MuchMusic’s Terry David Mulligan was always one of their best interviewers, and here he has a nice informal chat with (then) Whitesnake’s Steve Vai! TDM asks a loaded question about leaving Whitesnake and going solo.
Vai is always forthcoming and in this entertaining interview you’ll hear about the Passion & Warfare concept, lucid dreaming, the tuba, David Lee Roth, and of course wanking.
WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue(originally 1989, 2019 (6 CD/1 DVD 30th Anniversary Rhino box set)
There’s a theme you may have noticed every time we review a Whitesnake box set: David does it right.
Here’s another one: Coverdale cares.
Slip of the Tongue gets the super-deluxe treatment this time, the third of the “big three” to go that way. This is the album that divided fans the most. Replacing Vivian Campbell was none other than ex-David Lee Roth stringbender Steve Vai.
“What the hell would that sound like?” we all wondered.
Longtime Whitesnake fans felt it was a step too far into the world nebulously defined as “hair metal”. Others loved the guitar mania inside, with Vai stretching out in ways different from his prior bands. Not the “definitive” Vai record that they still wanted (and would get a year later), but certainly a platter they could sink their teeth into. And it was a weird reason that Steve was playing on Slip of the Tongue at all.
As you’ll see from a feature on the included DVD (“A Look Back: Whitesnake Chronicles with DC and Adrian Vandenberg”), the album was written and thoroughly demoed with Adrian. They wouldn’t need a guitarist until it was time to tour. At this point, Adrian injured his wrist and was unable to finish. Steve Vai and David Coverdale found that they got along famously and the seven-string wizard brought his unique and advanced stylings to the blues-based Whitesnake.
What the hell would it sound like?
It sounds absolutely mental.
With the benefit of now hearing all the demos that Adrian laid down, it’s obvious Steve Vai didn’t just pick up his guitar and play the parts. It’s clear right from opener “Slip of the Tongue”. Compare the album to Adrian’s demos on the other discs. Vai changes one of the chord progressions to high-pitched harmonics, and, let’s face it, improves the song. Elsewhere there are unique trick-filled runs and fills that add another dimension to the music. If Whitesnake was always 3D rock, Vai upped it to 4. The guitar work is blazingly busy, never cliche, and always to the advancement of the song. With all respect to Adrian Vandenberg who wrote these great songs, Steve Vai was more than just icing on a cake. Slip of the Tongue arguably sounds more a Vai album than Whitesnake, even though he didn’t write any of it.
The beauty of this set is that if you’re more into ‘Snake than alien love secrets, you can finally hear the purity of Adrian’s vision in the multitude of early demos included.
Unfortunately, if you’re familiar with the album you’ll hear something’s up by track 2. “Kitten’s Got Claws”? That song used to close side one. What’s up? The album running order has been tampered with, and so has “Kitten’s Got Claws”. It’s now missing the Steve Vai “cat guitar symphony” that used to open it. It could be a different remix altogether. My advice is to hang on to your original Slip of the Tongue CD. You’re probably going to still want to hear the album and song as they were.
This running order puts “Cheap An’ Nasty” third, a song that structurally resembles the ol’ Slide It In Whitesnake vibe. Of course Vai’s space age squeals and solos modernized it. Listen to that whammy bar insanity at the 2:00 mark! Up next is “Now You’re Gone”, a classy rocker/ballad hybrid that has always been an album highlight. The demos on the other discs allow us to hear how much this song was improved in the final touches. That cool answering vocal in the chorus, and the hooks that Vai added, came much later. Strangely, this box set puts the other ballad, “The Deeper the Love”, up next. Keyboard overdubs made it a little too smooth around the edges, but a good song it remains.
The Zeppelinesque “Judgement Day” is a track that used to piss off some fans, who felt it was an abject rip off from “Kashmir”. The Vai touch of sitar (replacing guitar in the early demos) probably aided and abetted this. Regardless it succeeds in being the big rock epic of the album, and a favourite today. Another strange choice in running order follows: “Sailing Ships”, formerly the album closer. It’s quite shocking to hear it in this slot. Again, Vai replaced guitar with sitar, and David goes contemplative. Then suddenly, it gets heavy and Steve takes it to the stratosphere.
