Wembley Arena, North London 21st June 2003, and the living legends Deep Purple take the stage in front of a capacity crowd. Supported by Lynyrd Skynyrd, who are, quite literally, another group of survivors from the seventies, it is more than 35 years since the original line-up of Deep Purple played their first gig in Denmark on 20th April 1968. It’s the first time many of the crowd will have seen this latest incarnation of the band that now features keyboard player Don Airey. A veteran of acts such as Rainbow, Cozy Powell’s Hammer, Gary Moore, Ozzy Osbourne, MSG, Jethro Tull, Judas Priest and Whitesnake, Airey’s impressive musical pedigree would in some respects make him the only candidate to stand in for Jon Lord when Jon was unable to tour in late 2001. Following the 2002 re-issue of Jon Lord’s 1969 Concerto For Group And Orchestra, he decided to retire from Deep Purple altogether, and Don Airey was announced as his permanent replacement for the new studio record issued in 2003, Bananas. With Lord’s departure, this left drummer Ian Paice as the sole remaining founder member from the original 1968 line-up of the band. Fast forward to November 2004, and the Bananas World tour, now into its eighteenth month, is on a second jaunt around the UK, including another visit to Wembley, with no apparent sign of letting up.
Shades Of Deep Purple 1968-69
The group was initially created as a vehicle for former Searchers singer/drummer Chris Curtis, who put together a band called Roundabout in February 1968 with (the man in black) Ritchie Blackmore on guitar and Jon Lord on keyboards. They were funded by the management team of Tony Edwards and John Coletta, both of whom were keen to get into the pop music industry, who at the time they didn’t truly realise how much money could be made by a successful group. Blackmore had been a veteran of the UK and German touring circuit, having cut his teeth throughout the sixties with acts such as Heinz, Neil Christian & The Crusaders, The Outlaws (which also featured future Chas & Dave’s Chas Hodges), Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages and The Three Musketeers. Lord had previously played with The Artwoods and The Flowerpot Men, as well as occasional session work. The band was completed by Nick Simper on bass, Bobby Woodman on drums and Dave Curtis who had replaced Chris Curtis on vocals (no relation). By April, Ian Paice had taken the drum stool, and Dave Curtis had been replaced by Rod Evans. Evans and Paice had previously played together in M15 (who later became The Maze). Blackmore had remembered seeing the impressive young drummer playing in Germany, and favouring him over their current drummer, sent him to get some cigarettes so they could audition Paice. Ian Paice was in and Bobby Woodman was out. They also dropped the Roundabout moniker in favour of Deep Purple, named after Ritchie’s grandmother’s favourite song, which had been popularised by Bing Crosby.
Recorded in May 1968 and issued by EMI’s Parlophone imprint in Septermber 1968, the debut LP, Shades Of Deep Purple, is typical fare of the late sixties; English psychedelic pop, mixing original compositions with some obvious covers. ‘Mandrake Root’ is the only evidence of the future direction of the band, though the single ‘Hush’ manages to sound fresh and almost contemporary today. Issued as a taster from the forthcoming album in June, the UK single sank without trace, but when the Stateside release became a huge hit, issued by Tetragrammoton (home of comedian Bill Cosby), the band concentrated their efforts on America. To fully capitalize on the debut’s success, a second LP, Book of Taliesyn , was issued before the end of the year (though it was six months before it was granted a UK release), with the Neil Diamond penned ‘Kentucky Woman’ expected to repeat the success in the singles chart of ‘Hush’. ‘Wring That Neck’ became a live staple for many future tours.
Deep Purple, in their Carnaby Street clobber and primped hair, had become quite antiquated in their sound and appearance. Although Led Zeppelin had initially met with a rather muted reaction in their native England, the US automatically warmed to their unique bombast of heaviousity. Although a fine singer in his own right, Rod Evans was a little too cabaret for the direction that Blackmore wanted to take the band. They needed a singer who could give Zep’s Percy Plant a run for his money. Likewise, Simper’s bass playing was now considered a little too traditional and staid for where the band saw their sound. Ian Gillan and Roger Glover had secretly been rehearsing with Lord, Blackmore and Paice for a while whilst Deep Purple’s original line-up were still gigging in support of the soon to be released eponymous third LP. There was a fear that if Simper and Evans discovered that there were plans to oust them, they may instantly quit and force the cancellations of shows that were already booked.
