David Coverdale on who was supposed to be the ‘original Whitesnake woman,’ turning down ‘American Idol,’ what happened to his Jaguar and the one line he ‘regretted from the moment I committed it to vinyl’
The Totally ‘80s podcast just aired a big two-part episode all about power ballads, and understandably, the special guest is David Coverdale, the big voice of two of that big decade’s biggest ballads, “Is This Love” and “Here I Go Again.”
Those songs became smashes due to near-constant, high-rotation airplay for their music videos, both starring Coverdale’s then-girlfriend, bombshell actress Tawny Kitaen. In fact, Kitaen’s balletic posing astride the hood of Coverdale’s white Jaguar XJ and the couple’s tunnel-of-love canoodling with Coverdale behind the wheel, in “Here I Go Again,” remain some of the most striking and iconic images in MTV history, some 35 years later.
But when speaking to Totally ‘80s host/Yahoo Entertainment music editor Lyndsey Parker, Coverdale surprisingly reveals that he initially had another classic ‘80s beauty in mind to be Whitesnake’s video vixen.
“It was interesting, because Claudia Schiffer was supposed to be the original ‘Whitesnake woman,’” says Coverdale. “And I got a phone call from Marty [Callner]’s guy, and [Schiffer’s] agents had out-priced her. This is when she was with Guess? Jeans way back in the day. But she was what I thought would be a real beautiful woman to work with in the videos.”
Coverdale had only just started “kind of dating” Kitaen — who had heavy metal cred from posing for the Out of the Cellar album cover and in the “Back for More” video by her previous boyfriend Robbin Crosby’s band, Ratt. Coverdale and Kitaen had randomly met in a “super-hip restaurant” on Sunset Boulevard while he and guitarist John Sykes were in Los Angeles working on Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled album — the album that would soon catapult Whitesnake to superstardom on the strength of the above-mentioned MTV hits.
“We just connected very well and exchanged numbers; it was one of those things that was entirely innocent,” Coverdale says of his first encounter with the Bachelor Party starlet. “I told her I was a musician and I said, ‘What do you do?’ And she said — because she looked like a model, obviously — ‘Oh, I’m a working actress.’ Which was I thought was very funny, because most of the actresses [in L.A.] weren’t working.”
Pretty soon, this working actress would take on arguably the most high-profile job of her career, right after Schiffer dropped out of that fateful first Whitesnake-era video shoot. “Marty called me up like a couple of days before the ‘Still of the Night’ video and said, ‘Would you stop by? I want to go over some things with you,’” Coverdale recalls. “And I said, ‘Well, actually, I’m going out to dinner with a girlfriend. Can we make it really quick?’ So, he had a house at that time in Beverly Hills. Tawny and I pull up in the white Jag, ring the doorbell, he opens the door, his jaw hits the floor, and he goes, ‘Oh my God, that’s her! That’s the Whitesnake woman!’ And I went to Marty, ‘Well, no, this is a friend of mine. She’s an actress.’ And Tawny’s going, ‘Oh, David, don’t be silly. I’d be very happy to be in it!’”
Even with a new leading lady cast in the famous Whitesnake video trilogy that began with “Still of the Night,” things still almost fell apart. “I was almost $3 million in debt, and Geffen tried to pull the plug the morning of the shoot of ‘Still of the Night’ because they discovered that they didn’t have a recoupment policy for videos,” Coverdale explains. “And I said, ‘Whoa, just a second!’ Marty and I had done so much work. … I said, ‘I’ll find the money from somewhere. We’re gonna do it.’”
Coverdale declines to go into detail about how exactly he scrounged up those last-minute funds — “I just got it sorted out,” he shrugs — but the shoot plans thankfully fell back into place. “And then we made the three videos — ‘Still of the Night,’ ‘Here I Go Again,’ and ‘Is This Love’ — within 10 days of each other. I worked with Marty on editing, and we did the best we could with that kind of stuff. Then you release it on an unsuspecting public, and dear God, it just went nuts. … And you know, consequently, I own the videos, which is pretty good.” (Pretty good, indeed: Those three clips have racked up a combined 360 million views on YouTube alone.)
While all three videos soon became Headbangers Ball staples, “Here I Go Again” was the one that really went down in pop history, thanks to the swan-like, negligee-draped Kitaen’s gymnastics routine atop Coverdale’s white Jaguar and Callner’s black one. (Coverdale says it was “literally a coincidence” that Callner drove his own Jag to the “Here I Go Again” shoot, prompting a last-minute decision to film with both luxury automobiles. Coverdale is now donating his white Jaguar, which was in storage for more than 30 years, to the National Automobile Museum in his current home base of Reno, as a way of “giving something back to the city. … It’ll be next to Elvis’s car, man. Does it get any better?”)
Kitaen was such a natural in “Here I Go Again,” in fact, that when choreographer-of-the-moment Paula Abdul was invited to the set to advise the actress, Abdul simply told Coverdale, “I can’t show her anything, David!” Recalls the Whitesnake frontman: “Tawny was amazing. The camera loved her, number one, which is kind of obvious — but really, the camera adored her. And she responded incredibly well to music. She had an incredible feeling that she could project, physically and emotionally.”
Coverdale was later married to Kitaen, who died in 2021, from 1989 to 1991. But interestingly, “Here I Go Again,” which was originally released in 1982 on Whitesnake’s Saints & Sinners album, was inspired by Coverdale’s divorce from his previous wife, Julia Borkowski. “I wrote the majority of it in a place called Algarve in Portugal. I’d gone there with my first wife and beautiful daughter Jessica, and unfortunately our relationship was just, you know, separate rooms in this villa I’d rented,” Coverdale sighs. “So, that whole song is about the breakdown of a marriage, the breakdown of a relationship. Now when I perform it, it’s still extraordinarily emotional, but it’s turned into this huge rock anthem. And that’s fine. You take from a piece of music whatever you f***ing need from it — not what I tell you.”
