by Brian Currin
It all started in 1968 when Chris Curtis, an ex-Searcher, formed a group with Dave Curtiss (no relation, note different spelling) on bass, Bobby Woodman-Clarke on drums and brought in ex-Artwoods organist Jon Lord (born 9 June 1941, Leicester, England) and ex-Johnny Kidd and The Pirates bassist, Nick Simper (born 3 November 1946, Southall, Middlesex). Nick had survived the car crash that had killed Johnny Kidd in 1966. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (born 14 April 1945, Weston-super-Mare, England) joined in rehearsals for this new act initially dubbed Roundabout. Curtis dropped out within days, and when Dave and Bobby also proved incompatible, two members of Maze, Rod Evans (born 19 January 1945, Edinburgh, Scotland; vocals) and Ian Paice (born 29 June 1948, Nottinghamshire; drums), replaced them.
Having adopted the Deep Purple name (apparently inspired by Ritchie’s grandmother’s favorite song) following a brief Scandinavian tour in April 1968 (where they played as Roundabout, “in case they flopped”), the quintet began recording their debut album, which they patterned on USA group Vanilla Fudge. “Shades of Deep Purple” thus included dramatic rearrangements of well-known songs, including a faithful cover of Hendrix’s version of “Hey Joe” and the Joe South-penned, Billy Joe Royal hit “Hush”, the latter hitting US #4 in 1968 but not troubling the UK chart-compilers one bit.
Lengthy tours ensued as the group, all but ignored at home, steadfastly courted the burgeoning American concert circuit. “The Book Of Taliesyn” and “Deep Purple” albums also featured several excellent reworkings, notably “Kentucky Woman” (Neil Diamond) and “River Deep Mountain High” (Ike And Tina Turner). The lengthy intro section to “River Deep” was a dramatic work-out of the theme from the then recently released Stanley Kubrick sci-fi classic film “2001: A Space Odyssey”. This piece was based on Richard Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and Jon Lord’s classical leanings would soon culminate in a self-composed full-length work performed at the Royal Albert Hall in September 1969.
The band also drew acclaim for their original material and the dramatic interplay between Lord and Blackmore. In concert these guitar/organ duels could go on for over 20 minutes!
In July 1969 both Evans and Simper were axed from the line-up, which was then buoyed by the arrival of Ian Gillan (born 19 August 1945, Hounslow, Middlesex, England; vocals) and Roger Glover (born 30 November 1945, Brecon, Wales; bass) from the pop group Episode Six. Acknowledged by aficionados as the “classic” Deep Purple line-up (forever onwards known as Mark II), the reshaped quintet made its album debut on the grandiose “Concerto For Group And Orchestra”, scored by Lord and recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Arnold (later sir Malcolm).
Its hard rock successor, “In Rock”, established the group as a leading heavy metal attraction and introduced such enduring favorites as “Speed King” and “Child In Time.” Gillan’s powerful silver-throated vocals brought a third dimension to their sound and this new-found popularity in the UK was enhanced when the single, “Black Night” reached number 2. “Strange Kind Of Woman” followed it into the Top 10 (reaching #8 in Feb 1971), while “Fireball” and “Machine Head” both topped the album charts. The latter included the riff-laden “Smoke On The Water”, based on a real incident involving Frank Zappa and The Mothers and an infamous Montreaux concert.
Although the platinum-selling “Made In Japan” captured their live prowess in full flight, relations within the band grew increasingly strained, and “Who Do We Think We Are!” would be the end of this highly successful line-up. The departures of Gillan and Glover robbed Deep Purple of an expressive frontman and imaginative arranger, although David Coverdale (born 22 September 1949, Saltburn-by-the-Sea, Lancashire, England; vocals) and Glenn Hughes (born 21 August 1952, Penkridge, Staffordshire; ex-Trapeze, bass & vocals) brought a new impetus to the act. “Burn” and “Stormbringer” both reached the Top 10, but Blackmore grew increasingly dissatisfied with the group’s direction and in May 1975 left to form Rainbow. US guitarist Tommy Bolin (born 18 April 1951, Sioux City, Idaho), formerly of the James Gang and who had impressed Coverdale with his playing on Billy Cobham’s “Spectrum”, joined Deep Purple for “Come Taste The Band”, but his jazz/soul style was incompatible with the group’s heavy metal sound, and a now-tiring act folded in 1976 following a farewell UK tour.
Bolin died of a heroin overdose within months of Purple’s demise. Judicious archives and ‘best of’ releases kept the group in the public eye, as did the high profile enjoyed by its several ex-members. Successful off-shoot bands include Whitesnake, Rainbow and Gillan. Pressure for a reunion bore fruit in 1984 when Gillan, Lord, Blackmore, Glover and Paice (the original Mark II) completed “Perfect Strangers”. A whole new generation of fans discovered Deep Purple through this release and subsequent US, Japanese and European tour. A second album, “The House Of Blue Light”, followed, but recurring animosity between Gillan and Blackmore resulted in the singer’s departure following the disappointing live album “Nobody’s Perfect” which included a 1988 rehearsal re-working of their first hit “Hush”.
Joe Lynn Turner, one of Blackmore’s many Rainbow vocalists, joined and gave the band more of an AOR (Adult-Orientated Rock) direction. After a disappointing Slaves & Masters album released in 1990 (though Fire In The Basement is classic 70s Purple), better sense prevailed. Gillan was re-admitted for his third stint, uncomfortably sharing stage and studio with Blackmore. The line-up remained stable while the band recorded “The Battle Rages On” album released in 1993, but Blackmore jumped ship once more during the tour that followed. The tour was completed courtesy of US guitar whizzkid Joe Satriani. Contractual obligations however, meant his tenure could only be short-term and Purple hurriedly enlisted Steve Morse (ex-Kansas, Dixie Dregs, The Steve Morse Band, et al) (born 28 July 1954, Hamilton, Ohio) as his replacement to record Purpendicular released early in 1996.
Setting off on tour again, they took a fresh look at their 70s repertoire; tour highlights were captured on the ‘Live at the Olympia’ CD (1997) with forgotten favorites jostling for position against new material from the ‘Purpendicular’ set. Suddenly they felt they could have fun again, and the concerts were enlivened by dropping old faves like “Lazy” and “Space Truckin'” in favour of new material and songs from the back catalogue that had seldom if ever been played (such as “Bloodsucker”, “No One Came” and “Rat Bat Blue”).
1998’s ‘Abandon’ album had all the classic rock attitude, nasty guitars, pounding drums and driving bass to scratch that R.O.C.K. itch. The album included a brilliant reworking of ‘In Rock”s “Bloodsucker” (retitled “Bludsucker”) and the Floydish-style “Watching The Sky” amongst other driving rock tracks.
In 1999 Deep Purple had a very successful tour of Australia and Europe.
Jon Lord retired in 2002 and was replaced by journeyman keyboardist Don Airey. This new line-up, which left Ian Paice as the only original member, released the stunning ‘Bananas’ album in August 2003. Both a return-to-form and a look to the future, the ‘Bananas’ album was well-accepted by the rock community at large.
Deep Purple’s 18th studio album, ‘Rapture Of The Deep’, was released in November 2005. It was re-issued in June 2006 as a special 2CD edition with various bonus studio and live tracks.
The group may possibly start recording their new album in February 2010.
The Legend marches on…