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Before MTV and hairspray

Louder Sound reprints a Geoff Barton feature on the pre-1987 Whitesnake originally penned for the Classic Rock magazine.

It’s March 9, 1978. The ritzy stage of the Scarborough Penthouse looks like something out of The Price Is Right: curtains made out of multi-coloured strips of aluminium foil drape over a modest backline of amplifiers, there’s a mirrorball hanging from the ceiling, there’s glitter on the walls. But there’s no sense of pomp and ceremony, just a taste of stale beer and a whiff of pie and chips. There are maybe 100 people here for only the fourth ever gig by Whitesnake, fronted by the dynamic and thrusting David Coverdale. Cum on down…

To those more familiar with the modern-day, turbo-charged Whitesnake, this band from the late 70s would be unrecognisable. Coverdale takes to the boards wearing cheap T-shirt and jeans, more Millets than Moschino. He’s pale-faced and chubby-cheeked; his mane of dark brown hair is untamed, unteased, unbleached.

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35 Comments to “Before MTV and hairspray”:

  1. 1
    Crecy says:

    Excellent way back in the day. Oh dear, what happened?

  2. 2
    Gregster says:


    What a great sounding & thumping bass ! The article is certainly a long one, but a good one of-the-time.

    And how can you not like this line from the author ???

    qt.”When this writer first met Coverdale in February 1976, on tour with the Mk IV band in Texas, the frustration was beginning to show. Blackmore was no longer in the Purple picture, but Coverdale still found cause for complaint”…

    LOL !

    Peace !

  3. 3
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I saw the early WS thrice, once with Dowle, twice with Paice. All three gigs were emotional experiences for me, I loved the sonic might of the WS line-up which never ever tried to bludgeon you. Gillan (the band) often sounded too harsh/punky for me, especially on the ultra-fast stuff, and Rainbow too stiff, whereas WS was just right and Jon gave that band tremendous warmth. I also dug the obvious camaraderie they had in those days (to be fair: that was apparent with Gillan too; only with Rainbow you always had the feeling that mainly employees were sharing the stage with Ritchie).

    Probably saw the Galley line-up of WS even more often, they simply toured more in Germany, but it was never again the same. Galley did not play at all like he had with Trapeze, he unfunked and dumbed his rhythm guitar down (there is not a single funky number on Slide It In, only the catchy Give me More Time is reminiscent in its verse of how Mel had written with Trapeze). Moody was lost and obviously missing Marsden as a sparring partner, Cozy was Cozy, but not a WS drummer, and Colin Hodgkinson just didn’t know what to play to that type of music at all except the uninspired bare minimum, and that very stiffly. Jon’s vast Hammond sound was the only thing that held it together really, but live they never scaled the musical heights of that initial line-up again. (I’m on the fence as regards Dowle or Paice fitting in better, I think they both played well with WS and luckily shared one very positive trait: They were not Cozy Powell!)

    That Marsden line-up had endless charm and groove. Strange that someone like DC, so intent on wishing to sound organic and emotionally relatable, didn’t immediately notice what he had carelessly dismantled then and there.

    And let’s face it: Here I Go Again is (at least) as much Bernie’s do as it is David’s and the “Steven Spielberg version of WS” (where everything had to be larger than life) would have never conquered America without it – it was their only no 1 in the Billboard Charts ever.

  4. 4
    MacGregor says:

    @ 3 – “I also dug the obvious camaraderie they had in those days (to be fair: that was apparent with Gillan too; only with Rainbow you always had the feeling that mainly employees were sharing the stage with Ritchie”). There may have been at the start for a while Uwe but it did not last that long, isn’t that usually the case with so many bands. With both Gillan & Coverdale treating certain members with contempt & bad blood rising to the fore. Apparently some ex band members still don’t talk to both of those lead singers. Don’t blame poor ole Blackers. I suppose they may have picked up a few hints along the way perhaps although they were old enough to know better. The drama of it all, must have been something in the water or a spell cast. I don’t know and there is that saying, Ego is not a dirty word. Hmmmmmm. Cheers.