Vocalist Gillan had first met bass guitarist Glover in 1965 when he joined Episode Six. Episode Six had evolved from Glover’s school band in the early sixties, and despite releasing half a dozen singles on numerous labels, by 1969, after years of touring the UK, Germany and even Beirut, they had failed to achieve any level of success. Had they had a breakthrough hit, there was the potential to be huge. When Gillan went to record a new single with Purple, it had to done in secret. When Lord asked Glover to play on the record on a session basis, he was glad of the money, but initially turned down an offer to join the band on a permanent basis, knowing his and Gillan’s departure would effectively split Episode Six. The first Purple’s management knew of the band’s line-up change was when Coletta and Edwards were issued a writ by Episode Six’s manager, Gloria Bristow, as her charges were breaking contract. The matter was settled out of court with several thousand pounds to Bristow. Deep Purple Mk1 played their last gig together on 4th July 1969 at the Cardiff Top Rank. Deep Purple Mk2 was then unveiled six days later at The Speakeasy in London on 10th July 1969.
In Rock 1970-1973
‘Hallelujah’, the first recording by the Mk2 version of the group, was issued in July 1969. Hardly indicative of the harder style the band wished to take, it doesn’t sound too out of place next to Deep Purple’s next project. When Lord expressed an interest in developing a concerto, fusing rock ‘n’ roll with a full orchestra, Coletta and Edwards jumped at the opportunity, sure that the prestige and publicity alone that the event would garner could propel the band to international success. They promptly booked London’s Royal Albert Hall for September 1969, and Jon Lord set about composing the concerto, which was debuted on Wednesday 24th September. Recorded for future release as well as being televised, Jon Lord’s Concerto For Group and Orchestra with The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by (Sir) Malcolm Arnold, preceded by a short three song set from Purple, as well as Malcolm Arnold’s Sixth Symphony. Confusingly, the eponymously tilted third (and last) album by Purple Mk1 was not granted a domestic release until November 1969, by which time they had already developed the key material that would make up their major international break through the following year with Deep PurpleIn Rock. The LP of the Concerto was a moderate success when issued in January 1970 on the Harvest label (EMI’s “progressive” imprint) in the UK, whereas it was their last for Tetragrammaton in the US before switching to Warner Bros.
It was remarkable how a small amount of chart success would increase the band’s fortunes. When gigging Stateside during their first flush of fame off the back of ‘Hush’, they could command fees of several thousand dollars, but were lucky to get a couple of hundred pounds a gig (if that) back home, where they were still relatively unknown. With Gillan and Glover in the fold, they were effectively starting from scratch, but still including Mk1 staples ‘Hush’, ‘Kentucky Woman’, ‘Mandrake Root’ and ‘Wring That Neck’ in the set. The latter two numbers would provide backdrops for lengthy instrumental passages, lasting up to half an hour each. Once ‘Black Night’ was a #2 UK hit single in June 1970, Purple could command fees at home of one thousand pounds or more for an appearance thanks to the exposure to the pop mainstream that a couple of Top of the Pops appearances would give. Like Zep and Sabbath, a “progressive” hard rock band like Purple considered hit singles unhip, so ‘Black Night’ was not included on Deep Purple In Rock, which was released the same month. Reaching #4 in the UK, it stayed on the charts for more than a year. The new line-up’s US debut consisted of an abbreviated performance of the Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl with The Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Warners issued …In Rock in time for the US visit, but the album was not met with immediate approval on release as it had in the UK. The new look Purple’s reputation had been built at grass roots level by relentless touring throughout Great Britain and Europe, cementing their formidable stage reputation. They had to be seen live to be believed, and the US was no different, where they were still known as that slightly cabaret style outfit that had a hit a few years earlier with ‘Hush’.
‘Strange Kind Of Woman’ was issued as their next single in February 1971, and again reached the UK Top 10. Purple were truly exposed to the big time when they were booked as the main support in the States for US label mates The Faces, featuring Rod Stewart. Playing short, tight sets to massive stadium crowds, the tour went a long way to establishing them in America, which was proved by the Top 40 US placing of the following LP, Fireball. Despite being a Number 1 LP in the UK, the band, with the exception of Ian Gillan, considered the album a failure. Blackmore has been quoted as stating the band only got to write any fresh material when one of the band members fell too ill to tour, and Fireball had been written and recorded in short, infrequent bursts between concert commitments. The title track was issued as a single, but failed to dent the charts, but the album includes strong material that the band still performs regularly, such as ‘Demon’s Eye’ and ‘No One Came’.