“Wings of the Storm” used to open side two; now it’s after “Sailing Ships”. Some tasty Tommy Aldridge double bass drums kick off this tornado of a tune. Vai’s multitracks of madness and pick-scrapes of doom are something to behold. Then it’s “Slow Poke Music”, a sleazy rocker like old ‘Snake.
The new version of Slip of the Tongue closes on “Fool for Your Loving”, a re-recording of an old classic from Ready An’ Willing. The new version is an accelerated Vai vehicle, lightyears away from its origins. Coverdale initially wrote it to give to B.B. King. Vai is as far removed from B.B. King as you can imagine. The original has the right vibe, laid back and urgent. This one is just caffeinated.
The only album B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” is the first bonus track on Disc 1. By now it is the least-rare B-side in the universe, having been reissued on a multitude of Whitesnake and Vai collections. Valuable to have to complete the album, but easy to acquire. It’s basically a second-tiered speed rocker with the guitar as the focus. Other B-sides from this era were remixes, and they are included here as well. The Chris Lord-Alge mix of “Now Your Gone” is the kind that most people won’t know the difference. Vai said that Lord-Alge could make the cymbals sound “like they have air in them.” Then there’s the “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool for Your Loving”, which has completely different guitar tracks building an arrangement with way, way, way more emphasis on the instrument. The rest of the disc is packed with four more alternate remixes: “Slip of the Tongue”, “Cheap An’ Nasty”, “Judgement Day” and “Fool for Your Loving”. These mixes have some bits and pieces different from the album cuts. Vai fans will want the alternate solo to “Cheap An’ Nasty”, though it’s less whammy mad.
Of course, “Sweet Lady Luck” wasn’t the only song that didn’t make the album. In old vintage interviews, Coverdale teased the names of additional tracks we didn’t get to hear: “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart”. They’ve been safely buried in Coverdale’s vault, until now. Additionally, it turns out that Whitesnake also re-recorded a couple more of their old songs: “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”. They’re all here in different forms on the demo discs.
Perhaps “Kill for the Cut” would have been one dirty song too many for the album. It ain’t half bad, and has a unique little bumpin’ riff. “Parking Ticket” had potential too. Rudy Sarzo gave it a pulse that might have taken it on the radio. The 1989 monitor mix would have been perfect for B-side release. Why did Cov have to hold out on us all these years? “Burning Heart” was a special song, a re-recording of an old Vandenberg track that David really loved. Unfortunately the monitor mix is is only a skeleton of what could have been a sensational Whitesnake ballad. “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” is heavily modernized, with keyboards sounding like they were trying to recapture “Here I Go Again” (which they were). “We Wish You Well” is more contemplative, with piano as the focus.
All of this previously unheard material is scattered over several discs. “Evolutions” (Disc 3) is a familiar concept to fans of these box sets. Demos from various stages of completion are spliced together into one cohesive track. You will be able to hear the songs “evolve” as the band worked on them. Every track from the album plus “Sweet Lady Luck”, “Parking Ticket” and “Kill for the Cut” can be heard this way. Disc 4 is a collection of monitor mixes with all the album songs and all the unreleased ones too. These discs are the ones that allow us to really hear the album the way it would have been if Adrian didn’t hurt his wrist. We would have got an album that sounded a lot more like Whitesnake. It was audibly different even if familiar.
Perhaps the best disc in the entire set is “A Trip to Granny’s House: Session Tapes, Wheezy Interludes & Jams”. It’s just as loose as it sounds. Enjoy the funk of “Death Disco”, the funkiest David’s been since Come Taste the Band. If you’ve always wanted to hear David sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Old Oak Tree”, now you finally can! There’s a lot of goofing off in some of these tracks, but also a lot of rock. It’s live off the floor as they rehearse the songs, as a four piece band with Adrian. Not all the final lyrics or solos are set, but the songs are so raw and fresh. Some of the jams show a side of Whitesnake we rarely got to see. Kind of Purple-y in the way they just could take off and rip some blues.