  5. 5
    Marcus says:

    I failed to see the original version, being just too young, so the first time I saw the band was the Ian Paice, Jon Lord line up.

    They were the very best British pub rock band. The three M’s made that band.

    Then I saw the Cozy, Hodgkinson, Galley line up. Which, I tend to agree, did not work. Cozy, ever the showman, has a style, and I am not sure that it was right for Whitesnake. Though it worked on Rainbow Rising.

    Mel Galley plays on Northwinds, which I think is David’s best album – and he and Moody produce some fine music together. But somehow the magic had gone.

    I did see the Sykes line-up once, but after that stopped buying tickets.

  6. 6
    Georgivs says:

    I hope I won’t be crucified for what may count as an obvious blasphemy here. The only time I ever saw Ole Dave and the snakes live was in 2004 with Mendosa, Aldrich, Aldridge, Beach and Tichy I think. I.e. it was even the post-post-Steven Spielberg era and yet they sounded pretty good to me.

    Ironically, a friend of mine was at that show separately from me and later on he complained that there were not enough ‘hits’, by which he meant ‘1987’ stuff. Than sounded funny to me given that they played ‘Burn’, “Don’t Break My Heart Again’ and many other cool songs. But the thing is that in some parts of the world the point of reference regarding WS is ‘1987’, like it or not.

  7. 7
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Oh, yes, Gillan (the band) did end in acrimony, but I think that was mainly because Big Ian had once again run out of money financing the band (he was never as good in financial matters as the other Ian, he has admitted so himself), had kept a lid on that for too long and then pulled the plug in a knee jerk reaction, breaking hearts in the process. Gillan (the band) never cracked America (nor were they as big in Europe as either Rainbow or early Whitesnake), there is a limit to how much money you can make as a band if the UK is basically your only hunting ground. In Germany, Gillan never got any further than playing Clubs and small halls – for a band featuring the lead singer of DP’s most famous line-up that was pretty meek in a country that had adored (and adores) DP.

    Don’t blame me, I always faithfully went to Gillan gigs, but they didn’t tour Germany all that often, I only saw them twice between Mr Universe and Magic, once with Tormé in a club and once with Gers in a small hall (both of them venues Rainbow or Whitesnake would not have played at any point in their career in Germany).

    GEORGIVS, the Aldrich/Beach line-up of WS was by no means the worst one, they are both formidable guitarists. While the delivery was often heavy-handed stadium rock, the main issue was David’s deteriorating voice. And that became even more evident with that particular line-up which provided such a HUGE sound. That said, in 2004 David was still in much better shape vocally than he became in the last two decades.

    I’ve seen WS with no less than eight different guitar duos:

    Marsden/Moody (unmatched!)

    Galley/Moody (individually good, but not as gelled as their predecessors, Galley dumbed down and Moody dispirited),

    Galley/Sykes (worlds collide!, Sykes had issues keeping time in his solos),

    Vandenberg/Vai (it was laughable to what extent Vai dominated the whole gig, whenever Vandenberg played a solo – which was rare – it sounded more rock’n’roll),

    Vandenberg/DeMartini (ex-Ratt) (I actually liked DeMartini’s surprisingly tasteful style, grittier and bluesier than Vandenberg),

    Vandenberg/Harris (ex-Mr. Mister) (I don’t remember much about Harris, he played second fiddle, Vandenberg was ok, but not mesmerizing)

    Aldrich/Beach (they’re a good team together, I think I prefer Beach slightly more though Aldrich was great by himself when he toured with Glenn as a trio, he got the groove on the Trapeze songs just right, very impressive) and

    Beach/Hoekstra (Hoekstra is of course totally OTT, but coming from my beloved Night Ranger, I’m not going to say anything bad about him; he always looks like he just escaped a Beauty & The Beast musical performance, having played the Beast there of course :mrgreen: ).

    Weirdly enough, I never saw them just with Sykes or with the Vandenberg/Campbell duo – those two line-ups never toured Germany. In any line-up though, the guitar team was never the most severe issue. DC knows a good guitarist when he sees one, he just doesn’t always recognize whether he is the right guy for WS —> Steve Vai!!!