They had already performed ‘Highway Star’ (apparently written on the bus on the way to a gig in order for Blackmore to demonstrate to a journalist the art of “song writing”) live on Germany’s Beat Club TV show when they headed to Montreaux in Switzerland to record the magnum opus, Machine Head, in December 1971. Machine Head is considered by many to be Purple’s peak, containing some of the best known and loved tracks, including ‘Space Truckin’’, ‘Pictures Of Home’ and of course, ‘Smoke On The Water’, which documents the events of that trip to record in Switzerland.
Once again using The Rolling Stones’ mobile, recording sessions in Italy during 1972 produced only one completed track, ‘Woman From Tokyo’, for the next album. The trip was effectively seen as an expensive holiday. Album sessions were shelved in order for the band to make their first trip to Japan. Warners in Japan were keen to record the dates for a domestic release, but at that time live albums were considered a poor cousin to their studio counterparts. The band only complied with the request to record the Japanese dates if they could veto any release if they weren’t totally happy with the results, and only if they could take their own recording engineer, Martin Birch. Birch had engineered Deep Purple’s albums since The Concerto in 1969, and would go on to produce Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, as well as overseeing Purple’s albums until their “final” album in 1975. Due to the often very exploratory, improvised nature of Deep Purple’s live set, where ‘Space Truckin’’ could last up to thirty minutes, the band were startled by the power and strength of the live recordings, and slated it for immediate worldwide release. Made In Japan (issued as just Live In Japan in Japan) has become the benchmark of quality for hard rock and heavy metal bands to follow, where it is de rigueur to have your live opus recorded in the Far East. It also includes what many consider the definitive version of ‘Smoke On The Water’. The band were kept on the road, apparently indefinitely, in order to capitalise on their growing international success. In such an environment, it is not surprising that tensions would arise within the band. Gillan handed in his notice, only to be convinced to stay for a further six months. Who Do We Think We Are couldn’t help but fail to live up to its predecessor, with only ‘Mary Long’ featured in the new set. Tensions had been growing between Gillan and Blackmore, and Blackmore wanted Glover out of the band too. The Mk2 line-up performed their last gig, on Japanese soil, on 29th June 1973 in Osaka.
That could have been the end of Purple. Lord certainly felt as if they had been given a fair crack at fame and success, but he was convinced to carry on the band when Edwards and Colletta demonstrated how much money was at stake. The majority of their back catalogue was in the US Hot One Hundred, and those US album sales alone had made them wealthy men; the Deep Purple brand name was enough to sell thousands of concert tickets, almost regardless of who was in the band. The management were convinced that it was as simple as finding a new bass player and lead singer. Blackmore had wanted the bluesy, soulful vocals of Paul Rodgers fronting Purple, but Rodgers was already in the process of putting Bad Company together after the demise of Free. Glenn Hughes, frontman with the rock trio Trapeze, was approached for the vacant bass guitar spot, and readily agreed. He had cut three LPs with Trapeze, but international success had been elusive. Trapeze guitarist Mel Galley, who would later join David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, and Dave Holland, who would be drumming for Judas Priest by the end of the decade, soldiered on with various line-ups before reforming Trapeze with Hughes in the early 90s. Hughes, a fine singer himself, understandably didn’t want to be just the group’s bass player, insisting he contribute vocals to the group. It was a unique situation that in the rampant egomania of the 1970s could only work by plucking their new lead singer from virtual obscurity. Blackmore was initially against the choice of the unknown twenty-two year old David Coverdale. According to legend, Saltburn born Coverdale, who had recently been working in a Redcar boutique, had answered an ad in Melody Maker. He had the powerful, soulful voice Blackmore had been searching for, and a sex god to rival Robert Plant was born. The new line up was unveiled to the press in late 1973 at Clearwell Castle, where the band had been rehearsing, before performing their first show in Copenhagen in December 1973. Issued by Purple Records in February 1974, Burn, the new LP, quickly made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. It was recorded the previous November in Montreaux, again by Martin Birch using The Rolling Stones Mobile Unit. A spectacular appearance at the California Jam on 6th April 1974 was captured for TV (and later home video), cementing the new line-up and their reputation as a concert draw. After blowing up his amps and smashing a TV camera