Sykes first official band was an outfit called “Streetfighter”. They played mainly cover songs and an original song called “She’s No Angel” appeared on a compilation album called “New Electric Warrior”.
In 1980, Sykes saw an ad for a lead guitar position. He auditioned and ended up joining Tygers Of Pan Tang for two albums, “Spellbound” and “Crazy Nights”. Although good albums, they didn’t sell like the record label wanted them to sell.
Meanwhile, Sykes was getting some recognition and was even asked to audition for Ozzy Osbourne’s band.
In the book “Thin Lizzy” by Alan Byrne, its mentioned how Sykes was brought into Thin Lizzy on the suggestion of producer Chris Tsangarides.
“It was on my suggestion that Sykes was brought in. I was after sorting out some stuff for Sykes and eventually I secured a deal with MCA to release a song that he had written. We were in Dublin when he asked me if Phil might be interested in recording and contributing to it. So I got in touch and Phil decided he was up for it and we recorded the track with Brian Downey on drums and I think Darren Wharton played keyboards on it.”
It wasn’t long after, that Sykes was offered the Thin Lizzy gig.
This is the way Scott Gorham recalls Sykes impact on the band in the same book.
“After Snowy left, John came on board for the “Thunder and Lightning” album. To me, John was great because he had a real hard rock edge to him, he had a great attitude and was a very funny guy, though most importantly, he was a great player.”
“Thunder and Lightning” comes out and it started to re-establish Thin Lizzy in the 80’s. At the same time, David Coverdale tried to hire Adrian Vandenberg and Mama’s Boys Pat McManus on guitar however they both rejected the offer. John Sykes was then offered a million dollars advance payment to join Whitesnake.
Sykes introduced a new technical level to Whitesnake, fresh ideas and a polished image.
For the US version of “Slide It In”, Sykes and bassist Neil Murray re-recorded the guitar and bass parts. I have both versions, the Moody/Hodgkinson European release and the Sykes/Murray release.
Of course, having producer Keith Olsen remixing the album, gave it a more radio friendly sound for the US market.
Mel Galley eventually left the band during the tour and Sykes went on to handle the guitar parts himself. Jon Lord also left to reunite with Deep Purple, thus making Whitesnake a four-piece of Coverdale, Sykes, Murray and Powell.
Money plays a part in every band and Whitesnake was no different. Cozy Powell didn’t like what he was offered to continue with the band and left. Aynsley Dunbar got his chance and ended up being the drummer for Whitesnake’s most successful album.
The 1987 Whitesnake sessions had delays, illnesses and personality issues. Murray didn’t know if he was in the band or out of the band, however he kept on turning up to the studio and completing his bass parts.
Sykes heard stories that he was out, but until Coverdale told him personally he was still in. Meanwhile, Coverdale did tell them all to pick up or explore other projects if they got a chance as the money from Geffen was running out, so Coverdale couldn’t keep them on the payroll.
In the end, the Whitesnake album was reported via “Chinese Whispers” to have cost 3 million dollars to write and record. It also cost the song writing partnership called Coverdale/Sykes. It could have been one of the best song writing partnerships in hard rock music for many years after, but we’ll never know. David Coverdale called it a “musical conversation” between themselves. Well the conversation ended as quickly as it began because Whitesnake is David Coverdale and David Coverdale is Whitesnake. It was David Coverdale that John Kalodner signed to Geffen, not John Sykes. It was David Coverdale that John Kalodner supported all the way through.
And from David Coverdale, the world got to hear John Sykes.