    MARCUS, if Mel Galley played on Northwinds then he is uncredited – Micky Moody is named as the sole guitarist on that album, I just checked! Mel Galley did play on Glenn Hughes’ Play Me Out though (it contained songs that were initially actually slated for a Trapeze original-trio-reunion album post-DP which never came about). That said, this riff here is about as Trapeze’ish as it gets …


    Who knows, maybe Micky Moody liked Trapeze too, I know DC did.

  8. 8
    Reiner says:

    Weirdly enough, I never saw them just with Sykes or with the Vandenberg/Campbell duo – those two line-ups never toured Germany.

    In 1984 WS toured in Germany only with Sykes, I saw them in Ludwigshafen 🙂

  9. 9
    Wojak says:

    I have seen every iteration of the band from March 79 onwards. The “classic” lineup was nothing short of phenomenal… certainly one of the greatest blues rock bands this country has produced. They definitely had swing, soul and humour and they seemed like a real band and not just David and a backing outfit. I do think, as a recording group, they needed a punt up the posterior at times but I think they left 3 great studio albums (Trouble, R&R and CAGI) and of course that live album. I really wish there was great live footage of that lineup (I was at the Hammersmith show in 81 when the power failed and the cameras were told to F-off by David).
    I love Cozy but he should not have been in Whitesnake (or the Peter Green Project for that matter) and although I liked Mel he didn’t quite cut it for me.
    Sykes was exciting but when I listen to the live recordings from 84 it doesn’t really work.
    The various lineups that followed never really touched greatness despite the mostly impressive record sales, until 2003.
    I really quite like what David did with Aldrich and Beach, the band seemed to bridge the past, 87 and the present in a fresh and exciting way. The live DVD from 2004 has to be one of the best live DVD’s of all time and a great set list.
    I think the relationship between DC and Doug was great and Doug really liked mixing up the past and I know he helped bring Bernie onto the stage with the band again, something I witnessed at Hammersmith in 2011. It’s a shame he left at the start of The Purple Album.
    Hoekstra doesn’t do it for me on any level.
    My last wish is that David records a final studio album with various present and past members; a final Snake album. A shame Bernie, Jon, Mel and Cozy won’t be part of it but it could be fun.

  10. 10
    Uwe Hornung says:

    In that case, lieber Reiner, you saw the ONLY German gig with just Sykes on guitar EVER, the tour itinerary reveals it all:

    20.03.84 Offenbach Stadthalle (Uwe sees Mel & John))

    – break, —> tour continues in the UK for four dates –

    01.04.84 London Hammersmith Odeon
    02.04.84 London Hammersmith Odeon
    04.04.84 Nottingham Royal Centre Concert Hall
    05.04.84 Manchester Ardwick Apollo

    – return to Germany –

    08.04.84 Ludwigshafen Friedrich-Ebert-Halle (Reiner sees just John))

    10.04.84 Copenhagen Falconer Teatret
    11.04.84 Lund Olympen
    13.04.84 Gothenburg Scandinavium
    14.04.84 Stockholm Eisstadion (Jon Lord’s last gig with WS)

    I saw Offenbach with Mel still, you saw Ludwigshafen without him, Mel broke his arm in Germany while in drunken stupor climbing over cars (he first tripped, then a likewise drunken Sykes fell over him and crashed on his arm). So I actually saw the last German gig with Mel. I don’t know whether he was around for the UK dates, if so the accident must have happened upon their return to Germany for the Ludwigshafen gig. Was there a fair in Ludwigshafen around that time? I read the accident happened while walking away from a German fairground after thorough inebriation there.

    What was your impression of just him in the lead guitarist role?

    That accident was tragic for Mel. Though he would not have survived John Kalodner’s planned purge anyway. Kalodner only wanted DC, Sykes and Powell in the band, didn’t mind Neil Murray’s presence and was just about ok with Jon (since he was indisputably rock royalty), but didn’t deem him crucial.

  11. 11
    Reiner says:

    Crazy, I had no idea that this was the only appearance in Germany with just Sykes. Thanks Uwe for the clarification.

