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Willy Wonka’s golden ticket

David Coverdale with Whitesnake in Shizuoka, October 10, 2016; photo © Kei Ono cc-by-nc-sa

There is a David Coverdale feature in the British newspaper The Independent.

He began writing “secret little poems”, which eventually became lyrics once he’d taught himself the chords to The Yardbirds’ 1965 single “For Your Love”, and as a teenager he sang in a handful of local bands. Then, in 1973, destiny came calling while he was at work as a shop assistant, a job he’d taken on the basis that it would allow him to keep his hair long. “I was working in a boutique called Gentry and reading the Melody Maker,” Coverdale recalls. “There was a totally Monty Python picture of Jon Lord sitting down at his organ. Underneath it said: ‘Deep Purple still haven’t found a singer and are considering unknowns.’ That was Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.”

At the time, Deep Purple, who had released “Smoke on the Water” as a single earlier that year, were one of the biggest bands in the world. To apply for the job of replacing frontman Ian Gillan, Coverdale had to send in a tape of himself singing as well as a photograph. This presented a problem, as the only picture he had of himself was as a Boy Scout. “I had to borrow it off my mother,” he says. “I was wearing terribly stained short pants and doing the ‘Be Prepared’ sign. I said: ‘Dear Deep Purple, as you can see I’m always prepared’. The drummer Ian Paice called [guitarist] Ritchie Blackmore and said: ‘This guy’s got a great tone. He’s obviously rat-arsed, but he must have a good sense of humour because he’s sent a picture of himself as a Boy Scout!’ That was just because I had nothing else! I’d sent it off with my mother’s insistence that if you don’t get this back there’ll be trouble, because she’d had that on her mantlepiece forever.”

Read more in The Independent.

9 Comments to “Willy Wonka’s golden ticket”:

  1. 1
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Alas!, why did they not report how snidely Paice and Blackers rehearsed behind DC’s back with some (then) bad bass player AFTER the boy from Redcar had joined them? It’s written here, so it must be true …


    To make matters worse, they also didn’t tell Tommy Bolin about the secret rehearsals with Phil. And no one invited Rod Evans either. It’s all unfolding now thanks to ‘rockcelebrities’ crafty researchers.

  2. 2
    sidroman says:

    That information sounds wrong. I’ve heard the Baby Face project happened a few years earlier when DP were recording Fireball. Blackmore and Paice loved Phil Lynott’s voice, but Phil wasn’t a good enough bass player at the time, and they wanted to keep the band as a trio, not a quartet.

  3. 3
    Uwe Hornung says:

    It’s not just wrong, it’s total bunkum! When Ritchie and Ian had their “little thing at the side”, Ian Gillan hadn’t yet left and David hadn’t yet joined. Whoever wrote this piece, had only a very rudimentary grasp of the various Purple line-ups and the band’s history. I just posted it for a laugh.

    I have serious doubts it would have worked even if Phil had been a better bass player. I believe he would have had a hard time finding space for his baritone voice in the music Ritchie wrote back then. And bass playing-wise, even a Phil Lynott at the height of his powers was not a match for Nick Simper, Roger Glover or Glenn Hughes. Ritchie is said to have complained about Roger’s bass playing as not being good enough (unjustly though) for the Man in Black’s exacting standards (which were basically that any bassist could replicate anything he did on guitar one octave lower), he would have had real fun with Phil who saw himself first and foremost as a singer/songwriter and who with Thin Lizzy kept his bass parts consciously simple so they would not get in the way of his singing and frontman live performance.

  4. 4
    MacGregor says:

    I have always thought that that so called attempt at a 3 piece band would have never worked out. Blackmore is a ‘lazy’ rhythm guitarist a lot of the time, as for Lynotts bass playing, enough said there. Thin Lizzy were a four piece band, were they not? Well at least my recollection of them is just that. Rory Gallagher had a four piece for many years also, Robin Trower’s band was a three piece, but he was a much busier & louder rhythm player, if you know what I mean. Hendrix also, Cream were busy with a ‘lead’ bass player in Jack Bruce. I just cannot imagine Blackmore in a three piece band & lasting a decent length of time, if any time at all. Cheers.

  5. 5
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Quite right.

    Blackers has always needed a good keyboarder (he eschews rhythm guitarists) behind him to really shine as a lead guitarist. He’s a precise, but very sparse or indeed lazy rhythm guitarist himself. As creative as he is as a lead guitarist, his rhythm playing is meat & potatoes (as Dio observed as well when he compared him to Iommi). Whenever there was something going on in DP’s rhythm guitar department, Yanks were the culprits: Bolin (very playful in a musical sense), Satriani and Morse (both technically sophisticated, with Morse adding his country picking influence).

    Blackmore is not at all the guitarist to solo over a busy bass line, he needs the harmonic backing of a keyboard. It’s actually his forte to solo over many chord changes (think of Gates of Babylon which would have led most other lead guitarists to their limits) rather than a one key backing.

    That said, if there is one thing that Ritchie actually improved on since he started wearing tights on stage, then it is his rhythm and chordal playing which – together with his wife’s singing – takes center stage in BN’ musical universe.

  6. 6
    MacGregor says:

    The other major issue avoided with this failed attempt was that Phil Lynott would NOT have put up with Blackmore’s antics for too long me thinks. Can you imagine? We would have never seen or heard from Blackers ever again, Ha ha. Cheers.

  7. 7
    MacGregor says:

    Wasn’t Gates of Babylon edited with the lead guitar sections? I recall Blackmore saying somewhere in a past interview that that song was heavily edited & I would presume it would be the lead guitar solos he was talking about. He said the band rehearsed it, or attempted to & there was too much difficulty in getting it together, or words to that effect. From my memory anyway. Cheers.

  8. 8
    sidroman says:

    @ 6 I don’t think Blackmore would put up with Lynott too long knowing Phil’s habit with Mr Brownstone to quote the G n R song.

  9. 9
    MacGregor says:

    @ 8 – that was much later on in Lynott’s life.

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