INTERVIEW: Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich on Forevermore

Aldrich onstage with David Coverdale and Whitesnake in California in 2009
Aldrich onstage with David Coverdale and Whitesnake in California in 2009 (Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis)

Few would expect classic rockers Whitesnake to be releasing one of their finest albums this far into a career but that's exactly what they've done with Forevermore. As the album's co-writer with founder David Coverdale, former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich is a huge part of the band's creative renaissance. But if you're looking for an ego from this guitar hero, look elsewhere…

It really sounds like Forevermore has got something for every fan of the different eras of Whitesnake…

"I really just wanted to find some music that was inspiring for David [Coverdale]. If we're both excited about a song, we have to let that song be what it's going to be.

"When you get down the road and you've got a group of songs then it starts to take shape, you can see where you are. It wasn't a conscious decision to represent the different eras of Whitesnake on the record but it's turned out that way."

It seems like this album has a bluesier, more organic feel compared to the last one, Good To Be Bad…

"It was a little difficult once we did Good To Be Bad to say, now we're going to bring it down, make it a little more bluesy and not quite as heavy. That's what I was hoping to do - make it a little more song-orientated, a little less about the shredding and the bombastic stuff."

The US knows the band from the 1987 album era but there's that whole period before that when they were more of a blues-based band in the UK, what era introduced you to the them first?

"I was first a fan of the early Whitesnake before Slide It In. I had a friend that had brought those records to California. It was the singer, Kal Swan, in my first proper band [Lion, who also wrote the theme song to 1986 film Transformers: The Movie] and he was greatly influenced by David, he even kind of looked like him!

"He had all these records - he had everything, even [Coverdale's second solo album] Northwinds. He turned me on to a lot of other stuff too - early Status Quo and Thin Lizzy.

"I'm glad that we are bridging that gap [between the Whitesnake eras] though."

The first single, Love Will Set You Free has a vintage Whitesnake feel - how did that one come together?

"I love those minor seventh kind of riffs and that groove. It reminds me of old Whitesnake and old Lizzy. That kind of groove where there's some push on the kick drum. I had this riff around that groove and David liked it.

"Then we were jamming to a drum beat and I didn't know where to go so I went to the blues, the IV chord I guess it's called in that key, and he kept going. It was badass - it sounded like vintage Coverdale right there.

"I've been trying to get more hooks into the solos and not worry about technique so much."

"We got the basic outline of the song and it was working really well and then David said why don't we get a harmony guitar part that answers the vocal. So we slammed down some rough harmony guitars but in the end Reb [Beach, Whitesnake's second guitarist] played that his own way and that was one of the parts I relearned around him. The way he played it was really clean and pure sounding.

"When it came to the solo I was playing whatever felt good then it came to the second half and I thought, now what am I going to do? So I went to a take-off of the vocal melody that we use in the chorus. I've been trying to get more of those kind of hooks into the solos and not worry about technique so much."

The song I Need You (Shine A Light) is also very immediate, sounds like a future single…

"We really thought that was going to be the first song out of the box people would want to hear from Whitesnake. It had a real pop sensibility. I had a rough idea for a solo that was a melodic thing. I roughly played that for Reb. We started recording and he tried something that was pretty different but it had even more of a pop sensibility than what I was doing. He made the solo better and made the song better as a result.

"With Reb, he's at his best when he doesn't think - he just jams. He's got amazing melodic sensibility because he naturally pulls out parts that are memorable. Maybe it's from all the years with Winger but he's been playing the solo to Hear I Go Again for eight years and he plays that very melodically."

It sounds like you and Reb are having a lot of fun on the duelling solo in My Evil Ways…

"That thing started off with us sitting down with acoustics and it turned into a boogie. In fact, I think it was originally called Evil Ways Boogie - Whitesnake never had a song called Boogie as far as I know.

"David had talked about doing a version with me and Reb trading off - a gunslinging version. So we did a couple of different versions and the with one on the record we get about eight bars [for the solos] then we did another version with a drum solo too from Brian Tichy [included with the special edition of the album]. That's really fun to listen to. That's the kind of song that live we can expand more on and do a whole band battle."

There are new members for this album and tour with Brian Tichy on drums and Michael Devin on bass. Was the whole line-up around for recording more with this album compared with the last one?

"David said, I really want this to be a band record. He hired a house - he actually hired two houses. I have a nice little property, it's a suburban LA house but not a big house. This house David rented was amazing - it probably had a better view of Lake Tahoe than his own home. You could reach out and grab the lake!

"It was a mansion and amazing but it wasn't conducive to work. The view just made you want to go out and have a couple of beers! We'd started the basic tracks but hadn't got into the heavy guitar overdubs and singing. But we ended up moving to a new house down the hill, in the woods and with no view. I'll tell you man, it was a killer vibe in that place - we started kicking ass.

"Everybody was focussed on the record and we'd do 16 hour days in the studio. Reb would come to town, or [bassist] Michael Devin and these guys were working for two weeks straight. But we had a lot of fun and it's definitely more of a band record."