Given all the rich audio extras, it’s OK if one of the CDs is a little impoverished. That would be disc 2, “The Wagging Tongue Edition”. This is a reproduction of an old promo CD, featuring the album Slip of the Tongue with a Dirty David interview interspersed. This was meant for radio premieres. It has the entire album in the correct order, but because it’s faded in and out of interviews, it’s really not a substitute for a proper copy of the original album. At least the vintage 1989 interviews are interesting. It saves collectors from buying a copy on Discogs. (Coverdale claims “Judgement Day” was originally titled “Up Yours Robert”. Ooft.)
There’s another disappointment here and it’s difficult to forgive. In 2011, Whitesnake released the long awaited Live at Donington as a 2 CD/1 DVD package. This brilliant performance finally gave us a permanent record of Whitesnake live with Vai. In our previous dedicated review, we had this to say:
Musically, it’s a wild ride. It’s not the Steve Vai show. Adrian gets just as many solos, and his are still spine-tingling if more conventional. It is loaded with ‘Snake hits, leaning heavily on the three Geffen albums. In fact there is only one pre-Slide It In song included: The Bobby “Blue” Bland cover “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City”. And, since it is also the pre-grunge era, there are plenty of solos, which today seems excessive. Aldridge does his drum solo at the end of “Still Of The Night”. Vandenberg gets his “Adagio for Strato”/”Flying Dutchman Boogie”. Most excitingly, Steve Vai performs two songs from his then-brand new (and top 40!) album Passion And Warfare: “For The Love Of God” and “The Audience Is Listening”, with Aldridge on drums. Coverdale even introduces him as “Mr. Passion and Warfare!” so I imagine there was no sour grapes that Vai’s album was doing so well. And lemme tell ya folks — the audience WAS listening, and going nuts too!
Unfortunately, to save a little bit of plastic, this set was reduced to a single CD for its inclusion here. The Vai and Adrian solos were cut, though Tommy’s drum solo in “Still of the Night” is retained. To cut the guitar solos in such a guitar focused boxed set is not only unwise but unforgivable. Fans who don’t have Live at Donington are going to want to shell out again just to get the solos. Fortunately, the whole show is uncut on the included DVD.
The DVD has plenty of added value; it’s not just a reissue of Live at Donington. You’ll get the three music videos from the album (“Now You’re Gone”, “The Deeper the Love” and “Fool for Your Loving”). There’s even a brand new clip for “Sweet Lady Luck” cobbled together from existing video. Then, you can go deeper into the album. The aforementioned sitdown with David and Adrian is really enlightening. Another behind the scenes feature narrated by David is fantastic for those who love to watch a band create in the studio. Coverdale’s not a bad guitarist himself.
These Whitesnake box sets also include ample extras on paper. There’s quite a nice miniature reformatted tour program with the majority of cool photos. A large Slip of the Tongue poster can adorn your wall, or remain safely folded up in this box. Finally, there is a 60 page hardcover booklet. This is a treasure trove of press clippings, magazine covers, single artwork, and more. Lyrics and credits wrap it all up in a nice little package.
Because we know that David puts so much into these box sets, it’s that much more heartbreaking that this one is so slightly imperfect. The shuffled running order and lack of guitar kittens on “Kitten’s Got Claws” is a problem. The truncated live album is another. It means I have to hang onto old CDs that I was hoping to phase out of my collection in favour of this sleek set. Alas, I’ll keep them as they are my preferred listening experience.
Otherwise, in every other way, this box set delivers. It makes a lovely display next to its brethren and it justifies its cost.
Sit down Sykes fans, because I’m a Vai kid and this is “my” Whitesnake. The fact that this lineup existed at all is miraculous. The most creative guitarist of all time joining one of the most successful commercial rock bands at the peak of their popularity? Recipe for, at the very least, interesting history. And absolutely perfect box set fodder.
So here we are buying Slip of the Tongue for at least the third time, and finally getting it (mostly) right. At a quick glance, it appears the only detriment to buying this box set is that you will not get the complete Live at Donington concert on CD. In order to fit the whole thing on one CD (disc 6), they axed all the solos. Let’s face it folks. When your band includes Steve Vai, you don’t cut the solos. You’ll have to shell out for the original triple disc Donington set to get them on CD. The good news is that the whole Donington concert is still here on video, on a fully-packed DVD (disc 7). (The DVD also includes a detailed interview with David Coverdale and Adrian Vandenberg, touching on Adrian’s mysterious 1989 wrist injury.)
