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Group formed in 1976 by David Coverdale (lead vocalist; born c. 1947, in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Yorkshire, England), Adrian Vandenburg (guitarist), John Sykes (guitarist), Aynsley Dunbar (drummer). Steve Vai temporarily replaced Vandenburg in 1990; subsequently joined the band. Addresses: Record company-- Geffen Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10010; 9130 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

British heavy metal group Whitesnake has become one of the best-selling acts of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Their self-titled 1987 U.S. breakthrough album sold over six million copies, making critics who called them "derivative"--including David Hiltbrand of People --look rather out of touch with the heavy metal audience. Featuring lead singer David Coverdale, guitar players John Sykes, Adrian Vandenberg, and Steve Vai, and drummer Aynsley Dunbar, Whitesnake also did well with the 1990 effort Slip of the Tongue, though reviewers continued to express their dismay.

After Coverdale left his former band, Deep Purple, he helped form Whitesnake in 1976. Whitesnake steadily built up a following in Great Britain and Europe, but did not really begin to gain attention in the United States until it recorded Slide It In in 1984. Perhaps the band's eventual star status would have followed shortly after if Coverdale had not been sidelined with what he assured Steve Dougherty of People was a "non-drug-related" deviated septum that prevented him from singing. Coverdale further explained to Dougherty that surgery to correct this problem delayed the production and subsequent release of Whitesnake for a year.

When Whitesnake did hit the record stores in 1987, it began racing up the charts. But critical opinion at best was mixed. Some favorably compared Whitesnake to Led Zeppelin, but others maligned them for copying not only Zeppelin's style but those of other groups, including the Scorpions and Foreigner. The album produced a hit single in "Still of the Night," however, which High Fidelity reviewer Ken Richardson hailed as "top-notch," and J.D. Considine of Rolling Stone also praised. The latter, noting the Zeppelin influence, called "Still of the Night" "a guilty pleasure," explaining that "Coverdale isn't simply stealing licks; he and ... Sykes understand the structure, pacing and drama of the old Led Zeppelin sound." Other noteworthy tracks from Whitesnake, according to Rolling Stone critic Kim Neely, were "Crying in the Rain" and "Is This Love?" Following this album, Whitesnake obtained even more exposure to U.S. audiences by touring with fellow heavy metal group Motley Crue.

Whitesnake's 1990 disc, Slip of the Tongue featured the addition of guitarist Steve Vai, who formerly played with David Lee Roth's band. Vai temporarily replaced Adrian Vandenberg, who was unable to play due to a hand injury. After Vandenberg's recovery, both guitarists performed in Whitesnake's tour appearances. But though Hiltbrand conceded that "you have to marvel at Vai's technique" on Slip of the Tongue, it did not prevent him and other critics from panning the album, which Hiltbrand added was devoted "to rock's dumbest myth: the nymphomaniac, stiletto-heeled succubus." Neely lamented that Slip of the Tongue was "not passionate enough to evoke pleasure" and "not rude enough to spark contempt." Like Hiltbrand, she welcomed Vai's addition to the band, but complained that his talent was "buried under a mishmash of sappy string arrangements and declawed power chords."

According to Dougherty, however, Whitesnake--or Coverdale, at least--is not bothered by negative reviews. "The critics love to get out their knives and dine on Coverdale," the lead singer told the reporter. "But the worse the criticism gets, the more successful I become."

by Elizabeth Wenning

Whitesnake's Career

Recording and live performance artists, 1976--.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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