Deep Purple - Biography
Though begun as a run-of-the-mill British, post-R&B group in 1968, Deep Purple have gone on to be hailed as one of the bands that helped to create the genre known as heavy metal. Their thick guitar crunch mixed with distorted organ has become one of the most recognizable sounds in rock history, and the band continues to tour and release albums some 40 years after their formation.
The beginning of the Deep Purple story starts in 1967 when Chris Curtis, the former drummer of The Searchers, got together with businessman and manager Tony Edwards and suggested an idea for a band that would be called Roundabout, and would have a revolving membership, in keeping with the name. The pair first recruited the classically trained organist and keyboard player, Jon Lord. Soon after, they recruited session guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. Curtis then left the band, but Lord and Blackmore enjoyed playing together so much that they decided to carry on without him. The pair recruited bassist Nick Simper, who had previously played with Lord in the band, The Flower Pot Men And Their Garden, and with Blackmore in The Savages. Later they gained drummer Ian Paice from the band The Maze and that band's former singer, Rod Evans. After a short tour of Denmark as Roundabout, the band changed their name to Deep Purple, named after a favorite song of Blackmore's grandmother.
By May of 1968, the band were ready to record an album and spent three days in the studio producing what would become their debut, Shades Of Deep Purple (1968 Tetragrammaton). Their early sound was a mix of psychedelic rock with heavy doses of R&B and classical flourishes, mostly courtesy of Lord. Though the album was somewhat ignored in the UK, the band scored a hit in North America with the song “Hush,” written by noted Southern songwriter Joe South. Because of the band's new found popularity in the US and Canada, a second album was recorded and released first in the US, The Book of Taliesyn (1968 Tetragrammaton). To coincide with the release of the album, the band toured heavily, especially in North America, and the band were rewarded with the album placing at #38 on the Billboard album chart. Touring would become a major feature of Deep Purple throughout their career. The Book of Taliesyn was a step towards a harder, progressive rock sound, but still retained much of the pop element of the first album, including their version of Neil Diamond's “Kentucky Woman,” which was released as a single and became a minor hit.
The band stretched out a bit more on their next release, the self-titled Deep Purple (1969 Tetragrammaton). The sound became more aligned with many of the emerging progressive rock bands at the time, with Deep Purple taking on longer song structures (as in the three-part suite “April”) and more complicated arrangements and time structures. Classical instrumentation, including woodwinds and strings, were also introduced into the mix of the band. Even though the band had toured extensively in the US and had enjoyed more success there than in their native UK; their American record company Tetragrammaton went out of business at the end of 1969. Fortunately for the band, the company's assets were taken over by Warner Brothers, so the band found themselves on a major label. At the same time, singer Evans and bassist Simper wanted to return to the band's more pop and R&B influences, but it was clear that the rest of the band were heading in another direction. After releasing a single, “Emmaretta,” in 1969, both Evans and Simper were fired from the band. Evans went on to form the underrated Captain Beyond.
The band wanted to find a more powerful singer and they found him through the suggestion of their friend, drummer Mick Underwood. Underwood played drums in the band Episode Six and he suggested they hear Episode Six's singer, Ian Gillan. Gillan was a powerful rock singer with a wide range and he was just what Deep Purple needed. When the band auditioned Gillan, Episode Six's bassist, Roger Glover, also came along. As Deep Purple also needed a bassist the band convinced him to join. Unfortunately for Underwood, this effectively ended Episode Six.
The new version of the band, often called Deep Purple Mark II, got to work quickly and recorded the single “Hallelujah,” but it failed to chart. The group continued with a blend of increasingly harder rock and classical music with its next release, Concerto for Group and Orchestra (1969 Warner Bros). On this release, they were joined by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Malcolm Arnold. The album was mainly the brainchild of organist Jon Lord, who wrote or co-wrote most of the material on the record. Lord also wrote another classical-rock piece for the entire band, the Gemini Suite, and the band played the entire piece during a special performance with the Light Music Society in 1970 in London. The band only performed the piece once, and a recording of the concert wasn't made available until 1998.