The running order of the songs on Slip of the Tongue, the 30th anniversary remaster, has been slightly shuffled. It’s strange and off-putting enough that I’m keeping my old copy of the album, so I can still listen to it the familiar way. “Sailing Ships” isn’t the last song? “Fool For Your Loving” is. The bonus track versions included, with alternate solos and guitar fills, are stunning additions. Then there’s an entire CD, the “Wagging Tongue” edition, with the songs in the correct order but interviews with David interspersed. This is a reproduction of a vintage 1989 promo CD, for contemporary perspective. Disc 3, the “Evolutions” CD, is a favourite. The “Evolutions” series of tracks, now a Whitesnake reissue trademark, mixes early demos with later demos and and even later versions, so you can hear the tracks evolve as you listen. It’s deconstruction and reconstruction in one. Importantly, you finally get to hear what the album would have sounded like before Steve Vai came in to record it. Disc 4 includes 16 monitor mixes, including some superior rarities. Finally, after 30 years of waiting and teasing, we get the unreleased tunes “Parking Ticket”, “Kill for the Cut”, and “Burning Heart” (originally by Vandenberg). We also get “Ain’t Gonna Cry No More” and “We Wish You Well”. Verdict? Worth the wait. Oh, so worth the wait! There’s no reason some couldn’t have been released as B-sides in 1989, and they should have! “Parking Ticket” has a neat Van Hagar-like, and could have been a summer hit.
Disc 5 is “A Trip to Granny’s House”, actually the name of a rehearsal studio they used. These funny tapes, “Wheezy Interludes & Jams”, are informal fun. A highlight is the funky “Death Disco”, not unlike some of the stuff Purple were doing with Tommy Bolin towards the end. These tracks predate Steve Vai’s involvement, so you’ll get the purity of Adrian’s original playing.
I look forward to investing more time with this box set. Let us hope that David continues to empty the vaults. Next up: Restless Heart?
I don’t own this CD. Never have, actually. I gave it enough in-store play (only while working alone!) that I have no problem reviewing it. This Greatest Hits CD dates back to 1994, the year I first started working at the Record Store. As such, it was the first ever official Whitesnake Greatest Hits CD, the first of many. The band had been broken up for about four years at that point. Even by 1994 standards, it was only an OK release. It did contain some rare tracks, but was limited to Whitesnake’s 1984-1989 Geffen output only. For budget-priced collections, I would recommend the cheaper 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection because it still has all the hit singles from that period at a lower price. For fans who need more, the much better Whitesnake Gold or Silver Anniversary Collection make a more complete picture with more rarities and deep album cuts. These of course weren’t available in 1994. Today music buyers have a lot more to choose from.
One inclusion that some listeners may not enjoy about Greatest Hits is the version of “Here I Go Again” chosen. This is not the well-known album version that most people have heard. This is the “single remix” with different guitar solos (by guest Dan Huff) and more keyboards. Some radio stations do play it from time to time, but I think most casual buyers would listen to this and say, “I don’t like it as much”. And nor do I, but it is a rarity.
Otherwise, this album (like 20th Century Masters) contains every hit single from the period, and nothing from the blues-based records before. It does feature some other cool rarities: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” featuring Steve Vai, “Looking For Love”, and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”. However, with the many compilations and remasters released since 1994, these songs are no longer hard to find. “Sweet Lady Luck” was even released on a Steve Vai boxed set!
Rounding out this selection of hits and rare tracks are deeper album cuts. These are include the glossy Kashmir-esque “Judgement Day”, “Crying in the Rain ’87”, “Slow Poke Music” and the wicked “Slide It In”. They help balance out the ballad-y hits that Whitesnake were adept at writing.
Interestingly, when this album was released, David Coverdale assembled a new, shortlived Whitesnake and toured for it. That version of Whitesnake included former members Rudy Sarzo and Adrian Vandenberg, both of the 1987-1990 version of the band. It also included drummer Denny Carmassi (Coverdale-Page) and guitarist Warren DeMartini (Ratt). Shame that no live recordings from this version of the band have never been released. The band disolved for several year again after this, only to reform in 1997 with a new lineup including Carmassi and Vandenberg.
