Rudy Sarzo Explains Why He Initially Refused to Join Whitesnake, Recalls Working With Steve Vai

Bass legend Rudy Sarzo reflected on his time as a Whitesnake member and how he was initially reluctant to join and passed the opportunity when David Coverdale wanted him in the lineup.

Anyone familiar with rock music will know how chaotic the Whitesnake lineup history is. With David Coverdale as the leader and frontman and the sole original member, some of the finest musicians of the genre have been members of Whitesnake since the band’s inception back in 1978. One of those musicians was also bassist Rudy Sarzo, who joined in 1987.

However, as Sarzo revealed in a recent interview for the Different Stages Radio show, there was an offer two years before he actually joined. But as he said, neither he nor the drummer, Tommy Aldridge, were really up for that. When asked how he and Aldridge joined and how the whole thing came to be, Sarzo replied (transcribed by Killer Guitar Rigs):

“Well, if you can follow the lineage of the whole idea, the concept of me joining Whitesnake —  Whitesnake was the opening band for Quiet Riot during the ‘Condition Critical’ tour, so I befriended not only David but also the other guys in the band, I also understood that there was conflict within the group.”

RUDY SARZO - QUIET RIOT Interview - Different Stages Radio w/ J.J. - DSR January 24, 2024

“And so Tommy and I — in 1985, early on — we put our own band together, or at least we started to put the band together. So we were back to being a rhythm section — Tommy had left Ozzy and I had left Quiet Riot.”

“So we get a phone call from the Whitesnake management to go down and meet with them, and they offered us the position to be the rhythm section. This was before the ’87 record was even completely written. This is ’85.”

But at the time, there was some commotion going on within the Whitesnake camp. So, at that moment, it felt like a risky move to join, despite the band making some serious success. Sarzo continued:

“And because I understood that one of the main reasons for the conflict within the group was still in the group. I declined. You know, to go from one situation to joining another one, I just didn’t want any more conflict in my life, so I declined.”

Eventually, things changed, and Sarzo and Aldridge were offered their spots again. This time, they accepted, replacing previous members, bassist Neil Murray and drummer Ansley Dunbar.

“Then a couple of years later, they called us again,” Rudy said. “But this time, the record was done, and they wanted us to come down for the ‘Still of the Night’ video. And as soon as I found out that the conflict was not there anymore, I said, ‘Yeah, okay, now we’re talking.’

“Still of the Night” was a song from Whitesnake’s 1987 self-titled record. Although they didn’t participate in the sessions for the album, both Aldridge and Sarzo were featured in the video. Eventually, this became one of Whitesnake’s biggest hit songs.

Whitesnake - Still of the Night (Official Music Video)

However, their actual studio work came shortly after. With more lineup changes, Sarzo also got the chance to work with Steve Vai and Adrian Vandenberg on what would become the “Slip of the Tongue” album, released in 1989.

“It was a great record,” Sarzo said when reminded of this album. “It was really interesting because the original intent of the record was more of a bluesy version of what came out once Steve Vai joined the band because we did pre-production with a bit with Vivian, and then Vivian was gone.”

“And then Adrian, who co-wrote the majority of the music with David, got injured during the making of the record. He got injured before his rhythm tracks were done.”

Whitesnake ► “Still Of The Night” – 1987 Tour Video Bootleg *

“So we had to take a small break until we solidified Steve Vai being in the band, and then it became like a rush, a big push to finish the record. We had two producers working at the same time finishing the tracks because we had a delivery date.”

Apart from the album going in a somewhat unexpected direction, especially with Steve Vai giving it a completely new shred-friendly twist, it was also recorded and engineered in more than one studio. When reminded of that, Rudy said:

“The rhythm tracks and the basics were done in Reno, a place called Granny’s Recording Studio, and then they moved down to two studios. One of them Steve Vai’s studio — he’s on the enterprise — and then the other one was Goodnight LA [by] Keith Olsen because we had two producers: Mike Clink, who started the record, and then Keith Olsen came in to start working on the vocals and keyboards at Goodnight LA.”

Whitesnake - Fool for Your Loving (Official Music Video)

“He had also done the ’87 record in his own studio. So we were trying to pick up the pace — gain the time that we lost in between Adrian getting injured and Steve Vai coming in.”

Photos: Jennifer Hammer (RudySarzo), Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 08)


  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor.