Whitesnake’s David Coverdale Reveals His Five Most Memorable Onstage Shenanigans
Vocalist David Coverdale–whose band, Whitesnake, released its 11th new album, Forevermore, earlier this year–shows no signs of slowing down, despite celebrating his 60th birthday in September. After such a long and esteemed career fronting the aforementioned band and, before that, Deep Purple, Coverdale was a no-brainer for the list of 100 Greatest Living Rock Stars in our 100th issue. When we talked to him for that issue, we decided to ask the singer about his top five onstage (mis)adventures.
“Many years ago, during the early Whitesnake era, I was performing at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. For some reason, in those faraway, louche days, I never thought about wearing underwear beneath my ever so tight stage pants–‘free-birding’ I believe you freedom-loving Americans call it. Anyway, I split my pants rather convincingly, throwing some overt crotch thrusting, and voila! out pops my wedding tackle, my meat and two vegetables, my bits and pieces. Of course, I didn’t have a change of trousers with me, so I had to be gaffer-taped up. Ouch. I actually made a weekly tabloid gossip page. I think it read, ‘David Coverdale’s audience got more than it bargained for the other evening when suddenly…’ blah, blah, blah. I can’t remember if there was a pic, but my dingle was certainly dangling for all to see.”
“Back in the Deep Purple days, when we toured the U.S., it was very typical for the audience to throw fab little spliffs of wacky weed onstage as a token of appreciation. I remember the crew actually sweeping the joints up with brooms there was so many. Anyway, at one show, as we came on for the encore, some guy was shouting for me to come and take a toke of his doobie. Wanting to show I was ‘one of the lads,’ I dutifully went over to him and took a big hit. The crowd roared their approval, so I took a bigger hit. Screams of approval, one more with gusto, deafening approval. I thought I was quite the clever sod, until halfway through ‘Highway Star’ and things began to look a bit Dennis Hopper and my legs started to go jelly on me. Apparently, I finished the song but had to be carried offstage. According to reliable witnesses, I spent the rest of the night trying to climb through the exciting patterns in the wallpaper in my hotel room. It wasn’t weed–it was angel dust, horse tranquilizer. Sweet Jaysus. Ahh, such high times.”
“I’m not sure if it was with Deep Purple or Whitesnake, but I was performing in Japan at the Budokan in Tokyo. The security used to be incredibly strict about the crowd staying in their seats, strict to the point of brutal. I was singing away when I saw this young woman step into the aisle and start walking down toward me holding a bouquet of flowers. Oh, oh, I thought, this could mean trouble. Sure enough, a huge security guy started running up the aisle to intercept her. Look out, hon! Only it was the guy who should have looked out–she went through him like a hot knife through butter. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was like something out of a martial arts movie. She laid him out cold, stepped over his crumpled mass, and continued down the aisle, bowed to me, and presented me with the bouquet. I gratefully accepted, shook her hand, and watched her walk back to her seat, skipping over the dazed security guy. We all stood there onstage and applauded her. I’ve never forgotten it. Truly fantastic to witness. She was a tiny little thing, too!”
“On a recent U.S. tour we were performing the opening track off the Forevermore album, called ‘Steal Your Heart Away,’ when suddenly I see my son, Jasper, run onstage. It took me a little by surprise, then I realized he actually sang on the recording with me so I very happily gave him the microphone and pushed him to the front of the stage. A true Coverdale, he took off wailing like his dad, the crowd went nuts. Suddenly I hear him scream, ‘Make some fucking noise!’ which is one of my staples, somewhat shocking as he was still only 14 years old at the time, almost 15. The band were cracking up. My wife, Cindy, was in the crowd and she thought it was me screaming, he was fantastic up there. It was one of the most amazing and memorable events that I have ever experienced onstage in almost 40 years as a performer. Unforgettable to have my son up there with me, singing together. And I have the pics in my dressing room to prove it. I’ve had special Forevermore shirts, like mine, made for him for the next time he wants to jam with us!”
“Deep Purple headlined the first California Jam, back in 1974 at the Ontario [Motor] Speedway in California alongside the Eagles, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Sabbath. I was told there were 200,000 to 250,000 people crammed in the stadium. It was my first experience at such an immense event and it was pretty big even for Purple, even though they were huge at that time. Obviously, we wanted to make it special and the one we turned to for that was our super guitarist Ritchie Blackmore: ‘Mr Fearless.’ It so happened we were touring to promote my first album with the band, Burn, so Ritchie wanted to do something that ‘burned,’ something ‘explosive.’
“The show was filled with moments, of course. If you’ve seen it, you witness Ritchie beheading and spearing an interfering ABC TV camera—quite deservedly, though it did cost us some serious money. But the pyro climax was arranged during the song ‘Highway Star’ when Ritchie goes ’70s freak-out nuts, smashing guitars, etc. Ritchie had instructed his guitar tech, an absolute doll of a guy called Ron Quinton, to load up the explosives in some dummy Marshall speakers next to his real ones. And load them up Ronnie did, God bless him. When they blew up, the power of the explosion almost blew Ritchie clean off the stage, actually singed his clothes and hair. It blew drummer Ian Paice’s glasses off! It was truly amazing. You should check it out on Deep Purple Live in California ’74 DVD. It’s a great example of how over-the-top everything was back then. Major madness and mayhem, all in a day’s work and absolutely unforgettable.”