Though they had found some success with their fusion of rock and classical, some members of the band (namely Blackmore and Gillan) wanted to pursue a harder, more stripped-down sound. To achieve this, the band hit the road and found a new kind of power through tightened arrangements, the combined sound of Lord's overdriven Hammond organ and Blackmore's heavy guitar, and sheer volume. By their next album, 1970’s In Rock (Warner Bros), it was clear the band were in full hard rock mode. Earlier albums had been full of covers or had been somewhat grandiose statements mainly written by Lord, but In Rock’s writing credits went to all five members of the band and had a more organic feel to many of the songs. The album included the songs “Child in Time,” “Speed King” and “Into the Fire,” which would become live staples for the band for years to come. Deep Purple Mark II was made to perform live, so they toured almost non-stop for the next few years.
After In Rock, the group released Fireball (Warner Bros.) in 1971, which was mellower than its predecessor. Fireball’s American release included the single “Strange Kind Of Woman,” but the British version included a different track, “Demon’s Eye” in its place. “Strange Kind Of Woman” was released separately as a single in the UK. By now, through constant touring and word of mouth, the band finally had a following in the UK and the rest of Europe, as well as in North America. Fireball became the first of three Deep Purple albums to climb to the #1 position on the album charts in their native UK.
Towards the end of 1971, the band was performing in Europe and had planned to record their next album at a casino in Montreux, Switzerland, using the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio. When the band arrived to set up for the recording, they learned that Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention were going to play a show there. The night of the Zappa show, someone reportedly set off a flare gun in the casino during the gig, starting a fire that eventually engulfed the casino and burned it down. The vision of the flaming casino and the smoke that drifted over nearby Lake Geneva would be the basis for one of Deep Purple’s biggest songs, “Smoke on the Water,” included on Deep Purple’s next album, Machine Head (Warner Bros). The band ended up recording Machine Head at the nearby vacant Grand Hotel in Montreux, entirely live with no overdubs. The group finally had the sound they had been looking for; heavy, loud and rhythmically moving forward like a train. In addition to “Smoke on the Water,” Machine Head also included such classic DP songs as “Lazy,” “Space Truckin’” and “Highway Star.” Machine Head is often cited as one of the first heavy metal albums, and rightly so. The record was a huge success worldwide, and kept the band on the road across the globe. A live document of their 1972 tour of Japan, recorded over three nights in Tokyo, was released in December of 1972. Though Made in Japan (Warner Bros.) was a double album and included extended live jams of material taken from the band’s Mark II incarnation, it was wildly successful and is still held up as one of the premier live hard rock albums of all time.
The group released their next album, Who Do We Think We Are (EMI/Warner Bros), in 1973. By the time the album was released, the group was starting to fall apart, most likely due to the exhaustive touring they had undertaken in the previous years. Additionally, a riff had developed between Gillan and Blackmore. After the band played in Osaka, Japan in June of 1973, Gillan announced he was quitting the band. Glover followed Gillan out the door when he learned that Blackmore planned to fire him, too.
Once back in England, the remaining members of Deep Purple decided to carry on and held auditions for both vocalists and bass players. Glenn Hughes, the former bassist and vocalist for Trapeze, was the first recruit. The band briefly considered carrying on as a four-piece with Hughes in the dual role of vocalist and bassist but upon hearing vocalist David Coverdale, the band realized they had found another ideal singer and frontman. Deep Purple Mark III got to work quickly, and released the album Burn (EMI/Warner Bros.) in early 1974. It featured a sound that, while still remaining hard rock, contained elements of blues and funk that hadn’t surfaced in the band since their earliest incarnation. The band now also had two great vocalists in Hughes and Coverdale who often harmonized to great effect. By the time of the band’s next album, 1974’s Stormbringer (EMI/Warner Bros.), the latent soul and funk elements of the previous album moved front and center. Guitarist Blackmore was not happy with the musical direction the band was taking. After touring was completed to support the album, he left the band in early 1975. He went on to form the band Rainbow with former Elf vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
Deep Purple was left with the task of replacing one of the most distinctive (and popular) guitarists in rock, but they decided to carry on and audition replacements. The job ended up going to a young American guitarist, Tommy Bolin, a flamboyant session guitarist, heavy on chops, who had performed with the likes of Billy Cobham, The James Gang, Alphonse Mouzon and Dr. John, to name a few. Deep Purple Mark IV got to work immediately once Bolin was in the band and released their next album, Come Taste the Band (EMI/Warner Bros) in 1975. Come Taste the Band was a much more commercial sounding effort than any of their previous albums and headed farther in the soul and funk direction the band had been playing around with for some time. The album met with mixed reviews, and didn’t sell as well as previous DP albums. Declining sales, mixed with new guitarist Bolin’s serious heroin problem, caused friction on the road. By the time the band played in Liverpool in March of 1976, Coverdale had had enough and told the other members of the band he was quitting. What he didn’t know was that Paice and Lord, the only remaining original members, had already decided to break up the band at the conclusion of the tour. The announcement of the band’s dissolution was made in July of 1976. Tragedy struck soon after, when Bolin, recording his second solo album, was found unconscious by his girlfriend in his hotel room. Doctors were unable to revive him and he died from complications brought on by a combination of drugs. Bolin was only 25 years old.
