Whitesnake – Slide it In 25th Anniversary (EMI 2009)

“It’s About Time You Had An Honest 12 Inches”

Whitesnake 'Slide It In' 25th Anniversary (EMI 2009)

In Conversation With David Coverdale 25 Years After The Release Of Slide It In…

Saints & Sinners, Whitesnake’s fifth studio opus, hit the UK Top 10 in December 1982, coinciding with the obligatory UK tour, which carried on into 1983. Whitesnake had previously been the main support to AC/DC at the second Monsters Of Rock Festival in August 1981, but in early 1983 it was announced that the band would headline the third festival at Castle Donington, on a bill that also featured Meat Loaf, ZZ Top and Dio. David had actually agreed to complete the Saints & Sinners album as long as he could extricate himself from his former Deep Purple manager, John Coletta, freeing the band to seek and sign new deals. Whitesnake’s albums were still to be issued by EMI in the UKand Europe, but a new deal was struck with Geffen, a then relatively small but prestigious American label set up by USmusic industry mogul, David Geffen. Geffen’s A&R head honcho was John Kalodnar, who was not immediately impressed with David’s choice of several members of the new band. What were David’s first impressions of John Kalodner? “Positive…but, an unusual man…Lots of ‘issues’…He was the very first actual A & R man I worked with…Normally, EMI had left me to my own devices, but, I wanted to crack America & so I gave him the benefit of the doubt…I was told he had the ‘best ears’  for commercial rock in A & R, & we did very well together.” Despite Kalodnar’s misgivings, the line-up that had been assembled to promote the Saints record, entered the studio to record the new album. After initial rehearsals at Jon Lord’s Oxfordshire home, Chagham Hall, the band commenced recording inGermany at Musicland inMunich.

“After meeting & seeing us in concert in Germany, John Kalodnar told me that if I took the original ‘Slide It In’ band into the studio it would be a big mistake…”

A new single, ‘Guilty Of Love’ (backed by ‘The Gambler’), and according to the back of the single sleeve, taken from the new album, Slide It In, was released in time for the Donington show. The album had originally been slated to come out in time for Donington, although ‘Guilty Of Love’ was the only new song to feature in the set. “Yes…the album  should have been out at least 3 weeks before the show…I couldn’t finish it in time…I was never the best at deadlines.” Although the line-up appeared to have stabilized with Mel Galley and Micky Moody on guitar, Colin ‘Bomber’ Hodgkinson on bass, Cozy Powell on drums and keyboard maestro Jon Lord, one long time collaborator was missing from the credits; Martin Birch. Birch had overseen every Whitesnake release since 1978’s Trouble, but the new seven inch credited Eddie Kramer as producer. “Kramer had a very strange way of mixing…He’d run 30 seconds, or so, of the track…then look up & ask what I thought…then…another 30 seconds…I thought this must be how they do things in the States, ’cos I’ve never mixed like that before…or since, actually. The other thing was that the album was supposed to be ready prior to Donington, but, that didn’t happen, so we rushed like buggery to get ‘Guilty’ ready, so, we had something new to help promote the show & the forthcoming album.” Eddie Kramer, a veteran of working with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, as well as producing KISS Alive! LP, was evidently brought in with the intention of capturing some of Whitesnake’s all important live energy in a studio environment, “Yes…absolutely…for some reason we couldn’t seem to capture the intensity in the studio that we had very naturally in concert…so, my choice of musicians, certainly in Cozy, was a deliberate attempt to change that.” After such a long relationship with Martin Birch, Kramer might be seen as a surprising choice? “Eddie Kramer was a surprise to us, chosen by Geffen A&R man John Kalodnar, who felt he could bring whatever the hell he thought we were missing for the American market…I wasn’t convinced…I missed Martin Birch, who was also a dear friend of mine, & ultimately I brought him back in to finish the project…then, of course, Geffen insisted on a remix with Keith Olsen…Yes…it was complicated, but, thankfully, it all worked out in the end…It usually does, but, you’re never too sure when it’s actually happening.” 