This album is only mildly better than 20th Century Masters, but is inferior to the more recent, more comprehensive compilations I have mentioned. Buy at a sensible price point.
WHITESNAKE – Slip of the Tongue (1989, deluxe edition)
Normally I go crazy for these deluxe editions. Many are great! The Whitesnake deluxe editions have not been great. This is the third and last one in my Whitesnake deluxe edition series of reviews.
Once again, instead of two CDs, you get an expanded CD and a brief DVD. The lack of decent bonus material really frustrates me because there is more in the vaults. You know there has to be more in the vaults. In fact in the liner notes, David tells us that there is more. He name-drops several unfinished songs that didn’t make the cut, but fans would kill to hear.
Slip Of The Tongue was not the best Whitesnake album (not by a long stretch), but with 20/20 hindsight and the presence of Steve Vai, it’s fun to listen to. Yes, it’s too glossy, and yes, Vai was not the right guy to be in Whitesnake, but the result is one of those strange one-off’s like Black Sabbath’s Born Again, or Motorhead’s Another Perfect Day. It’s an album that doesn’t quite fit with the back catalogue, but has become a cult favourite. I have long been a fan of it, simply because Steve Vai is jaw-dropping even when playing pedestrian hard rock.
For Vai fans, he plays it pretty straight here, not a lot of craziness. There’s a broken string on one song, and some cool solos, but nothing bizarre like you’ll find on a Vai solo album. If you want to hear him just do some serious hard rock and balladeering without the crazy stuff, this is the CD for you. Within the scope of Whitesnake, Vai sets the album on fire; throwing in notes where you didn’t know they could fit, making sounds you didn’t know a guitar could make, and overdubbing a mountain of fills. Just check out opening track “Slip Of The Tongue” for some serious burning, via a 7-string Ibanez guitar through an Eventide harmonizer.
Song-wise, this is mostly hard rock and very little blues. The slick remake of “Fool For Your Loving” (originally from Ready An’ Willing), which Coverdale’s liner notes reveal he didn’t want to do, is inferior to the bluesier, groovier original. “The Deeper The Love”, purportedly a soul song, is actually just a great hard rock ballad with some wonderful Vai licks. The best songs are the epic Zeppelin-esque “Judgement Day”, the aggresive “Wings Of The Storm”, the hit rocker “Now You’re Gone” and the signature Coverdale album closer “Sailing Ships” which has become one of his philosophical classics.
Among the sparse bonus tracks: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck”, which is available many times elsewhere now, on both Whitesnake and Steve Vai compilations. Also, the US single mix (by Chris Lord-Alge) of “Now You’re Gone” is included but many fans would be hard pressed to tell the difference. The promo-only “Vai Voltage Mix” of “Fool For Your Loving” predictably throws in a lot more guitar. (I already had this on a promo single that I acquired for $2, but this is good for fans to have.) There are two tracks from the 1990 Donington Festival, which would have been a real treat, because these songs (unlike the other bonus tracks) had never been released before. This was the first ever official release of Whitesnake live stuff with Vai. But it was also just a sneak preview of an actual 2 CD/1 DVD release of the full Donington show. Double dipping sucks!
Then, just like on previous deluxe editions…another live track by a more current edition of Whitesnake! Honestly, this ticks me off for two reasons. One, you can get the new live Whitesnake albums with no difficulty and two, it’s from 15 years later and has nothing to do with Slip Of The Tongue. Yet these new live versions pop up on all these Whitesnake reissues. Why?
The DVD is brief and hardly as satisfying as another CD would be. You get the three original music videos, the two Donington live songs, and then another bunch of unrelated live stuff. Two live tunes from 1997’s Starkers In Tokyo acoustic show, and yet another live track from a more recent Whitesnake live DVD, which is available on its own. Again, I feel this is a bit of a ripoff. It’s nice to have these Starkers tunes on a DVD, but why not release an entire separate DVD of that show? It has nothing to do with Slip Of The Tongue, except that Coverdale played a couple of these songs live.
