compared by critics to the blues rock of Deep Purple, but they slowly began moving toward a more commercially accessible rock style. By the turn of the decade, the band’s commercial fortunes changed and they released a string of UK top 10 albums, Ready an’ Willing (1980), Come an’ Get It (1981), Saints & Sinners (1982) and Slide It In (1984), the last of which was their first to chart in the US and is certified 2x platinum.
The band’s 1987 self-titled album was their most commercially successful worldwide, and contained two major US hits, “Here I Go Again” and “Is This Love”, reaching number one and two on the Billboard Hot 100. The album went 8 times platinum in the US, and the band’s success saw them nominated for the 1988 Brit Award for Best British Group. Slip of the Tongue (1989) was also a success, reaching the top 10 in the UK and the US, and received a platinum US certification. The band split up shortly after this release, but had a reunion in 1994, and released a one-off studio album, Restless Heart (1997).
Whitesnake officially reformed in 2002 and have been touring together since, releasing three albums, Good to Be Bad (2008), Forevermore (2011) and The Purple Album (2015). In 2005, Whitesnake were named the 85th greatest hard rock band of all time by VH1.
David Coverdale founded Whitesnake in 1978 in Middlesbrough, Cleveland, north-east England. The core line-up had been working as his backing band The White Snake Band on the White Snake (1977) album tour and they retained the title before officially being known as Whitesnake. They toured with Coverdale as his support band and for both of the solo albums he released, White Snake (1977) and Northwinds (1978), between exiting Deep Purple and founding Whitesnake. At this time, the band was made up of David Coverdale, Bernie Marsden, Micky Moody, Neil Murray and drummer David “Duck” Dowle with keyboardist Brian Johnston. Johnston would soon be replaced by Procol Harum organ player and keyboardist Pete Solley. Because of Solley’s producing commitments he was replaced by the former Deep Purple keyboard player Jon Lord, during sessions for the first LP.
Whitesnake recorded the EP Snakebite, which was released in 1978 and included a cover of a Bobby “Blue” Bland song “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”, their first hit song proving the new wave of British heavy metal could have a chart hit. The EP had some success in the UK and subsequent reissues of this EP included four bonus tracks from Coverdale’s second solo album Northwinds (1978) produced by Roger Glover.
A blues rock debut album Trouble was released in the autumn of 1978 and peaked at No. 50 in the UK album charts. Whitesnake toured Europe to promote the album and their first live album Live at Hammersmith was recorded on this tour and released in Japan in 1979. Tracks from the EP Snakebite were included in a reissue of the album Trouble in 2006.
In 1981 the band recorded the album Come an’ Get It, which climbed to No. 2 in the UK album charts and produced the Top 20 hit “Don’t Break My Heart Again” and the Top 40 hit “Would I Lie to You”. During 1982 Coverdale took time off to look after his sick daughter and decided to put Whitesnake on hold.
When David Coverdale returned to music, he reformed the band, and after the recording of the album Saints & Sinners (1982) replaced Bernie Marsden, Ian Paice, and bass player Neil Murray with Mel Galley from Trapeze, bassist Colin Hodgkinson, and Cozy Powell as the new drummer. Saints & Sinners was another Top 10 UK album and contained the hit “Here I Go Again”, with Malcolm Birch from Chesterfield-based band Pegasus on keyboards. The new lineup toured in 1982–83 and headlined the Monsters of Rock Festival at Castle Donington UK in August 1983, and the single “Guilty of Love” reached No. 31 in the UK singles chart.
In late 1983, the band recorded Slide It In, which was released in Europe in early 1984. It was the band’s fourth top 10 album in their native UK, peaking at number 9. At this time, the band secured a major US deal with the Geffen label. Slide It In drew mixed reviews, the negatives focusing on its “flat” mix. While a personnel change saw the touring band replace Moody with former Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes, plus the return of bassist Neil Murray in place of Hodgkinson, producer David Geffen insisted that the album be remixed for the US release. In addition to the remix, Sykes and Murray re-recorded the lead guitar and bass parts. This revised version of the album had its US release in April 1984. Despite Coverdale’s misgivings regarding the lack of edge in these new tracks, Slide It In scraped the US Top 40, and went double platinum there three years later after the release of the band’s eighth album. Slide It In spawned the album-oriented rock hits in the US: “Slow an’ Easy”, “Love Ain’t No Stranger”, and the title track. “I didn’t really work America…” the singer admitted. “In ’84, I had broken all attendance records and merchandise records in Europe but I still lost three grand. My marriage was in tatters and then David Geffen called up and said, ‘It is about time that you took America seriously.’ There was nothing to keep me in London – so, rather than taking potshots at America from across the pond, I decided to relocate, and had an extraordinary four or five years.”
While touring in spring 1984, Mel Galley suffered a broken arm in an accident, leaving John Sykes as the sole guitarist for the remaining dates. A few weeks later, Jon Lord left to reform Deep Purple Mk. II, and keyboard player Richard Bailey was brought in. The band was booked in the US to open for acts such as Dio and Quiet Riot. The tour ended with a performance in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, at the Rock in Rio festival held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Galley remained a member — “he’s still getting paid”, said Coverdale — until Galley rashly discussed plans to reform Trapeze in an interview and Coverdale fired him.
