Steve Vai Opens Up on What It Was Like to Play in Whitesnake, Admits That He Was ’Difficult’

Looking back at his work with Whitesnake, guitar legend Steve Vai admitted that he feels like he was “a bit of a primadonna” during that time. Nonetheless, as he revealed in a recent interview on Vintage Rock Pod, he feels very lucky to have been part of David Coverdale’s legendary band.

Going back to the late 1980s, Vai was fresh out of David Lee Roth’s solo band and wanted to focus on his solo career. However, he got this opportunity to play in Whitesnake and officially joined in March 1989. Vai recalled (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):

“So I thought, ‘Well, it would make much more sense to tour with Whitesnake and make a record with them.’ And for the momentum of that other side of my career, and lucky for me, I really liked the music of Whitesnake.”

STEVE VAI (WhiteSnake) - guitar solo

Going more into it, Vai then praised David Coverdale’s musicianship, saying:

“Back then, their ‘Whitesnake’ album [had] sold 25 million copies and it was a great record. I just love great singers, and Coverdale was a monster.”

“I mean, come on. I watched that guy get on stage every night and deliver like a boss. So I thought ‘Yeah, man! I want in.’ It was great.”

Steve Vai joins Whitesnake for Slip of the Tongue- MTV News 1989- David Coverdale, Adrian Vandenburg

Steve was a member of Whitesnake in 1989 and 1990, recording guitar parts for the 1990 album “Slip of the Tongue.” However, as he explains, he was there just to do his part on an album that was written by David Coverdale and guitarist Adrian Vandenberg. Vai continued:

“When I got into the band, all the music was written and recorded for the ‘Slip of the Tongue’ record. I just had to put the guitars on it. That was another really great group of guys.”

Interestingly enough, all of the guitar parts on the album were done by Steve, despite Vandenberg also being credited as a performer.

Whitesnake's Steve Vai On Joining Whitesnake for Slip Of the Tongue and Tour

Going more into it, Steve Vai also admitted that he feels like he was the “difficult” one and a “primadonna.” And he contributes this due to his experience in David Lee Roth’s band, as well as his soon-to-be-successful sophomore solo album. He said:

“If anybody was difficult, it was me. I was a bit of a primadonna. I came from Dave Roth, and with Dave Roth, you learn certain things, how to navigate the business and navigate the magazines and the press and things like this. Plus I had ‘Passion and Warfare’ out.”

“Passion and Warfare” was a follow-up to his largely overlooked debut solo album “Flex-Able.” But, as he recalls, this one was making rounds while he was out on the road with Whitesnake:

“It was blowing up while I was touring with Whitesnake. So we did the ‘Slip of the Tongue’, and we did a huge tour. It was fantastic.”

Slip of the Tongue (2009 Remaster)

However, after the tour, things took a different turn and Whitesnake was disbanded. Nonetheless, Steve was only getting started:

“At the end of it, David [Coverdale] was going through some personal things. He was going through a divorce, so he disbanded everything. But I knew instinctively that I [had to] do a record and a tour with them, and [then] return to the quirky music that was in my head.”

In an interview from a few years ago, Steve also looked back on his time in Whitesnake and had nothing but the best things to say about working with David Coverdale. Asked what Coverdale was like to work with, Vai replied:

“David was a prince! He had a lot of confidence in me and basically knew he needed to just let me do my thing. David knew what I was capable of and didn’t really interfere with what I wanted to do.”

Whitesnake - Slip of the Tongue - Mannheim 1990

“I just did it, and if there was something he didn’t like I was happy to change it because it was his thing. Working with David was great and there was something in his phrasing as a singer that I just adored.”

As Vai then recalled, there was just one time when Coverdale wanted him to redo something in the studio:

“There was really only one situation where David asked me to redo something and I completely agreed. It was on ‘The Deeper the Love.'”

Whitesnake - The Deeper the Love (Official Music Video)

“I had done a solo using a piece of rack gear that was the hot new piece of gear at the time. I won’t mention who it was made by, but I hated the thing, but everybody was saying how great it was, so I gave it a spin.”

“It sounded like shit – thin and buzzy like a deranged mosquito! I wasn’t really satisfied with the sound on the solo and, sure enough, David heard it and went, ‘Steven darling, would you mind redoing this solo – it sounds a bit thin.’ Other than that, he just let me run with it.”

In an interview from 2021, Coverdale recalled seeing Steve Vai in the “Crossroads” film from 1986 playing the Jack Butler character and being so impressed that he felt like hiring him ASAP. However, his then bandmate and guitar player John Sykes wasn’t that fond of the idea:

“While I was still working with John Sykes, I saw the movie ‘Crossroads,’ and that was the first time I was exposed to – if you excuse the expression, public indecency.”

Guitar Battle Scene from "Crossroads" (1986) | Steve Vai

“I was exposed to Steve Vai, who in that movie was playing the devil’s guitar slinger.”

“And I thought, ‘Oh my god!’ And I called John [Sykes], I said, ‘I’ve just seen this amazing guitar player, I think would be perfect on the other side of the stage to you.'”

“And of course, John wasn’t remotely interested in sharing the stage. But I had been made aware of Steve.”

“So, I don’t know what the elements were, but I know after Adrian Vandenberg injured his wrists and couldn’t perform, I escalated my approach to Steve.”

Whitesnake & Steve Vai - Hellfest 2022 - Still of the Night

“And thankfully, he agreed to become a member of the Snake. We text each other almost every day, a beautiful guy.”

“I don’t know whether you saw it but last year we had the 30th anniversary of a big, big festival we did in England called Monsters of Rock in 1990.”

“And that was the 30th anniversary of that, and we brought all the bands together, Rhino established this kind of Zoom call. It was really fun, very cool.”

Photos: Llann Wé² (David Coverdale at Hellfest 2013), Wojciech Pędzich (Steve Vai, 3-Majówka 2023 61)

  • 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 and brands like Sam Ash.