    I only missed Mel on the double leads back then, but the solo on JS’s “Crying in the rain” was a lot more exciting than Mel’s a year earlier at the same place (March 1983)

  12. 12
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Now that you mention it, Reiner, Crying In The Rain was a high point at the gig I saw too, Sykes’ neo-Gary Moore’isms worked well within the context of that song.

    You’ve also got a point with Mel Galley, long flowing lead guitar solos were never his thing, he excelled at rhythmic, not so much melodic solos. Funky flurries of notes were more his thing than elongated melodies. That is why so many fans missed Bernie Marsden so much, the overt melodicism in his solo approach could not be covered by either Galley or Moody once Bernie had left.

    With Mel out of the band by accident, DC had the flea put in his ear that WS could perhaps continue with just one guitarist – the Sykes era was the only time in WS’s history where that was the case. DC found that the band was more gung ho and “worked harder” as a five-piece, Sykes, a testosterone-brimming young man, cherished the chance to prove himself of course.

  13. 13
    Adel Faragalla says:

    In some way, I think the birth of Punk is because all this love songs in the 70s just got so boring and people just got fed up.
    But that’s not to say that the music was bad.
    Peace ✌️

  14. 14
    Reiner says:

    In fact, dear Uwe, neither a John Sykes nor a Jon Lord needed a second guitarist. If I remember correctly, Steve Vai and Adrian Vandenberg didn’t get such a fat sound with the Sykes numbers like Bad Boys or Still of the night at Superrock in Mannheim in 1990. That was an absolute disappointment for me at the time

  15. 15
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Sure, Adel, by the mid-70ies, rock had become a saturated industry. And a vast majority of the commercially successful bands at the time had left the values of the 60ies counter culture behind and peddled escapism. Not everything about Punk was bad and it left a lasting imprint, inter alia the return of the basic rhythm guitar as the central part of a song which has stayed with us. If the Ramones and the Sex Pistols would have never happened, Green Day would sound a whole lot different today (if they existed at all).

  16. 16
    Reiner says:

    I agree with you, dear uwe, and neither JS nor Jon Lord needed a second guitarist. Sykes sound has always been very fat and in my humble opinion a second one was rather annoying.

  17. 17
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Oh yeah, Sykes took up space, he left little room for either Scott Gorham or Mel Galley. His sound and ego (at least back then) made him pretty much second guitarist-incompatible. Had he stayed on beyond the release of 1987, no way would he accepted a second guitarist in the band for a tour. He wanted to be Randy Rhoads to DC’s Ozzy.

  18. 18
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Oh yeah, I saw Monsters of Rock Mannheim 1990 too – that Vai Vanity Show Had Vandenberg taken his Super-Strat and split it right over Steve Vai’s head, I would have offered my services as his criminal defense counsel pro bono (1990 was the year of my admission to the bar as an attorney). Don’t get me wrong: Vai’s playing was effort- and flawless. Too effort- and flawless in fact. It was almost like he was taking the mickey out of WS, along the lines of “This music is so simplistic to me, it’s no challenge whatsoever, watch me how good I look when I play!”.

    And DC’s vocal strains were already very apparent too – in the shrill of the night alright.

    Plus a totally knackered Aerosmith opening for WS – otherwise a great live band, the Bostonians were really exhausted at that gig.

    It was a very corporate rock event of dubious musical quality.

  19. 19
    Andrew M says:

    I saw the line-up on the video just once, at the Hammersmith Odeon, in maybe 78 or 70. For most of the audience, it was Lord’s first live appearance since Purple (and for me the first appearance ever). When he started “Might Just Take Your Life”, the audience’s cheers almost drowned it out; his solo, when it came, was inaudible. And later, when DC introduced the new line-up, Jon got noticeably the loudest cheer, which didn’t seem to please DC. It was a great band.

  20. 20
    MacGregor says:

    “I would have offered my services as his criminal defense counsel pro bono (1990 was the year of my admission to the bar as an attorney).” Sheesh I had better be careful then. Now I will not know what to say, either way. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. give me a little time to ponder my next move.. Cheers.

