Part One of a series on the songs I heard growing up that shaped my own musical tastes. First up are heavy rock pioneers Deep Purple and the first offering from their Mark III incarnation.
Given his mid ’70s teenage heyday, it’s no surprise that I owe my introduction to the music of Deep Purple to my dad. He had a battered cassette of Deepest Purple which he played in the car as I was growing up. Many a long car journey then in the late ‘80’s was accompanied by the sounds of Black Night, Woman From Tokyo and the bane of every guitar shop worker’s existence, Smoke On The Water.
To start with I hated it.
I was young, naive and didn’t really know what I was listening to. The lyrics were often inane (Space Truckin’ a case in point). There was screaming going on at times. It was a far cry from our other more sedate stereo staples of Simon & Garfunkel and Eric Clapton.
I looked at the sleeve pictures and memorised the names.
Blackmore. Paice. Lord.
Only much later did I go away and find out why there were two different singers and two different bass players even on that one Best Of album. Tip of the iceberg of course when it comes to Purple and line-up changes but the names and pictures stuck with me. As time went on, I got curious and began to delve deeper into the history of the band.
Deep Purple ascended to the top of the heavy rock world in 1972 with the release of Machine Head and the genre defining live album Made In Japan. 1973, however, was a year of distinct change. Given the widening cracks beneath the surface of the Mark II line-up, most bands would have taken some time apart to relax, re-energise and come back refreshed. Purple however took another road.
Imagine the furore as one of the biggest heavy rock bands in the world kick out their beloved lead singer and bass player at the peak of their popularity. In exchange they swapped in an unknown, overweight clothes shop assistant and a Stevie Wonder loving bassist from a lesser known British band. These days Twitter would be in meltdown but for Deep Purple it was just another minor bump in the road.
Redcar High Street’s loss was definitely Purple’s gain. Even if they did have to do a hasty remodelling job on raw new recruit David Coverdale’s poorly advised moustache and dodgy fashion sense. Add in a steady round of diet pills (read: amphetamines) to get him into shape and the new Ian Gillan was ready to bring a distinctly un-Gillan-like voice to the next album.
Rumours had been rife in the music press that Paul Rodgers of Free fame was really Ritchie Blackmore’s number one choice. Second choice or not, Coverdale’s arrival seemed to re-energise the band after the lacklustre Who Do We Think We Are album. 18 months of solid touring and relentless pressure to follow up the commercial success of Machine Head had seen relations within the band strained far beyond breaking point. Cue the departures of Gillan and Roger Glover.
They really shouldn’t have been surprised given the nature of their own entry into the band, namely a series of secret rehearsals behind the back of previous incumbents Rod Evans and Nick Simper. What goes around comes around especially with the behind the scenes machinations of Blackmore who, allegedly, gave the management a ‘him or me’ ultimatum over his ongoing dispute with Gillan.
The management at the time were hardly Blackmore’s puppets though. At one point they singled out Jon Lord and Roger Glover and offered them the chance to continue with a new line-up under the Deep Purple name. Imagine Glover’s surprise then to soon find himself outside the tent rather than safely (if anything was ever safe in early 1970s DP) back inside.
With Glover moving on to A&R and production projects, it was Trapeze’s bass-playing, high-octane singer Glenn Hughes who took over on four string duties. While it’s somewhat derogatory to credit him as ‘only’ a backing singer, that was certainly the role Blackmore envisaged for him. While Coverdale was billed as main vocalist and frontman, they were given shared duties on both Burn and follow-up LP Stormbringer and it’s hard to see Hughes as anything other than a co-lead vocalist.
Coverdale’s Scott Walker style singing on his demo tape had rather miraculously got him an audition for the Blackmore/Lord/Paice spine of the band plus fellow new boy Hughes. He himself had been persuaded to ditch the up and coming Trapeze with a promise of making lots of money and touring the world as part of one of the world’s biggest rock bands. Made sense then, makes sense now. Even with hindsight telling us that Mark III would last less than 18 months in total before losing their Man In Black for fresher fields elsewhere with Rainbow.
Hughes’ ear shattering high register and funkier sensibilities really added to the blues-based rock sound Coverdale was bringing to the table. It’s easy to see then how a man with a relentless appetite for change like Ritchie Blackmore could have found enough to interest himself in the fresh new sound. Even if it only lasted for two albums, it was a welcome change for Ritchie after becoming so tired with the Gillan version of rock n’ roll.
Being the new boys, drummer Ian Paice remembers Coverdale and Hughes as being rather more pliable in the studio for the sessions which made up the Burn album than their predecessors. “They did what they were told” is the basic gist of it and with Ritchie in complete megalomaniac mode it’s rather understandable. Who wants to go back to selling trousers when you could be touring the US and Europe and playing to 200,000 people at Ontario Speedway in California? No-one. Simple as that.
The Live In California 74 video exemplifies the new found spark in the Mark III version of the band. While overall it was relatively short-lived, Burn, as an album, ranks well up the list of best Purple albums, regardless of line-up or time-frame.
The video of the title track Burn from Live In California is now one of my favourite live music performances. A young David Coverdale, long before the excesses of the overblown 1980s and bleached hair of Whitesnake, back when he was a proper rocker, young and hungry, throwing his mic stand about like nobody’s business kicks it all off.
Ian Paice hammering out a frenetic beat on drums has always been one of my favourite things about listening to Deep Purple. Paice’s restless energy throughout stands out as a masterclass in the fine art of heavy rock drumming. His more classically minded bandmates on guitar and keys may have provided the finer melodic brushstrokes but it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as effective without Paice battering the life out of his kit to spur them on.
That Ian was the only member who survived through all line-ups, and is still touring with the band today, is testament to his talent and his sheer bloody mindedness in keeping the whole thing together. Deep Purple would not have been Deep Purple through all those years without Ian Paice driving them on.
Blackmore stalks his side of the stage, bare chested under a trademark black jacket, ripping out that unforgettable riff. I don’t care if it was influenced by Gershwin’s Fascinating Rhythm, George never made it sound like this. The effortless guitar soloing and sparring back and forward with Jon Lord’s most legendary moustache in rock music history take it to another level altogether.
The organ has been cruelly overlooked in recent years as an integral part of the heavy rock band sound but I’ve already tasked my daughter with learning to play like Jon Lord as recompense for me paying for her piano lessons. Fair’s fair.
The enduring visual though comes from the last 20 or 30 seconds of the clip. Glenn Hughes has roared and screamed his way through his vocal parts. His bass floods out of the speakers, even from a copy of a copy of a poor copy on Youtube, so much so that I suspect the sonic boom of his original bass sound is actually still being felt around the world 40 odd years later.
Resplendent in white suit and platforms, long haired and strutting his bass around the stage like a Cannock version of Philip Lynott, Hughes steals the show for me. Loving life and why not? The decline of this version of the band was probably already in action behind the scenes despite Ritchie’s mischievous grin as the song draws to a crushing crescendo.
Who wouldn’t live for just one chance to play this tune, on that stage, with this band, for that crowd? I wouldn’t have swapped it for all of the Rainbows or Whitesnakes in the world.