“In 1982, guitarist Mel Galley had helped in the construction of the Donington stage…the next year…1983…he was a member of the headlining band…”

One suspects Mr Birch was able to provide a comfort zone for the ’Snakes to record, “We were happy to get out of there…& yes, I was already in dialogue with Birchy, regardless of the consequences…”

Although the new Slide It In album was in the can, and ready for a January 1984 release, it appeared as if the band was in for yet another reshuffle, with Colin ‘Bomber’ Hodkingson to be replaced by none other than original bassist Neil Murray. “  Simple…I’d missed his playing…” in November 1983. In addition to this, Mick Moody had been unhappy with the band’s new direction, leading to former Tygers Of Pan Tang/Thin Lizzy axeman John Sykes to take his place. Was John Sykes’ recruitment to appease Geffen, hired deliberately to give the band a more streamlined and youthful look in the guitar department? “It was nothing to do with Geffen…I heard about Sykes from Rod MacSween…Lizzy were starting on their farewell tour & I arranged to have them featured on some European festivals we were headlining…I was very impressed with John, & after a series of encounters in assorted bars, we exchanged numbers…Geffen had no idea about him, or who he was.” But Sykes was a definite departure, in both image and style, to the bluesier approach of both Bernie and Micky. “I had been feeling the need to make the band more electrifying…bolder, more exciting…John’s image was a bonus, but, it was his playing I was interested in.” Had any other guitarists been in the frame to fill the guitar spot? “The other players I was interested in at that time were Michael Schenker & Adrian Vandenberg…I wrote the original version of ‘All Or Nothing’ for the Schenker band…then Cozy joined the ‘Snakes, & Mel & I snaked it up a bit. I did approach Adrian after I’d flown John over to Munich, but, he was having a hit in the States with his own band & ‘Burning Heart’…so, he reluctantly passed & I then returned my attentions to Sykes. Adrian told me later that it was one of the hardest decisions he’d ever had to make.”

“A bunch of moody bastards is totally correct…” deadpans David Coverdale

When the new LP hit the record stores, the line-up featured on the new platter was Colin on bass, Mick Moody and Mel Galley on guitar, plus Jon Lord, who’d soon be leaving to join a reformed Mk 2 Deep Purple, but the Sykes/Murray line-up had been established by the time Martin Birch’s UKmix was released. Was it strange promoting that record with such a different line-up? “No, not really…I was used to going out with different line-ups…It’s just how the situations developed…Never my choice for so many ins & outs…but, obviously it’s my choice to change the scenario if I feel it’s necessary for the big picture.” But did you miss the contributions of Micky Moody and Colin Hodkginson, and then later with Mel Galley and Jon Lord’s departures, or did everything just fall into place? “Everything usually falls into place…& yes…of course I missed them…Micky didn’t want to continue with the new direction I was heading in…I think he was also intimidated by Cozy…who was pretty wild, sometimes…Mel had his injury, & I had actually encouraged Jon to return to Deep Purple…he was a founder member…they couldn’t do it without him…& Colin & I had gone as far as we could…To be honest, we’d all gone as far as we could…it’s how it is, sometimes…Relationships run their course.” Sykes was a lot more of a “shredder” than Whitesnake had ever had before. Was his style in any way “tempered” to fit the Whitesnake mold, or was he given a relatively free reign within the material and repertoire? “No…I wanted John involved for what he could potentially bring to the band identity…He had minimal schooling in traditional blues…& that was a plus for me & for where I could see the new direction I was planning …His ‘blues’ was more modern…He told me he didn’t want to play ‘old school’…I told him that was fine…I didn’t want him to play that way, either, otherwise I would have kept the band as it was. It’s interesting that when I brought him over to the Munich sessions to meet the guys & hang out, he didn’t go over very well with Birchy, Cozy or Mel…but, I felt it could work…& ultimately it did…for a short, but, obviously, a very successful time…Unfortunately, our personalities didn’t mesh at all…Not at all.”

