Deep Purple formed in the late sixties with ex Artwoods keyboard player Jon Lord on organ, session guitarist from The Outlaws and Screaming Lord Sutch sideman, Ritchie Blackmore on lead guitar, Nicky Simper on bass, Rod Evans on vocals and Ian Paice on drums. This line-up made three albums for Tetragammon Records in the US and initially Parlophone in the UK, switching to Harvest through EMI on the second self-titled album. Shades Of Deep Purple (1968) Deep Purple (1968) and The Book of Taliesyn (1969) were released by what became known as Deep Purple Mk.1. But by the end of 1969 bassist Roger Glover and vocalist Ian Gillan from Episode 6 had replaced Simper and Evans. This was despite hits in the US with Joe South’s Hush, No.4 in the US and Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman making the Top 40. The core of the band had decided that they wanted to change direction and although they flirted with Jon Lord’s Orchestral works with Concerto For Group And Orchestra (1969) and two non-album hit singles in the UK, Black Night making it to No.2 in 1970 and Strange Kind Of Woman to No.8 in 1971 they were determined to change, get heavier. They presumed these would to be their last hit singles as the era of mega-successful albums bands had arrived, no videos, no hit singles but hugely popular albums and concert appearances – think Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple as the core of British Heavy Rock in the early seventies.
This new line-up became known as Deep Purple Mk.2, the classic line-up of the band.This second incarnation of Deep Purple recorded four essential studio albums – In Rock 1970, Fireball 1971, Machine Head 1972, Who Do We Think We Are 1973 and one live album Made In Japan in 1972. After Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and the sixties legends had left their mark, it was time for a whole new generation of talented marvels, guitar heroes with their own sound and memorable licks that would have every budding guitarist on the planet trying to emulate them. Ritchie Blackmore stepped up with a tone that was only him, a tremolo bar that only he could make sound that way and guitar solos that musicians (including Steve Morse) are still copying to this day. Like Dave Gilmour’s solos in Pink Floyd, if you don’t play the notes that Blackmore played in the Deep Purple classics – then it isn’t the song, whatever the songwriter tells you, however much he says it’s all about the lyrics, the chords, the melody, the chorus, however much the vocalist tells you that the audience want to hear the lead singer before everything else – it’s simply not always true. Those that don’t like Rock bands like this have trouble understanding what all the fuss is about – they hear the noise, the riffs, the guitar solo and they can’t distinguish between any solo and that solo. Interestingly those that don’t like this genre also have an issue with white men with vibrato but not black women – why is that? Equally, one might also ask why groove is so often missing in Rock music – perhaps because then it wouldn’t be Rock Music – but wait, then there was the third and fourth incarnations of the band.
Deep Purple were responsible for some of the greatest Rock records ever made with Ian Gillan’s screaming, Jon Lords’ churning distorted organ sound and interplay with Blackmore, and a rhythm section that included producer/bass player Roger Glover and one of the world’s great drummers Ian Paice. They created a sound that dominated the album charts in the seventies with In Rock reaching No.4 in the UK/ Fireball No.1 in the UK and No.32 in the US / Machine Head No.1 in the UK No. 7 in the US/ Who Do We Think We Are No. 4 in the UK, No.15 in the US. Made In Japan has been one the most popular live albums ever made, on release it reached No.1 in Germany, No.16 in the UK and No.6 in the US. But most surprisingly the hit that no-one could foresee was the single version of Smoke On The Water reaching No.4 in the US, the song’s iconic riff saw the song enter charts all over the world.
It’s not just the groove of Heavy Rock that get’s criticized, it’s the lyric s too. It seems that banal love in Soul songs means more than screaming your heart out for the same cause in Metal. Machine Head’s Smoke On The Water is one of the most famous Rock riffs ever written (I even saw Patti Smith do it live once) the lyrics in bands like this are generally underwhelming and the line “The Rolling Truck Stone’s thing just outside” might have alerted literature students to a less than perfect expressive use of the English language? Or not, it never bothered me. It’s about the voice not the words, the sound not the message, the message IS the sound.
But enough of the conjecture, the analysis of taste, of who considers what is good and what is bad. After the phenomenal success of Machine Head, Deep Purple’s follow up album, Who Do We Think We Are was disappointing despite the classic opener Woman From Tokyo, the album allegedly rushed out when the band needed time apart, keeping them out on the road fulfilling the demand of the market place. Roger Glover had hinted that he wanted to leave (note that Glover had been extremely important to the band in the producers chair) and so Trapeze co-lead singer and bassist Glenn Hughes hit the shortlist of replacements. Internal tensions between Ian Gillan and Ritchie Blackmore led to the break up of the Mark 2 line-up at the peak of their commercial success. It was hard to imagine that Gillan could be replaced, it was his voice that sang Smoke On The Water, Highway Star, Fireball, and In Rock’s, Child In Time. Glenn Hughes states that he was told that Paul Rodgers was going to replace Gillan but Bad Company made it apparent that this wasn’t going to happen. The idea of a four-piece Deep Purple didn’t seem to be the answer despite Glenn Hughes’ strength as a vocalist.
On one of Deep Purple’s early tours they had been playing in the north east and were supported by David Coverdale’s band, The Government. Coverdale comes from Saltburn-On-Sea on the north east coast near Middlesborough. Reading an advert in the Melody Maker, Coverdale sent the band a tape, got the audition and impressing the band with his resonant and soulful voice, he got the gig. Suddenly Deep Purple were back with not one but two powerful singers. In 1974 this new five piece band (Mk.3) wrote and released Burn and against all odds it became one of Deep Purple’s strongest and most successful albums with memorable songs, soulful twin vocals, Blackmore’s melodic guitar sounds, quality riffs and inspired drumming all glued together with Lord’s thick resonant organ and Glenn Hughes’ bass. They had successfully replaced their lead singer and bassist/producer, evolved, impressed the critics and wowed the fans. The album went to No.3 in the UK/No.9 in the US and No.1 in Germany – it was almost a miracle. Perhaps what was most interesting about this period was that the band had evolved and were starting to find a groove, (heaven forbid). After their next album Stormbringer, Blackmore left disillusioned with this direction and recruiting ex James Gang and Zephyr guitarist Tommy Bolin they successfully transformed into a soulful, Funky Heavy Rock band on their final incarnation (Mk.4) and last seventies album Come Taste The Band.
All that is left is for you to listen to one of the great unsuspecting Heavy Rock albums of the seventies, made late in the career of a classic band that had lost core members. Later sometime after Come Taste The Band, Tommy Bolin died of a drug overdose in 1976, he was just 25 years old. It would be almost a decade before Deep Purple Mk.2 reformed for the Perfect Strangers album in 1984. Still recording and performing they released a new album, Now What?! in 2013. Jon Lord died of pancreatic cancer in 2012. The current line up of the band is Gillan/Glover/Paice/Steve Morse and Don Airey.
One last thought, despite it’s lumpen riff Smoke On The Water has a nice groove don’t you think?