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No matter what we get out of this,
I know we'll never forget:
Smoke on the water...
- 'Smoke On The Water', 1972
One of the three 'greats' of 1970s British heavy rock, alongside Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Deep Purple - unlike their contemporaries - offered no-frills, no-drugs, but high-adrenalin rock from the outset, marked by a series of stunning live performances all across Europe and Japan. Made In Japan1, in particular, is widely regarded as one of the best ever live performances.
What also set them apart from other bands were their frequent line-up changes which made it so easy for fans to track the evolution of the band.
Mark I, 1968 - 1969
Something of a hotchpotch of a band originally, Roundabout, as they were first known, was formed by Chris Curtis (ex-Searchers). Quickly recruiting good friend Jon Lord on keyboards, Curtis then snapped up bassist Nick Simper from Lord's band, the Flowerpot Men, and guitar wizard Ritchie Blackmore from the Crusaders2. Blackmore, at the time, had a reputation comparable to that of Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, with the added bonus of no paganism or hard drugs, and was considered a prize 'steal'. So much so, in fact, that he tactfully suggested that Curtis' drumming was sub-standard, and brought in a young drumming talent by the name of Ian Paice. Curtis, retiring to band management, eventually faded from the scene altogether. Paice introduced his singer friend, Rod Evans, to the band, and Mark I of Deep Purple (as they had re-titled themselves) was complete.
Their first album, Shades of Deep Purple, consisted mainly of cover versions, including a dire version of Jimi Hendrix's 'Hey Joe', although the proto-rock of 'Mandrake Root' gave a clue to the band's intended direction. The album also spawned 'Hush', Deep Purple's first single, originally by Joe South and later to be covered by Kula Shaker.
Blackmore, the most ambitious of the musicians, worked the band hard in the run-up to the production of the second album, developing '60s heavy rock sounds from the likes of Vanilla Fudge and Iron Butterfly. The consequent album, The Book of Taliesyn was a revelation for critics and the record-buying public alike. Rock gems such as 'Kentucky Woman' and 'Anthem' sparkled, Lord's organ providing a great counterpoint to Blackmore's guitar virtuosity. The instrumental 'Wring That Neck' became a mainstay of the band's live repertoire. Only an ill-advised cover of 'River Deep, Mountain High' let the band down. From this point, the band's line of cover versions virtually (and thankfully) died.
Mark II, 1970 - 1973
Blackmore, Lord and Paice had decided that Rod Evans' Elvis-like croon was unsuitable for the direction that the band was taking and, in typically covert style, had approached Episode Six vocalist Ian Gillan during the recording of The Book of Taliesyn. Gillan was initially unwilling to leave Episode Six, unless he could bring bassist Roger Glover with him. The band relented, but neglected to tell Evans and Simper that they were fired. Consequently, the recording of Deep Purple, the band's third album, was conducted amid blazing rows and was hardly an outstanding piece of work.
Deep Purple In Rock
Opening up with the huge guitar racket that marked the introduction to 'Speed King', this album was a non-stop fest of virtuoso musicianship, played mostly at break-neck pace. Glover proved to be a far more creative bassist than Simper had and much of the credit for the album's outstanding drive can be placed at his door. However, sublime contributions such as Gillan's 11-minute moving vocal showpiece, 'Child In Time' and the ever-improving Lord-Blackmore interface cannot be neglected.
Regarded as the most technically proficient of Deep Purple's albums, this never found the public impact of In Rock due to its long sessions of proficient, but dull, guitar and organ solos. Nevertheless, this was one of the key albums which seeded the progressive rock revolution5, the title track in particular being oft-imitated over the years.
Deep Purple's most famous album, and generally regarded as their best and most accessible, this gave birth to the quartet of huge stadium-rockers: 'Strange Kind Of Woman'6, 'Highway Star', 'Space Truckin' and, of course, the anthemic 'Smoke On The Water'. The latter, with its trademark three-chord riff, is actually autobiographical, detailing the farcical events that surrounded the making of Machine Head. Originally included only as a last-minute effort, it charted worldwide and became Deep Purple's biggest and best-known single.
A fourth, but sadly less well-known, album was released late in 1972. Who Do We Think We Are is most notable today for the barnstorming opening track and another live favourite: 'Woman From Tokyo'.
