(Above: When Deep Purple went on hiatus in 1979, drummer Ian Paice helped Whitesnake achieve mass popularity.)
Whitesnake formed soon after the dissolution of the Mark IV lineup of Deep Purple, when singer David Coverdale combined his love of blues, rock, heavy metal, funk, and soul into a blustery amalgam of white-hot riffs and soaring vocal pyrotechnics.
The band quickly found its footing musically—the material showcasing brilliant playing from each member across the board—but chart success proved to be elusive for years. Also elusive was any sort of consistency in the drummer department, with a Spinal Tap–like change from legend to legend across several albums.
A close examination of the list of players who manned the Whitesnake drumkit reveals that while each musician had his own unique sound and flavor, the drumming was always in service of the primary goal of the band, and that was, unequivocally, to rock. From a young Simon Phillips proving his pocket mettle to Ian Paice’s rock-solid groove to Tommy Aldridge’s famous double bass work to Brian Tichy’s controlled assault, Whitesnake’s drummers are a who’s who of classic rock royalty and modern badasses, each one burning bright for the briefest of times before being succeeded by the next guy in line. Here, then, are eight reasons to love Whitesnake.
David Coverdale White Snake (1977) Simon Phillips
A footnote in Whitesnake history, the first post-Deep Purple release from David Coverdale was this collection of bluesy rock and soul featuring a nineteen-year-old Simon Phillips playing killer grooves with deep pocket and maturity. The Robert Palmer–esque “Goldies Place” is a slow R&B workout, complete with horns, electric piano, and Phillips’ sweet, behind-the-beat drumming, all tom jabs and slick kick syncopations. The up shuffle of the title track allows Phillips to work out on the cymbals, before a half-time breakdown lets things build back into tempo for a guitar solo that ends with an outrageous flams-and-singles drum fill that will blow your hair back. On the funky “Celebration,” Phillips brings some tasty disco hi-hats and locks in with the percussion for propulsive drive that doesn’t quit. Phillips’ time in the Whitesnake world would be short-lived, as his presence here amounts to session work, and the band would reform with other members and a more aggressive sound. But Coverdale’s first solo statement is undeniably a fun one.
Trouble (1978) Dave Dowle
The first proper Whitesnake record, Trouble is the real bridge between the proto-metal Purple sound and the rock juggernaut the band would become, and contains some excellent work from drummer Dave Dowle. Check out the hip hi-hat-and-ghost-note pattern on “Love to Keep You Warm,” with Dowle and bassist Neil Murray laying down an unshakable rhythm, each whipping out fill after fill that doesn’t distract. “Nighthawk (Vampire Blues)” might as well be a Return to Forever outtake, as Dowle plays a rocking, syncopated pattern and leans in on his crashes and ride bell. Also dig the four-on-the-floor kick underneath the burning shuffle of “Belgian Tom’s Hat Trick” and the exciting drum solo intro to “Free Flight” for a further taste of Dowle’s brilliance. The drummer would also appear on 1979’s Lovehunter and the 1978 selections from the concert document Live…in the Heart of the City. Changes were brewing, though, and soon the band would have three ex–Deep Purple members in it.
Come an’ Get It (1981) Ian Paice
An old friend, Ian Paice, joined Whitesnake for 1980’s Ready an’ Willing, at which point the band included him on drums, Coverdale, and keyboardist Jon Lord. With that record, Whitesnake enjoyed their first taste of commercial success, and Come an’ Get It would chart even higher while also allowing the band to really gel into a cohesive unit. Paice rips through “Hot Stuff” with an insistent snare attack and grooves hard on “Girl” with airtight hi-hats and tough flams. Check out Paice’s approach on “Hit an’ Run” for subtle kick-drum work and a lesson on how to move between sections while sounding powerful. Of note is Paice’s beautiful, dry, and natural Martin Birch–produced drum sound. The group was still a few years away from their radio-dominating hair-metal phase, so those looking for straight-ahead riff-rock glory would be advised to give this era a listen. Paice would also appear on 1982’s Saints and Sinners.
