[16 October 2011]
Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale has become synonymous with “Led Zeppelin rip-off” in the same way that Mick Jagger has become synonymous with “big lips and tongue”. It’s so much a part of his image that’s it’s hard to think of him any other way. Yet there was a time when that wasn’t the case. Back when Coverdale first emerged as the lead singer of Deep Purple in 1974 (replacing Ian Gillan, who sang hits like “Smoke on the Water”), he was considered a talented singer with a bluesy voice far more reminiscent of Bad Company’s Paul Rodgers than Zep’s Robert Plant. After Deep Purple disbanded in 1977, but before deciding to turn Whitesnake into a full-time proposition, Coverdale embarked on a solo career with White Snake and North Winds.
By far the most surprising thing about these two albums is that they sound absolutely nothing like Led Zeppelin. Not only is Coverdale’s voice much lower and bluesier than it would be in later years, but the music meanders all over the place, from horn-driven funk and R&B, to jazzy piano noodling and a more compact style of hard rock than he would ever try in his career’s later incarnations. In addition to some solid straight-ahead guitar rock, such as White Snake’s title cut, you can hear Coverdale’s love for funk in songs like White Snake’s “Celebration” or North Wind’s “Shame the Devil”, and marvel at the gospel choir and New Orleans-style horns in “Give Me Kindness” from North Winds. Not all the experiments are successful, and the production by Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover sounds badly dated now, but it’s still fascinating to realize that Coverdale wasn’t always the sad, one-dimensional joke he became in the late ‘80s. These reissues, which have been remastered and include bonus outtakes and b-sides, are the best way to hear these albums, and worth a listen for fans of ‘70s hard rock.