After the band’s break-up, the various ex-members of Deep Purple went on to found and join other bands. Coverdale, Paice and Lord formed Whitesnake while Gillan joined Black Sabbath. Promoters kept trying to get Deep Purple to reform, but the closest anyone got was a version that only included original vocalist Rod Evans in 1980. Other members of Deep Purple sued Evans and as a result he paid a fine of over $600,000 and he no longer receives royalties from the records he recorded with the band. By 1984, relations had thawed between the members of Deep Purple Mark II, and they decided to give being in a band together another try.
By that time, hard rock and heavy metal were at the top of the charts and Deep Purple, especially the Mark II version, had achieved almost legendary status. The line-up of Gillan, Blackmore, Lord, Paice and Glover recorded Perfect Strangers (1984 Polydor/Mercury) together and followed the album up with a world tour that took them from Australia all the way back to their native UK. Both the record and the tour were wildly successful, and the group followed up that success with their next album, The House of Blue Light (Polydor/Mercury) in 1987. Deep Purple were back to their habit of heavy touring and followed House of Blue Light with another world tour, which was documented with the live album Nobody's Perfect (1988 Polydor/Mercury). Nobody's Perfect was similar to the band's earlier live album Made in Japan in that the band still played many of the same songs in their set.
By 1989, the old riff that had developed between Blackmore and Gillan reared its head again and Gillan was fired from the band yet again. Blackmore called on his former vocalist in Rainbow, Joe Lynn Turner, to replace Gillan and the new line-up of the group recorded the 1990 album Slaves & Masters (RCA) together and toured in support. There was mounting pressure, from the record company and other members of Deep Purple, to reinstate Gillan as the vocalist to launch a 25th anniversary tour. Blackmore eventually relented and let Gillan back in the band long enough to record the album The Battle Rages On (1993 BMG/Giant) and to tour to support the record, but at the end of the tour, Blackmore decided he had had enough and quit the band for what was probably the last time.
American guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani was next asked to join Deep Purple. With him, they completed the touring they had scheduled into 1994 but he was unable to join the band on a permanent basis due to his previous contract commitments. The band then asked former Dixie Dregs/Kansas guitarist Steve Morse to become the permanent replacement for Blackmore. With Morse in the group, the band received a much needed shot in the arm and came back with the album Purpendicular (1996 CMC International) followed by Abandon (CMC International) in 1998. Both albums showed a wider range in material than what had been tried in the group for some time, and both leaned more on Morse's guitar sound than Lord's keyboards.
Deep Purple continued touring, taking time out to recreate their album Concerto for Group and Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in 1999. That performance, along with some solo material and other Deep Purple classics, was commemorated with the live album, Live at the Royal Albert Hall (2000 Spitfire) and an accompanying DVD. In 2002, founding member Jon Lord announced that he was amicably leaving the band to pursue writing orchestral works. He was replaced on keyboards by Don Airey, a veteran musician who had played with both Ozzy Osbourne and Rainbow. The new version of Deep Purple released the album Bananas (Sanctuary) in 2003, followed by Rapture of the Deep (Edel/Eagle) in 2005. Both albums met with generally positive reviews from both critics and the band's fans and the band has continued to tour in support of both records. The group launched a 40th anniversary tour in 2008 to celebrate their amazing longevity as a band. Deep Purple, though it has gone through many changes in membership, continues to be an active musical force into the 2000s.