with his Strat when one a member of the film crew came a little too close to the guitarist, he was quickly whisked away to avoid arrest. Purple Mk3 released a second album, Stormbringer, before the end of 1974, but sadly the rot had already set. Blackmore had wanted to record a version of Quatermass’s ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’, but the rest of the band dismissed the concept of doing a cover. Also, through Hughes’ and Coverdale’s growing influence on the band’s direction, the album had a distinctly “funky” feel, at odds with their hard rock roots. Blackmore hated the new LP, and decided to record ‘Black Sheep Of The Family’ as a solo project, using support band Elf to complete the recording. By the time Blackmore had played his last show on 7th April 1975 at the Paris Palais Des Sports, he already had the first Rainbow LP in the can, featuring Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Some elements of Stormbringer may seem at odds when held against albums such as …In Rock and Machine Head, but songs such as the title track, the ballad ‘Soldier Of Fortune’ and ‘Hold On’ have stood the test of time, still impressing thirty years on. Tellingly, ‘Hold On’, the albums most overtly R&B flavoured number, is the first Purple original not to feature a writing credit from the band’s errant guitar slinger. Apart from being a founder member and powerful influence on the style and direction of Purple, Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar was central to the band’s sound. In June that year he announced his departure, and the forming of his new band, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
Come Taste The Band 1975-76
Although the band were lucky enough to get a second chance of massive success with a new band and a new LP with Burn in 1974, when Blackmore quit in 1975, both Lord and Paice felt it was probably time to call it a day. After seven years at the top, they felt they had enjoyed a good run for their money and it was time to call it a day, but Coverdale and Hughes had tasted rock glory and wanted more. Coverdale had been impressed by Tommy Bolin’s guitar playing on Billy Cobham’s album Spectrum, and duly invited him to audition. Having recently left The James Gang, Bolin was embarking on what would be a short lived solo career, issuing just two albums, Teaser and Private Eyes. Although Purple’s management were reluctant to include the first American musician in the band, Bolin more than surpassed himself during his audition, with a wholly different approach to the notoriously moody Blackmore. Comparisons between the two guitarists were inevitable, but it was a shrewd move not to hire a Blackmore clone. Ironically, a year earlier, Ritchie had touted Tommy as a musician to watch out for in the future. Widely reviled at the time by the hardcore fans hoping for another In Rock or Machine Head, the funk based rock developed on Stormbringer is followed to its logical conclusion on 1975’s Come Taste The Band. Still sounding fresh and contemporary, the record has aged well, with hard rockers ‘Comin’ Home’ and ‘Love Child’ blending well with the moody ‘You Keep On Movin’’ and the funky ‘Gettin’ Tighter’. Apart from making a very strong contribution to the album’s songwriting, Bolin, a rising solo star in his own right, was also a singer, giving Purple a third gifted vocalist. The injection of fresh blood into the group made for a strong album, but the reception from the fans was somewhat lukewarm. Although the individual members of the band had enjoyed the odd tipple, hard drugs had never been an issue in Deep Purple, so automatically recognising a drug problem wasn’t immediate, and it didn’t become evident that Tommy Bolin had a serious drug problem until the band hit the road. The nadir of their career to date was undoubtedly when their tour of the Far East reached Jakarta, Indonesia, in December 1975. Patsy Collins, one of the band’s bodyguards and trusted tour assistant, was found dead at the bottom of a lift shaft, apparently murdered by a pair of local heavies. The band were swiftly deported after not being paid for two shows in front of 190,000 Indonesian fans. Initially relieved to have arrived in Japan, matters turned worse after Tommy had injected himself with impure heroin whilst in Jakarta, with his arm too limp to successfully play on stage. Bolin became more stable once the tour made US soil, resulting in some very respectable shows, but Purple’s British fans didn’t take too kindly to an American in the lead guitar spotlight. The “original” Deep Purple effectively played their last gig on 15th March 1976 at the Liverpool Empire Theatre in England. It was an uninspired, sad end to an important, influential act.
Tommy Bolin released a second solo album, going on the road to support it, but sadly, if somewhat inevitably, he was found dead after overdosing in his hotel room after a gig in Miami supporting Jeff Beck, in December 1976. He was only 25 years old. After hearing the news, Blackmore dedicated a number to him whilst on tour in Japan with Rainbow.
Post Purple 1976-1984.