The 1987 “Here I Go Again” remake that became a global chart sensation was definitely more polished, radio-ready, and commercial than the raw Saints & Sinners version, although Coverdale insists that “there was no intention of that at all” and “it was Geffen Records who requested the re-record” for the Whitesnake LP. (Coverdale actually originally wrote that album’s other monster ballad, “Is This Love,” for Tina Turner, but “then the Geffen guys heard it and went, ‘F*** that! You are keeping that, sir!’”) Coverdale wasn’t necessarily keen on the idea of redoing “Here I Go Again” at first, except for the fact that it afforded him the opportunity to finally change one line he’d detested for years.
In the 1982 chorus of “Here I Go Again,” Coverdale belted, “Like a hobo I was born to walk alone” — an unfortunate word he decided to swap in after his buddy, ELO’s Jeff Lynne, gifted him a Roget’s Thesaurus. “And it was a paperback, the cheap bugger!” Coverdale laughs. “But it gives you choices of words. ‘Drifter’ was the original word in the song, but I went, ‘Oh my God, I’ve used that so many times.’ So, I went to this book that Jeff gave me, and I looked under ‘drifter’ and there were a couple of others, like ‘loner’ and ‘hobo.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, hobo — that’s a good word.’ And I regretted it from the moment I committed it to vinyl, I swear to God! I was doing interviews in Finland and a [journalist] was called Hobo — I swear, his name was Hobo — and he said to me, ‘So, David, what’s a hobo?’ I said, ‘It’s an instrument you play in an orchestra.’ … So [when I redid ‘Here I Go Again’ in ‘87], I thought, ‘Well, at least now I can change the f***ing word on this re-record, and put in the original lyric.’”
Incidentally, Coverdale may have had second thoughts about that awkward “hobo” line, but he claims he never regretted naming his band after his “willie” or “bits” — except for the occasions when, due to his group’s name, he was forced to due Whitesnake photo shoots “in the early days with repeated amounts of pythons in my hand. There’s this one famous was picture of me where all my f***ing curls have dropped out because this snake is wrapping itself around my arm. But oh, it was so deserved. Why didn’t I call it f***ing Taco Tuesday?”
The legacy of “Here I Go Again” and its companion Kitaen/Callner videos carries on: The most recent notable tribute/parody was when a 21-year-old retro-rocker American Idol contestant named Nate Peck was asked by judge Luke Bryan to sing “Here I Go Again” on command and he knew all of the words; judge Katy Perry even accompanied Peck by throwing herself across the audition room’s desk, Tawny-style, and rolling around mock-seductively.
“I was asked to [be a judge on] American Idol way back when,” Coverdale confesses. “But no, I’m not going to judge people on that level. … I’m quite happy with what I’m achieving, without me ruining somebody’s life’s dream by being negative. I had an experience when I was starting out, where an engineer in a demo recording studio was completely unhelpful, and it could have stopped me from going forward and pursuing music. It was so devastating, that situation. … And so, for me to judge somebody and potentially diminish them is just not who I am.” (Ironically, ex-Whitesnake member Paul Mirkovich is now the musical director for another TV talent show, The Voice.)
In a full-circle moment, however, Coverdale recently found the tape of “that very uncomfortable encounter with a very dispirited engineer” — the same 1973 tape that actually “got me the audition with Deep Purple” — and it will soon finally be heard by the public. “I’d never made any records before. I was this kid from the north of England who was supposed to be an art teacher, you know. And suddenly, this tape that we didn’t even know we had is going to hopefully inspire people. Like: ‘Look what I got from this crappy little tape!’ It might inspire somebody to get off their ass.”
Coverdale teases that he’s “got a special project planned for later this year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of my joining Deep Purple,” which he fronted from 1973 to 1976. There’s also some “talk” of him and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page “doing some stuff” to commemorate the 30th anniversary of their Coverdale-Page project. A planned final Whitesnake tour never happened in 2020 for COVID-related reasons, which the now 71-year-old Coverdale says “really pissed me off” because “it would have absolutely appropriate for the singer with Whitesnake to retire at age 69!” But he says he’ll “soon to be talking with my band about the idea of a farewell Whitesnake studio album, inviting some former members to participate to make it more complete.” At the moment, he’s keeping busy promoting Whitesnake’s Still Good to Be Bad boxed set (an expanded edition of the 2008 album Good to Be Bad), which comes out this week.
But despite Coverdale’s many achievements, in and out of Whitesnake, the power-balladeer is happy to be remembered and revered for his big ‘80s hits. He was recently thrilled when the wife of his former Deep Purple bandmate Ritchie Blackmore sent him a video clip of Pink using the ’82 version of “Here I Go Again” (complete with the “hobo” line) as her concert entrance music, for instance. And that’s just one of many pop-culture examples, like that Season 21 American Idol audition, that he witnesses almost daily.
“I love when I hear through my social media: People will send me ‘Here I Go Again’ or ‘Is This Love’ being played at a wedding, or in a bar it comes on the TV and the whole bar is singing it,” Coverdale says with a smile. “These are just electrifying moments of: ‘Oh my God. I did something right.’”
Click here to hear David Coverdale’s entire Totally ‘80s conversation, in which the rock legend discusses the secrets to crafting the perfect power ballad and the many highlights of his illustrious 50-year career.
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