  21. 21
    MacGregor says:

    @ 18 – sounds like a gig I would loathe Uwe. I do remember Steve Vai from back then looking a little show offy etc. Maybe it was his stint with Lee Roth that didn’t help things there. Anyway these days he seems much more grounded etc. Regarding Aerosmith I watched the Kansas documentary yesterday ‘Miracles out of Nowhere’ & they told an amusing story re Steve Tyler. Kansas supported Aerosmith early on & were getting a lot of positive audience attention & we know the stories of the main artist not taking that too well at times. Well apparently Tyler had a habit of pulling the power leads on bands that did that, well Kansas anyway. So the Kansa road crew set up dummy leads to the mains power & hey then sourced their power from another point opposite & Tyler fell for it big time. Yanking away on the leads & nothing happened while Kansas kept playing & next thing Tyler is throwing a major hissy fit. So the bass player Dave Hope (a big chap back then) went over & sorted him out, ha ha ha. Classic, I just thought I would throw that story in there, rock ‘n roll circus indeed. Cheers.

  22. 22
    Reiner says:

    @17 Yes, I can confirm that with JS and Scott Gorham as well. I had experienced Lizzy somewhere in the provinces at the end of 1999 and the guitar of Sykes was always more present and louder. Of course, this is also dedicated to his style

  23. 23
    Reiner says:

    @18 In fact, DC’s voice was very badly damaged and he already struggled mightily during the opener. I didn’t think he’d make it through the concert.
    It somehow fit the day, Aerosmith weren’t really convincing and even Ronnie James Dio had a hard time and could only shine to a limited extent

  24. 24
    Uwe Hornung says:

    I’m totally fine how Steve Vai is today, he has a one of a kind guitar style, rates Blackmore, has found his musical niche and seems at peace with himself. And he’s on record saying himself that he shakes his head now at how much he upstaged Adrian Vandenberg at the time and that he in hindsight admires Adrian’s cool about it, “it can’t have been easy for him”.

    Vai and WS just didn’t gel and hiring him to solely play Vandenberg’s riffs and songs was one of the weirdest, unorganic ideas DC ever had, akin to asking Tommy Bolin to record Blackmore’s guitar parts for the Rainbow debut.

    But I really liked Vai’s songwriting and playing on Alcatrazz’ Disturbing The Priest + he’s of course an absolutely idiosyncratic artist in his own realm


    much like Pat Metheny is and Alan Holdsworth was.

  25. 25
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Andrew, my experience was similar: I saw Jon Lord live for the first time in late June 1979. With Whitesnake – in a tent on a fairgound site in Aschaffenburg of all places.


    Why they bothered with a tent (not as fancy as the one on the pic which is from an event decades later) at the end of June is anybody’s guess, but at least there was a good sound within it (and I remember the day not being really warm). It was a rock festival of sorts, local heroes Solid Ground (kind of Bob Seger meets Southern Rock), German Progsters Anyone’s Daughter + Motörhead (first German gig ever?) all played full sets before Whitesnake. The gig was as good as what you hear on the Live At Hammersmith recording, Jon Lord’s mighty organ filled the tent, it was a physical experience. It was the last date of a “20 (!) gigs in one month” WS German tour that saw them crisscrossing the country in small halls in mid-sized (and less) cities + clubs in a few larger ones. Probably a humbling experience for Jon Lord who was used to DP having been a major act in Germany selling out the largest halls during the first half of the 70ies, but he really seemed to be enjoying himself.

    Probably one of the last live gigs of Dave ‘Duck’ Dowle with the band, Paicey would already be joining in August. I liked the way Dowle played, he and Murray were a really nimble and groovy rhythm section, far more so than you would normally expect from a hard rock outfit.

  26. 26
    Georgivs says:


    Adel, are you sure you mean ‘love’? We are talking about DC here, and in his vocabulary ‘love’ normally stands for the thing that most people identify with a three letter word that starts with ‘s’ and ends with ‘x’.


    The ’70s corporate rock just came to what the ’60s “counterculture” always secretly craved – self-gratification. Punk went that full circle, too – from the Pistols to pop-punk.

