Coverdale and Page
Vocals, Guitars (acoustic) (1991-1993)
Vocals (1977-1978, 1999-2002)
David Coverdale’s original vision for Whitesnake was to create a blues-based, melodic hard rock band with soul. He wanted to combine elements of hard rock, R&B and blues with “good commercial hooks”. Coverdale’s earliest influences included The Pretty Things and The Yardbirds, who combined blues and soul with electrified rock, a style Coverdale found more appealing to traditional twelve-bar blues structures. Another major influence on Whitesnake’s sound was The Allman Brothers Band, particularly their first album. Whitesnake’s other early influences include Cream, Mountain, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Jeff Beck (particularly the albums Truth and Beck-Ola), Paul Butterfield, and John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers (particularly The Beano Album) As the band began playing and writing together, their sound developed further into what has been described by music critics as their blues rock period, which encompasses roughly the first five Whitesnake studio albums. Rolling Stone‘s Richard Bienstock described their early sound as “bloozy, sexed-up pub-rock“. Micky Moody and Neil Murray have felt that Whitesnake didn’t truly find their sound until Ready an’ Willing. Coverdale has seconded this, stating that Ready an’ Willing was the beginning of what Whitesnake should have sounded like from the start.
Beginning with Slide It In, Whitesnake’s sound developed more into straightforward hard rock. Coverdale later explained that he wanted the band’s blues elements to “rock” more. Neil Murray attributed this shift partially to John Kalodner, who began pushing Whitesnake in a heavier, more guitar-based, “American-sounding” direction. John Sykes also played a pivotal role in Whitesnake’s evolution, with Murray remarking how Sykes “wanted the band to be more American style”. The band’s eponymous album saw Whitesnake moving towards a sound Coverdale described as “leaner, meaner and more electrifying”. This later period of Whitesnake’s career has been described by music critics as hard rock, heavy metal, and glam metal. Coverdale would later admit that by the late 1980s, Whitesnake had become a “heavy metal comic”, stating: “If people confuse Whitesnake with Mötley Crüe or any of these things, looking at the pictures […] you can undestand why.” Musically though, Coverdale has rejected the notion that Whitesnake were ever a heavy metal band. Since reforming the band in 2003, Coverdale has attempted to combine elements of Whitesnake’s early sound with their later hard rock style on their most recent studio albums. However, music critics have noted that Whitesnake’s style has remained most consistent with their late 1980s output, with Philip Wilding of Classic Rock, in his review for Flesh & Blood, stating: “Those hoping that the new Whitesnake album record will recall Coverdale’s smoky, Lovehunter past should look away now. […] Coverdale understood American radio in the 80s, and that might be why he still writes for it.”
As Whitesnake’s style evolved in the mid to late 1980s, they began to draw unfavourable comparisons to Led Zeppelin. Tracks like “Slow an’ Easy“, “Still of the Night” and “Judgement Day” have been accused of copying Led Zeppelin, while David Coverdale has been accused of imitating singer Robert Plant. This comparison was exacerbated when Coverdale teamed up with Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to release the album Coverdale–Page in 1993. In the press, Plant would refer to Coverdale as “David Cover-version”. Coverdale denied any notion of plagiarism, stating: “I don’t know how accurate the comparison is. People shouldn’t forget that I worked in Deep Purple for a number of years, so my pedigree in hard rock is quite strong. I understand that bands like Whitesnake, Purple and Led Zeppelin all play a solid powerful brand of rock, but I don’t think we’re coming from the same place musically.” Neil Murray laid some of the blame on John Kalodner, who he claimed began pushing Whitesnake in a more Led Zeppelin-like direction.
Coverdale has stated that lyrically all of his songs are love songs at their core. He has described them as diaries of particular times in his life. Nearly all of Whitesnake’s studio albums feature one or more songs with “love” in the title. Coverdale has maintained that this hasn’t been a conscious decision, rather he considers love his primary source of inspiration. He has also attributed some of Whitesnake’s longevity to the lyrics’ “human themes”, whether physical or emotional.
Whitesnake have been heavily criticized by the music press for their excessive use of double entendres and sexual innuendos, most egregiously on tracks such as “Slide It In”, “Slow an’ Easy” and “Spit It Out”. Micky Moody, Bernie Marsden and Jon Lord have expressed some discomfort over the band’s lyrical content. Coverdale has reiterated that some of his lyrics are meant to provoke laughter more than anything else, stating: “If I look at sex as an observer […] there’s humour also as well as the serious nitty-gritty stuff and I like to write about this as well.” He also added that many of his songs are tongue-in-cheek and inspired by his own experiences, not uncommon to other people as well. Coverdale has repeatedly denied any accusations of misogyny or sexism. Marsden conceded that while many of Coverdale’s lyrics are not entirely politically correct in a contemporary setting, they were written “completely tongue-in-cheek” and are more a product of a bygone era. Music journalist Malcolm Dome compared some of Whitesnake’s more suggestive lyrics to a Carry On film with their “tongue-in-cheek” sensibilities, also noting how in his opinion Coverdale has written songs with “some real depth and lyrical awareness”, like with “Sailing Ships” and “Love Ain’t No Stranger”.