The revamped line-up hit the road in February 1984 to support the release of the new LP. A new single, ‘Give Me More Time’, reached the UK Top 30, aided by an all important appearance by the new band on BBC’s Top Of The Pop TV show, with the album entering the UK Top 10. An ecstatic Kerrang! review proclaimed that “David Coverdale has marshalled his troops into producing their most satisfying work to date…a glorious, luxuriant exhibition of THE VOICE; and that, essentially, is what Whitesnake are all about…Buy this, it’s a KILLER!!” But Slide It In’s greatest asset is its satisfying collections of songs. “‘Love Ain’t  No Stranger’…’Slide It In’…‘Slow & Easy’… ‘Guilty Of Love’… ‘Standing In The Shadow’… some really good stuff…&, once again,  we came up with some invaluable ‘in  concert’ songs for many years to come.” Mel Galley had become an important writing partner for DC, co-penning an impressive five of the album’s ten tracks. Unfortunately, an injury sustained accidentally at a German fairground meant that he could not continue touring with the band. Whitesnake carried on with one guitarist to complete the European tour, the first time the band had had such a configuration. “There was no choice…the promoters would have lost their shirts had I cancelled the tour again, after I’d lost my voice, thanks to all the pyro smoke from Cozy’s solo…We had to come home for 2 weeks so I could get my voice back & then we flew out to resume the rescheduled dates & the night before the first gig, Mel broke his arm.” Was there any intention of recruiting a second guitarist to fill his spot? One can assume that Sykes enjoyed having a greater share of the limelight to himself? “Yes, he did…who wouldn’t?…We had a good Canadian rock band out with us called Headpins, great girl singer…Darby Mills…& they had a good guitar player called Brian ‘Too Loud’ McCloud…& we discussed the idea of him helping out, but, then thought better of it…Sadly, I heard he passed away some time ago.” It certainly gave Whitesnake a new, stripped down dynamic. “Even tho’ I enjoyed the thrill of all the guys playing their best to cover the lack of a second guitarist…they really rose to the occasion…they were on fire, playing better than ever…but, seriously,  it was still never my intention to continue with only John as the sole player, as good as he was…Later, as we all know, it worked extremely well in the studio, as you can hear…but, before that, I’d spotted Steve Vai & thought the two of them would have been electrifying… unbeatable… but, it didn’t come together, so, that idea had to wait a while longer…& of course, much later, John & I fell out during the making of the what became the 87 album…Irreconcilable differences, I believe they call it…” Unimpressed with the mix of the new album that had been already released in the UK, Keith Olsen was recommended to remix the entire album to make it more commercial for US record buying audiences and US radio. DC agreed, but only if John Sykes and Neil Murray’s parts be re-recorded for the album; “I tried to make it work to our advantage by adding Sykes & Murray to the US version.” Slide It In was the first album for US based Geffen, where as the records were still released by EMI in the UK. For fans in the UK it didn’t initially appear to be a great departure from the Sunburst era. Did it feel like a new beginning? “Yes…most definitely…I’d been feeling as if I’d painted myself in a corner, creatively, as much as I’d enjoyed the early years I felt that we’d explored all the avenues of that style…I felt would have been repeating myself had I continued with that musical approach & I wanted something more dynamic to get my teeth into… I’d had the same experience with Purple, too…no one was to blame…just me needing a change, rather than go thro’ the motions.” 

“Slow & Easy was recorded at 4 in the morning in Munich after a serious night’s partying…Most of the vocal is just a live ‘jam’ lyric I made up to inspire the band as we recorded…I played around with the lyric later to try and make some sense of it…”

In many respects, the UK version, in its mix and line-up, seems to represent the old school, early chapter of the band, whereas the US mix, featuring the core of the line-up which was to make the 1987 opus, feels very much like the “new” Whitesnake; the video for ‘Slow An’ Easy’, with the Sykes, Murray and Cozy, genuinely looked and felt like something more exciting and modern. “I agree…I particularly love that last shot when we blow Cozy up & Neil, John & I are silhouetted against the flames!…Iconic stuff!…That would have made a great album cover…The idea of streamlining the band as a four-piece was definitely seductive, but, I still felt that Whitesnake needed the ‘orchestral’ potential of more players…tho’, I must say, I was writing much more for guitar than keyboards at that time…The intro for ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ was all guitar originally, but, still…I could hear more potential ‘layers’ than one guitar player…no matter how accomplished the guitarist was…Part of the original blueprint for Whitesnake, was the Allman Brothers Band, featuring two different style players who worked together…but, it usually became too competitive to achieve that kind of approach. ” Were you and Geffen happy with the success of Slide It In in the States, or was it a gradual thing? Also, there seemed to be a backlash in some of the UK press, whose attitude was that Slide It In was just another Whitesnake LP, when it’s one of the strongest in the band’s catalogue, with some of the band’s best songwriting. “Initially some of the UK press slaughtered the album…it was more like character assassination…& quite honestly, it took some time to recover…but, then it suddenly became open season to criticize Whitesnake. It was very damaging, at first, noticeably in sales in the UK…but, fortunately, not in the rest of the World, particularly the US where it blew out of the box & kick started Whitesnake’s mutual love affair with the States…but, ultimately, I’m delighted to say we stayed the course & we showed the buggers…I learned a good lesson from this experience…not to take everything I see, hear & read in the music press, so seriously.” Whitesnake had now begun to finally make a genuine assault on the US market. “Geffen was delighted with the response & the sales…so was I…Radio was all over it…Unfortunately, once they’d got their investment back they pulled back on promoting it…I know this for a fact ’cos the President of Geffen, Eddie Rosenblatt, told me years later…I was furious of course, but, even with that, we still sold more records at that time than I’d sold with the band from the start…Then, it just continued to sell steadily, until the ’87 album became such a success & Slide just took off all over again…It’s still the second best seller, I believe…Slide It In was the foundation for ’87, without a doubt…certainly with radio, which at that time was the best way in the States to reach a lot of people before the advent of MTV…