Mark III, 1973 - 1975
In spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that the band spent more time working on their music than indulging in the rock'n'roll lifestyles of their contemporaries, arguments were becoming rife. Blackmore and Glover, in particular, did not get on well. Gillan, as Glover's best friend, eventually stated that the pair were prepared to quit the band if Blackmore did not. Unwilling to lose their star musician, Lord and Paice took Blackmore's side, and Gillan and Glover promptly quit.
Glover's replacement had been watched by Lord and Blackmore for some time. Glenn Hughes, a Las Vegas lounge band leader, was the somewhat bizarre choice, but had proved to be a first-rate songwriter in the past. Gillan's replacement was a very young and nervous David Coverdale, then completely unknown.
Mark III's two albums, Burn and Stormbringer were very much of a muchness. They were felt by many to lack the fire of Mark II's playing, no doubt attributable to the more relaxed Glenn Hughes. The albums inevitably did not sell as well as their predecessors and the songs, with the exception of the startling 'Stormbringer' and the melancholy ballad 'Soldier of Fortune', were generally forgettable.
Mark IV, 1975 - 1976
The temperamental Blackmore frowned on the blues and funk brought to Deep Purple by Coverdale and Hughes respectively, and eventually lashed out, storming out of the band to form Rainbow7. His replacement was prodigious young talent, Tommy Bolin.
Without the virtuoso talents of Blackmore, live attendances began to slide and furthermore, the band became disenchanted with the unreliable Bolin, who turned out to be a heroin addict. The one album released during this period was the wholly unremarkable Come Taste The Band.
Mark IIb, 1984 - 1989
After eight years spent working on solo projects, the classic Mark II version of the band agreed to put aside musical differences and reform. The result was something of a revelation. Perfect Strangers was every bit as good as their original material. It did have the unfortunate addition of 1980s production, but songs such as the knowing 'Knocking at Your Back Door' and the powerful 'Gypsy's Kiss' once again filled stadiums and introduced Deep Purple to a whole new generation.
The follow-up, The House Of Blue Light was more of the same, perhaps slightly less well received since the novelty of a heavy rock revival had subsided. Songs such as the brutally head-banging 'Dead or Alive' (clocked during one live performance at around 260 beats per minute) and the subsequent single release (an inspired re-working of the band's first hit, 'Hush') kept fans happy.
Mark V, 1990 - 1992
Ian Gillan left the band temporarily, replaced by Joe Lynn Turner of Rainbow. The consequent album, Slaves and Masters, was dire. Turner's stage-presence during live shows (the band's main output during this time) could not match Gillan's sheer exuberance during songs such as 'Child In Time', and the band were soon pleading Gillan to return...
Mark IIc, 1993 - 1995
...Which he did. The Mark II line-up cut a sixth album together, The Battle Rages On. Gillan had a strong hand in the writing, giving the album a folk and bluesy tone. This wasn't to everyone's taste, least of all Blackmore's...
Mark VI, 1996 - 1999
Disgusted at the concept of anyone changing the band's sound, Blackmore promptly walked out again, to be replaced by Joe Satriani and later Steve Morse. Ironically, the band began writing heavy rock numbers again, Mark VI's first album, Purpendicular, being a particularly good showcase for Morse's considerable talents. The bizarrely titled 'Ted The Mechanic' and the dazzling 'A Touch Away' are gems hidden in an album of variable quality.
Abandon was released late in 1998. It signified the departure of Jon Lord from the band, who felt he was getting too old to continue touring. Despite replacing Lord with the nimble Don Airey, Deep Purple had lost their longest-serving member and one of their best characters on stage. Appalled at the prospect of a tour without either Blackmore or Lord, fans began to stay at home8.
Deep Purple continue to tour, but ugly legal wrangling over the ownership of big songs such as 'Smoke On The Water' and Gillan's continuing throat problems are jeopardising the band's future. The dynamic power that has marked the band's performances is currently in abeyance, although many fans hold on to the prospect of another reunion, and an album by Deep Purple Mark IId.
All you ever wished to know about Deep Purple can be found at their online newspaper, the Highway Star.