Nobody expected Whitesnake to release an album of songs originally recorded by Deep Purple—not even David Coverdale, who fronted Purple between 1973 and ’76.
“It was certainly not part of my agenda, but I really couldn’t be happier,” Coverdale says of the twists of fate that prompted him to revisit the Purple catalog. “It looked just like a cosmic plan, like God’s chessboard moving the pieces into place.”
That plan began with Deep Purple keyboard great Jon Lord’s 2012 cancer diagnosis.
“The whole seed of this was Jon’s representative asking me if, on Jon’s recovery, would I be prepared to do some kind of Purple reunion. I was immediately onboard.”
But it was not to be; Lord passed away later that year. Then Coverdale lost several other people he was close to, and in a search for meaning amid tragedy he felt an urge to reconnect with his past. “I gathered a bunch of imaginary olive branches and started reaching out to people,” he says.
That group included Deep Purple guitar legend Ritchie Blackmore, who Coverdale hadn’t spoken to in decades.
“The last time Ritchie and I were actually in the same room together we had a physical confrontation which was unpleasant for both of us,” he explains. “From then on it was an unsavory, competitive energy between his group Rainbow and my Whitesnake, until Whitesnake became so f---ing successful there was no competition.” But the former bandmates met to talk out their differences and find their peace. “I wanted to express the sorrow of the loss of Jon and to personally offer my sincere appreciation and gratitude for taking an unknown singer and placing me on a voyage that still continues today. It doesn’t get any better than the university of Deep Purple.”
These experiences circling around the Deep Purple legacy led to what became The Purple Album. With longtime guitarist Doug Aldrich leaving Whitesnake to pursue other endeavors, 13-year Whitesnake veteran Reb Beach (also of Winger) stepped up to take on a musical director role in addition to lead and rhythm guitars while former Night Ranger axman Joel Hoekstra was brought into the band to share guitar duties.
The result is the most overtly “guitar duo” approach on a Whitesnake album since the first half of the Eighties, and Beach couldn’t be happier with the opportunity to pay tribute to elements of Ritchie Blackmore’s approach within the Whitesnake framework.
“Ritchie Blackmore is one of the best guitar players in the world and he had a sound that was totally his own,” says Beach. “Winger opened for Deep Purple in 1993 and it was rough for me. People were shouting out ‘You suck! Blackmore rules!’ and holding up signs. The guy can play! He’s got this unique style; he pulls out these unique notes you aren’t expecting and he’s fast as hell. I had a lot to live up to.”
In honor of Blackmore’s tone Beach changed up his gear for this album, using a custom Suhr Strat-style guitar with single coil pickups alongside his usual Koa-bodied, EMG-loaded main instrument.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever recorded with a single-coil guitar,” he says. “It’s got this real bite about it. I used that on almost every song. We did a couple of passes of me and a couple of passes of Joel; Les Paul and Strat, like the classic Whitesnake.” Beach’s amp of choice is a Custom Audio Electronics OD100. “Nothing beats it! It’s smooth, it’s Marshally, it’s crunchy as hell and the clean sound kills everything.”
The two guitarists immediately developed a language together. “Joel is like a machine,” says Beach. “He did a big long solo—I think it was ‘Burn’—first take all the way through, and when the smoke had cleared I said, ‘You’ve got it!’ Then he said ‘Let me double it.’ So he doubled it perfectly. Then he said ‘Nah, I’m not sure about that one, let me try another solo.’ So he tried another solo that was just as good as the first one and he did it first take. Then he goes ‘Let me double it.’ So he doubles it absolutely perfectly. It was so perfect it was flanging! Freaked me out! He can just blow out a perfect solo for however long he wants and then double it. Forget it. That’s just insane.”
Whitesnake now begin rehearsals for an extensive world tour that will see more Deep Purple material in the set, calling back to the day in 1972 when Coverdale first stepped on a stage to play these songs. “It’s as if my life has come full circle,” the singer concludes. “There’s a feeling of completion.”
Photo: Ari Michelson