Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage, by Martin Popoff (2015): Books

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To the majority of people, particularly Americans, Whitesnake is primarily remembered as a flashy hair metal band from the late 80s. But prior to embracing the genre and garnering super stardom in the process, the British band, which officially formed in 1978, paid its dues and encountered the usual struggles that go with the territory.

Holding court as the first biography of the band, Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage (Soundcheck Books) traces the high and lows in extensive detail. Exclusive interviews with members of the band, producers, and agents, along with esteemed author Martin Popoff’s observations, seal the deal on this fascinating and interesting read.

Before Whitesnake came slithering into being, lead singer David Coverdale — who boasts one of the most powerful and expressive larynxes in the field — fronted the mighty Deep Purple. Stepping into a role occupied by Ian Gillan, who also possesses a killer set of pipes, was no easy feat. Although David certainly had the voice to complement Deep Purple, it’s surprising he snagged the job.

To begin with, a friend pushed David Coverdale into applying for the position. Secondly, the audition tape David submitted to Deep Purple’s management featured him crooning a tuneless rendition of Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” that obviously didn’t show off his best assets. A photo was further required, which David thought was ridiculous, so he included a picture of himself as a youngster, garbed in his Boy Scout uniform.

David Coverdale obviously passed the test, but was told he needed a makeover. At the time, 1973 to be exact, he was tubby and wore glasses, which simply didn’t fit the Deep Purple image. Therefore, he was told to shed the pounds and install contacts. And so a rock god was born.

Moving onward, we’re introduced to Whitesnake, who initially specialized in blues rock. Considering the band arrived in the age of three-chord punk angst, such a style was deemed terribly passe by many. Whitesnake collected loyal fan bases anyway, in its mother country and Japan. Attempts to crack the American market, however, were met with frustration.

Signing on with Geffen Records and A&R wiz John Kalodner was what steered the band to global fame. It was now the era of slick and glossy pop metal, and Whitesnake adhered to its policy. But David Coverdale had not totally deserted his roots, stating he wanted to continue adding heart and soul into the context of hard rock — rather than blood and make-up — and keep flying the flag of the best of the Who, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.

Aside from invading the airwaves with arresting songs like “Here I Go Again,” “Still Of The Night,” “Fool For Your Loving,” “Love Ain’t No Stranger” and “Is This Love,” Whitesnake exhibited all the trademark trappings of the glitz, glamour and excess associated with late ’80s metal. But despite the Aquanet, frilly blouses open to the navel, spandex and sexy videos, the band just wanted to have fun and play party rock, with David Coverdale revealing he was never comfortable with celebrity status.

Personnel changes have always plagued the band, and Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage is the place to go for its complex family tree. A series of noted guitarists have worked with the band, from Bernie Marsden to Micky Moody to John Sykes to Rudy Sarzo to Steve Vai. A strong Deep Purple connection remained, with organist Jon Lord and drummer Ian Paice appearing on early efforts.

Not only did Whitesnake experience a revolving door of musicians, but its discography proves to be equally confusing, as songs have been re-recorded and albums have been released under different titles, which Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage explains with precision.

In the same manner the Beatles squashed the sounds of squeaky clean teen idol pop and surf instrumentals in 1964, grunge and indie rock pulled the plug on heavy metal the moment Nirvana unleashed its historic Nevermind album in September 1991. Whitesnake was quickly rendered obsolete, but David refused to retire.

1993 saw him pairing with Jimmy Page for an album duly called Coverdale Page, which drew mix reactions. You see, Whitesnake had regularly been compared to Led Zeppelin, to the point where the legendary band’s ex-singer Robert Plant publicly dissed the group. John Kalodnor, who masterminded the Coverdale Page project, admits he even wrote a letter of apology to Robert Plant, who he feels was offended by the collaboration.

Music runs in cycles, and Whitesnake was ultimately resurrected. But David Coverdale refuses to be stereotyped. “I’m trying to avoid the perception of Clear Channel of me being basically a big hair package artist,” Coverdale is quoted as saying. “I was in Deep Purple, for God’s sake. I’ve sold 70 million records, which means more to me than three MTV videos.”

Page for page, Sail Away: Whitesnake’s Fantastic Voyage contains revelations on a band whose story has been begging to be told. Solid gold, indeed!

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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