Did the success of ‘Slide It In’ compensate for the criticism in the UKpress?“As long as I believe in what I’m doing & I’m happy doing it…that is what is important to me. Cozy & I would talk about it over a pint of something particularly strong & wonder where the hell this outpouring of hate came from, ’cos prior to this we’d had a pretty good, positive, drinking relationship with the press…& why was it aimed at an album we were so proud of…so, some times, the best revenge can be success, I suppose…But, I found out later the source of all the nonsense…& it had nothing whatsoever to do with musical critique, it was a personal vendetta. In the big picture it was a momentary distraction, but, on the positive side, it gave me pause to reflect & review the musical avenue I was taking…&, as you know, I decided to continue hopping, skipping, jumping & running down my chosen avenue, naked & clothed…& have never regretted my decision. I believe a lot of the songs have proved their worth for the simple reason they are still requested today, 25 years later, wherever we play in concert.”

Sadly, two of Slide It In band members are no longer with us; Mel Galley passed away in July 2008 after being diagnosed with esophagus cancer. Cozy Powell died in April 1998 at the wheel of his Saab, after losing control of the car during bad weather whilst traveling in excess of 100mph. The talented and powerful drummer appeared to be an important foil in the bands he played in, be it Rainbow, Black Sabbath or MSG, not just musically, but by also giving those bands some form of added character. How important was Cozy to Whitesnake, and would you have wanted to continue working with him? “I loved Cozy & remember him very fondly…I loved working with him, but, some things aren’t meant to be, but, we had a fine innings while it lasted…We had buckets of fun & made some grand music together that is still fresh 25 years later…” He must have been a hard member to replace. “Cozy was a very popular member of the band…one of the most popular since the beginning…He had his demons, as we all do. In fact, Cozy once told me that he felt ‘Love Ain’t No Stranger’ was the best track he’d ever played on…High praise, indeed, so, we agreed not to buy into the crap that was out there & simply celebrate our work, regardless…& we did…& it became the first of many multi-platinum albums Whitesnake achieved. Sadly, our relationship didn’t maintain the positive aspects we began with…I called him months later, after I’d moved to LA & was up to my neck auditioning drummers, to tell him that he was a hard player to replace, but, he was very dismissive…I did hear later that he regretted his response to my call, but, sadly, we never connected again…then, we lost him…So sad…”

A Deep Purple reunion had been mooted since the beginning of the 1980s, and with DC’s blessing, Jon Lord left in May 1984 to join a Mk 2 reformation. The Keith Olsen mix of the album was released in April 1984, making a very respectable dent in the Billboard Hot 100, peaking in the Top 40 and eventually going 4x platinum. The new remix was even granted a UK release as a 12” picture disc; “I had two big record company deals…Geffen in the US & EMI every where else…EMI wanted it out as it was…& Geffen insisted on a re-mix…but, interestingly, it added a mystique to the whole thing…Europeans bought the US version out of curiosity, also, because of the change in personnel.” How instrumental was the US mix in providing a springboard for the global success of the 1987 Album? “Huge…but, predominantly in the US, where it sold like hotcakes…It was the beginning of the really big stuff for the band.” US tours with Dio and Quiet Riot proved great successes, “We had an incredibly positive response from the audiences on both of those tours…It set us up for the 87 album…no doubt about it…Radio was all over the album & in those days radio was as powerful a promotional vehicle as MTV became later… ‘Slide It In’ was just before MTV exploded…It was one of many elements that contributed to my decision to relocate to the States…It was a necessary for me to be there…I felt it in every fibre of my being.”