  27. 27
    MacGregor says:

    @ 26- the other ‘L’ word with four letters in it. It ends with a T & has a U & S in between. So many get those two words mixed up, especially guys like ole Cov’s. But I’m in Love , no Lust. Cheers.

  28. 28
    Uwe Hornung says:

    What’s wrong with a little lust?


  29. 29
    Georgivs says:

    Just thought it kinda fits here. ‘Still Of The Night’ is #3 on the list of LZ songs not written and performed by LZ.

  30. 30
    Rock Voorne says:


    I saw this festival in Utrecht where I felt AEROSMITH were better than Whitesnake.

    It was a dubious affair.For several reasons.

    First of all I dont like huge masses or arena or outdoors.

    Vai was a weird addition, Vandenberg I saw around 82 and then he was awesome, now he seemed to have adopted a different style.

    Old cov indeed wasnt a shadow of the last time I saw him in 83. Inbetween tours here cancelled.

    Just like OZZY he went for the states, the bigger amount of money.
    I was eager to see Ozzy in 83 as support for Whitesnake but he ran off, so never saw him solo again.

    Utrecht, 1990

    Standing almost in front but shaky had to see girls , unaware of old Whitesnake lineups , let alone beyond that, having a top spot.
    I think they did not know SLIDE IT IN as an album as well.

    Damn bimbo groupies.

  31. 31
    Uwe Hornung says:

    They forgot Billy Squier’s Lonely Is The Night!

    (song kicks into gear at 01:32)

    When I first heard that on US radio I was for months under the (wrong) impression that it was a track off LZ’s then still current ‘In Through The Outdoor’ and severely disappointed when I couldn’t find it there. :mrgreen:

    BTW, I never liked the riff of Still Of The Night, to me it sounds like someone noodling something quickly to give a new guitar a try-out. I know Ritchie is supposed to be the originator of it (and Coverdale kept it in his mind for later use), but I prefer the riff of Fool For Your Loving in all its neo-Purplesque glory any day. Or the mighty organ riff of Don’t Break My Heart Again (incidentally written by DC, not Jon). With its Zeppelin-style rush of guitar notes, SOTN is not really a riff that lends itself to synchronized guitar/organ playing – that is something I always loved with Purple and never found with LZ.

    And then the vocals … When I first heard it I thought “This is way too high for David, he’ll never get away with it live.” Turns out I was right, on countless tours I’ve never heard a live rendition of it where he wasn’t straining badly. Glenn Hughes come to the rescue please!

  32. 32
    Uwe Hornung says:

    RV, no contest, Aerosmith on a good day could wipe the floor with Whitesnake. They were an excellent live band. Saw them live in 1993 in Frankfurt when they were fresh and well-rested, they kicked the proverbial butt. Definitely one of the best Yank hard rock bands ever.

    Boston spawned a lot of good stuff: Aerosmith, J. Geils Band, The Cars and of course these guys here who could rock out with a Hammond as well …



  33. 33
    Rock Voorne says:

    I LOVE Brad Delp, I think he is one the greatest singers.

    Out of despair the band made an album without Scholz and delivered something akin to Boston .
    Had they added Scholz, it wouldnt have taken aeons to release third stage which never did the same to me as the first 2 albums.

    Neither really did what Scholz made later on.


    Never saw them live 🙁

    RIP Brad.

    I hated Scholz for what he did to the band. What was he thinking””I m Ritchie Blackmore” and me alone is enough to let it work?

    So much music I never explored and time s running out.

    Did the Cars have Hammond?
    OMG, I missed out again.

    Only saw DRIVE I think?
    Wasnt that the singers model girlfriend pretending to be depressed?


  34. 34
    Uwe Hornung says:

    Naw, The Cars were largely Hammond-free though Greg Hawkes was a very good keyboard player. Their music wasn’t very rhythmic or funky, an organ sound not really required.


    Keyboards weren’t Greg’s only instrument though!


  35. 35
    Reiner says:

    What a terrible time. When synthesizers became big, the Hammonds became uncool. The intro to 1987’s “Here I Go Again” is absolutely terrible compared to the 1982 version. The highlight was that in some bands the keyboard players had to play backstage

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