Starting in 1985, Coverdale and Sykes began writing the material for a follow-up studio album. The approach was more modern, adding a slick Eighties studio polish to a band that up until Slide It In (1984) had a bluesier sound rooted in the Seventies. Sykes would play the rhythm and lead guitars for almost the entire album. Cozy Powell had left to join Emerson, Lake & Powell. Two musicians from the north of England were brought in for the recording of the album: drummer Aynsley Dunbar, and keyboardist Don Airey from the Ozzy Osbourne band and Rainbow. The album was put on hold for much of 1986, when Coverdale contracted a serious sinus infection that put his singing career in jeopardy. He eventually recovered, and the Whitesnake album was finished in 1987. But shortly before the album’s release, Coverdale had dismissed Sykes. Adrian Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell mimed Sykes’ guitar parts in the videos and played in subsequent live shows.
The album was entitled 1987 in Europe and Serpens Albus in Japan and marked the band’s biggest mainstream success in the US. With the guidance of A&R guru John Kalodner, it has sold 8x platinum in the US. The success of Whitesnake (1987) also pushed sales of Slide It In (1984) from its RIAA certified gold status to platinum status, and made the band a bona fide arena headliner for the first time in North America. The album continued to sell throughout 1987 and 1988, peaking at No. 2 in the US, and No. 8 in the UK. The album was their most commercially successful, and in 1988, they were nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Group. The album’s biggest hits were “Here I Go Again” (#1 US Billboard Hot 100 and No. 9 UK Singles Chart) and power ballad “Is This Love” (#2 US and No. 9 UK). “Here I Go Again” was a re-recording of a song originally on 1982’s Saints & Sinners, and another track on Saints & Sinners, “Crying in the Rain”, was also a redone song. Other hit singles from the album were “Still of the Night” (#16 UK and No. 79 US) and “Give Me All Your Love” (#18 UK and No. 48 US in 1988). The album’s exposure was boosted by heavy airplay of its music videos on MTV. The videos starred actress Tawny Kitaen, whom Coverdale later married and also included new band members Adrian Vandenberg, Rudy Sarzo, Tommy Aldridge and Vivian Campbell (who also re-recorded the solo for the “Give Me All Your Love” single remix). With the exception of Vandenberg (whose only work on the album was the solo on “Here I Go Again”), none of the band members who played on the album appeared in the videos, as they had been fired by Coverdale.
While some long-time fans viewed the 1987 album as a sell-out and attempt to pander to mainstream tastes at the time, Coverdale was still reaching back to his musical roots, including most prominently Led Zeppelin, but even older artists like Elvis. “I remember the Jailhouse Rock EP,” Coverdale said. “It’s interesting because you don’t know what it is, but it gets you fluffed up. And ‘Jailhouse Rock’, contrary to what a lot of people imagine, was the inspiration for the verses of ‘Still of the Night’.”
Guitarist Vivian Campbell left Whitesnake in late 1988 due to creative differences, and so the band’s line-up changed yet again for the 1989 album Slip of the Tongue. Although he co-wrote all of the songs, while preparing for the recording of the album, guitarist Adrian Vandenberg sustained a serious wrist injury, making it impossible for him to play without experiencing great discomfort. Coverdale had no choice but to find a new guitar player to record the parts. He eventually found former Frank Zappa and David Lee Roth guitar player Steve Vai, whom Coverdale had seen in the 1986 film Crossroads. Upon its release, Slip of the Tongue (1989) sold three million copies and hit No. 10 in both the US and UK album charts. The album also spawned three successful singles: a reworking of the band’s 1980 classic “Fool for Your Loving” (#37 US and No. 43 UK), the melodic “The Deeper the Love” (#28 US and No. 35 UK) and “Now You’re Gone” (#31 UK and No. 96 US). Steve Vai became an official member of the band and appeared in all of the band’s new music videos.
- David Coverdale – lead vocals (1978–1991, 1994, 1997, 2002–present)
- Reb Beach – guitars, backing vocals (2002–present)
- Michael Devin – bass, harmonica, backing vocals (2010–present)
- Tommy Aldridge – drums (1987–1991, 2002–2007, 2013–present)
- Joel Hoekstra – guitars, backing vocals (2014–present)
- Michele Luppi – keyboards, backing vocals (2015–present)
- Trouble (1978)
- Lovehunter (1979)
- Ready an’ Willing (1980)
- Come an’ Get It (1981)
- Saints & Sinners (1982)
- Slide It In (1984)
- Whitesnake (1987)
- Slip of the Tongue (1989)
- Trouble (1978-1979)
- Love Hunter Tour (1979)
- Ready an’ Willing Tour (1980)
- Come an’ Get It Tour (1981)
- Saints & Sinners Tour (1982-1983)
- Slide It In Tour (1984-1985)
- Whitesnake 1987-88 World Tour (1987-1988)