Slide It In (1984) Cozy Powell
The 1980s were not kind to many classic rockers, but Coverdale and company had their sound down to a science by 1984, and no current musical flavors would deter the band from continuing to rock hard. For Slide It In, Cozy Powell was enlisted to captain the ship, and he brought with him attitude and a most monolithic bass drum. He works ride-cymbal offbeats on “Gambler” and slithers his way through the start/stop hits in “Slow an’ Easy” with precision and just the right amount of space. And speaking of bass drums, check out the pummeling “All or Nothing” for verses with trucking, forceful kick work, and an organ solo with a cool snare-and-tom pattern that’s big yet the perfect accompaniment. Whitesnake were one album away from unimaginable album sales and touring success—and, as had been established, facing yet another drum-chair lineup change.
Whitesnake (1987) Aynsley Dunbar
Whitesnake hit the super big time with their self-titled album released in 1987, and though Tommy Aldridge would do the touring, it’s Aynsley Dunbar’s massive drums that adorn the hits that filled the radio airwaves. Still, this wasn’t any neutered pop metal-lite, with much of the same heavy rock that fans had come to expect from the band. Dunbar is full steam ahead on the uber-shuffle of “Give Me All Your Love” and lays down the meanest, most unrelenting groove on “Bad Boys,” sprinkling in thick snare and tom fills as needed. But check out the drummer’s subtle work on the chill “Is This Love,” on which Dunbar plays an understated single floor-tom hit right into the top of the verse with no crash on the downbeat. Sure, the reverb on the snare was as big as the teased hair, but this was the path to get on MTV, and Whitesnake now suddenly had something previously rare populating their audience: women.
Slip of the Tongue (1989) Tommy Aldridge
Tommy Aldridge was retained for the follow-up studio album, 1989’s Slip of the Tongue, and brought with him brilliant rock power and his trademark fancy footwork. Check out the slick double bass on the half-time breakdowns on the title track and the driving cowbell and big toms supporting the vocals in the sparse, drums-are-all-that’s-needed-here interlude in “Cheap an’ Nasty.” Aldridge brings the powerful, “Kashmir“-like hugeness in “Judgement Day,” keeping things to a low-boil minimum, moving from hi-hats to his ride for just the slightest change that feels grander. The sound was moving further away from the blues-rock of the early years, but the songs were still executed at the highest level. With a rhythm section including bassist Rudy Sarzo and guitarist Steve Vai, who recorded the album in place of an injured Adrian Vandenberg, Whitesnake continued to feature the cream-of-the-crop musicians the band had always flaunted, and Aldridge fit right in with chops and a sneer.
Good to Be Bad (2008) Chris Frazier
After a long break between official albums (1997’s Restless Heart with drummer Denny Carmassi was never released in the U.S.), the band returned for another studio offering, 2008’s Good to Be Bad, and the drummer musical chairs continued with Chris Frazier now behind the skins. Coverdale was getting longer in the tooth, but that wasn’t stopping his vocals from reaching great heights, and his band was right there alongside him with a clenched fist and technical fluency. Echoes of the Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post” ring out on the triple-feel propulsion in “Best Years,” with Frazier syncopating his bass drum pattern and snapping off dramatic snare fills. Elsewhere he leans into his open hi-hats for the verses and lays down quarter-note snares during the choruses of the rocking yet funky “Call on Me.” Also check out Frazier’s swinging 12/8 groove on “A Fool in Love,” a nice throwback to the Whitesnake style of long ago.
Forevermore (2011) Brian Tichy
You guessed it—another drummer, this time Brian Tichy, joined Whitesnake for the recording of Forevermore, and he continued to kick the band into the blues-rock territory they’d now been slowly returning to, while still bringing the aggressive, hard rock drumming that fit the other side of the band. Tichy is all kick and hi-hat stomp in the mini-breaks of “Steal Your Heart Away,” and he brings ride-bell authority on the choruses of “Love Will Set You Free.” Dig the drum intro in “My Evil Ways” before the drummer gallops double time underneath the big riffs with weight and attacks his China during the guitar solo. Tichy sounds like he’s hitting hard, but he’s never dominating the proceedings.
Tommy Aldridge returned for 2015’s The Purple Album, and Whitesnake shows no signs of slowing down, with yet another album on the way. Who knows who’ll play drums in the near or distant future, but we know we’ll be listening.