The booklet by Coverdale is a real treat, revealing much previously unknown tidbits to tease your friends with. I had no idea that Adrian Vandenberg for example managed to play a little bit of backing guitar on the album. Previous issues of the CD stated that Vai handled all guitar duties, but that has turned out to be false. Also, Coverdale talks a bit about Glenn Hughes, and why you can barely hear him sing on this CD, even though he’s credited on backing vocals.
Frustratingly though, Coverdale also mentioned all those unfinished and unreleased songs from these sessions: “Kill For The Cut”, “Burning Heart”, “Parking Ticket”, and so on. These were all titles that I read about 25 years ago in Hit Parader magazine, and wondered why they didn’t show up on album B-sides. The booklet reveals that they were never finished, but that is no excuse — they should have been presented here as bonus tracks instead of this unrelated live stuff. The Sabbath deluxe editions have tons of unfinished songs on them. So do some of the reissues of the early Whitesnake albums, such as Come An’ Get It. This CD should have been the same. Unless David is hanging onto these songs for some kind of anthology box set in the future, I can’t figure out how they arrived at the selections for this reissue CD! It’s maddening. Do it right, or not at all.
Decent album, great liner notes, top notch and generous packaging, and great remastering job. Crap bonus material.
For the last installment of this series, click here.
WHITESNAKE – Good to Be Bad (2008 Warner/SPV)
Whitesnake disbanded in 1990. Coverdale did his album with Jimmy Page, but that didn’t prove to last either. Although they’d started writing for a second album, the affair ended and David Coverdale assembled a new Whitesnake for a Greatest Hits tour in 1994. This reformation eventually led to an album in 1997 called Restless Heart (billed as “David Coverdale and Whitesnake”. This R&B flavoured album, a personal favourite, did not resonate with some fans of 80’s ‘Snake.
After another hiatus, and a solo album (2000’s Into the Light), David once again formed a new group of ‘Snakes, a mixture of old and new members. After several years of touring (and lineup changes), the long awaited new Whitesnake album, Good to Be Bad, hit the shelves in 2008. Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich and Winger’s Reb Beach had been a formidable guitar duo since 2002.
Similarly to his partnership with Adrian Vandenberg, David has retained his writing style of co-writing with just one co-writer; in this case, Aldrich. It seems to be evident that the guys have gone for a John Sykes guitar sound and style. You can certainly hear a lot of trademark sounds and tricks that Sykes used to do, that gave the 1987 album such a cool sound. This isn’t to say that they don’t play plenty of their own style too, but the retro stuff is frequent.
So similar is the direction of this album to 1987, that you can play “name that tune” with all the new songs:
“Can You Hear The Wind Blow” for example directly references moments on 1987, right down to those flares that Sykes used to do. “All I Want, All I Need” equals “Is This Love” Part Deux. Basically, every song on Good To Be Bad is a mash-up of songs from Coverdale Page, 1987 and Slip Of The Tongue, and you can hear the references quite distinctly. “A Fool in Love” is “Crying in the Rain”. “Lay Down Your Love” is “Shake My Tree”, without Jimmy Page. Throw in a little “Kashmir” during “‘Til The End Of Time” (which seems to be based off “Till The Day I Die” from Come An’ Get It) too.
Having said that, despite the lack of originality, Good To Be Bad is still a very enjoyable listen, and a very welcome return. A world without David Coverdale’s voice is like a world without crème brûlée. That voice is in fine form, perhaps even stronger than it was on 1997’s Restless Heart. The album has a lot more life to it than Restless Heart, although it does lack that album’s subtlety and R&B moments. The band play great, kicking it on every tune, even the ballads. The melodies are strong and memorable. It’s just…too contrived.
The bonus live disc is the the Canadian special edition is highlights from Live: In The Shadow Of The Blues. No big deal. It’s nice to hear Whitesnake playing “Burn/Stormbringer” from David’s Deep Purple days, and cool to hear the old 70’s classics.
The real cool version to have is the Japanese release with two bonus tracks. And a sticker! Can’t forget the sticker. The bonus tracks are both remixes (a “Doug solo” version of “All For Love”, and a stripped down version of the lovely “Summer Rain”). For $20, I wasn’t complaining.