Many Shades of Deep Purple
Throughout Europe, the Far East, Scandinavia and Australia, its relentless rock ‘n roll power-riffing has attracted a massive following. In America, where the band soared to supergroup status last year with the success of “Smoke on the Water,” no one – including the Who, the Allman Brothers Band and Led Zeppelin sells more albums. After a turbulent, often erratic six-year existence, England’s Deep Purple may very well be the world’s most popular prototype heavy metal band.
Lead-guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, however will argue against the categorization – “Nothing’s worse than hearing someone say ‘Deep Purple? Wow, man. They’re just like Blaaaaaack Saaaabath, knocking out all the riffs.’ We don’t just shower the songs with heavy chords and leave it at that.
“If people can’t comprehend the certain subtleties that we put into the music, I’m afraid I haven’t the patience to explain them. You can practice ’till you’re blue in the face . . . I’ve done it. I’ve been on stage playing absolutely outstanding music and people have missed the entire point. Yet as soon as I play the guitar with my feet, they go crazy – ‘Yeah, that’s great!’ So you wonder whether it’s worth it. And most critics, as soon as they hear anything loud, say, ‘Well, this is heavy metal rubbish.’ Yet when they hear a folk band playing trash, they go, ‘Well, that’s nice . . . real fine.’ It’s all very stupid.”
Not surprisingly, Ritchie Blackmore seldom consents to interviews. Although his dark, stooping figure is the closest thing to a Deep Purple fan focal point, he is far from an optimism-dispensing Pollyanna. It is usually drummer Ian Paice or organist Jon Lord who are made accessible to the media. “It’s not that I don’t enjoy interviews,” Blackmore explained before the April California Jam concert at Ontario. “It’s just that I’m a bit too honest.” He pauses a moment. “Honesty does not pay.”
Blackmore takes a fairly apathetic, noncommittal view of it all. “Selling the amount of records that we do is no big deal,” he says. “I guess it’s nice to know you’re being appreciated, but to me Deep Purple is best on stage. We’ve sold ourselves through touring. On record, we’re pretty average. And that includes myself. Sometimes I cringe when I hear our records, they’re so flat. I’m embarrassed by them. I’m only playing a third of what I can put out. You can never excel yourself on record. It’s hopeless.
“I have to be turned on by the audience. I like to show off. Whenever I get out on stage, I know I’m a great guitarist. I know I can blow any other guitarist off any stage. It all comes out. When I go in the studio, I think I’m playing to the engineer and a few other people. It doesn’t do anything for me. It usually ends up OK, that’s good enough. I know it won’t get any better.”
Blackmore’s quest for artistic satisfaction has been an impatient one. Deep Purple’s lineup and musical direction has yet to remain constant for any length of time. The Blackmore-Paice-Lord conglomeration could easily be likened to Traffic, where musicians outside the basic core are highly impermanent. Although Blackmore is comfortable with the group’s newest incarnation, which includes bassist-vocalist Glenn Hughes and singer David Coverdale, he doubts they will last beyond three years. “Stagnation,”he says, “is something to be avoided at all costs.”
Deep Purple first burst upon the scene in the summer of 1968 with “Hush,” a hit single on Tetragrammation Records. Besides the aforementioned core, the mostly pop-oriented group included Rod Evans on lead vocals and Nicky Simper on bass. Three quick albums brought mounting recognition until late 1969 when the Hollywood-based label folded.
The following year was spent reconstructing a new format and career. When Deep Purple resurfaced, bassist Roger Glove and singer Ian Gillian had replaced their fired predecessors. Warner Brothers was their new label and “Deep Purple and the Royal Philharmonic,” a rock-classical concerto written and scored totally by Lord, was the new album.
“I love classical music,” Ritchie says. “I don’t like rock musicians playing with classical orchestras. I thought it was stupid when we were doing it. I still think it’s stupid. The two styles are never integrated.
“Still, I’m a very staunch supporter of rock ‘n roll. A lot of people like to snub it. You get these well-respected jazz guitarists like Barney Kessell and nobody knows when he hits a flat note. In jazz, it all sounds the same. In rock, you can’t hit a flat note. It’s very limiting. It’s much harder.
“People must be completely sick of guitar solos by now. I think my solos are better than the others, without being conceited, but still, if I wasn’t a musician I’d be bored stiff. I’m much more interested in the violin. The guitar has become too trendy. People like John McLaughlin . . . he’s a jazz guitarist who thought that playing with a fuzz would make him a rock ‘n roller. He leaves me cold. He’s influencing a lot of people, though, whereas the (Carlos) Santana guy is just plain rotten. I don’t why he’s got such a name.
“It seems as though everything in music today is fake. This glitter stuff, I can’t stand. David Bowie is pathetic. Just pathetic. He’s alright for people who are a bit naive and lost, I imagine, but to me it’s all very false. And the Rolling Stones. Every-time they come out it’s another Chuck Berry riff with the tambourines going. Let’s face it, it’s been downhill since ’67. Things like Hendrix, Traffic and the Beatles must have been too much for the world.”
“In Rock” was the first manifestation of Deep Purple’s hard-edge rock ‘n roll period. For the most part ignored in the United States, the album was a smash throughout Europe. The band still considers “In Rock” its best effort to date. “Fireball,” the followup album, is a different story. “We had no ideas whatsoever,” says Paice. “Fireball” turned out to be a bit of ‘Let’s hope we’ve got an album’s worth here’ type of thing.”
To record the next album, “Machine Head,” Deep Purple traveled to France and an empty, acoustically perfect Montreaux ballroom. Two days before recording was to begin, the ballroom burned down.
“Machine Head” went on to break open the U.S. market, and by the time “Who Do We Think We Are!” was released, Deep Purple had become a top American concert attraction. Its albums began to pass the $1 million mark. Then, $2 million.
“The way we did ‘Who Do We Think We Are!'”, recalls Blackmore, “was to put the instrumental tracks down and Ian would come in the following day, which the rest of the band had off, to sing vocals. We never got together once during the recording.”
It was the beginning of the second generation of Deep Purple’s demise. After a lackluster world tour to promote the group’s live album, “Made In Japan,” Ian Gillian and Roger Glover were canned. Extensive auditions (including a polite refusal from Paul Rodgers to join) resulted in the acquisition of ex-Trapeze member Glenn Hughes and part-time clothes salesman David Coverdale.
“We didn’t want to lose the people that we had,” Blackmore admits. “But we did want a few more people into blues. Our roots are there as well. Later on we’ll incorporate more and more blues into the act. But we’ll be careful. It’s great to progress, but unless you take the audience with you, it’s pointless.”
Courtesy of the L.A. Times – Cameron Crowe – June 23, 1974