Not only did the Geffen edition of  Slide It In have a different mix and a new line-up, the track order had dramatically changed, now leading with the title track. “I had already put the European running order together… Kalodnar probably did the US version…His favourite 3 songs are 1, 2 & 3 on the US version…& he was correct…they were massive on radio.”

“Slide It In? It’s actually not about bananas…”

Whitesnake had always managed to produce classy album cover art which sometimes ran a fine line alongside the double entendre and innuendo of the albums’ titles.  Magazine ads reckoned “It’s about time you had an honest 12 inches”, and tour laminates featured a banana and a girl’s mouth. These weren’t genuinely considered for the new release, were they? “Ha Ha!!!…No…it was something I knocked up with a graphic artist  for stage passes for fun…My God, I would have been murdered had I even considered that as an album cover!” And the advertising copy? “An honest 12 inches” was only a naughty attention grabber for promo ads in the music press…Just a bit of fun.” What can DC tell us about the creation of the Slide It In sleeve? “There’s a fun story about the photo shoot in Munich for the cover…it featured a beautiful, 17 year old girl, called Franzeska…It was her first modeling assignment & I have a bloody big snake draped over her shoulders! After a couple of shots the snake decided to seek out someplace warm & started to work it’s way, rather sexily, down her chest…Unfortunately, this was too much for Franzeska…& she fainted dead away…That was why I had to crop her face where I did…otherwise you would see the white of her eyes as she went down! We had to bring in another model for the shoot & the snake worked amazingly well with her…it even curled into a very similar ‘W’ from the early Whitesnake logo…We used those shots on the inner sleeve & for the cover of the ‘Fourplay’ video collection…I think we may swap it around for this anniversary issue…just for fun…” Did the  negative reaction by the press to his lyrical matter bother him? “Water off a duck’s back…that is of course if I bother reading the reviews.. If they don’t get it…fine…Unfortunate, but, not my problem. I do what I do, & they do what they do…for some reason I feel my contribution is more fun…more joyful…I don’t envy miserable people…they tend to try & drag you down to their level…Energy vampires…& I’m just not interested…It really is a waste of time to try & piss on my parade. Some of my lyrics are obviously written in fun…for a laugh…like the title track, and if they want to take them ‘seriously’, then that really is their problem…not mine. I remember when I was getting nailed as a sexist. I helped design the ‘Lovehunter’ cover…just to piss ‘em off even more!”

“There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek that goes along with the sex, the drama and the physical and emotional themes I write…”

Was the album’s perfect combination of blues, soul and hard rock what you wanted to achieve all along? “Yes, it is what I was hoping to achieve…I don’t know about ‘perfection’…I’m not sure rock & roll should be perfect…but, all the elements I wanted to achieve for the new band were there…I wanted new, dynamic songs to play in concert & replace some of the earlier material I was tired of…& ‘Slide It In’ had all those elements…It was a solid foundation for future adventures…But, I believe any positive support for the album came later, after the songs proved so successful in concert.” The stripped down ’Snake continued to tour throughout 1984 and into 1985, taking tha band across the Atlantic to the colonies and new world, culminating in 1985’s Rock In Rio festival in front of 250,000 manic Brazilians. “Touring is the ticket for Whitesnake to properly introduce themselves to the audience so the crowd can see, hear & experience first hand what we’re about…It is not always so obvious on record, but, it’s always been a great live band, every incarnation…Yes, in concert is where we’re at…where we shine. South America embraced Whitesnake for the first time after we played Rock In Rio & featured mostly ‘Slide It In’ songs & we still enjoy a wonderful love affair with them…Japan, God Bless ‘em, have always been supportive, but it was the States where they bought the album in droves that made a significant difference to Whitesnakes success…I hear stories to this day from lots of Americans I meet, about how so many of them, men & women, lost their ‘cherry’ to that album…in assorted environments…It was also a big album for strippers, I am reliably informed…(ahem).”

Slide It In was the end of one era and the beginning of another. At the end of the tour, Cozy Powell left to be the “P” in a revamped ELP with Keith Emerson andGregLake. With Neil Murray on bass, John Sykes on guitar and veteran drummer Aynsley Dunbar on drums, 1986 was spent recording the follow up album, 1987. This line-up did not last long enough to tour or even appear in a publicity still…but that’s another story.

With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently during the Slide it in era?

Yes…I probably would have slid it in more, given the chance…”

As told to Hugh Gilmour with special thanks to Pina Broccoli, Tony “Mic Twirl” Smith and All at whitesnake.com