Coverdale, who had been shot from total obscurity to worldwide fame, lost no time in recording his first solo set in 1977, simply entitled Whitesnake, swiftly followed in 1978 by the excellent Northwinds, both issued by Purple records. A band was put together to support the release of Northwinds, which eventually became David Coverdale’s Whitesnake, who issued their first LP Trouble later the same year. The different members of Whitesnake reads as a who’s who of hard rock, including Purple’s Jon Lord and Ian Paice, eventually finding his greatest success is the late 80s aided by guitarists John Sykes, then Adrian Vandenburg and Steve Vai. Glenn Hughes also recorded a solo set, eventually forming Hughes-Thrall with guitarist Pat Thrall, briefly joining Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath, an all too brief reunion with Trapeze, and who now records as a solo artist. Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow arguably had the greatest commercial success, recording three very gothic studio LPs with Ronnie James Dio, before enlisting Graham Bonnet in time to headline the first ever Donington Monsters of Rock festival in 1980. Rainbow’s most successful phase featured the drums of the late Cozy Powell, who would later drum with both Whitesnake and Black Sabbath. By this time, Blackmore had obviously buried the hatchet with bassist Roger Glover, now a much in demand record producer, as well as becoming Blackmore’s principle songwriting partner. Despite building an impressive catalogue of hit songs, both Whitesnake and Rainbow included a variety of Purple classics in their respective live sets. Ian Gillan had formed the Ian Gillan Band, initially a rather jazzy combo, before forming the much harder rocking Gillan. Again, Purple material featured heavily in most Gillan sets, even performing ‘Smoke On the Water’ during his brief stint fronting Black Sabbath in 1983/84.
Nobody’s Perfect 1984-2004
When Deepest Purple, a TV advertised compilation of the best material from the second and third line-ups of the band was a massive chart hit, Blackmore hinted that a reunion of the Mk2 band wasn’t out of the question. When Blackmore jammed with Gillan at The Marquee club, a reunion looked inevitable, but it wasn’t until 1984 that the time was right for the classic Blackmore/Gillan/Glover/Lord/Paice line-up to get back together to record Perfect Strangers, accompanied by a headlining Knebworth festival appearance in 1985. The House Of Blue Light was issued as a follow up, before the old recriminations began again. Gillan was out once more, bizarrely to be replaced by Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner. Turner lasted one album, Slaves And Masters’ in 1990, before Gillan returned once more for The Battle Rages On in 1993. Evidently “not getting enough of his own way enough of the time”, Blackmore quit mid tour on 17th November 1993 after a show in Helsinki, citing poor performances from Gillan as his justification for his departure. Joe Satriani was drafted in to complete their tour obligations, staying on until the following July, but no official recordings were made with this line-up. Blackmore initially resurrected the Rainbow banner for one album and tour, before forming Blackmore’s Night with vocalist Candice Knight, a unique project dedicated to authentically reproducing musical styles from the Renaissance.
A permanent replacement was found in ex-Dixie Dregs guitarist Steve Morse, which seemingly created a much happier, and certainly more stable line-up. Purpendicular in 1996 was the first studio album to feature Morse, followed by Abandon in 1998. ‘Ted The Mechanic’ and the title track to ‘Perfect Strangers’ are taken from their 1996 concert at the Olympia, again in Paris, and ‘Any Fule Kno That’ is the lead track from Abandon.
It was announced that the band would be performing at The Royal Albert Hall in order to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of Lord’s Concerto For Group And Orchestra. Backed up by the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann, and aided by Ronnie James Dio on vocals, the two shows were a great success, even if a few of the heckling “fans” had expected to hear ‘Space Truckin’’ or ‘Highway Star’.
‘Sun Goes Down’ is taken from Purple’s first album in five years, Bananas. Offering something for every Purple fan, it was recorded in Los Angeles at the beginning of 2003, produced by Michael Bradford.Deep Purple understand the importance of giving their fans what they want; their current US tour features the seminal Machine Head album performed in its entirety.
Unfortunately I missed the opening set from The Darkness for that three band bill at Wembley in June 2003, headlined by Purple. With three independently issued singles to their name, and a debut album a month away from release, I only heard the last crashing chord of The Darkness’s bottom of the bill set as I entered the venue at 7pm. The Darkness could now confidently fill that venue by them selves. At the beginning of the new millennium, classic, old school hard rock, is very much alive and well, and in no small way do we have Deep Purple’s persistence, longevity and durability to thank for that.