You definitely save the best for last with the closing title track, it evolves into quite an epic. Was the catalyst for the song that picked major to minor acoustic part in the verse?

"You can have a group of songs that are great songs but it's nice to have that cornerstone song that holds everything together. I also like songs that start in one place and take you somewhere else. It takes you places you didn't really think it was going to.

"I had that acoustic part in DADGAD tuning, I had some basic chords but I couldn't really figure out the way I wanted to finger it. It was just a matter of playing it over and over and finding something. That verse really was the start of it all because after that I figured out the intro - the intro chords are slightly different with the round of chords.

"I had the pre-chorus part for a while - a chord progression I really liked and the two seemed to go together really well. Once I had those two I knew I was onto something and they leant themselves to be heavy. I experimented with some heavy parts and came up with a middle eastern vibe."

It's got a bit of a Kashmir feel to it…

"Yes, and the middle section has a Still Of The Night flavour too. It just seemed to have potential for us to be our Freebird or our Stairway To Heaven… maybe Hotel California!

"But that major to minor thing was interesting. It wasn't so easy for me at the time because I didn't have a melody set in my head. However, David came up with one on the spot that worked out really well."

Whitesnake obviously have a lot of material to choose from to play live and there have been a varied range of guitarists over the years. Do you try to stick closely to the original solos when playing the older material?

"I like to play within the structure of the original solo each night. I can't play exactly like Bernie Marsden but I will try and hit the key phrases and do it my way - when I say that I mean that if I tried to do it his way, it wouldn't sound right. You can't practice to be Bernie Marsden, or even John Sykes - you have to do it your own way but hit those key phrases.

"You can have great chord progressions, great riffs, great grooves but with this type of music you've got to have a guy who can sing like David and write lyrics and songs like David."

"Bernie might have played a weird legato and to do it my way I might have to pick every note. There's little spots where you can expand on the melody, once you hit that key phrase you have a couple of bars after where you can hang on a note or so something a little different. As long as you come back to it - that's how I approach things."

Your solo albums showcase another side to your playing, but as far as hard rock playing is concerned, did Whitesnake fit your style from the start?

"It really was. That first real band situation I was in when I moved to Los Angeles [Lion] was for all intents and purposes a totally Whitesnake influenced band. Everybody [in the band] was really into European rock, mostly British rock and we really didn't want to be a Van Halen.

"I love Van Halen, don't get me wrong but there were a lot of bands doing that at the time. Our singer was Scottish. That set me up to have a lot of background so when I met David and started working with him it really felt very natural."

The general perception is that Whitesnake is David Coverdale, but you've helped bring about a renaissance for the band as a creative force with the last album and now Forevermore. That's something you must feel very proud of?

"To be dead serious with you, I don't think it matters in the long run. It makes me feel good on the day we create things musically, and it makes me feel good for a minute when we're talking about it. But once that's done I don't really think about those things. I appreciate you saying that but I think the fans just want a good song and a good lyric. David's got the vocals to deliver it and he's the one that makes it or breaks it.

"You can have great chord progressions, great riffs, great grooves but with this type of music you've got to have a guy who can sing like David and write lyrics and songs like David. He really delivers - he makes whatever he's working on that much more special. That's why he is who he is. David could write a song with anybody and it would be a Whitesnake song.

"I feel really lucky David and I met and we are able to work together. I do feel like I can be helpful to see his vision through and do it as much as I can without an ego and an agenda. I do have an ego but I try not to."

You certainly seem very grounded…

"Well, when you're on tour you're in a very strange situation - especially with a band like Whitesnake. Pretty good venues - big venues and crowds, even more so at festivals. You come off stage and you're jacked up because of the adulation that's been happening for the past two hours. People are smiling at you and looking up at you like you're something special.

"That's all cool and everything but you really have to find a way to come off that stage and leave it behind. You can end up really messing up your life if you believe you're special. It's very boring for me to be saying that [laughing]. The best interviews are when someone like Charlie Sheen starts talking!"

Doug Aldrich will be hitting the road in the UK, hosting a series of Marshall Masterclasses featuring the JMD:1 range. All tickets are £5 each and every person who attends will be automatically entered into a prize draw to win a brand new Class 5 combo.

Dates are as follows:

Monday 11 April @ Komedia, Brighton.
Hosted by GAK, doors open at 7pm.
Call 01273 665400 for tickets

Tuesday 12 April @ The Boileroom, Guildford.
Hosted by Andertons, doors open at 8pm.
Call 01483 456777 for tickets

Wednesday 13 April @ GigGear, Harlow, Essex.
Hosted by GigGear, doors open at 8pm.
Call 01279 432 900 for tickets

Thursday 14 April. Venue to be confirmed.
Hosted by Dawsons Music, doors open at 8pm.
Call 0113 203 1470 for tickets

Visit Marshall Amps for more information.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar in the UK. When I'm not rejigging pedalboards I'm usually thinking about rejigging pedalboards.